THE BARTENDERS AT NATIVE are universally praised by visitors for their friendly and enthusiastic service. They’re always happy to accommodate, substitute ingredients, and make suggestions. But you should probably stick to the menu, as you’d be hard-pressed to find healthier cocktails in Singapore, or the world. The bar's name is their founding principle, and in sourcing locally, offerings like Yong Wei’s Garden City demonstrate their commitment to healthier and more sustainable drinking.
Calamansi is widely used in sweet and savory recipes in the Philippines and Malaysia, Wei’s home country. And like calamansi, pandan leaves traveled from Southeast Asia to become a favorite of bartenders around the world. “We try to incorporate the things that we can find locally or from our garden,” Wei says. Native’s many awards — they’ve been on the “World’s 50 Best Bars” list three of its four years — are a nod to the bar’s foraged ingredients, which include both flora and fauna. Owner Vijay Mudaliar famously topped his Antz cocktail with ants foraged in Thailand. But their food menu is 100% vegetarian.
We try to incorporate the things that we can find locally or from our garden.
Wei says they’ve had to cut back on urban foraging over the last year and a half, but they now grow their own ingredients or source them from a local farm (another impressive statement, since Singapore is only 1% farmland, and imported produce costs less). Their lab is a floor above the bar, where they research and develop new ideas and transform flavors.
Wei has easy-to-find substitutes for his cocktail's rarer ingredients, but for the Garden City cocktail, it may be the one time the Native bartender suggests sourcing globally rather than locally — otherwise you’ll miss out on the delicate aspects of it. He especially recommends keeping the torch ginger flower in the Garden City. “It's actually quite different compared to other gingers,” Wei says. “I think that one is quite unique. It's hard to substitute for it.” Suntory's Roku gin was a natural fit for the Garden City too: “For this drink, the gin is meant to be a bit more delicate, a bit lighter,” he says.
Wei sweetens the Garden City with xylitol, a sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in plums, strawberries, and humans. Xylitol, even produced in an industrial setting, gets praise for its sustainability because it’s often made with corn cob and birch bark. “Guests have certain requests. They try to eat healthier," Wei explains. "They don't want any sugar in their drinks, and we explain to them that there's no refined sugar, only sugar from the fruit or the plant. When they know there's no table sugar, they are kind of surprised.”
Jun is a lot like its more familiar cousin, kombucha — they both start with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). But jun ferments green tea and raw honey instead of black tea and sugar. The resulting fermented drink is sweeter than kombucha. The raw honey adds yet another native ingredient, and potentially thousands more since honeybees pollinate up to 5,000 flowers a day. So consider the Garden City an entire Eden in a glass.
- Suntory Roku gin
- 6g of torch ginger flowers (can be substituted with myoga, which can be found in Japanese grocery stores)
- 50g calamansi (can be substituted with regular limes)
- 150g xylitol
- 150g water
- 10g pandan leaves
- 500g water
- 33g honey
- 2 drops of lactic acid (optional)
- Make the Ginger Flower Cordial: chop and lightly crush the torch ginger flowers. Cut the calamansi into halves (if using regular limes, cut into quarters). Combine with the rest of the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer until the mixture reaches a syrupy texture.
- Make the Pandan Jun: make a tea by tying the pandan leaves into knots and combining it with the water and honey in a pot. Bring to a rolling boil and turn off the heat; let steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Once cooled, ferment as you would a kombucha with a SCOBY for 3 days, or until tangy.
- Assemble the cocktail: stir 12g Roku gin with 10g Ginger Flower Cordial and 26g Pandan Jun. If available, add 2 drops of lactic acid. Serve over ice, and garnish with a sprig of freshly cut pandan.
For best results, the ingredients in this drink are measured by weight rather than volume.
Jessica Suarez Writer
Jessica Suarez is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.
Grant Cornett Photographer
Grant Cornett is a photographer and director based in Upstate New York. He likes to take pictures of pristine detritus and austere moments.