Celebrity Chow with local actress Mindee Ong

For the past year, Mindee Ong has spent 40 per cent of her time filming across the Causeway.

Yet, the bubbly 34-year-old local actress didn't bat an eyelid when asked if she preferred Singaporean or Malaysian cuisine.

"Of course I like Singapore food the best. In fact, I miss it a lot when I'm working in Kuala Lumpur or Penang," said Ong over brunch with M yesterday at Department of Caffeine, an industrial-styled hipster cafe located along Duxton Road.

"The style of Malaysian food is rather similar to Singapore's, but the flavours are different. Malaysian fare is oilier and saltier, which I still can't get used to."

While tucking into pasta salad and waffles with banana and ice cream, she said: "Whenever I have meals outside, my golden rule is 'less salt, less oil'."

Ong, best known for her role as cancer-stricken getai performer Little Papaya in the 2007 movie musical 881, signed on with Malaysian film production company SKT Media & Entertainment Group in late 2012.

"It's hard to find good people who are determined to make good movies. I felt a magical bond with the team there, so after starring in The Transcend (a Malaysian horror flick produced by SKT Media) I decided to join them," she explained.

"Since then, we've made another three films together."

The Transcend, which opens here tomorrow, sees Ong in her first supernatural big-screen outing.

She plays apprentice "transcender" Le Le, who conducts Taoist rituals and prays for souls to pass into the afterlife.

Sipping her mango yoghurt drink, she mused: "Horror is a really challenging genre. I had to show so many different layers of emotion. You can't sport the same fearful face throughout."

You are not a coffee drinker. Why don't you love a good brew?

I've developed a phobia of coffee, because when I was a kid, my grandma liked giving me black coffee with very little sugar.

I was in kindergarten, just five or six years old, and whenever I asked her for Milo, she'd give me black coffee instead. It was so bitter! No coffee for me since.

Occasionally, I'll have a few sips of latte, but these days, I prefer a cup of teh-si (tea with evaporated milk).

What are some foods you'd never tire of eating?

When I'm at home, I tend to eat clean. It's mostly brown rice, steamed fish and steamed egg. I love codfish, sea bass and prawns. From time to time, I do have cravings for curry, chilli crab and Teochew porridge with salted egg.

Any favourite hawker haunts and restaurants in Singapore?

I like Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre and dimsum at Imperial Treasure Nan Bei Restaurant at Ngee Ann City.

Another place I'd highly recommend is BAM! Tapas-Sake Bar, opened by (local actress) Constance Song. The suckling pig is fantastic.

What are your signature dishes?

I learnt to cook in my adulthood, when I got sick and tired of eating out.

Growing up, I often helped my nanny in the kitchen, plucking bean sprouts and washing dishes. I dreaded doing all that then, but in retrospect, it helped build up my common sense and basic knowledge of cooking.

I can do soups pretty well, be it shark's fin melon soup, watercress soup or pear soup. I also like doing salads, such as baby spinach topped with yuzu oil, pomegranate and cherries.

Although I can cook, I can't bake. I'd like to learn baking someday though, so that I can make bread from scratch.

Any memorable overseas food encounters?

Years ago, I shot a food infotainment programme in the Northeastern part of China and we tried exotic dishes like bear paw, camel paw and birds' soup.

Personally, I felt those dishes tasted awful.

This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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