Celebrity Chow with TV host Sarah Benjamin

As a foodie and Asian Food Channel (AFC) host, Sarah Benjamin was feeling the pressure when asked to recommend her favourite eating spot for this column.

"Thank goodness you guys like the food," the 26-year-old Singaporean said as we tucked into the Teochew porridge at Lim Joo Hin Eating House in Havelock Road.

"I was a bit worried you wouldn't find it so amazing, but this is my family's favourite hangout."

Benjamin, who was one of two winners of reality food competition Food Hero's first season, has hosted AFC shows like Must Try! Asia, Cooking For Love and Fresh Off Japan!. Born to a British father and Peranakan-Chinese mother, she has her Teochew porridge fix at Lim Joo Hin around once a month.

"I would never come here alone as the whole point is to share a variety of dishes," she said.

"I like the homey vibe and the food is really good. I'm always surprised by how affordable it is. We can order a lot, but the bill will come to $51 or something like that.

"My grandmother, who is Hakka, is very fussy about food but she enjoys eating here."

Benjamin ordered plain porridge with braised duck, fish cake, kiam chye (salted mustard leaves), braised peanuts, steamed egg custard and stir-fried bittergourd.

"You must have kiam chye with Teochew porridge, as that gives it all its flavour and saltiness. The braised duck here is really soft and tender, and the spices are not too overwhelming.

"Bittergourd is a recent favourite of mine. It is very tasty when cooked well, with the saltiness counteracting the bitterness. And I love braised peanuts; they're so simple they're almost like peasant food, but they're so delicious and comforting."

(Clockwise from top left) Steamed egg, Kiam Chye (salted mustard leaves), Braised peanuts and Braised duck. Photos: The New Paper

What are the best and worst things about being a food show host?

They're actually the same thing: the amount of food I have to consume. I love to eat and discover new dishes, but you really eat a lot in this job. You may have to eat the same dish three times to get wide, close-up and safety shots.

I was prepared to gain weight when I started filming, but that hasn't actually happened. When I'm not filming, I make it a point to eat healthily and exercise.

As someone who helms a show called Must Try! Asia, what are some of your must-try eating spots in Singapore?

I love the International Muslim Food Stall Nasi Lemak at Changi Village Hawker Centre. Their sambal is so addictive that I always go for a second helping, the fried chicken is great, and their rice is perfectly cooked and not sticky at all. I'm also a fan of Heng Kee Curry Chicken Mee at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre as the curry chicken noodles are yummy without being too jelak (Malay for overly rich). And I like the lontong and goreng pisang at Afghanistan Family Restaurant in Tampines Street 23.

For fancier fare, my favourite dim sum is at Imperial Treasure. It's very refined, with very thin skins, and everything is perfectly steamed.

How about Japanese food?

I was very happy to host Fresh Off Japan! as I got to eat all this amazing Japanese food. Ikyu at Tiong Bahru has really good sushi, and the chef there is so nice and informal. He joked with me that in Japan, he's considered a "kampung boy".

Shinji by Kanesaka at Raffles Hotel is where I go for lunch when I'm feeling a bit richer. For more affordable Japanese, it's Chikuwa Tei at Mohamed Sultan Road.

What are you most likely to cook for friends and family?

My style is to make fusion food, rather than dishes that are too authentic. For last month's Boxing Day lunch with my friends, I made coffee and pork belly stew, a rendang roast beef fillet, and maple-glazed carrots with sambal and belacan.

Anything you dislike eating?

Gelatinous foods like sea cucumber and fish maw. I've tried them, but the texture is so gross to me. If it wobbles in my mouth, I won't like it. But I'm fine with things like pig's organs and tripe.


This article was first published on January 13, 2016.
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