The Straits Times
Jun 12, 2015
"Ooh, is that bak zhang? And yes, can we have some chicken feet?" It is 1pm at the famed Red Star restaurant at Chin Swee Road and our table is covered in all manner of dim sum dishes.
Life! is having lunch with actress Jessica Henwick from hit television series Game Of Thrones, who is pointing out items from the pushcarts like a pro.
"Carrot cake! I haven't had that in ages," the 23-year-old squeals in delight. "And those fried wontons look amazing!"
Listening to her Mandarin, it is hard to believe that this is the same girl who plays the calculative, bullwhip-toting warrior princess Nymeria Sand from the hit HBO series.
She is in town ahead of the season finale, which airs on June 15 at 9pm on HBO.
Without the elaborate costumes and kohl-rimmed eyes characteristic of Sand, the British-born Eurasian (her father is British and her mother is Chinese-Singaporean) comes across a lot more reserved on first glance - greeting this journalist politely and offering up the seat right next to her.
But in about 30 seconds, she has proven that she is as Singaporean as they come.
As the aunties roll their pushcarts over, Henwick is ready with her order - one she recites knowledgeably, even in her clipped British accent.
In between pouring Chinese tea for everyone at the table, she picks out egg tarts and dismisses the roast duck with "Sorry" in Mandarin.
When a basket of steamed char siew buns are proffered, she quips expertly:
"Can I take a look at them first? I'm very picky - there needs to be more stuffing and less bao, otherwise it's not worth it."
Her prowess in local cuisine is the result of her yearly family trips to Singapore as a child, many of which were spent in the HDB homes of family friends and relatives.
"From bathing in a bucket to the smell of wet markets, it's stuff I still remember vividly from my childhood," she says as she tucks into the spread unabashedly.
"The food and flavours that I grew up eating at hawker centres have stayed exactly the same - it's very nostalgic for me."
And though it has been nearly six years since her last visit, it is evident that Singaporean food is still very much her first love.
Even in the midst of a packed week-long promotional schedule, she has found time to visit all her favourite makan haunts - Newton Hawker Centre, People's Park Complex and Long Beach to name a few - for everything from cereal prawns to sambal stingray.
"I've been eating the whole time I've been here. I was literally snacking on some sardine puffs two hours ago."
When asked if she has tried anything new, she is quick to point out ngoh hiang (a minced meat roll wrapped in beancurd skin and deep-fried), which she raves about for a good minute.
"I'm not done yet though. I might be going to Sembawang tonight with some friends to try more local food," she says with a laugh.
The foodie admits that she has even built herself quite the reputation as a party host back in London.
"I started experimenting with cooking about a year ago and now love having people over for dinner. I go the whole nine yards with side dishes and everything."
Some of her specialities include her own homemade char kway teow, chicken rice and pandan cake - dishes she makes because she misses them too much.
"I don't always have all the ingredients needed but it's still close enough to be a good reminder of Singapore."
And while cooking gives her a chance to re-acquaint herself with flavours from Singapore's shores, she lets on that it is the tropical fruit that she misses most when back home in London.
"You can't find things such as fresh mangosteens and longans there. If anything, they're frozen and it's just not the same. The variety of fruit is what I miss the most. Everything else I try and whip up myself."
It is perhaps serendipitous then that as we leave the restaurant that the owner comes by to ask for a photograph with her, later handing her a recipe book as a present.
"Oh my gosh, this has the recipe for pig's trotters in it!" she exclaims while perusing it in the lift.
A few seconds later she is smiling widely.
"I can't wait to make it for my next dinner party."
Get more news from The Straits Times.