09 April 18 The Straits Times by TIFFANY FUMIKO TAY
At first glance, The Great Mischief, which opened in February, looks like a traditional Spanish tapas bar, serving up small plates inspired by the region of Catalonia.
On closer look though, diners will notice that dry-cured ham and alcoholic sangria are missing from the menu. The restaurant in Little India is among a growing number of new and innovative eateries catering to Muslim diners here.
According to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), there has been an upward trend in the number of halal certificates issued over the past three years, with an average annual increase in requests of 10 per cent.
Muis certified 4,456 premises and 54,378 food products manufactured in Singapore last year alone.
The Great Mischief is one of five restaurants operated by The Black Hole Group, a lifestyle group with a focus on halal food and beverage concepts. Among them, burger bar Working Title in Arab Street and Mexican taqueria Afterwit in North Bridge Road are halal-certified.
British kitchen The Mad Sailors in Haji Lane, Santap cafe in Madras Street and The Great Mischief are Muslim-owned but not certified by Muis as halal.
Said the group's co-founder Mustaffa Kamal: "If you go back a decade, the only halal options in Singapore were Indian or Malay food."
More options for Muslim diners
The upscale European restaurant in the Singapore Botanic Gardens attained halal certification last June. Apart from adding items such as halal wagyu beef to the menu, it has also replaced its alcohol selection with a drinks collection called The Herbarium, which features tea and juice concoctions made using herbs and spices.
The Muslim-owned Japanese izakaya, or pub, in Bussorah Street serves up favourites such as grilled squid and simmered ribs, using beef instead of pork.
Diners can also throw back a pint of non-alcoholic Ninja Lager.
For sushi, which is served during dinner, mirin or rice wine that is traditionally used in sushi rice is replaced with a halal vinegar version.
The Black Hole Group
The lifestyle group operates five halal joints spanning cuisines from Spanish tapas to burgers.
In place of pork and alcohol, the restaurants use ingredients such as turkey and beef bacon, and offer a range of mocktails.
At British cafe The Mad Sailors in Haji Lane, fish and chips are made using soda water instead of beer for the batter.
The sandwich chain has replaced menu items such as ham, bacon, breakfast sausage, pepperoni and salami with halal-compliant chicken and beef.
It is in the process of attaining halal certification for all 132 of its outlets in Singapore, and hopes to do so by the end of this year.
Tiffany Fumiko Tay
Mr Mustaffa and his former schoolmate Calvin Seah, both 33, have spent the past five years bringing more variety to Muslim diners in the form of trendy eateries.
The duo also hope their eateries can change the perception among non-Muslims that halal Western food is sub-par. "We want to make it as authentic as possible... (At Afterwit) we serve Mexican food first - we just happen to be halal, so we don't serve Corona (beer) and pork tacos," said Mr Mustaffa.
Another unusual halal dining concept, Hararu Izakaya in Bussorah Street, is Muslim-owned and serves up Japanese pub grub with non-alcoholic lager. Ms Wahida Wahid and her husband, who both previously worked in an izakaya, or Japanese pub, decided to start their own Muslim-friendly version last April.
"We do have some, especially tourists, asking where's the booze... Alcohol sales play a big part in many F&B establishments, but for us, sales have still been good," said Ms Wahida, 28. There are discussions to take the concept to overseas locations such as Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia and even Japan, she added.
Some established eateries are also taking a bite out of the growing halal market. American sandwich chain Subway announced last month that it has stopped selling pork at all of its 132 outlets in Singapore, as part of plans to attain halal certification.
Subway's South-east Asia country director Sue Sim said menu items like ham, bacon and salami have been replaced with halal-compliant chicken and beef. The fast-food chain hopes to receive certification by the end of this year, said Ms Sim.
Halia, an upscale restaurant in Botanic Gardens serving Asian-influenced European cuisine, obtained its halal certification last June after over 15 years in operation. Its director of operations Gavin Chen said its desire to be more inclusive, given its location in a Unesco World Heritage Site, was a factor behind the move.
The certification process, which included a menu overhaul and sending staff for a course on new processes, cost about $10,000. "This is definitely worth the cost since we are now able to cater to a bigger consumer market," said Mr Chen.
Reception to the new menu and branding has been "overwhelmingly positive", with sales up about 15 per cent since the conversion, he said.
Food blogger Izad Razi, who runs The Halal Eater, said more cuisines have become accessible to Muslims in recent years as entrepreneurs and businesses step up to meet demand.
"People are travelling more and discovering more cultures and food, so the community is more adventurous and accepting of different cuisines now," said Mr Izad, 32.