Celebrity chow with Taiwanese-American singer-songwriter Wang Dawen

If you want authentic Taiwanese food, the US is not the place to be, says Taiwanese-American singer-songwriter Wang Dawen.

The 33-year-old grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, and spent much of his 20s as an indie musician in Chicago and Los Angeles.

But even though both cities were very multicultural, they lacked the flavours of Wang's heritage.

He sat down with M for a mediaeval-themed lunch at The King Louis Grill And Bar at VivoCity.

"I adore Taiwanese delicacies like beef noodles, braised pork on rice, and steamed dumplings," he said, as he tucked into sauteed mussels, lamb steak and baby back ribs.

"My favourite is cold noodles. I'll never get sick of it.

"In the US, it wasn't easy to find Taiwanese fare. Even in Chinatown in Boston... there was only one place with beef noodles. But my family hardly went there as it was such a long drive."

It was a similar scenario in other cities.

"Chicago's a melting pot and I could find Thai, Indian, Moroccan and Ethiopian restaurants. I just couldn't find a Taiwanese joint," Wang recalled with a laugh.

"In LA, I lived next to Koreatown, so I ate Korean food most of the time."

Wang is one of Mandopop's fastest rising stars.

His debut Mandarin album, Hello, is out on iTunes and he snagged Most Popular New Artiste at the Singapore Hit Awards last Friday. Currently based in Taipei, Wang has few complaints about food and can get his fill of cold noodles.

He calls his journey from tiny gigs in cafes to fully fledged pop star as "surreal".

"For eight years I was a struggling act, living a financially difficult and unstable life," he said.

"It was tough. There were times when I'd wake up in the middle of the night and ask myself, 'What am I doing?'

"Now, my life has turned 180 degrees."

Growing up in the US, did you eat like a typical American kid?

I was as American as apple pie (Laughs). I loved McDonald's, pizza, burgers, fried and unhealthy food. I had a lot of baby fat.

That said, I grew up in a Taiwanese household, so I am familiar with using chopsticks. At home, I would have rice with every meal.

Are you an adventurous eater?

As a kid, no. I spent my childhood in Boston but weirdly, I didn't enjoy seafood. (Boston is known for its seafood.)

It was only after I moved to Hong Kong for high school that I became curious about food. My motto became: Try everything at least once.

Do you like Singapore food?

Of course! This is my second trip here. I love kaya toast! I find it sweet and comforting. I had it with white coffee.

I have also had chilli crab and stingray at Newton Food Centre. Hainanese chicken rice and bak kut teh (pork rib soup) are amazing too. On my last trip here, I ate chicken rice all the time.

Do you cook? Do you have any signature dishes?

In college, I got fired from a part-time job and found myself with lots of free time. So, I spent the entire summer reading books and cooking.

I do Chinese dishes pretty well. My top three dishes would be dry-fried green beans, mapo tofu and chilli eggplant.

For a second date, I'd definitely cook. I've done that before. (Laughs)

What about first dates? Where would you go?

I don't need a fancy place - I don't need the napkin and candles. I prefer unique places with great food.

For a first date, I'd go to a hole in the wall place. For example, my favourite beef noodle joint, which is rather run down. Cafes make great places for dates too.

I fell in love with coffee after working as a Starbucks barista for two years in Chicago. I like my coffee black, with no sugar.


This article was first published on November 12, 2014.
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