Singapore’s most talked-about food blogger is not a cook or a journalist by trade, but a medical practitioner. Leslie Tay, also an avid photographer, talks to Celine Asril about his upcoming book
First published on 3 Nov 2010. Updated on 18 Nov 2011.
Photo: Leslie Tay
By day, 41-year-old Leslie Tay is a family doctor at his own clinic in Tampines. But come late afternoon he morphs into a food blogger on the prowl. Tay goes in search of the best hawker food, and his dining adventures have been vividly documented online for four years at www.ieatishootipost.sg.
This mainstay of Singapore’s most popular food blog has appeared on television shows on MediaCorp’s Channel News Asia 8 and Channel U, as well as in numerous print media. At the end of this month, Tay will be adding another title to his name, crossing over from the blogosphere to become a fully fledged print author.
Plans for the book began with last year’s release of Julie & Julia, a film inspired by New Yorker Julie Powell’s food blog that followed her attempt to cook all 524 dishes from American chef Julia Child’s French cookbook.
Local publishers approached Tay to convert his popular blog into a book. ‘Initially I was quite reluctant,’ he recalls. ‘I thought, who wants to read a book if you can get all of it online?’ But eventually he was convinced: ‘I have written four years of material [on my blog] but not everyone can get through it all.’
Occasionally even he forgets what he wrote. Named for his adventures, The End of Char Kway Teow and Other Hawker Mysteries (Epigram Books, $28) will be a summary of his scribblings. ‘If someone were to summarise the Bible into a paperback of around 400 pages highlighting all the major events, I think it would be something a lot of people would want to buy.'
His holy grail of hawker food will therefore be divided into 30 chapters, each led by a dish like bak chor mee or chicken rice. Tay’s editor picked the interesting bits from various stories and consolidated them, retaining Tay's much-loved anecdotal writing style.
At the end of every chapter, he lists his top hawker stalls for the chapter’s dish, so The End… won’t just be an account of his adventures past, it will also have practical use. Pictures help too. His blog has always been filled with simple, vibrant shots set to the backdrop of Singapore’s heartland lifestyle.
Tay executes shots like chwee kueh using plain brown waxed paper and a trusty Canon EOS 5D Mk II. He was one of the first Singaporean food bloggers to carry around a chunky SLR, and this has now become common practice for such writers.
However, while in the past he has been focused on running stunning pictures alongside accurate narratives of dishes, his upcoming book will not be dominated by photography – he’s limiting himself to five per dish.
‘Too much of a good thing is bad. I don’t want to bore people to death,’ he says of his cap on photos. ‘The attention span for Generation Y is too short, [so my pictures] should just be good photos that leave you wanting more,’ he adds.
In addition to the blog, fans hungry for more can scout out his photos that were printed in the recent publication There’s No Carrot in Carrot Cake (Epigram Books, $15), a Singapore hawker food guide targeted at visitors and expats. His photos illuminate rudimentary descriptions of 101 selected hawker dishes.
Unfortunately, the 263-page There's No Carrot… turned out to be an unwieldy publication, and Tay did not have a say on how his photos were displayed. '[The editors] cropped them in ways that I wouldn’t have. [In the new book] they won’t be allowed to crop. It’ll be perfect.’
So will his book eventually get a big-screen adaptation, like Julie & Julia? ‘I’m not going to push it,’ he says. ‘I am a big believer that God takes care of everything. If it comes, it comes.’
He will, however, continue to pursue his passions, which include charity work and, of late, videography. Tay’s 2010 community initiative Goducate helps educate children. ‘My hope is to make a beautiful short film about our hawker heritage one day,' he adds.
Whatever this doctor prescribes, we’re pretty sure it’ll make us feel a whole lot better – whether he eats, shoots or posts.
This updated version first appeared as 'What the doctor orders' in TOS (Nov 2010).
Join Dr Leslie Tay and Time Out Singapore on 18 Dec at the book launch and signing of The End of Char Kway Teow and Other Hawker Mysteries. The book launch will no longer be a charity event. For details and tickets, join our Facebook Fan Page or follow @timeoutsg on Twitter.The End… will be released in early December at BooksActually and other bookstores citywide.