In the lush greenness, we were led, like foragers, from tree to tree. Stopping occasionally to sniff at some bark or nibble on a fresh leaf, the experience was about as close to the source of food that you can get.
The setting was quiet Fort Canning Park in Singapore, a place that’s as known for being a lovers’ lane as it is for being the panoramic hilltop spot on which the country’s first colonial settlers built their homes. My friend Willin (my stomach-of-steel dining partner in Singapore) and I had trekked to the park for a tour of its spice garden and At-Sunrice, the cooking school that’s perched next to it. (Think of it as the Cordon Bleu of Singapore.)
Before we checked out the school’s Chinese, pastry and Western kitchens, however, we’d taken a little detour, wending our way along a garden that dates back to the early 19th Century, to get to the root of what we cook and eat. Even with the advent of farmer’s markets and lengthy explanations of the origins of ingredients on restaurant menus these days, it can be hard to feel a sense of connection with where our food comes from.
But when you’re holding a broken-open nutmeg shell while sniffing and stroking the thin film of mace that covers the seed, you start to have a deeper appreciation for all the cakes and pies that you’ve beaten mace into.