Foodie Confidential

Rojak festive eats

The Christmas feasts Ms Sarah Martin, organiser of Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay, enjoys with her family are East-meets-West affairs

Roast turkey and beef paired with chicken biryani and curry may seem like a motley East-meets- West combination for a Christmas feast.

But that is what Ms Sarah Martin, organiser of the Yuletide fair Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay, grew up with.

The 41-year-old, who has four older sisters and a younger brother, says: "We have two very good cooks in the family. One sister takes charge of the turkey and the other cooks biryani. I grew up with these dishes, so it is quite normal for me."

Her family's cross-cultural Christmas Day lunch reflects her diverse heritage, which she calls "a rojak combination". Her father is of British parentage, while her mother has Indian, Thai and Arab ancestry.

Her family's eating preferences, she says, were "split down the middle". Her father ate English food every night and her siblings like both Western and Asian dishes.

  • WHAT WOULD  YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • Chicken biryani and roast turkey cooked by my two sisters. For my last meal, I want the memory of my family coming together.

Some of her favourite dishes made by her mother are shepherd's pie, black pepper prawns, curry and roast chicken with a "luminous green" layer of blended vegetables, which her family calls green chicken.

For Christmas Day lunch with her family of 16, she is in charge of "back-end logistics", such as organising the gift exchange, and the punch bowl.

This is no surprise given that Ms Martin, who is a director at events management company Blue Sky Events, has organised the annual Christmas fair in Gardens by the Bay for the past two years. This year's fair is on till Jan 1 and its centrepiece is the Spalliera Castel del Monte luminarie light sculpture. Standing at 19.7m tall, it is modelled after a 13th-century castle in southeast Italy.

Ms Martin hatched the idea of the luminarie after a visit to Kobe Luminarie in Japan five years ago. It is an annual winter light-up that commemorates the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

She is also a senior consultant with the Singapore Grand Prix and was appointed chief executive of Arts House Limited earlier this month.

How is it like working on one of the biggest holidays here? Ms Martin, who is single, says: "This is such a happy event and I get to hang out with my family at the fair. They celebrate your work with you and we create memories together."

What are some of your favourite food at Christmas Wonderland?

I love the fresh cream cheese with black truffle spread on toast from The Adriatic Pantry, which sells food products from Croatia. There is also tandoori chicken from African Tandoor, with peri peri and lemon garlic sauces that are made fresh in-house. I also like the truffle mac 'n' cheese from Harry's because truffle makes comfort food taste extraordinary.

What is your favourite Christmas dish?

My sister's roast turkey. The meat is always nice and moist, the skin is crisp and the stuffing is perfectly blended. It comes with sides like sweet carrots and roasted potatoes. I always go for the turkey thigh as I love the smooth and moist meat, which goes very well with gravy.

What food-related present do you hope to get this Christmas?

I appreciate good salt, olive oil and herbs. One of the best gifts that I have received is a rack of lamb.

How did your interest in cooking start?

My mum is a good cook, so I ate at home most of the time. I learnt to cook from her just before leaving for university in Australia when I was 17. She refused to let me leave the country until I learnt how to cook, because I was going there with a friend who could not fry an egg.

She gave me a few weeks of intensive cooking lessons. But instead of basic dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese, she taught me complicated ones such as tandoori chicken, biryani and tom yum soup.

What are your favourite Singapore foods and where do you go for them?

I go to Zaffron Kitchen in East Coast Road for tandoor-cooked meats, such as lamb, potato-based chaat and breads. The meat is juicy and has a nice blend of spices.

I also like black dhal with rice or roti from Chutney Mary in Siglap for its thick texture and distinctive taste. I also have a weakness for yong tau foo. I love the variety.

You love truffles. What is your favourite truffle dish?

I love having soft cream cheese blended with black truffles from Rimini, Italy, on crackers. This is on my wishlist whenever friends travel to Italy.

Are you an adventurous eater?

No, I am a traditional eater who likes food well-done. I don't like raw food or odd parts of animals, such as intestines. I cannot eat sashimi because I cannot get past the fact that it is not cooked.

What are your comfort foods?

Mashed potato with gravy, and the bowl gets bigger when I am more upset. I also like mixing white rice with a dash of butter and having it with a sunny-side-up egg and dark soya sauce. The butter gives the rice a rich flavour.

What is your favourite foodie destination?

London. Whenever I am there, I try to visit as many pubs as possible, as I want to find the best meat pie there. There is nothing like having a pie with perfect pastry, steaming hot inside, and mashed potato with gravy and green peas on the side.

I like Hackney House Cafe & Gifts in Dronfield. It is a hole-in-a-wall pie shop that sells the best beef pie. It is so delicious that the flaky crust can be eaten on its own.

If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be and why?

Former South African president Nelson Mandela. I have been to South Africa a few times and I am stunned by his spirit of forgiveness. I would like to find out how he managed to stay resilient during the trying times when he was in jail.

• Christmas Wonderland is on till Jan 1 at Gardens by the Bay. Tickets start at $6. Go to www.christmaswonderland.sg

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Rojak festive eats'. Print Edition | Subscribe