Singapore used to be part of Malaysia a few decades ago. However, Malaysia and Singapore are now independent countries bordering each other. The culture, language, and food of Singapore has a heavy Malay influence because of its proximity to the neighbouring country. Peranakan food is one example. It has its origins in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. It is a fusion of Chinese and south-east Asian cooking. Chinese immigrants settled in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia centuries ago and they brought with them their Chinese cooking style. The traditional Chinese cooking methods were married with local south-east Asian cooking to create what is known as Nonya or Peranakan cuisine. Peranakan food served at most places is almost always non-vegetarian. However, Singapore is one of the best places to find and enjoy vegetarian Peranakan food.
There are a few vegetarian Peranakan restaurants in the garden city. But the most famous and critically acclaimed Peranakan restaurant is Whole Earth. It is located in Tanjong Pagar and is open 7 days a week. Reservations are recommended if you are planning to go there during the busy office hours (e.g. lunch on a weekday). We went there on a Sunday evening and had absolutely no trouble getting seated without a reservation. The restaurant is located right across the street from exit A of the building called Tanjong Pagar center (the MRT station is situated in the basement). Once you come out of the building at exit A, look to your right and you will see a white building across Peck Seah Street. That is Whole Earth.
When we looked at the menu, we were amazed at the variety of dishes on offer. Every single item served at the restaurant was vegetarian. In fact, none of the items had eggs or dairy in it, and it is considered a vegan restaurant. Their tagline mentions “plant-based cooking”, so vegans can go to Whole Earth with confidence. One thing I found a bit weird was the compulsory entree that every table had to order. We were given a choice of papaya salad or a crispy sea-weed dish covered with deep-fried bean curd sheets. We went for the bean curd sheets with sea-weed in the middle. They turned out to be quite good, as they were a good combination with our lemon flavored bubble tea.
(bean curd sheets deep fried with seaweed in the middle)
(Lemon Bubble Tea)
For our group of 3, we ordered a Sambal Broccoli, the famous Penang Redang, the equally famous Olive Brown Rice, and a Chinese vegetable with sauce. The food took about 15 minutes to arrive. The servers were patient and helpful as we asked them plenty of questions about ordering the right dishes. The Sambal Broccoli was broccoli tossed with sambal sauce. The sambal sauce is a staple in Malaysian food and it tasted tangy with a hint of sweet flavour. Normally, it is made using seafood and fish sauce. But at Whole Earth, it was amazing to taste the classic sambal flavour in a completely vegetarian form.
The olive brown rice was savoury and full of flavour. It had the charred aroma that a good Tze Char dish would have. I could have eaten just a full plate of rice for the entire meal. It was that good. We had ordered some Chinese vegetable with tofu to go with the rice, and it was a good decision. The watery sauce of the Chinese vegetables dish complemented the dryness of the rice well.
(Olive Brown Rice)
(Chinese Vegetables with sauce)
The star of the evening was the Penang Redang. I had read so much about the dish that I had to order it. It was a vegetarian version of a classic Peranakan dish. The chunks in the Redang curry were actually mushrooms (it tasted like shiitake mushrooms). The curry gravy was dry and not watery like the Chinese vegetables sauce. The flavour of the Redang sauce was excellent. It had that thai curry-like flavour with some extra dimensions from the other spices that must have been used to prepare it. I definitely recommend ordering some rice or noodles with the Penang Redang, as you need some starch/carbs to balance out the wonderful flavour of the Penang Redang.
We were stuffed with the 4 dishes that we ordered. There was no room for dessert. Our bill for 3 people came to 95 SGD. That amount included a 10% service charge. Per person, the cost for dinner worked out to over 30 SGD. Whole Earth is not a cheap place to eat at. It is quite expensive. In fact, it was the most expensive meal of our entire Singapore trip. But given the innovation with which classic non-vegetarian dishes are turned into vegetarian ones, it is worth the price. Meat eaters frequent this place as much as vegetarians do. The taste and the textures of the dishes served here are very similar to the real conventional ones. If you want to experience the flavours of Peranakan food – in a completely vegetarian avatar, then Whole Earth is THE place to eat at. Highly recommended when you are in Singapore. The foodie in me would travel all the way to Singapore just to eat at such vegetarian specialty places.