Singapore has a Popiah King, perhaps the time has now come to celebrate the understated professor, Dr Tan, who lies behind this country’s only fresh mushroom business which yields a rather staggering 20 tones of mushrooms a month. I think the title ‘Mushroom King’ rather suits him; he looks particularly regal in the Louis XVI armchair, below, which he was sitting in when I photographed him a few months ago.
Dr Tan Kok Kheng has farmed mushrooms, organically, for over 30 years in a small area of land right here in Singapore – off Yio Chu Kang Road. Whilst they are not certified as official organic produce, they are grown organically i.e. without chemical fertilisers, pesticides or growth hormones. In fact, it’s probably this lack of certification that we have to thank for the very good price he sells them at.
Unlike Bollywood Veggies and other relatively new planet-friendly vegetable producers who garner quite a lot of press coverage, Dr Tan – who has been farming approximately for three times longer than they have – has quietly and confidently built up a good sized industry. He supplies not only Cold Storage but also NTUC, Prime, Giant and Sheng Siong.
Whilst his various varieties of mushrooms obviously do sell, not many people seem to be aware of the fact they are pesticide-free and locally grown. The plastic packaging hardly helps; it certainly doesn’t scream ‘grown without chemicals’ and ‘made in Singapore’ in the way that it should. Here they are on-shelf at my local Cold Storage:
The price tag of a very good value $4.40 a packet (less if you buy from somewhere other than Cold Storage) for organically grown produce makes you question whether or not you’ve actually read the label correctly.
Dr Tan grows four varieties of mushroom on his farm, including Hiratake and King Oyster, both of which are cherished in Japan and China as being immune system enhancing as well as cholesterol-lowering (incidentally, he loves these two types the most).
I love Hiratake too, which are deliciously meaty – even veggie-loathing men seem to wolf them down gladly (I have carried out numerous stringent tests).
Slice in to fairly chunky rounds and sauté for a few minutes with a little garlic, chopped, a good nob of butter and a little olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning). Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and serve as a side veg with almost anything. I did them alongside a roast chicken just the other day but they’re equally delicious when eaten with fish too.
The other two types he is currently propagating include Willow mushrooms and Shitake oysters. Regardless of the type of mushroom, they are all grown on wood chippings taken from a variety of different trees and molded into logs.
Here are a few more. Don’t panic at the rather radioactive blue – it’s all au naturel.
After about two months, these logs are spent and can’t be used anymore. This doesn’t render them worthless though, quite the opposite. Packed with highly fertile micronutrients, they make an amazingly rich and nutritious fertilizer that is enterprisingly and again, very reasonably, sold at $1 per kilogram.
Produce that is locally grown deserves our support. Buy local; be proud!
Dr Tan’s farm is Mycofarm Pte Ltd and can be found at 9 Seletar West Farmway 5, Singapore 798057
T: (+65) 6773 0377
Website, which was currently down at the time of posting: www.mycofarm.com.sg