Honestly? I don’t get asked these questions all that frequently. But one can’t have a website in which “FAQ” doesn’t appear, right?
~ What culinary knowledge do I have?
~ What is my heritage?
~ Sure, I can eat and shop, but can I cook?
~ What is my top-rating dish?
~ What bit of kitchen equipment can’t I live without?
~ What are some favourite childhood memories of my family and food?
Q: What culinary knowledge do I have?
A: As a result of independent learning and genetics. I am intimately familiar with Singaporean/Malaysian-style cooking, and have a good working knowledge of Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Cantonese and northern Chinese food.
Regular trips to visit family in Singapore and Malaysia are always food expeditions.
Heaven for me consists of doing self-guided food tours overseas…sans children, bwaah-ha-ha!!! That’s just one of the myriad of reasons for my eternal gratitude to Mummy and Papa.
Q: What is my heritage?
A: I was born in Singapore. In Singapore, finding good places to eat is not a hobby; it is an absolutely ingrained way of life. That, plus being Chinese, make it inevitable that foodie-ism runs in my blood. There are also the culinary stories about my late maternal grandpa (epicure, entrepreneur, bonsai master) and my late paternal grandma (home cook extraordinaire, creator of memorable Chinese New Year reunion feasts)…but that’s another reality TV show altogether.
I have reached the tipping point of having spent more than half my life – over 20 years! – living in Sydney. I’ve lived in Burwood since 1997, still in the first house that I bought all those years ago after viewing 72 others.
I have the immense good luck of being married to an exceptional man. He also happens to be a skilled and adventurous home cook. He’s from Kelantan, one of the lesser-known States of Malaysia, with a cuisine so unique that a majority of non-Kelantanese Malaysians would consider those foods rather foreign.
Case in point: Malays in Kelantan have their own special rice grain for cooking the swooningly aromatic, texturally satisfying nasi dagang.
Q: Sure, I can eat and shop, but can I cook?
One of my top priorities is to teach my children to eat well and identify healthy food. That’s why I’m full of easy recipe ideas for wholesome, economical meals and school lunches. And that’s where my Secret Weapons in the Kitchen come in.
I relish the challenge of reverse-engineering restaurant dishes. Can I make it tastier, less oily and without the restaurant price tag? I’ll give it a red hot go!
My specialty is in marrying a rainbow of seasonal ingredients for Asian-style and Western-style salads. And the pressure cooker is my BFF for meals that are low-fat yet utterly jam-packed with flavour.
Thanks to my husband, we also get KL Hokkien mee, pad thai, char kway teow, Indian mee goreng and many other noodles that make our kids go “Yay!” at dinner time. He’s also a deft hand at making curry – the kind where one grinds whole spices to make a rempah (spice paste) as a first step.
Here is a video of me in action:
Q: What is my top-rating dish?
A: Without a doubt, my Lucky Raw Fish Salad (Fa Cai Yu Sheng 发财鱼生).
To my utter relief, this was well-received by the very exacting members of my extended family when I made it for Chinese New Year in Singapore.
My older brother’s back-handed compliment was, “I have to say this is very good. I’m surprised.” This the guy who can taste a morsel of steamed fish and declare the fish isn’t fresh because its texture is mui, ie too soft and paste-like. So any compliment from him is high praise. And I lapped it up.This symbolic dish is a ubiquitous Chinese New Year dish in Singapore and Malaysia. My version has 20 ingredients. I was driven to master this because I didn’t want to pay the $80-$100 being charged by the few Sydney restaurants that offer this dish.
And then there’s my hand-made Gigantic Golden Raisin Muesli containing 7 ingredients, no dust and no added sugar or oils, with individually roasted nuts and seeds. This has been giving energy to my family since the noughties.
A: Let’s exclude the lethally sharp knife because: (a) it’s a given for any kitchen, and (b) I can’t write anything amusing about it. So my answer is…….pointy Japanese chopsticks.
I’ve used them since I was 5 years old. My parents always had a special pair for me, and one for my older brother. I use them to break noodles, toss salads, pick up tofu and peas, eat pasta, pick chilli bits out of my kids’ meals when they were smaller, and dig out the flesh from chilli crab.
I’ve also been seen doing the very un-Singaporean thing of eating durians with chopsticks so that my fingers don’t get tinged with The Smell.
Q: What are some favourite childhood memories of my family and food?
A: When my bro and I were kids, my parents had us trying everything the adults ate. We needed no persuasion! I have no memory of toned-down “kids’ meals” – those must’ve stopped when I grew teeth.
Going out with our parents for Western food was a favourite childhood treat. Together with our cousins, we’d chew up our medium-rare steak in the cool, dim surrounds of Fitzpatrick’s restaurant. Being a set lunch, it came with coffee in a china cup at the end. And yes, I was allowed to finish it. Everything in moderation, even at age 7.
Then there were the extended family 10-course dinners at Mayflower on Sunday evenings. Impish uncles would give me the ears and tail of the lacquer-skinned suckling pig – at every dinner without fail. My grandparents, parents and aunts chuckled. Still, to this day, I’d happily eat those bits with no qualms.
I’m proud to say my daughter is also a keen consumer of pigs’ ears.
And that, my friends, is how I got here.