Bangkok's got it, Dubai's got it, and in their original state, the Port Authority of Singapore (PSA) has it too. What are we talking about? Containers. With food that is.
Over at 50 Punggol East are seven container restaurants where you can experience a variety of tastes.
Created by Social Innovation Park (SIP), the container restaurants in the area, called SEED (that stands for Social Entrepreneurship and Eco Park Development), is the first initiative of a larger social mission undertaking.
What started out as 160,000 square feet of bare land last year now has these restaurants and some urban farming in place. Future plans include farm-to-table concepts for the restaurants, and residents purchasing a 5-by-10-metre plot of their own land to harvest a little farm.
"Kids can come here and have fun, learn about urban farming. The elderly can come here to spend their retirement with gardening concepts and really get back to the kampung spirit style.
"Social entrepreneurs can come in to testbed and freeplay their untested solutions - things they haven't tried before; they want to test it in the market in Punggol, this is the place to be," explained Ms Wong Pei Shan, one of the four directors of SIP.
The restaurants will be there for three years and although short, Ms Wong pointed out that the restaurant owners wanted to take up the challenge to do social good: ex-convicts, single mothers, and low income families can find a place to work here.
Having already attracted between one to 2,000 people over the weekends, we check out some of the restaurants at SEED where you can go get your brunch fix over the weekends.
Our favourite was D'Grill, a restaurant that serves Western and seafood cuisine.
We tasted the Grilled Hot Plate Sambal Stingray ($16) that was served to us with barbeque squid, prawns, mussels, and french fries on a sizzling plate.
We were impressed with the chef's skills in handling seafood. The stingray meat was soft, and the sambal was not too spicy. Owner Kiang Siang Heng, who has 26 years in the food and beverage (F&B) industry and believes in celebrating diversity, said his Malay chef creates the homemade sambal.
The squid was easy to chew and not overly rubbery while the prawns were firm and succulent. Notably, the mussels were much larger than the ones served in other restaurants. There is no pork or lard added to the dishes.
Mr Kiang loves talking to his guests and accommodating their special requests so feel free to send compliments to the chef.
Big Fish, Small Fish
We tried their most popular salmon ($12.90) dish served with freshly-cut potato crisps ($4.90).
The salmon had a crispy outer layer with soft and savoury flesh inside. The potato crisps were too good to stop munching. They weren't oily and didn't turn soggy even after it was left in the open for some time. The best thing is your meal is served with four kinds of sauces - salted egg, a homemade XO mayonnaise with a touch of spice, cheese and tartar - where the first two were our favourites.
What makes this cuisine unique is that it's served in a paper cone. All the tables at the restaurant have a holder for you to place your cone of food in giving a communal atmosphere of sharing. For owner Ong Wei Sheng, the dining experience promotes inclusivity - reflecting this philosophy in the staff he hires that include former prisoners.
We tried the delicious Bingsu with Korean Milk Powder Ice Base, and with strawberries and ice cream ($17.90). The strawberries, imported from South Korea, were perfectly soft and sweet. The special ice used had a milky taste to it, and melted far slower than normal Bingsu. This was definitely a special treat.
Leung Kee Healthy Dessert
We were served the extremely popular Durian Sherbet ($7.30), with real durian fruit, aloe vera and yoghurt pearls on the side, and cold sherbert in the middle. The flavours were not too pungent, just right for an after-meal dessert. Together with the three side ingredients, the Durian Sherbet gave a different experience with every bite and left us craving for more. It's definitely a must-try.
We also sampled their Red Bean Soup ($3.30), a hot dessert that is much unlike any other. Instead of the common thick soup and soggy red bean, Leung Kee's red bean soup is light and refreshing, and the red beans are firm. Their secret? It has to be cooked for a more than three hours before it can be served.
Owner Ge Xin, 29, who hails from China and moved to Singapore when he was 17, said the red bean soup is rather difficult and tiring to make. It's an old 1987 recipe from the original Leung Kee owner, also from China, who retired in 2013 to Singapore. The brand is popular in Hong Kong with 10 outlets. Mr Xin said the two desserts are a "combination of old and new fashion" with desserts from Hong Kong and Taiwan mixed together.
We were given their five-generation recipe curry chicken with jasmine rice to try. Without much effort, the chicken meat peeled away from the bone, a first sign that the chicken is soft and tender. True enough, the chicken meat is easy to chew, proof that ingredients used are fresh from the marketplace. The curry is not too spicy but more coconut-y, made using naturally spicy ingredients such as ginger, galanga and lemongrass giving a tinge of Thai flavour to it. The dish brought us back to our childhood days of eating in our friend's homes.
L'Chaim (pronounced lah-haim) is a Jewish toast that means "to life" in Hebrew, and the dish certainly did that with its comforting palate. The bistro also serves Archipelago craft beer and flavoured sodas such a root beer, cream soda, raspberry and lemonade from the UK that a worth a taste.
The restaurant currently serves only beverages but are looking to serve finger foods such as seaweed chicken and nuggets in the near future. Open till 3am on weekends and 1am on weekdays, the beers on tap are Stella Artois, Hoegaarden and Hoegaarden Rose. We were rather surprised with this beer made with raspberry as we hadn't tried it before. It's an excellent choice for those who don't enjoy beer and have a sweet tooth.
With a great view of Punggol waterway and accompanying good music, Boost is home to two electronic dart machines. Restaurant owner Edward is a big dart fan with regulars who are competition dart players. The restaurant aims to provide a communal and cohesive space especially for parents who seek to have some drinks while bonding with their kids. Strengthening communities is a personal social mission for Edward who comes from a divorced family and troubled formative years.
Pump Station 1965
The first thing you notice at Pump is the amazing decor. The seats are remade from old oil drums that were cut and cushioned to make into seats, cable drums are repurposed into table tops, and the bar counter is made from pallet. The accompanying retro music is appropriate too. Having clearly thought of all the details, chef and owner Mr Macs Fong had previously stayed in a container house when he lived in Thailand. So, it's rather fitting for him to have a container restaurant.
Mr Fong describes his food as Asian-fusion tapas. His F&B experience is with Chinese, Japanese and Thai dishes which explains the variety of flavours you get at Pump Station. It's also the only restaurant that has a viewing gallery on the top of the container where you can take in the whole atmosphere of SEED.
The container restaurants are located at 50 Punggol East, The Seed Park, Singapore 828826.