Singapore-born chef Kevin Kwan discusses his debut novel and the bizarre culture surrounding wealthy Asians and an out-of-control extravagance.
By
Catherine Osmond

31 Oct 2013 - 1:38 PM  UPDATED 2 Jul 2014 - 3:55 PM

Early in your novel, Crazy Rich Asians, the character Nick Young comments that Singapore is “the most food-obsessed country on the planet”. Is that your experience, having grown up there?

You have this island that’s made up of so many cultures – Chinese, Malay, Indian, European – and the flavours mix in such an amazing way to create a unique street food culture. My entire childhood was spent eating and talking about eating and where your next meal was going to be … and my family was pretty normal.

 

The book is completely mouthwatering! But, obviously, as a child you didn’t eat out all the time…

We did! We literally ate five meals a day, and two of those were probably eaten out.

 

What was your favourite dish?

I was the noodle boy; I was obsessed with different types and I could eat them at every single meal.

 

And your favourite way with noodles?

I loved having gravy, and egg. I could still eat noodles with gravy every single day. In fact, I did last night at BBQ King [in Sydney’s Chinatown].

 

There wouldn’t be a lot of novels that feature BBQ King as yours does.

It’s become a ritual for me – every time I come to Sydney, on the first night I have to go to BBQ King. The roast duck is one of the best in the world.

 

You were 11 when you moved to the US. Was that a culinary shock?

Oh my goodness… it was culinary mourning, after growing up with a private chef cooking your noodles exactly as you wanted them. My mother had never set foot in a kitchen in her life and she had to learn how to cook! She has since become a very, very accomplished chef (much to the disbelief of everyone back in Singapore).

 

What’s your favourite street food in Singapore?

That would be the fried noodles (Hokkien mee). It’s a yellow egg noodle of a certain thickness and consistency that you just can’t find anywhere else… and of course you need to have a well-seasoned wok for that burnt wok flavour.

 

Your novel features some over-the-top dishes, including Giant South Sea Scallop Consommé with Washington State Ginseng Vapours, and Hawaiian Suckling Pig Truffle Tacos… are these real examples of “Pacific Rim Fusion Molecular Cuisine”?

It’s a satire of what really is happening in South-East Asian cuisine – these days the top-end restaurants are experimenting with fusion cuisine, with differing degrees of success.

 

What’s the most amazing restaurant dish you’ve ever eaten?

I’ve had a lot of really good meals! [Laughs] But, quite honestly, I prefer simple food.

 

So what would you choose for your last supper?

Fried noodles – with lots of gravy and egg!

 

Kevin Kwan is the author of the novel Crazy Rich Asians (Allen & Unwin, $30).