“Open your eyes, beauty and inspiration is all around us. This is where we’re from, this is where we are. We don’t have to travel far. NATIVE is our home. Just around us, there are so many ingredients and resources.” – Mudaliar
NATIVE Cocktail Bar is all about bringing us back to our roots. It is founded by Vijay Mudaliar who is committed to using local and regional produce and supporting local and regional craftsmen for its wares, scents, music and all. He has a passion for working with ingredients familiar to the locality, things that the people of Singapore grow up with like mango, tumeric, cinnamon, tapioca etc. But where it really gets interesting is that he also loves to forage and discover what people have not seen, or didn’t realize was around them, like weaver ants!
“There’s a lot going around the region and I felt that people weren’t taking notice.” – Mudaliar
Foraging is something that has gained far greater popularity in recent years but for our distant ancestors it was simply a way of life, a survival necessity. Now, picking wild food is about tapping back into our primal ways and connecting to the earth we’re living on. It’s the idea that you really only have to walk within your region to find delicious edibles that inspires foragers to do what they do.
“The idea is to have 10 per cent of my ingredients from foraged sources. Foraging is part of the bars DNA.” Mudaliar
Imagine a Thai rum with crunchy ants and pink jasmine blossoms grown on Ann Siang Hill prepped in a rotary evaporator…that is real at NATIVE. The establishments repertoire seeks to connect the guest with Singapore’s surroundings. If it can not do this literally with foraged ingredients, then it does so with an underlying philosophy of celebrating Asian flavour profiles. Other creative combination examples include, sweet potato compote with pandan, cinnamon, cardamom and rum liqueur; or tapioca and soursop topped with ants on a frozen basil leaf; or Indian rum, yoghurt whey, mango, key lime, turmeric, pistachio, pomegranate molasses and beet jelly.
Mudaliar does all the foraging for cocktail ingredients himself. Once a week is enough to get everything he needs. When he first started he got poisoned a lot. He explains in an interview:
“If I saw something I would just eat it and I’m like, “Oh shit something’s wrong.” So now I would just chew it first and spit it out. If there’s some flavour there, I revisit it, take pictures, do some research and try to relate the flavour profile with something that I know. Then I wait a couple of days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. There are indications though – when you see ants around the plant, or bees pollinating it, it’s a good bet they’re safe.”
Some ingredients are scarce so he has to extract flavors to lengthen the flavor. For example the ants, they have to be infusing with vodka, vinegar, salt and sugar. By doing so he is able to start out with a handful of ants but stretch out the ant flavours into a few hundred millilitres.
Here’s what he has to tell about the menu:
“There is a section of the menu dedicated to foraged ingredient cocktails. It could be seasonal or have it in a menu until it runs out. So for example, it could be cinnamon this week, but next week it will be betel leaf. Each drink will be based on a story unlike the usual way of, “oh I taste this so I will add that.” We use a story. If I go on a walk, and I see things grow together, I can pair them up. Stories bring the ingredients together.”
It is fascinating to hear about people out there being so ingenious with the nature that surrounds us that we tend to overlook. The funny thing is, I remember if I found ants in my food when I was a child my mother would tell me to eat it anyways because it’s protein! …But I couldn’t do it. Although, I must be much more daring now because I’d totally try one of these crazy cocktails. How about you?