Foodie Confidential

Dark history with food: Nichol Ng struggled with bulimia for 27 years

The Food Bank Singapore's co-founder Nichol Ng struggled with bulimia for 27 years

Ms Nichol Ng's life has always revolved around food.

She is the co-founder of The Food Bank Singapore, a non-profit organisation that redistributes food to the needy, and she runs her family business, food distribution company FoodXervices, and its three subsidiaries.

Ms Ng, 39, also has a passion for cooking, which she picked up from her late grandmother and 79-yearold grandaunt when she was just three. She ran a sandwich shop for six months when she was 24.

But her affinity with food used to have a much darker side, which she likens to a "Jekyll & Hyde" relationship. She struggled with bulimia for 27 years from the age of 11.

She recalls: "I was a chubby child and double the size of my brother, who is just a year younger than me. Relatives would ask me if I ate his food. Such negative comments stuck with me, which eventually led to full-blown bulimia."

The longest she went without food was five days at the age of 14 and she finally sought help when she was 23, after she quit her first job as a marketing executive.


Ms Nichol Ng loves to cook and made chocolates with nuts. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

    Breakfast with my husband while waiting for the sunrise, which is time for quality conversation over coffee with good bread and hard cheeses. We had such an experience at the Inter Continental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort in Vietnam and I loved it. I don’t normally eat breakfast, but I do when I’m on holiday overseas.

Ironically, while battling the eating disorder, she had hopes of opening her own restaurant and started collecting menus from the age of 17.

"I wanted to open something like PS. Cafe - with fashion and food," says Ms Ng, whose sandwich shop in Raffles Place was forced to close because of a rodent problem in the foodcourt it was located in.

She was then asked to join the family business by her late father, who died last year of a weak heart. In 2007, she and her brother Nicholas, 37, bought over the 80-year-old business started by her grandfather. It was previously known as Ng Chye Mong Marketing.

The siblings started The Food Bank Singapore in 2012.

While Ms Ng proudly says that she is "out of the woods" from her bulimic past, there is still room for improvement in her diet. Her day starts with a triple shot of black coffee and she barely eats until dinner, which she acknowledges is a "bad habit".

But with her children - aged seven months, two and four years - she has been making sure they eat right from when they were four months old. She also takes them out to dinners and on her work trips, the way her father used to do with her and her brother.

Her 41-year-old husband works in the service sector.

Ms Ng is on a mission to improve the standard of food for children in Singapore. She says: "You usually get chicken fingers and fries when dining out. Children should learn the etiquette of eating, as well as be educated about food. I would love to start a gourmet baby food line as well as a restaurant for children."

Tell us why you started The Food Bank Singapore.

In the food distribution business, we noticed food prices going up. In 2012, a bottle of oil cost $12 and, since then, the price has doubled.

About 30 per cent of food goes to waste and half a million people are "food insecure". We've had preschool teachers tell us how families cannot afford to put food on the table. The meal the children eat in school may be their only one for the day. My brother and I knew we needed to do something.

What are your memories of dining with your father?

He was a foodie and would take us out for meals on the weekend. We have had dim sum in the afternoon, followed by a Chinese or Japanese dinner. Back in the early 1990s, I ate civet cat at Wah Lok Cantonese Restaurant at Carlton Hotel. I would just eat it, until one day I saw the paw in the pot. I never ate it again.

My dad gave me my first cup of XO when I was nine as he wanted me to be exposed from young. It was terrible and I'm still not a drinker today.

What are your memories of cooking when you were in school?

In CHIJ St Nicholas Girls' School, my friends and I won a Gardenia sandwich competition. I have a special tuna mayonnaise recipe with chilli padi and lemon juice.

I was president of the student council in Catholic Junior College and I baked for my friends things like brownies and cheesecake.

Tell us about some of your family's recipes.

One of them is my mother's signature sliced fish beehoon. You need to fill at least one-third of the pot with ikan bilis and fish bones, fry them with sesame oil, add hot water and boil for two hours for a rich stock.

Another recipe is for the fluffiest steamed egg cake, with 20 yolks, 500g sugar, 1kg flour and one can of ice cream soda. Mix everything and steam.

I learnt to make muah chee from my late grandmother. It is not just about mixing water and glutinous rice flour. You have to make shallot oil and fry the muah chee in the oil. The ground peanuts should be fried in the oil too.

I hope to document these recipes and pass them on to my children.

Have you started to teach your children how to cook?

Yes, my eldest daughter started at 21/2 years old and I guide her with the fire. We make pancakes on weekends.

I find that females don't go into the kitchen anymore. You don't need to be a chef, but it's good to be able to cook for yourself or family.

You started your children on solids when they turned four months old. Tell us what you feed them.

I want them to try new food every day, so I have a list with the daily ingredients on my refrigerator. I know that parents worry about allergies, but I'd rather find out early than later. I use wagyu to make stews as well as black garlic to cook with rice.

Where do you go when dining out with your children?

A family favourite is Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck at Asia Square and DB Bistro & Oyster Bar at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) for brunch. The One&Only Reethi Rah resort in the Maldives has a good menu for kids. You can pick what you want and decide how you want it cooked.

How about for date night with your husband?

We go to Japanese restaurant Tatsuya at Goodwood Park Hotel for sashimi and sushi. Also at the hotel, we dine at the one-Michelin- starred Alma by Juan Amador because we are good friends with its chef, Haikal Johari. For good steak, we go to Cut at MBS.

Is there any food you crave?

Confinement food. I love herbal soup and mee sua with chicken and sesame, which is wholesome and nourishing. My grandaunt makes a fantastic vinegar chicken, instead of with the usual pig trotters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline 'Dark history with food'. Print Edition | Subscribe