Feature

Chiak your heart out!

By Derek Rodriguez
Photos of Maureen: Sam Chin
Better known as Miss Tam Chiak (or “Miss Greedy” in Hokkien), NTU graduate Maureen Ow, 29, preaches about the joy of food and advocates hawker culture through her blog and by organising food festivals. She began blogging in 2007 as a means of documenting her work at a local Chinese food magazine. Three years later, after rebranding the blog into Miss Tam Chiak and converting it into English, its readership soared. Today, she is one of the most prominent online food reviewers in Singapore.
Pardon my French I started a Chinese food blog in 2007 when I was in Year 2. I named it Jaime-La-Nourriture, which means “I love food”. But people couldn’t pronounce it and, honestly, neither could I. In 2010, I changed the blog’s name to Miss Tam Chiak and turned it into an English blog. The month I changed it to English, the readership increased threefold.

Best of two worlds Food connects people and I bond with my loved ones through it. When I want to try new restaurants, I’ll bring my family along. When a new romantic restaurant opens, I’ll go with my boyfriend. When I want to embark on a café trail, I’ll do it with my friends.

No sugarcoating I want people to read about my honest, unbiased opinions based on my experiences. I accept endorsements and product reviews to create recipes or to write about products that I like, but apart from that, when I do reviews, I don’t get a single cent out of it.

People person Being in the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information taught me how to communicate with people from all walks of life. There were many projects in which we needed to be vocal and work with outsiders. And whether you are in broadcast or journalism, you will learn how to tell a story and hold the attention of readers from start to end.

For a food cause I have met many bloggers who have become very good friends. One is Derrick, who writes for SG Food on Foot. A few months back, we did Ultimate Hawker Fest together, an event where we gathered 25 different hawkers at Suntec City for a day to raise funds for charity. We attracted a crowd of about 3,000 people and raised quite a good sum for the beneficiaries. This year, I’m planning another food festival. As this year is Singapore’s 50th birthday, I’m hoping to bring in pioneer generation stalls that are continuing their hawker legacy.

Preserving an institution I want to do food tours in Singapore in the future, bringing tourists to off-the-beaten-track makan places and telling them a story. I’m afraid the hawker scene might die off and I want to find ways to give it more recognition. And if I could bring foreigners to stalls that have been a big part of Singapore’s history, it will help them to appreciate our local culture and heritage.

“NTU students are so lucky now!”

Miss Tam Chiak gives her take on the food in NTU after visiting her alma mater in December

“NTU has changed quite a bit since I was an undergraduate. In my time, Canteen A was the place where friends met to eat and study, and where my favourite Japanese food stall was located. Prices started from $3.50 for a katsu don and each order would include coleslaw, mashed potatoes, miso soup, rice and seaweed strips sprinkled on top.

NTU students are so lucky now! There are so many different food offerings and there are even big brands like Pizza Hut and Starbucks. I spent an entire afternoon trying out as many stalls as I could, but I think I must have only scratched the surface of what is on offer.

It was raining when I arrived at NTU on a December afternoon and I was craving for some warm food. My food radar led me to The New World café, where I ordered fish head curry, pork ribs and salted egg prawn (left). The portions weren’t huge but the curry fish head was satisfying. What I liked about the curry was that it didn’t have too much coconut milk, and it was light enough to drink or drizzle over my rice.

I was pretty full after the meal but I’d heard about the long queues at the Korean stall at Quad Café, so I walked over to see what the fuss was about. I had the kimchi soup – my favourite Korean dish – and ordered a plate of yong tau fu (right) with fried noodles from the stall next to it, which turned out to be the option I preferred. Although the beef was slightly tough, there was enough wok hei for the dish to be enjoyable.

I wasn’t quite done yet though. My next stop was Canteen 2 to taste the much-lauded ayam penyet. On many occasions, I’ve had ayam penyet that had been fried until the chicken flesh was too dry. The one at Canteen 2 (left) was moist, tender and just excellent. The belachan was moderately fiery and made my lips tingle with pleasure. At only $4.50, it was cheap too.

My final destination was the canteen at the new Pioneer and Crescent Halls. After a whole afternoon of eating, I decided to go for something light at the Pioneer Food Court. I chose the Thai fish cake and mango salad (right) at the Thai food stall. The fish cake was hot and juicy and the mango salad was not too shabby as well. If I closed my eyes, I could almost convince myself I was in Thailand!”

Read more about Maureen’s visit to NTU at www.misstamchiak.com.

Food photos: Maureen Ow
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