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Mon, Mar 29, 2010
The Business Times
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Onaka Health Kitchen
by Audrey Phoon

Onaka Health Kitchen
#01-17 Immunos @ The Biopolis 8A Biomedical Grove
Tel: 6464 2007 /

'HEALTH kitchen' - businesses with those words in their name are typically run by health freaks a.k.a. spaced-out oddballs. But as such oddballs go, the owners of Onaka Health Kitchen are pretty disappointing. They don't speak in whispery tones or walk around in long flowy skirts and jangly earrings; instead, Rosalind Lim and Tania Chang seem pretty grounded and they're dressed sensibly when we meet them, in plain T-shirts, pants and aprons. 'We are just mums who want to feed our children with good food,' says Ms Lim, the brain behind Onaka, which is an outfit devoted to offering a more wholesome lifestyle to people.

The mother of one son was introduced to this way of life when she moved to San Francisco in the 1980s to study. 'There were a lot of hippies there, and a lot of vegetarian and organic food which I really enjoyed,' she says. 'And then I came back and there was nothing similar here. But my interest continued; I took classes and read up on the subject. When the time was right, I started this with Tania and another friend.'

That time was last February, when Onaka - which stands for Optimum Nutrition and Kitchen Arts but also means 'stomach' in Japanese - opened in a tranquil glass-walled corner unit at Biopolis that looks out onto a gently swaying screen of trees and shrubs. Back then, the 2,000 sq ft space encompassed a retail shop and a 40-seat cafe, but due to demand it's now evolved into a space where healthy cooking classes and educational talks by nutritionists are held as well. This month, the company is also launching a series of classes by well-known Enso Kitchen chef Danny Chu, who specialises in Zen vegetarian cuisine.

Why the multiple concepts? 'We wanted a place that would share the complete lifestyle,' explains Ms Lim. 'The cooking studio lets people learn how to cook simple, healthy food; the retail area is where you can get the ingredients plus natural remedies and special-diet food for those with food-related allergies (think products such as the sugar substitutes Xylitol and Maltitol, and alternatives for those who can't take wheat, corn, soy or dairy); and the cafe showcases what we do.'

The latter does a pretty good job too - on the menu, which changes every three months, are guilt-free treats such as an organic multigrain Portobello mushroom burger ($8.90) that's topped with home-made tomato and carrot relish; the Farmer's Green Rice Bowl ($8.90), which is a take on Hakka lei cha fan and comprises five types of gently cooked green vegetables plus tofu cubes, sesame seeds and peanuts; and the smoked salmon with avocado spread on crisp, light panini made from Ms Lim's own recipe ($8.90).

There's also a range of smoothies made from organic soymilk, rice milk or yoghurt, along with home-made 'healing teas' and fresh juices.

In the year that Onaka's been open, response has been, well, healthy - it's grown by at least 20 per cent and the owners 'still see a lot of new faces every day'.

Next, the company is looking into doing catering and home deliveries as it has been getting requests for both. 'If you're on a detox programme, for example, it's troublesome to eat out or cook for yourself, so there have been a lot of customers who have shown interest in us doing something like that,' says Ms Lim. Also in the pipeline is a second outlet, and when that happens, the Biopolis store will be 'dedicated to being a school'.

'There are a lot of people who have food allergies and dietary restrictions, and they need to know what happens when you have all these conditions. Say you need to bake a cake without sugar, how are you going to work around it? We want to share our knowledge with people,' Ms Lim finishes.

This article was first published in The Business Times.

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