Malaysian actress Tong Bing Yu's favourite holiday of the year is Chinese New Year, more so than Christmas or New Year's Day.
"No matter how busy I am, Chinese New Year is the one season where I make time for family," the 32-year-old told M at Grand Mandarina restaurant, where she has been its celebrity ambassador for nearly a year.
This year, she is not working on the first three days of Chinese New Year so she will be visiting her family in Kuala Lumpur, where she is currently based.
Tong stars in Channel 8's Chinese New Year drama House Of Fortune, which airs on weekdays at 9pm.
She said of Grand Mandarina: "I love Chinese food and the dishes here are really great. I come here every time I'm in Singapore, which is every few months. My favourite is the tofu with crab meat and egg white in carrot broth as it's so tender and tasty."
Tong has even filmed at Grand Mandarina with local actors Chen Shucheng and Kym Ng, her co-stars in last year's Chinese New Year drama Good Luck.
She said: "We're always very noisy and lively, and that makes it fun to eat together."
During our interview, Tong sampled dishes from Grand Mandarina's Chinese New Year menu.
Her favourites were the prosperity salmon yusheng, wok-fried glutinous rice with Chinese sausage and preserved meat, and double-boiled shark's fin soup with chicken.
"I love yusheng and I have it at least 10 times a year. For me, it's all about the fun of tossing it and getting to share the experience with friends, family or colleagues at every gathering."
(Clockwise from top left) Wok-fried Glutinous Rice with Chinese Sausages & Preserved Meat, Double-boiled Shark's Fin Soup with Chicken, Traditional nian gao, Braised Sea Cucumber with Flower Mushroom & Dried Oyster from Grand Mandarina restaurant.
Photos: The New Paper
What is Chinese New Year food like in your family?
My mother's family is Peranakan and my father's family is Hokkien so I get to taste both types of cuisine every Chinese New Year. My maternal grandmother is a fantastic cook and makes the most wonderful Nonya dishes like chicken curry, lor bak (soya stewed pork slices) and assam fish. She usually cooks for both sides of the family - about 30 or 40 people in all - but in recent years, we've been eating at restaurants in KL more often because it's so much work to cook for that many people.
Do you help to cook or bake during Chinese New Year?
I can't bake at all and I rarely cook, about once or twice a year. I'm lazy to prepare the ingredients most of the time (laughs). It's my mother's family that takes charge of the cooking, especially during the festive season.
What are your least favourite Chinese New Year goodies?
I don't really go for the cookies and pineapple tarts because I need to watch my weight. And I've never really enjoyed bak kwa either. I just don't like that barbecued pork taste.
Do you consider yourself a good cook?
I think I am, although my knife skills could be better. I actually learned to cook very late, when I was about 21. My older sister taught me, mostly through phone calls and text messages. I prefer cooking Chinese food as it's my favourite.
My signature dishes are petai with prawns, assam fish and eggs. I love eggs and can cook them in lots of ways - fried, poached or as omelettes.
My manager-husband wishes I would cook more, but I just don't have the time as I'm often filming overseas in Hong Kong, China or Singapore.
What do you think are the differences between Singapore and Malaysian food?
To me, Malaysian hawker food has a more authentic taste, maybe because I grew up with it. I like how different regions like Penang, Malacca and Ipoh all have their own style of cuisine. Singapore is better for fine dining, like Japanese and Western food.
For certain dishes, like Hokkien mee, I prefer the Malaysian style. But I like Singaporean carrot cake more because it's a little sweeter compared to the savoury Malaysian kind.
This article was first published on January 27, 2016.
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