Photo: The Straits Times/Don Chi
For the past five years, radio DJ Yasminne Cheng's crisp and perky voice has been making radio listeners salivate as she talks about scrumptious meals in her weekly restaurant review segment, Gastro Guide, on her lunchtime radio show.
But lunch on most days for the Class95 FM DJ is actually very simple.
Over the past year, it has usually been steamed salmon or barramundi. She marinates fish fillet with condiments such as lime juice and sesame oil, and pops it in a steamer at the radio studio during breaks on her Lunchbreak show.
The bubbly 38-year-old says it is a "healthy, low-calorie option that is easy to cook".
She says: "I have a love-hate relationship with food. When you are having a party in your mouth, you wouldn't want to stop halfway. But I am a glutton who puts on weight very easily, so I need to limit my calorie intake."
While the "natural-born foodie" relishes checking out new food places, she limits herself to three "indulgent meals" in a week. Besides having light lunches, her dinners are equally small - she has fruit, salad and a handful of nuts.
She says: "I really like eating and am a slave to the flavours, but I do not need to eat a lot in order to feel satiated. I eat till I don't feel hungry, not till I am full."
Watching what she eats - on top of having a high-intensity interval workout routine - has allowed the 1.58m-tall DJ to maintain her weight at 50kg.
Cheng, who has been a radio DJ for 18 years, used to host a late-night show, Love Songs, for seven years until 2011.
She is also a familiar face on television, including hosting talk show The 5 Show last year. She will be hosting a renovation show, Designer In The House, on Channel 5, premiering on Dec 6.
Does she get bored with her monotonous diet? She shrugs and says: "Hosting on television is brutal as you look fatter on screen. I've come to accept that looking nice is part of my job responsibility."
Cheng does not come from a family that is rooted in a strong culinary culture. She says: "My mother is a terrible cook. She eats to live and does not have an interest in cooking, although she made sure that I always ate clean and healthy food."
She discovered her "inborn interest in eating" during her secondary school days, when she would save up $5.50 for a hotplate of beef with black pepper sauce from a coffee shop stall near her school as an after-school treat.
Cheng, who is married, says: "Food is one of the colours of life, it makes me smile after a bad day, and having sh**** food makes me angry. It can make or break my day."
Growing up, what are your fondest memories of food?
Every Sunday, my mum made breakfast with the whole works because my dad liked it. There were fried sausages, baked beans, toast, toasted grapefruit, juice and coffee, and my neighbours came over to eat with us. It was such a treat.
Share some food gems you discovered while working on the Gastro Guide segment.
I like CreatureS cafe in Desker Road for its Western food with an Asian twist that is consistently good and homely.
I usually go for the Ah Gong Fried Chicken & Ah Ma Noodles, as it is so hearty with the crunchiness of the big, fat juicy chicken cutlet topped with garam masala, and for the smoothness of noodles tossed with fragrant fried shallots.
I also like the ngoh hiang (prawn roll) as the beancurd skin is crispy, but the meat inside is so juicy.
Another place is Sunset Railway Cafe in Sunset Way, which is owned by local singer-songwriter Jessica Soo. The food, such as nasi lemak, mee rebus, kaya toast and chicken curry and bread, are value-formoney as they are mostly under $10 each.
What are your favourite eateries for Singapore food?
National Kitchen by Violet Oon in National Gallery Singapore probably serves the best kueh pie tee in Singapore, as the turnip is stewed in a lobster stock, which makes it so flavourful.
I also like the dry laksa as it has a thick and gooey texture and is filled with strong spicy and lemak (rich) flavours; and udang goreng chilli, which has fried battered prawn coated with a very shiok spice paste.
Then there's the san lou hor fun from zi char stall Hong Kong Zhen Ji in Alexandra Road. The dish may look bland, but the noodles have good wok hei.
There's also chilli crab from Blue Lotus Restaurant at Quayside Isle in Sentosa. Its sauce is spicy and intense, and is thick without being starchy.
I also like char siew (roast pork) from modern Cantonese restaurant Mitzo in Grand Park Orchard, which is beautifully caramelised like creme brulee.
Are you an adventurous eater?
No, I am quite a selective foodie. I cannot eat dishes with innards, such as kway chap, as I don't like the smell.
And after seeing photos of the bloody geese that produce foie gras, I told my friends to stop showing them to me or I will turn vegetarian.
I also feel like vomiting whenever I bite into lamb as it has a gamey taste.
What is your favourite overseas food destination?
I go to Hong Kong two or three times a year for a holiday, and when I am there, I have to visit two food places. One is a street-side stall on a hill slope that sells beef brisket noodles at the junction of Elgin and Peel streets in the SoHo district. The meat is nice and soft, the stock is salty and has monosodium glutamate. It makes a great late-night meal.
Another place is Ramen Jo in Causeway Bay, which is in the Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand list. I always go for the spicy tonkotsu ramen that has al dente noodles in a super flavourful broth. You can add sides such as seaweed, onsen egg and spicy beancurd.
What is your guilty pleasure when it comes to eating?
I love curry-flavoured Twisties, Doritos spicy nachos, Marmite chips, which are so salty and shiok, and Mama Zuma's potato chips that has very spicy habanero chilli pepper. I buy them in small packets so that I can keep track of how many chips I eat.
What were your favourite supper haunts when you hosted latenight radio show Love Songs?
One place that stands out is Chicken Up in Tanjong Pagar Road for its spicy fried Korean chicken. It is crispy outside and juicy inside, and is served piping hot. I also used to go for laksa at The Line restaurant in Shangri-La Hotel, which used to open quite late.
If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be?
Radio DJ-actress Denise Tan. She is my foodie companion as she loves food as much as I do and is also adventurous in trying new food. We usually meet for meals at least once a week.
The original version of this story was published in The Straits Times on November 20, 2016.
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