Rich and flavourful.
That's how Taiwanese singer-actress Pets Tseng describes Singapore cuisine, having had her fill of local fare on two work trips here.
The 29-year-old, who is 1.74m tall, told M over lunch last Friday: "Singapore food has strong, distinctive traits.
"When you're eating Singapore food, you know instantly you're in the tropics. The coconut flavour in some dishes, such as laksa and pandan cake, is unmissable.
"Although Taiwanese cuisine, especially our night market snacks, has mass appeal, Singapore delicacies boast richer flavours."
Tseng, who burst into the limelight when she came in sixth on reality TV singing competition One Million Star II in 2007, is best known as the spunky female lead in popular teen sci-fi drama K.O. Three Kingdoms (2009) and its spin-offs K.O. One Return (2012) and K.O. One Re-act (2013).
She was in town last week to promote her debut Mandarin studio album, I'm Pets.
As she was game to try more local delights, we met at Studio Cafe SG at Toa Payoh Lorong 6, a new eatery owned by local actress- host Nurul Aini and three other Suria artistes.
"It has taken me seven years to put out an album I can call my own. But looking back, I have no regrets. My journey so far has been amazing," said Tseng.
"I feel incredibly blessed, and I'm definitely more confident as a singer now."
Her mini-concert at nightspot Shanghai Dolly last Saturday sold out in less than eight hours after tickets went on sale.
"I was shocked when I heard that," said Tseng.
"It's incredibly flattering."
Today we're having nasi goreng ikan asin (salted fish) with achar (spicy pickles), fried beef kway teow, mee goreng chicken and iced bandung. Anything you find particularly fascinating?
I've never tried bandung, and I find the blend of milk and rose syrup really interesting. It's my cup of tea. I think most girls will like it.
It's also my first time trying achar. It tastes sweet, spicy and sour all at once - unique! The fried beef kway teow is delicious too.
What other local dishes have you tried and liked?
Laksa, kaya toast and Hainanese chicken rice are three of my favourites.
I enjoy Hainanese chicken rice so much that I don't mind eating it out of a takeaway box.
I'm dying to try bak kut teh!
Taipei has been frequently lauded for its thriving cafe culture. Do you like cafe-hopping?
Yes. If I'm alone or with friends, I will hang out at cafes in the Da-chih area of Taipei. Homey's Cafe at Da-an District serves great cocoa.
When I'm not working, I like to take things slower.
Chilling out at a cafe with a book is relaxing and therapeutic.
There are days when I don't even read. I just sit there, order a drink and zone out. (Laughs.)
Ideally, I would love to zone out for a couple of hours at a cafe, but the reality is my phone would start ringing non-stop.
It's hard to escape from work completely.
Which Taiwanese dishes would you highly recommend to Singaporeans?
I love Taiwanese mala hotpot. Usually, after doing a gig or a tough promotional tour, it's the first thing I feel like pigging out on.
Also, as my hometown is Tainan, I would highly recommend Tainan delicacies like wa-gueh (steamed rice cake).
Night market snacks like smelly tofu, deep-fried chicken chop and pearl milk tea are must-tries too.
Another classic Taiwanese dish is ginger mum duck (stir-fried duck stewed in rice wine), which is warm, comforting and best savoured in winter.
When it comes to romantic dinner dates, are you a sucker for ambience? Where is the most romantic restaurant in Taipei?
Not really. Once I'm in a stable relationship, I become a typical "xiao nu ren" (docile woman in Mandarin), and I'll be concerned if eating out is blowing a hole in my significant other's wallet. It doesn't matter where we eat.
That said, the most romantic restaurant in Taipei would have to be Cao Shan Ye Wei Mian, which is an alfresco restaurant located at Yangmingshan National Park.
It's a lovely place to soak in the night view of Taipei city.
It's a hit among young couples, and you won't be able to get a table without a reservation.
This article was first published on Mar 4, 2015.
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