Melissa Mak has the magic touch when it comes to ferments. For a few years now, I have been drinking her kombucha at her home, affectionately known as Simei Sanctuary, and at cafes. It never fails to settle my stomach on days when it’s feeling dodgy. This happens frequently, which is why fermented products appeal to me. Melissa runs Fizzicle, which specialises in kombucha in Singapore.
In her HDB corridor garden, Melissa grows a variety of edible and non-edible plants for fermentation purposes or to suit her curiosities. These include Ylang ylang, Eau de Cologne mint, Moroccan mint, chin chow, Brazilian spinach, sand ginger, mani cai, sweet potato, butterfly pea, pumpkin, among others. One of her current experiments is making perfume using Eau de Cologne mint.
She gives us a peek into what a fermenter’s garden looks like.
What got you into fermentation, and what made you start Fizzicle?
Bad health. I got into fermentation when I had really bad IBS. Travelling and street food did not do very much for my stomach so I had very bad IBS for a very prolonged period. I discovered that fermentation would help me out and it did, it lifted me out of the doldrums.
My family surname is “Mak”, it is a young surname, you will not see a lot of us out there, our Chinese surname is 麦 (mai). Before it was called “mai” it was “qu”, for fermentation starter. So fermenting is like respecting my family heritage We thought we were farmers in the past, but it turns out that we were fermenters in the past. So I am doing my family job, so to speak.
Other than kombucha, what else do you ferment?
I’ve made koji, so I have made my own miso at home, and sugar ferments. I take inspiration from the garden, there was one time when I had too much kale, I made kimchi kale. So whatever inspires me, whatever’s in season or in the garden, I just go ahead and do it.
There was a salted egg episode which hasn’t been repeated yet, it is very hard to get fresh eggs here. That was pretty good though, and it was a fun experiment.