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Q&A: the Singapore bartender making jellyfish martinis

One half of the founding duo of Singapore bar Fura, Sasha Wijidessa tells us about her fight to use insects in cocktails, choosing bartending over dentistry, and what the future of food looks like.

Q&A: the Singapore bartender making jellyfish martinis

How did you get into bartending?

“In 2014 I started at a bar called Operation Dagger. It’s not something that I saw as long term. I was studying for my diploma in pharmaceutical science, doing an internship in a dental clinic from 7am until 6pm, then going to the bar to work until 3am. I started as a barback, and was with Operation Dagger for five years. Two and a half years in I became the general manager, so I was running the bar when I was 22.”

What made you shift away from pharmacology?

“For a very long part of my life I struggled to feel like I fit in somewhere, and the bar was the first place that I felt that way. Taking my diploma was not really my choice – it was more my parents wanting me to do that. When I started working at Dagger I felt like myself, and I was confident and happy.“

How did the idea for Fura come about?

“I knew for a long time that I would want to eventually do something of my own. I moved to Copenhagen in 2019 to join Empirical, which is a distillery, and Christina Rasmussen and I moved back to Singapore in 2022, and it just felt like now was the time. We did a pop-up called Mallow in 2022, which was more out of necessity. Christina and I, our marriage is not recognised here, and she needs a visa, so we took on this pop-up. More and more everyday it felt like it wasn’t enough, and in August 2022 we started planning what would now be Fura. We looked at the space in October, signed a lease last year in March, and opened in September.”

How has it been since you launched?

“So far, so good – everyone seems to love what we’re doing. Leading up to opening was extremely difficult, and I don’t think I’ve been at a lower point in my life. But I cannot complain about how it’s been since opening. We get a lot of great guests and attract a lot of like-minded people.”

What makes Singapore’s bar scene unique?

“In Copenhagen I was disappointed at how toxic food and beverage was. No one really talks about it, but there’s not a real sense of community. Singapore is the opposite. Everyone has a mentality that we all win together. You have a lot of bars and the bar scene is very saturated, but all the bars have a strong identity so there’s no competition.”

How would you describe Fura’s identity?

“Fura is very personal, developed through conversations that Christina and I have at home. We talk about having kids one day and what kind of world we want to bring our child into. Especially in Asia, a lot of the way we eat and drink is very generational, but our food resources are very different now than they were 10, 20, or 50 years ago. We want to introduce a new way of eating and drinking, not tying any dish or drink back to something that’s already been done. We’re not Asian-inspired, or Japanese, Italian or French, because when you have that identity you tie back to traditional cooking and eating.”

Where do you draw inspiration from?

“The menu is ingredient-forward, but using ones that make sense for what the future of food will look like. We have a drink called the Jellyfish Martini. Jellyfish are a pest in the ocean, so that’s an ingredient we should try to use. Essentially what we have is a broken ecosystem, so we’re trying to reintroduce that balance. Say in 10 years if this picks up and the world starts to consume jellyfish, and we find that balance in the ocean’s ecosystem, then its an ingredient we should move on from.”

Why did you put insects on the menu?

“The theme of the menu is using ingredients that are either in abundance, invasive or prevalent. In 2022 the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) announced it would approve 16 insects for human consumption by mid-2023, but initially refused to give us our licence to operate when they saw that we had insects on the menu. We have been speaking with the SFA for more than six months now. In our last conversation they said that it will definitely go live by the end of the year, but, of course, that didn’t happen, so it’s just a waiting game.”

What’s in store for 2024?

“I want to position Fura as a lifestyle brand. If we’re just an F&B venue, then the touch point is just within the space. If people could incorporate the ethos of Fura into their lives then it’s more impactful. Something we want to grow this year is our retail line. We’re doing our own vermouth, we have our own house-fermented wines. Our coasters are made of oyster shells we collect, and that’s something we want to start retailing. We also want to retail our stools, which are a collaboration with a local company, made from recycled compressed wood. The more these things can leave this space, the more we can do. ”

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