The next time you see local actress-host Nurul Aini at an eatery, don't be surprised if you catch her stealing glances at the kitchen.
As the 33-year-old Suria star told M over lunch at halal Chinese restaurant Encik Tan at Kallang Wave mall on Monday, it isn't just the dishes that are on her radar.
Every meal out is an opportunity to take mental notes.
Nurual is the co-owner of a food and beverage business and she makes it a habit to observe what goes on behind the scenes.
She set up Studio Cafe SG at Toa Payoh Lorong 6 with three partners in January, serving local delights such as mee goreng and beef kway teow.
Of her habit, she said with a laugh: "I can't help it. Whenever I'm at an eatery, I'll take note of how the staff work, like where they store their items, where they put their drinks, where they wash their dishes."
She added: "Presentation is very important too. These days, everyone takes pictures of food and posts them on Instagram.
"I'd observe how other cafes plate their food and see if I can implement it for my own cafe."
Nurul, a mother of two children aged three and five, has been nominated in two categories - Most Popular Female Personality and Best Variety Host - at this year's Pesta Perdana, Suria's biannual awards ceremony, which honours the best talents in local Malay television.
"To be honest, I'm very shocked to be still nominated," she said.
"There are so many new and young faces on TV right now. I, on the other hand, have been in this line for more than a decade.
"A part of me feels it's time to give the new ones a chance to shine. Yet at the same time, it's nice to see people still voting for me in the popularity category. I definitely feel excited."
Encik Tan serves local Chinese food such as popiah, laksa, fried carrot cake and oyster omelette. Do you like halal Chinese food?
Yes, popiah is one of my favourites and I love it because of the sambal chilli in it.
However, I don't like bean sprouts and if I discover bean sprouts in my popiah, I'll take them out one by one. Thankfully, this one here doesn't have bean sprouts. (Giggles) It's spicy enough, too!
I also like halal dimsum items such as siew mai (chicken dumplings) and har gao (prawn dumplings). Tang Tea House at Simpang Bedok has very good halal dimsum.
Whenever I visit Hong Kong, I will go to this restaurant, Islamic Centre Canteen, located on the fifth floor of a mosque (Masjid Ammar and Osman Ramju Sadick Islamic Centre at Wan Chai). To me, it has the best dimsum in the world.
You're a self-confessed health-conscious individual. Are your husband and children influenced by your healthy eating habits?
My husband is not as health-conscious as I am. I don't eat rice for dinner, he still does. But he has cut down on his carb intake. In the past, he'd have a whole bowl of rice. These days, his bowl is usually just half or three-quarters full.
Soft drinks, especially Coke, are (not allowed) for my kids. I allowed them to try Coke once and told them: "See? It's so gassy and not nice at all, right?" Basically, I made them agree with me and they never got to drink it anymore. (Laughs)
(But) they simply cannot say no to McDonald's. (Sighs) In fact, the Happy Meal portions are often not enough for them - they have to order regular-sized meals. I keep our McDonald's outings to strictly once a week.
What other foods do your children enjoy?
They love the $2.50 chicken rice from Ananas Cafe. I'm quite lucky in that my children don't like extravagant, expensive fare. Of course, from time to time, they enjoy Western snacks. We went to Disneyland in Hong Kong and they loved the nuggets and fries.
I make pizza for my kids at home. My son helps me lay out the cheese and mushrooms.
Do you cook? Any signature dishes?
I only started cooking after I got married (in 2008). Growing up, I helped my mum in the kitchen, but I didn't get down to cooking proper meals till I became a wife. My motivation? My mum-in-law is an excellent cook and I want to make sure that my husband still gets to eat good food in our home. My husband loves my sambal udang (prawn sambal).
Do you have any food quirks?
People find me really weird for not liking nasi biryani. I find it too oily. It's so oily it gives me a headache and I'd even vomit. The last time I ate nasi biryani, I was 14. It makes me scared. (Laughs)
This article was first published on Mar 25, 2015.
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