Chinese New Year is a joyous occasion.
But in Marcus Chin's case, there is not much to smile about.
Over lunch at zi char eatery Le Chasseur, a hidden gem tucked away on Eunos Road 2, the 60-year-old local veteran actor-host-comedian was mostly his onscreen upbeat self, till our topic shifted to festive season blues.
Chin, who is divorced from former Taiwanese singer Murong Ying, made headlines a few years ago when he started dating his personal assistant Eileen Cheah, who is 32 years his junior. She gave birth to their daughter, Elise, in 2010.
However, his romance with Cheah eventually buckled under a pile of problems and they separated amicably in 2012. Elise lives with her mum in Johor and as Chin tells us with a sigh, he gets to see her only once a month due to the physical distance and his hectic work schedule.
"A single man at my age will feel lonely any time, not just during Chinese New Year," he said in Mandarin.
"This year, I spent my reunion meal at my brother's place, but it's still the same. When I see him enjoying happy moments with his family, I feel a tinge of sadness for myself."
Chin, who co-hosts infotainment programme Are You Hokkien? with singer Huang Jinglun on Jia Le Channel HD (SingTel mio TV Ch 502) every Saturday at 10.30pm, ordered a spread of familiar favourites.
As he indulged in barbecued live prawns ("It's my favourite seafood; I prefer prawns over crab or squid"), pig's trotters in black vinegar ("this is actually a popular dish for women who've just given birth, but I love it because I take after my mum") and claypot chicken rice, he shared with us his hawker haunts and preference for old-school Chinese restaurants...
What are some foods you'll never tyre of eating?
I've discovered that as I grow older, my food intake decreases. Right now, I prefer soups and need to have at least one bowl of soup a day. Also, I prefer "lighter", healthier dishes like hor fun and steamed fish, unlike in the past, when I'd go for oily, greasy and strong-flavoured stuff.
Wow, you must've eaten a lot then!
Yes, I used to be able to finish two whole durians in one sitting! (Laughs) Now, I can eat at most only two pieces.
I love local hawker food like Hainanese chicken rice and char kway teow, but I try to have them just a few times a year. Curry rice and fish head curry are two of my favourites too, but I have them only once in a blue moon.
In the last three to five years, my weight has plummeted from 67kg to 61kg. Before Eileen and I separated, it was our common practice to share a plate of rice when we went out.
What are some of your go-to hawker haunts?
The char kway teow at Zion Road is delicious, there is always a long queue in front of the stall. For wanton noodles, I will head to Kok Kee Wanton Mee at Lavender Food Square. Chinatown market has some great eats too, such as vegetarian bee hoon, claypot chicken rice and Hainanese chicken rice.
I also love the traditional Chinese desserts at Mei Heong Yuen.
If I have a craving for glutinous rice and chwee kueh (steamed rice cake), I'd have them at Tiong Bahru Food Centre.
Any favourite restaurants?
I don't really like Western food, so I'm not too familiar with Western restaurants in Singapore.
Recently, more Chinese restaurants are "going West" and using new cooking methods and presentation styles. I don't like those. I'd still choose an old-school Chinese restaurant any day. Beng Hiang Restaurant serves great Hokkien cuisine, while Huat Kee Restaurant is famous for its Teochew food. For authentic Hakka fare like beef balls and soon kueh (turnip dumplings), the Jalan Besar area has a number of good food stalls.
Where do you like taking your daughter Elise for a meal?
She's only three, so food-wise, she hasn't been making demands yet. She eats whatever we order for her. Usually, when I'm out with my kid, it'll be Japanese food, as it's the healthier option.
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