Foodie Confidential

Radio DJ Denise Tan: Eat, drink,be merry until 6am

Radio DJ Denise Tan celebrates Christmas with two huge meals

Christmas is a time for feasting and some families pull out all the stops.

Take, for example, actress-radio DJ Denise Tan, 40. For the last 30 years, her family has celebrated Yuletide with an overnight party featuring two huge meals.

On Christmas Eve, close to 30 family members gather at her family home, a condominium apartment near Holland Village, at about 7pm for a Western-style buffet featuring 10 festive dishes such as turkey, roast beef, garlic mashed potato, sausages and salads.

At 10pm, the open house begins, with friends dropping by and another buffet is set up for "those who have a second wind". This time, dishes such as beef rendang, fried bee hoon, cold cuts and cheeses are served.

The eating, drinking and merry- making last until 6am the next day.


    A small bowl of mee pok dry, a big dry-aged steak with lots of fries and creamed spinach and I would wash them down with a bottle of Pinot Noir and finish with Wang Zhong Wang durian.

Tan says: "I feel blessed to have such a meaningful family tradition that has grown over the years, with close-knit and fun-loving family and friends."

She also eases into the Yuletide mood by starring in Crazy Christmas - A groundNutcracker Show, a madcap song-and-dance festive show by theatre company Dream Academy. It is on at the Esplanade Theatre until Saturday.

The foodie says she will try anything once, "from junk food to hawker food to fine-dining food and everything else in between". Her insatiable appetite is apparent when she chats about food while digging into fried chicken wings during a rehearsal break for Crazy Christmas.

When she is not stuffing herself, she is checking out food blogs such as Serious Eats and Chubby Hubby or discussing food haunts with her makan kakis, theatre actor Sebastian Tan and radio DJ Yasminne Cheng.

Growing up in a food-loving family, Tan, who has a lawyer brother, 44, says that their childhood was filled with massive potluck get-togethers for birthdays and festivals.

She is named after Dionysus, the god of wine in Greek mythology, as her father, 70, a general practitioner, is a wine connoisseur. Her Peranakan housewife mother, also 70, is "the queen of the kitchen", who makes rempah or spice pastes and elaborate dishes such as Nonya noodles and Nonya laksa.

This Christmas, Tan, who is single, hopes to take time off work to document her mother's recipes for Christmas dishes by taking photos and "interrogating her on ingredients and cooking steps".

She says: "My mum has a huge heart and has created a happy home with lots of meals for friends and family. I hope to preserve her spirit of hospitality so more people can enjoy her food."

What are your favourite Christmas dishes?

I always hanker after mashed potato with gravy, then I load up on sausages, roast beef and go for turkey breast meat and spoon more gravy over it.

What do you whip up for Christmas?

I make no-bake treats as presents for friends and family. I like hand-rolling chocolate truffles with Cointreau, nuts, candied fruit and crushed candy canes. I also make chocolate bars studded with pistachios and fruit.

What would be the perfect food-related present anyone can get you this Christmas?

I have bought it already. It is a spiraliser, which cuts vegetables into thin strips. I would use it to make zucchini "pasta" and toss it in this weird but yummy sauce - a blend of peanut butter, tahini and fish sauce, soya and sesame oils, and pickle juice.

What are your fondest memories of food?

I remember my mother cooking Nonya noodles, with prawn stock, pork belly and lots of lard, and Nonya laksa. These dishes are must- haves for Chinese New Year. She cooks them once a year as they take a lot of work. I also remember smelling sesame oil for the first time when my grandfather took me to have mee pok when I was young.

What are your favourite Singapore foods and where would you go to eat them?

I like mee pok, dry style, from Ru Ji Kitchen in Holland Drive Food Centre. The fishballs are so big, springy and addictive that I once ate two bowls of noodles consecutively. I also like claypot laksa from Zhen Shan Mei stall in Alexandra Village Food Centre. It has such a thick and luscious coconut gravy. It is the closest version to what my mother cooks. Then, there is Wang Zhong Wang durian. It is bittersweet and creamy. I always have them chosen by Ah Di, the owner of Wan Li Xiang stall in Dempsey Road, and I take them to durian potluck parties.

You love burgers. What are your favourite places to go for burgers?

I like Carl's Jr for its Famous Star cheeseburger. I ask for the buns to be replaced with lettuce so that I can eat more fries. I go to De Burg in Kallang Avenue for its peanut butter beef burger and Omakase Burger at The Grandstand, which serves a cheeseburger with apple-wood- smoked bacon and beef tallow fries.

Share with us a memorable fan encounter while dining out.

I like Hoy Yong Seafood Restaurant in Clementi Avenue 2 for zi char dishes such as tempura duck roll and claypot pork liver that is creamy yet springy. I didn't expect the owner to put up on the wall a blown-up photo that I took with him. There's a joke in the local entertainment scene: If your photo is on the wall of Founder Bak Kut Teh Restaurant in Balestier Road, you've made it. Mine's hanging on Hoy Yong's wall.

What has been your most memorable meal overseas?

My family goes on culinary holidays to check out the best restaurants and wines. In the mid 2000s, we visited a hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Kahala, in Osaka, which has a fusion omakase menu. I loved its homey dishes such as beef millefeuille, which is made with thin slices of beef from Mie prefecture, the top and bottom layers were seared while those in the middle were raw, and the Japanese rice was smothered with karasumi (sun-dried mullet roe).

Do you cook?

I occasionally cook dishes such as stir-fried noodles, mushroom risotto and a recipe that I am hooked on - salt-dried Japanese seaweed tossed with angel hair pasta, truffle oil and olive oil. It is so umami and addictive.

What's always in your home fridge?

Peanut butter. My favourite brands are Pic's from New Zealand, which is made with peanuts and sea salt, and Skippy Peanut Butter. I also have jars of whole brined dill pickles and I can eat them till my tongue shrivels up.

•Crazy Christmas - A groundNutcracker Show is on at the Esplanade Theatre till Saturday. Tickets cost $66 to $116 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 13, 2015, with the headline 'Eat, drink, be merry until 6am'. Subscribe