When we think of Kym cooking in the kitchen, this image of her character in Kelvin Tong’s 2011 film It’s a Great, Great World comes to mind.
Photos: Kym Ng, Toggle, Golden Village Pictures
Video: Teng Siew Eng & Foong Mien Shi
#ICANCOOK: That’s a hashtag most frequently used by the actress on her Instagram account (@kym_ng) nowadays. In case you haven’t noticed, Kym Ng’s been doing an awful lot of cooking lately: her Instagram feed’s filled with food snaps of her – yes, believe it – home-cooked meals.
She only started cooking in the last year, but does it like a culinary pro already.
Each meal picture features perfectly-garnished dishes accompanied with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine on the side. It’s so beautifully plated and presented, you’d think Kym and her husband’s been dining out at fancy joints like her sister-in-law did, if you didn’t read the fine print (i.e., #icancook).
We learned, during an interview with the actress-host, that her journey to domestic goddess-hood began one fine day when her husband (a man known to the public as Mr Yang) said to her ‘Why don’t you learn how to cook?’ She picked up her wok and spatula and the rest, as they say, is history.
Restaurant standard: Is it any wonder why Kym’s husband calls her home-cooked fare ‘River Valley’s exquisite Chinese cuisine’? More of such pictures on Kym’s Instagram account.
After she began cooking regularly one year ago, Kym, who is believed to be in her mid-40s, shared that she whipped up a tiny spread of three to four dishes for her family members at a Chinese New Year gathering last year. That was Kym’s first time cooking for her mum too.
“As my mum ate, you could see tears welling up in her eyes. She was so touched by it and kept saying: ‘Kiang si, kiang si, kiang si’ (Teochew for talented),” she laughingly quipped. And everything was promptly wiped out -- there was no leftovers.
A mummy’s girl forever, Kym shared that Chinese New Year is not complete without her mum’s signature dish: a sweet and sour combination of black fungus, pork liver and pineapple. She took a video of the cooking steps last year and hopes to successfully recreate it in her own kitchen this year.
Singapore chili crabs is also on her must-cook list in 2016, “but only after a new wok has been bought,” she added. Her non-stick wok went kaput after cooking clams for her husband twice in three days due to a special request made by him.
“I try not to repeat dishes at home,” she explained, “But I know he really loves it if he requests for me to do a particular dish one more time.”
Kym scores points for both cooking and presentation efforts.
Kym puffs up in pride when she tells us about that one time she whipped up a few extra dishes – at her husband’s request – to “add on to the dinner menu” at his brother’s place. “I think he’s quite proud of my cooking!” she chuckled.
She relishes in doing everything, from prep work to cooking and cleaning up, by herself in the kitchen. “Sometimes he’d help me with the dishes, like when I have work after dinner. But I prefer for him not to help because I feel it’s my job and I like it when, after everything is done, I’ll ask him: ‘Am I a good wife?’ and when he says ‘yes’ that makes me very happy,” she coyly added.
That smile on Kym’s face says it all.
The vivacious host shares more about her Chinese New Year celebrations at home, cooking tips, her favourite recipes and talks about that one time she cooked a special meal for her husband. Read on for more!
Catch Kym in House of Fortune, weekdays, 9pm on Channel 8. Watch it on Toggle.
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Toggle: How do you prepare for Chinese New Year?
Kym: As part of our Chinese New Year preparations at home, I’d change things like the curtains, bedsheets, towels and toothbrushes to entirely brand new items. And my mum, although I’m already married [Ed’s note: she tied the knot to her then-longtime boyfriend Mr Yang in a low-key overseas ceremony six years ago], would still give me a red packet after reunion dinner. I’d put the red packet under my pillow, sleep on it for the entire night and keep it in my wallet the next day. It’s like an ‘amulet’ to me.
What is one food staple we can always find in your house during the CNY festival?
It’s the snacks – not the food! I have a friend who makes coconut tarts for me -- it’s small and mini-sized with coconut fillings inside. It’s so good and I’d never fail to order two bottles every year! I love kuih bangkit (tapioca cookies) too and I’d finish everything over CNY while watching TV. I don’t fancy snacks like bak kwa though.
As an actress and personality, you’ve hosted a variety of food programmes throughout your career, what role does food play in your life?
I don’t live to eat, I eat to live. But then again, I believe that food brings people together. Like at the dining table or over a meal, people will start to chit-chat, get together and connect over food. The reason why I’d cook when my husband comes back home from work is so that we can sit down together, eat, chit-chat and talk about how our day went.
