Foodie Confidential: Hooked on Chinese vegetarian food

Professor Vineeta Sinha loves Chinese vegetarian food so much that she had a meal at one of her favourite restaurants a few hours before going to hospital to give birth.

That was 19 years ago when she was pregnant with her second son. A few hours after lunch, she had contractions and drove herself to hospital.

The 52-year-old head of the Department of Sociology and South Asian Studies programme at the National University of Singapore recalls with a laugh: "My friends knew I'd go into labour any time and asked me out for a meal, and I wanted it to be at Miao Yi Vegeta- rian Restaurant in Coronation Shopping Plaza ."

Food is something that is constantly on the mind of Dr Sinha, who is co-editor of Food, Foodways And Foodscapes: Culture, Community And Consumption In Postcolonial Singapore.

She edited the book with Professor Lily Kong, provost and Lee Kong Chian professor of social sciences at the Singapore Management University.

Published by World Scientific, the 247-page book is a compilation of 10 essays on topics ranging from the evolution of street food to the trend of food blogging.

Dr Sinha says there is a lack of food research here, despite the fact that Singapore is a food-loving nation.

She says: "Food can be a window to look into society and identity, revealing issues such as family relationships, food production and the connection to the past."

Born in Bihar in India, she has lived here since she was 11.

Despite being a vegetarian, she cooks dishes such as lamb meatballs and Sichuan-style cashew prawns for her family.

Her lawyer husband, 55, and their two sons - a 27-year-old film-maker and a 19-year-old fulltime national serviceman - are not vegetarians.

She says: "As I am not a vegetarian for religious reasons, I am pretty relaxed when it comes to cooking meat dishes.

"Fortunately, my husband is the better cook and he makes American carrot cake, creme brulee and aglio olio pasta on weekends."

Why did you become a vegetarian?

I became one in 1991 when I was studying at Johns Hopkins Univer- sity in the United States. I was put off by the sight of animal parts being cooked at barbecues. I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons.

What are your fondest memories of food?

I helped my mother and grand- mother prepare food for festivals. We cooked gujiya (fried dumplings with almonds and cashew nuts) and sweets such as burfi, halva and ladoo.

These days, I make gujiya for my siblings when they visit me from overseas and I make some for them to take home.

What are your favourite Singapore foods and where do you go to eat them?

I like kway teow goreng from Newton Circus Food Centre. I used to eat it every day after school. It cost 80 cents. The noodles are cooked with egg, onions, tofu and green chillies.

I also like rojak from Brothers Rojak in Clementi Avenue 3 and kueh tutu from a stall at Queensway Shopping Centre.

What is your favourite cuisine?

I love Chinese vegetarian food served in restaurants. I've been going to Miao Yi Vegetarian Restaurant for 20 years and it is a special place for my family.

I like tofu-based dishes such as mock duck and sweet and sour "fish", olive fried rice and yam basket.

I also like the dim sum, soup and a mock "whole fish" at Ling Zhi Vegetarian Restaurant at Liat Towers in Orchard Road.

What is comfort food for you?

I love fresh mangoes with mango ice cream, and I find fried cashews and peanuts very addictive.

Where are your favourite Indian restaurants?

I like Jaggi's Northern Indian Cuisine Restaurant in Race Course Road for its wholesome Punjab dishes such as samosas, rajma chawal (kidney bean curry with rice) and mint paratha.

I also like Mavalli Tiffin Rooms Restaurant in Serangoon Road for South Indian vegetarian dishes such as rava idli (semolina-based rice cakes), upma (porridge with roasted semolina) and idiyappam (stringhoppers).

What was the most memorable meal you have had overseas?

I had the best pierogi (Polish dumplings) in Krakow when I was there for a conference in March this year. The dumplings stuffed with spinach, cheese, potato and cabbage went well with onion soup in winter. I was surprised to see so much vegetarian food in Poland as it is known for being big on meat.

What do you like to cook at home?

I like cooking quick one-dish meals such as brown basmati rice with spinach and paneer (cheese) in the rice cooker and having it with yogurt. I have been packing these dishes for lunch for the past four months.

If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be?

I would like to have the best mango in the world with Mirza Ghalib, an Urdu and Persian-language poet who lived in the 1800s. His poetry is amazing and he loves mangoes. He has written poems and an essay praising the fruit.

This article was first published on November 29, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.