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Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

TV host Bryan Wong: No food photos, please

Mediacorp artiste Bryan Wong has a full schedule hosting and acting on television, as well as playing celebrity guide on overseas tours. But whenever he can, he goes home to have dinner with his mum.

Quite often, he cooks it too.

"Just yesterday, I got home and all the ingredients for a dish of oyster sauce chicken were already laid out in the kitchen. My mum said why don't I cook it, so I did," he says matter-of-factly.

The 45-year-old, who is single and lives with his widowed mother, says he no longer dines out regularly in Singapore any more.

"I used to live to eat, but now I eat to live," he says.

What caused the change was that after eating at restaurants overseas during his frequent travels, he realised that he could not find the same authenticity here.


Bryan Wong cooks at least nine or 10 dishes for family and friends during Chinese New Year. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Another reason is the lack of privacy.

"Now everybody has a camera phone," he says. "I don't mind if they ask if they can take a picture of me, but often they pretend not to look and quietly snap a photo. Later, you see an ugly Instagram photo of yourself eating.

"Seriously, it's just a plate of char kway teow, I don't have to go through all this just for that."

He will be hosting a new season of Mandarin talk show Mars Versus Venus, where guests debate issues from the viewpoints of the two sexes. Also on the cards is You Can Be An Angel 2, the sequel to the popular Channel 8 drama in which he plays a nurse who gets hitched at the end. The new series picks up the story and focuses on his marital problems.

He led 160 people on a tour to Sydney last month with a Singapore tour agency.

How long have you been leading tours and is food an important part of the itinerary?

It started about 11 years ago and it's fun to go on holiday with a lot of people and hop on a different bus every day. I used to do three trips a year, now it is about once a year, usually to Europe.

On a package tour, the food is usually not fantastic because you have to find a restaurant big enough to seat so many people. In Europe, good food is usually found in small restaurants or bistros.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • It must be a feast of abundance. I’d binge on no fewer than 50 dishes. Why restrict myself to one item? I’d eat like there’s no tomorrow because there is no tomorrow. I’d finish with a lot of desserts. But the last item must be a bit of durian.

How do you discover the good eating places then?

I have some free time and sometimes have lunch on my own. When I travel, I have to eat something from that country.

I loathe the idea of eating in a Chinese restaurant in a Western country, though as a guide, I understand that some people cannot eat dairy or miss food from home.

How do you pick the places to check out on your own?

On my first trip, I have to sample everything like most tourists.

I love Italian food and on my first trip to Italy, I had to try all the pastas and pizzas. But after a few visits, I realise that in every part of Italy the food is different.

I like to talk to local people and get directions to some out-of-the-way little trattoria.

Also, with social media, everything is at your fingertips, though you can't trust everything on the Internet. But I'm generally a sucker for stars, so if I see a lot of stars or thumbs, I'll hunt down the eatery.

Did you have any good food during your recent trip to Sydney?

I went to a fish and chips place, Fish On The Rocks, that got a lot of thumbs when I researched it on the Internet.

The orange roughy fillet with fries and tartar sauce was divine. The fish was moist and flaky. The tartar sauce was not heavy and had bits of pickles in it. The fries were crispy outside and soft inside, with steam coming out when I bit into them.

I gobbled everything up in less than three minutes and felt so satisfied. I was a bit embarrassed that I was such a glutton.

I seldom post photos of food, but I took a photo of this and beautified it before posting it on Instagram.

Why don't you like to post food photos on social media?

It is a pet peeve of mine. The food is nice and hot, but I'm stopped from eating because everyone must take a photo first.

Usually I just sit there and smile, and since everyone is taking a photo, I take one too.

Do you have any other favourite cuisine?

I like Thai food too and I pig out in Bangkok. Taling Pling is one of my favourite restaurants.

One dish I always order is pad thai. If a restaurant cannot do a good pad thai, the rest of the food will suck. It's how I measure a restaurant. A good pad thai must have wok hei, the noodles cannot be soggy and must be nicely separated. And the dish has to be garnished with banana flower. If it isn't, it means that shop takes no pride in its cooking.

How about going out for hawker food?

The right food can light up your life, at least for a couple of hours.

But it's getting more difficult to be comforted by comfort food because these foods no longer exist - at least to me. The taste is not there any more.

Because the weather is so hot, sometimes l like to go to a food court. But the food is cooked in a central kitchen. And sometimes the sign just says chicken rice, with no stall name. There is no pride or a story behind the stall. Even for a burger, you need to know whether it's a McDonald's or a Burger King.

So I just eat to fill up my stomach.

How did you learn to cook?

When I was a kid, every Sunday was spent at the market. My father cooked every Sunday and he was very meticulous. For example, everything must be cut to the same shape and the spring onion must be fresh, not limp. I think I got that from him.

I also hosted a few TV variety shows that featured food and met extraordinary chefs. I watched them cook and some were ready to share while others held back. I started to pick up things.

I have acute tastebuds and can replicate something I've eaten. I'd try to find out what the hidden flavours are. I like food that makes you think, something that baffles you - the dish seems so simple, but where do all these flavours come from?

What's the biggest group you've cooked for?

During Chinese New Year, I'd assign a day for people to visit.

I cook at least nine or 10 dishes and a lot of each. For a dish like spare ribs, it would be a huge pot of 50 to 60 ribs.

Other dishes could include chicken rice because I'm Hainanese, sweet and sour pork, sea cucumber with top shell, Hainanese mixed vegetables, prawns, crabs and soup with abalone.

If you could choose anyone in the world to have a meal with, who would that be?

My late father. He died at 59 of an illness, when I was 26.

I did not have many opportunities to cook for him when he was alive. My repertoire now is something I'm proud of and it'd be good if I could cook for him.

I'd cook everything I've sampled in foreign lands. My father was a seaman and it was through his black and white photos that I saw the different countries he sailed to.

So through the food, I can share with him my travels too.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 26, 2016, with the headline 'No food photos, please'. Print Edition | Subscribe