What’s on the chef’s mind: Kym brings us through the various stages of cooking bitter gourd soup for her husband.
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, what about the way to Kym’s heart?
I don’t know leh! (Laughs) But I think got score points lah… I recently started cooking [for him] over the past year and I’ve been improving. He values food presentation and I remember the first time I cooked, I didn’t bother with the garnishing and he asked me: ‘Darling, how come it looks like this? Where’s your parsley? What don’t you buy some to put on top?’
So when I started posting my cooked food pictures on Instagram, people began asking me if I’m posting the photos for presentation or self-consumption purposes. I tell them it’s for my husband (laughs) because I need to feed his eyes first before I feed his stomach. He’s a bit finicky – which is good because he has higher demands and there’s room for improvement for me. He’s quite impressed by my efforts too and is surprised that I can be in the kitchen by myself. I think in that sense he has changed me. He has made me a better person.
Tell us about that one time you cooked a special meal for him.
There are no special meals in particular but recently I started cooking him foods that I don’t eat but he loves. So I found a bitter gourd soup recipe from a cook book and cooked it for him. It was so good! He told me he was feeling ‘heaty’ and I know bitter gourd has cooling properties so I cooked it for him. A lot of love right?
(Ed’s note: Recipe on the next page)
You frequently post pictures of your home-cooked lunches that are sometimes made up of leftovers. What are some of your favourite leftover dishes?
It depends on what I cook or what is left over from the night’s meal. If it’s a pork dish, I’d just heat it up and have it with rice. If it’s rice and there are no leftovers, I’d just add an egg, luncheon meat and frozen garden vegetables and cook a simple bowl of fried rice. Don’t waste it lah. If not, you can add hot water to make porridge, open a can of cai sim (Chinese pickles) and that makes a meal.
With Chinese New Year round the corner, what would you recommend people cook with their leftovers from their reunion dinner?
Normally for steamboat if there’s leftover pork or seafood – you can use it for stir-frying together with vegetables like if there are leftover scallops or prawns, just add broccoli, chopped garlic, soy sauce and it becomes another dish. If there’s leftover steamed chicken, my mum will fry it with shredded ginger and dark soy sauce the next day and it instantly becomes a different dish.
Food waste is estimated to go up by 10% to 20% during the festive season, what is one food resolution people should adopt in 2016 to cut down on food wasted, especially during Chinese New Year?
During my mother's era, we used to have someone who would go from door to door collecting leftovers which will be used as farm feed. We separated our rubbish from our leftover food too, but nowadays we dump all our rubbish and leftovers together. Come to think of it, we led more environmentally-friendly lives back then.
As individuals I think the only solution to reduce food wasted is to gauge the amount of food and don’t overcook. I personally don’t believe in cooking an over-proportionate amount of food. We, Chinese, have a very bad tradition which is to have “leftovers” or “excess” food from our meals because that signifies abundance and a good life. I think if you really must have “leftovers” keep it to just two grains of rice.
Food for thought: In 2014, Singapore generated 788.6 million kg of food waste which is equivalent to each person throwing away 2 bowls of food every day. According to the National Environment Agency, only 13% of food waste is recycled, the rest is incinerated and disposed at our one and only landfill which will soon run out of space if we continue with our trashing habits.
Instead of throwing away leftovers at home, keep and cook it the next day to cut back on unnecessary food wastage. Make a small lifestyle change and pick up more green tips on handling leftovers at Save Food Cut Waste and Clean and Green Singapore.
Bitter gourd pork rib soup (top right)
Bitter Gourd Pork Rib Soup (serves 4)
Ingredients: 400g pork ribs, 500g bitter gourd, 2 litres water, 2 candied dates, 10 pitted red dates, 1 or 2 carrots (peel and cut into pieces), 1 tbsp wolfberries (soaked), some sea salt
1. Bring water to a boil. Blanch pork ribs for about 5 mins. Rinse and set aside.
2. Cut bitter gourd into half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and white pulp. Cut into big pieces.
3. Add water, candied dates, red dates, pork ribs and carrot into a big pot. Bring to a boil. Turn to low heat and simmer for about 40 mins.
4. Add wolfberries and bitter gourd, cook briefly. Season with salt and serve.
Courtesy of Kym via Chef Eric Neo’s A Taste of Nostalgia