COMPANY AND COMFORT
Celebrity Chow with veteran TV host Najip Ali
Najip Ali has a confession to make: He has never cooked a day in his life.
The flamboyant veteran entertainer, 49, told M over dinner at Rouse cafe along Dunlop Street last week: "Aside from making instant noodles, which shouldn't count as cooking, I've never, ever cooked.
"In the early 90s, when I was studying dance in London on a six-month British Council scholarship, the 'ding' sound of the microwave was music to my ears.
"I thrived on microwave meals. I visited Marks & Spencer's frozen food department all the time and I'd buy its (microwaveable) lasagne and nasi briyani. They were pretty tasty."
He also admitted that he is no foodie. When it comes to enjoying a meal, "company and comfort" are more important than the quality of food, he said.
"I don't like to hurry, so I like eateries where I can have long, relaxed conversations," said the zany star and co-host of Suria variety programme Kita Gerek 2.
The show, which sees him partnering up with fellow local TV personality Nurul Aini and Malaysian actor-host Awal Ashaari, premieres on June 17 at 8.30pm.
"Most of the dining places I know are recommended by friends, like Rouse here, which was opened by a director of photography whom I've worked with," he said, as he invited us to share his orders of a muesli brioche toast, crab patty with mango salsa, and quinoa with poached egg and smoked salmon.
"I'm not the sort who seeks out good food. For most of my life, it's people who tell me, 'Come lah, we found a nice place to eat' and I'd just follow."
Since you suggested Rouse cafe, are you a coffee drinker?
I only started drinking coffee a couple of years ago. I'm more an English breakfast tea person, but in the last two years, I've been enjoying latte. Coffee is better for my asthmatic condition, as tea gets cold easily.
Latte is the only coffee drink I consume, though. I can't take stronger brews like espresso, as I find it makes my pee smell!
What are your favourite restaurants here?
I like having long brunches with my friends at Caffe Beviamo at Tanglin Mall.
For great seafood, especially crabs, I would go to Hua Yu Wee at Upper East Coast Road. I've been going there for 20 years. My parents used to take me there when I was a kid.
For nasi padang, I highly recommend Warung M Nasir at Killiney Road. The owner is very friendly and whenever I'm there, we discuss ideas.
There is also an Indonesian restaurant, Dapur Jen's, at Kampong Glam, which I go to quite often. It serves really delicious and not-so-oily soto ayam.
Speaking of brunch, what are the types of breakfast food you like?
I love eggs. Eggs Florentine does it for me. I also don't mind scrambled eggs with beans and bread, or a simple fruit yoghurt.
Oh yes, beancurd! I have fond memories of my parents buying it from the market.
If you ask me what I would want for my last meal, it would be beancurd.
It reminds me of childhood, as well as of my grandparents and parents.
Any memorable overseas food encounters?
Once, I spent a month in Spain for work. I was with my production crew and we filmed in many places, including Barcelona and Andalusia.
Eating was an issue for us because in Spain, it's all pork and jamon (Spanish for ham).
What was interesting was that my director of photography became motivated to cook for us.
He'd go to the local supermarkets in Spain, buy ingredients and whip up (halal) dishes for us.
And guess what? He is the owner of Rouse. (Laughs)
You look ageless and there's no sign of a bulging belly! Any diet or exercise secrets to share?
Well, I guess it has to do with me not eating a lot of things. I don't eat beef or lamb. And I've cut fast food almost entirely from my diet, for 20 years now.
The only stuff I eat at McDonald's are fries and apple pie. No burgers, no KFC.
Besides running twice a week, I try to walk everywhere. I would walk from my house in Jalan Sultan to Raffles City.
It's not as far as one would imagine.