Reel love of food

Film-maker Eric Khoo says food is a big part of Singapore culture, which is why it has been a common theme in his works

One of Eric Khoo's favourite foods is wonton noodles from Guangzhou Wanton Noodles in Tanglin Halt Food Centre.
One of Eric Khoo's favourite foods is wonton noodles from Guangzhou Wanton Noodles in Tanglin Halt Food Centre.PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It is difficult not to get hungry when watching films directed by film-maker Eric Khoo.

In his 1995 debut feature, Mee Pok Man, the protagonist, played by actor Joe Ng, deftly dishes out bowls of noodles as a hawker.

Then there is 12 Storeys (1997), in which actor-director Jack Neo plays a yong tau foo seller. Food also features in Be With Me (2005), a film about love and hope in everyday Singapore.

Recently, he made Wanton Mee, an ode to Singapore's colourful hawker culture, told through a food critic played by actor Koh Boon Pin.

The short film will be screened at this year's San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain next month. It was first shown on Okto channel in March this year and can be viewed on Singapore Airlines flights. Plans for a DVD release here are in the works.

On why food has been a common theme throughout his films, Khoo, 49, says: "Food is a big part of Singapore culture and we will die without our local food. We are a greedy lot and have every reason to be, as we have a melting pot of delightful and mouth-watering cuisines."


  • A bowl of wonton noodles from Guangzhou Wanton Noodles stall and two soft-boiled eggs.

Wanton Mee features about 15 food haunts, some of which are his favourites. They include Guangzhou Wanton Noodles in Tanglin Halt Food Centre, Samy's Curry in Dempsey Road and Glory Catering in East Coast Road.

When his team was looking for places to be featured in the film, he told them to include some of his favourite foods, such as bak kut teh, mee siam and Hainanese curry rice.

He says: "I want to pay tribute to these talented chefs, who have built such an incredible and unique cuisine, such as Hainanese curry rice, which consists of five types of gravies. It is sacred ground."

Khoo, who is the youngest child of philanthropist Khoo Teck Puat, is married to housewife Kim Eun Choo, 40, and the couple have four sons aged 17 to 21.

His upcoming erotic movie, Into The Room, will premiere at international film festivals next month.

Food is so important to him that his next two feature films will centre on the much-loved topic. He declines to give more details, but says one of them will be made in collaboration with a Japanese company.

"As a kid watching western films, I was turned on watching rough cowboys eat baked beans and drink coffee from steel utensils. These scenes were as vital as the action scenes," he says. "It's something about watching people eat in films. It is delicious."

How did your obsession with wonton noodles start?

I used to like to go to a now-closed wonton noodle stall in East Coast Lagoon Food Village. When the food centre closed for renovations, I went around the island trying out wonton noodles and finally found Guangzhou Wanton Noodles in Tanglin Halt Food Centre. I am there two to three times a week. I cannot sleep well at night without it. It is like my drug.

What do you like about the wonton noodles at that stall?

It is all about the chilli sauce and springy noodles. It is my soul food.

How did your interest in food start?

My late mother was a great cook. My favourite dishes that she cooked included fried bee hoon with canned stewed pork and chicken curry. When I was young, my mother would take a pot of curry chicken and some baguettes to picnics at East Coast Park.

What is your favourite food memory?

Soft-boiled eggs. I am very particular on how they turn out. The egg white has to hold onto the yolk and drop like a ball when the egg is cracked open.

I like eating them with dark and light soya sauces. It takes me back to my childhood and my wonderment at cinema and comic books.

What is your secret to making soft-boiled eggs?

My eggs need to be kept at room temperature and they have to be fresh. I consume them within three days of buying them.

I fill two-thirds of my plastic container with boiling water and add a dash of tap water, put two eggs in, stir, add a little more hot water and cook them for about eight to 12 minutes with the lid on the container.

Which is your favourite hawker centre and why?

Tanglin Halt Food Centre. Besides the wonton noodles, I also like the grilled lamb chop from Indulgence @ Tanglin Halt, mee siam from Majeed Muslim Food, otah-otah from Seng Kee Otak, laksa from Wei Yi Laksa and Prawn Noodles, and chicken rice from Tian Shui.

Are you an adventurous diner?

No, there are a lot of things I do not like, such as kway chap (pig offal), as it is a psychological thing; escargots, clams and uni (sea urchin).

What foods do you pack when you travel?

Small bottles of light and dark soya sauces. I add them to soft-boiled eggs I order in eateries. I just cannot eat my eggs with salt and pepper. I also have a portable stove, instant noodles and cans of stewed pork to make breakfast in my hotel room.

What is the most memorable meal you had overseas?

It was a meal in the three-Michelin- starred Arzak Restaurant in San Sebastian when I was there for the film festival last year. We had dishes such as roast quail served on a glass case, which stored an iPad with a screen displaying flames, and the grilled lamb was simply melt-in-the-mouth.

What do you like to cook at home?

I love to make sauces with a slight Asian twist, such as adding chilli padi to freshly made tomato sauce, and dishes such as garlic chilli prawns. I keep the prawn heads to make my tom yum stock. My kids also love my lamb chops.

What do you always have in your home fridge?

Vegetables such as red peppers, carrots and celery, and Kurobuta ham.

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

Orson Welles, an American film-maker who directed movies such as Citizen Kane (1941). He was quite a greedy chap and knew a lot about food. I really respect his movies and would love to ask him about the current mode of cinema and what he thinks about using special effects in films.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline '(No headline) - KGFOODIE02'. Subscribe