Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

TV host Anita Kapoor’s favourite dishes

Travel show host Anita Kapoor is of Anglo-Indian parentage and grew up eating a hotch-potch of cuisines

Travel show host Anita Kapoor, 45, grew up surrounded by food.

The child of a Punjabi father and an Anglo-Indian mother, she spent her childhood in Mumbai with her maternal grandmother.

Her mother remarried when Kapoor was very young and moved to Singapore with Kapoor's stepfather, whom she calls dad, when he came here to work in the shipping industry in the 1970s.

When she was seven, she and her elder sister relocated here too and their grandmother joined them later.

She started her career as a beauty and lifestyle magazine writer, but now works mostly on television as a host of travel and food programmes.

Her next project is hosting a travel programme for a TV station in Sanin, Japan. Filming will start in October for the series, which focuses on how one can take time out and slow down in Japan. It will be in English.


    A fried egg, buttered toast (and not even gluten-free) and a cup of tea. Simplicity.

She is single and shares an apartment in the east with two others.

What were your food memories as a child? We lived in an area in Mumbai near the ports, so my memories were of fishing boats going by the window at 5am. Villagers would come around to sell fresh fish from the boats. So I grew up on a diet of fresh fish.

My grandmother made her own pickles and chutneys. Next door was a family of Goans and there were a lot of Parsis living in the area and my grandmother picked up everybody's kind of food. She also learnt to cook khao soi, a Burmese dish.

Our Anglo-Indian kind of food also meant we could have curry followed by trifle pudding for dessert. I grew up with strong flavours.

How about after moving to Singapore? Mum would cook crab curry on Sundays and grandma was the only one with the guts to kill a live crab, so she would do that.

My family also used to go to the Jurong Fishery Port at 2am - mum and dad with my sister and me half-asleep - and we'd buy a month's worth of fish.

And then we'd go to a hawker centre nearby to eat kway chap for breakfast. We were living in Choa Chu Kang at the time.

What did you like to eat as a child? Lady's fingers were my thing. I have a memory of clinging to my grandma's hip one day and stealing raw lady's fingers to eat while she was cooking.

For me, a meal was not complete without dhal. I remember my neighbour asking my mother why I hadn't been fed. My mother said "What?" and I replied: "But I haven't had any dhal yet."

I was obviously quite a naughty child.

How did you get started in the kitchen? I was always wondering what was this magic going on in the kitchen, and my mum and grandma knew that. So I was invited to participate.

I became my mum's apprentice, doing the chopping and cutting. By the time I was seven or eight, I could cut an onion in different ways to get different flavours.

I started with cooking basic dishes such as curries and dhal.

Did you need to cook for the family since your grandmother and mother were good cooks? No, it wasn't until I was an adult that I really started cooking. I needed to make that chicken curry and get it to smell the way it smelled in my mother's kitchen.

Now I try to cook all the old recipes - the curries, the pies and the desserts. I'm not that good with desserts, though.

We had big lunches in my mother's home on Sundays, while dinner would be something simple.

For some years, I was cooking the Sunday lunch, but then I got really busy with work. It's not something I would do every Sunday now, but I would like to do it again. I love the ritual of prepping a Sunday lunch.

How often do you cook? At the most once a week. My flatmates and I take turns or each would cook a dish.

I'm very good with stews, I love the long cooking process. And I do a good stuffed red snapper with coriander chutney that is cooked in the oven.

I also have to do plum pudding for Christmas every year for my family. That starts in October. We soak the dried fruit in alcohol, brandy, whisky, amaretto, whatever we feel like.

And then it's the mixing of the pudding. And then we steam it for two hours each day for three days and then an hour on the fourth.

And it's still not ready to eat, it has to be put aside. We can keep the pudding in the freezer for a year.

When we serve it, we flambe it with brandy.

What is the most important meal of the day for you? If I don't eat breakfast, I'm "hangry", which is hungry and angry. It's always eggs, poached or quarter- boiled, or buckwheat pancakes because I'm wheat-intolerant.

I've got the quarter-boiled eggs down to an art. I learnt it from a kopitiam. It has to be in water that's freshly boiled for 41/2 minutes and you have to stir it halfway or it will not coddle properly.

I also like thosai and idli for breakfast. I'd make a trip to Little India at 9am for those because it's quiet and peaceful at that time. Food for me is a contemplative thing, not something you just shove in and go.

Where do you go for those in Little India? I usually end up at the old Komala Vilas in Serangoon Road, not because it has the best thosai but because I love the atmosphere there.

I usually try to score a particular table near the window where I can sit and dream for a while. I'd have either idli or thosai and a masala chai.

A place that does really good thosai is Murugan Idli Shop in Syed Alwi Road near exit 6 of Mustafa Centre. It's a chain from India and serves beautiful filtered coffee.

Is there any other local food that you like? Hainanese chicken rice. I usually go to Five Star Chicken Rice in East Coast Road because I live in the east, but I also used to like Wee Nam Kee in Thomson Road. The dish has to have all the trimmings.

Do you like fancy restaurants? I eat everything. I love chefs who are innovative but still respect the fact that food has to be satisfying and with soul.

One of my favourite restaurants is Cheek By Jowl in Boon Tat Street. Chef Rishi Naleendra is so innovative without it being cutesy.

Another chef whose work I respect is Ivan Brehm from The Kitchen At Bacchanalia in HongKong Street.

I respect international chefs such as Susur Lee. He doesn't come along and say: "Let me change things." He's like: "I'm just going to change it a bit and come up with something else." And it's not about borrowing something from your culture, putting it together and hoping it works.

If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be? I'd love for my dad and my grandma to be still alive and I'd love to have a big family lunch. We'd have crab curry and khao soi. Everybody would go into a food coma after that and go to bed.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter@STahyoke

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 07, 2016, with the headline 'Curry followed by trifle pudding'. Print Edition | Subscribe