Native: Reimagining a Circular, Waste-less Approach to Bartending

Singapore generated some 744 million kg of food waste in 2019 — that’s equivalent to two bowls of rice per person per day! Approximately 40 per cent of our food waste came from commercial or industrial premises such as shopping centres, hotels and F&B outlets, where avoiding food waste can often seem like an impossible task. From fruit peels to leftover scraps, how does a restaurant go about shrinking their waste footprint?

Well, one bar has risen to this challenge. Located on the second floor of a shophouse at Amoy Street, Native is reimagining a minimal waste approach to bartending. From composting their waste to designing their menu for circularity, we spoke to Yong Wei, their Head Bartender, to learn more about Native’s ethos.

“Native extends beyond just food and drinks — it’s an entire experience, where the customer gets to learn about and be inspired by our local culture and a broader system of circularity.” — Yong Wei

As their name suggests, Native takes pride in showcasing local and regional culture and crafts. One will not find Native’s shelves filled with tequila, a Mexican spirit. Instead, their drinks feature regional spirits such as Ceylon Arrack (distilled from the nectar of coconut flowers), rum from India and the Philippines, and gins from Singapore’s own distilleries. The bar countertop itself is shaped like a ship, in reference to Telok Ayer’s history as a shipping port.

Native’s Peranakan

Each item on Native’s menu is the result of meticulous thought and effort to minimise wastefulness. Take their Peranakan for example: inspired by the culture of its namesake, the drink begins with a base of jackfruit rum, infused with laksa leaves, candlenut, pandan and palm sugar. When goats milk from a local farm is added, the enzymes in the jackfruit causes the milk to curdle. However, instead of throwing the curds away, they are strained out and used to create a jelly that accompanies the cocktail. The jackfruit seeds, too, are saved to be shaved atop the drink, imparting it with a subtle nutty flavour.

Waste by-products are often given a new lease of life in Native, by transforming them to be used for another menu item. For instance, leftover pineapple skin from their Pineapple Arrack cocktail is blended with koji and left to ferment for over a month, to make pineapple shoyu for their Shoyu Roasted Nuts. At the time of our interview, Native had also just opened a restaurant on the floor below — bringing their circular, minimal-waste approach to a wider food menu that diners can look forward to.

Coasters cut from dried lotus leaves — naturally water-resistant and compostable!

Native’s attention to detail and homage to local culture extends even to their bar coasters — circular pieces of dried lotus leaves, which are naturally water-resistant and compostable at their end-of-life. The bar even has its own composting system, where all their organic waste (including food scraps, old menus and cardboard boxes) goes to be turned into rich compost. In a satisfyingly circular system, this compost is in turn used in their two gardens at Gillman Barracks and Cecil Street, where they grow many of the ingredients that go into their drinks.

While one may expect the standards that Native holds itself to to be constraining, Yong Wei shares that the team welcomes this challenge — and in some cases, it has been surprisingly helpful to their creative process. For example, while most bars use citrus juice to create that sour note in their drinks, Native chooses to do so via fermentation instead, to avoid the wastage of leftover citrus peel. Also, the acidity from fermentation tends to be more complex — stemming from various types of acid beyond citric acid — which ultimately makes for a more interesting drink. A win-win situation!

Jars of ferments line the shelves on Native’s top floor, where the magic happens.

Yong Wei reflects: “The F&B industry generates a lot of food waste. It’s been very rewarding to think deeper and out-of-the-box on how we can reduce our impact on the environment, and to create awareness by sharing our local and sustainable approach with our customers.”

You too can do your part! Here are some easy sustainability tips from Yong Wei for the home chef/ bartender:

  • Sort out your food scraps during meal prep so that it’s easier to find ways to reincorporate them — fruit peels can go into infusing kombuchas or making eco-enzymes, vegetable trimmings can be frozen and made into stocks etc.
  • Set up a composting system at home — or if you feel you might not have the time to make your own compost, you can donate them to compost collectives in community gardens
  • Buy as local as you can — we have a small but steady local farming scene with organic vegetables, seafood, and even dairy, and supporting them means we can reduce our collective carbon footprint while increasing food security

Enjoyed reading this article? To learn more about our waste problem and be inspired by other businesses and individuals making a difference, check out our other articles in #TowardsZeroWaste!

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