FOODIE CONFIDENTIAL

Open house for relatives

Ms Anita Fam with butterscotch bars and duck salad which she made herself.
Ms Anita Fam with butterscotch bars and duck salad which she made herself.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Ms Anita Fam hosts a happy gathering for 200 people at her house every Chinese New Year

Whether it is lunch for eight guests or 200, nothing fazes Ms Anita Fam, who says she can "entertain at the drop of a handkerchief".

The 52-year-old, who is a council member of Families For Life, a non-profit organisation that promotes resilient families, loves hosting gatherings for family and friends with home-cooked feasts.

One major event is her family's Chinese New Year open house, during which about 200 people throng her sprawling bungalow in King Albert Park.

She and her book publisher husband Goh Eck Kheng, 60, started it six years ago, after they felt that they were meeting relatives too often at other relatives' funerals.

"We wanted more happy opportunities for relatives to come together," she says.

Food plays a vital role as a "unifier" at the family gatherings.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • Chicken porridge cooked in a superior stock simmered for hours with dried scallops, chicken bones and Yunnan ham. It has to go with condiments such as pickles and ikan bilis.

The highlight of her Chinese New Year open house is yusheng. Her husband prepares large platters of the raw fish salad, with 60 ingredients.

Ms Fam, who studied law in London, says: "Food is so entrenched in Singaporeans' DNA. When I was studying overseas, non-Singaporeans there were astounded by how we could talk about our next meals while eating."

She was a lawyer for 12 years before becoming a housewife in 2000. These days, she serves on the board of 17 public organisations, including the Singapore International Foundation.

Her late father Michael Fam, who died in December last year at age 87 of prostate cancer, was the former executive chairman of the Fraser and Neave Group.

Besides hosting family gatherings, she enjoys baking cakes for her children, Gillian, 16, and Timothy, 14 .

Ms Fam, who has an older brother, says: "It has become unthinkable to have store-bought cakes for their birthdays. No matter how unrefined the cakes turn out, the cakes are a show of my love for them.

How did your interest in cooking start?

When I was 11 and on holiday in New Zealand, I tasted the most beautiful scrambled eggs and wanted to recreate it at home.

My Cantonese amah jealously guarded the kitchen but she spent Sunday nights in one of the living quarters in Sago Lane so I could experiment cooking scrambled eggs every Monday morning.

What are your fondest memories of food?

I used to go with my primary schoolmates from Marymount Convent School to hawker stalls under Whitley flyover near Thomson Road.

What are your favourite Singapore food, and where do you go to eat them?

Bak chor mee from a now-defunct coffee-shop stall in Hillcrest Road. The noodles were served with a beautiful pork soup. Since the old couple retired two years ago, I have not found any version like theirs.

What are your favourite cuisines?

Indian and Thai. My roots in cooking come from Indian cuisine, as I took a cooking class with chef Dershini Winodan. I enjoy cooking butter chicken, Keraa-style fish curry, keema (minced beef or mutton curry with peas) and Indian breads such as poori.

For Thai food, I like to go to Patara Fine Thai Cuisine in Tanglin Mall for its green curry and minced pork and prawns in coconut dip with crackers, and E-Sarn at The Grandstand.

Tell us about your cookbook collection.

I have thousands of them, some bought when I travelled. I like unusual cookbooks from countries such as Laos and Myanmar.

I don't follow recipes, but read cookbooks to get ideas for cooking.

One of the most treasured is The Moosewood Cookbook, a collection of vegetarian recipes by American chef Mollie Katzen.

Which restaurants do you go to with your family?

Union Farm Eating House in Clementi Road. It is a throwback to the 1960s. My family loves its paper- wrapped chicken and prawn rolls and dough fritters stuffed with sotong.

We also like to go to fine-dining restaurant Dinner by Heston Blumenthal during our annual trips to London. We like dishes such as Meat Fruit, which is chicken liver pate shaped like a mandarin orange, and Tipsy Cake, brioche with spit-roasted pineapple.

How often do you cook?

I cook once a week. I rustle up fuss-free dishes such as seared duck seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, and serve it with fresh rocket leaves. We have dinner at home as often as we can.

If you could choose anyone to dine with, who would that be?

My late father. I was very close to him. He loved his food even when he wasn't well in the last six years before his death.

He perked up every time I brought ice cream and fried chicken and that kept him going.

•Families For Life will be organising its annual Families For Life Celebrations in Universal Studios Singapore on Sept 5 and 6 . Families can ballot for complimentary tickets to the theme park in Resorts World Sentosa at www.familiesforlife.sg/unite-at-an-event/Pages/Families-for-Life-Celebrations-2015.aspx

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 16, 2015, with the headline 'Foodie Confidential Open house for relatives'. Print Edition | Subscribe