How Yvonne Lim went from not being able to tell salt & sugar apart to mastering S'porean dishes

It started when the actress moved to Taiwan in 2015.

Fasiha Nazren | March 15, 2021, 01:18 AM

If you scroll through Yvonne Lim's Instagram page, you'd probably find yourself salivating over the endless photos of her culinary creations.

Here are some of them, for reference:

Chilli crabs. Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

Roast pork. Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

Beancurd tarts. Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

But what little did we know that just a few years ago, the Singaporean actress couldn't even tell salt and sugar apart.

In a phone call with Mothership, Lim laughed as she told us: "On one of the variety programmes I was on years ago, I had to cook on the spot. I mistook the sugar for salt, that was how bad I am!"

Now, however, her friends know that if she's not replying to their messages, it means she's whipping something up in the kitchen.

So how did someone who started out as a total noob in the kitchen turn into a person who's practically in the kitchen 24/7?

Longed for local food

There are several factors, Lim says, and one of them is her deep longing for authentic Singaporean food.

The actress has been based in Taiwan with her husband and children since 2015.

About three years ago, Lim attended a two-hour baking class where she learnt how to make a chiffon cake.

Craving local food, Lim decided to incorporate pandan leaves into the recipe and made her first pandan chiffon cake.

Now, Lim has moved on to more than chiffon cakes.

It has become weekly routine for her to bake her own bread and luncheon meat buns, which is something she used to take for granted in Singapore.

"Luncheon meat buns are so yummy, right? It is something I remember eating from my childhood but bakeries in Taiwan don't have it."

Taste of Singapore for children

She also picked up cooking so her two children will know where they're from.

Lim's son, AJ, was five months old when they moved to Taiwan while her daughter, Alexa, was born in Taiwan in 2017.

Therefore, she makes it a point to celebrate every Singaporean holiday, including National Day and Hari Raya Puasa, by making local dishes for her family.

Last Hari Raya, for example, Lim prepared the following items from scratch: chicken rendang, otah, chicken satay and peanut sauce.

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A post shared by 💋💋Yvonne Lim✨✨ (@yvonnelim928)

Other local dishes she has attempted include bak kwa, nasi lemak, and local kuehs like ondeh-ondeh and kueh dadar.

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A post shared by 💋💋Yvonne Lim✨✨ (@yvonnelim928)

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by 💋💋Yvonne Lim✨✨ (@yvonnelim928)

Grows own pandan leaves

While some of these local foods can be pretty tedious to make, she told us that it's even tougher to source for some of the ingredients (pandan leaves, for example).

Luckily for her, she has her good friend, Malaysian singer Fish Leong to provide her with some of the fragrant leaves.

And of course, given its scarcity, the plant is so precious to her that Lim's husband has built a greenhouse especially for her tropical plants to survive throughout winter.

Additionally, while Taiwan may be known for its bubble tea, you'd be surprised to know that it's actually not that easy to find tapioca there.

Or rather, the right kind of tapioca to make kueh bingka (steamed tapioca cake).

"Tapioca, obviously, is something that is easily available but it's not easily available in Taiwan. I can't find it in local markets and supermarkets. So I have to find it online."

Hosts friends for Chinese New Year

While Lim primarily cooks so that her children can learn more about Singapore, it seems like she's exposing her Taiwanese friends to her culture as well.

As she couldn't make it back home to Singapore for Chinese New Year this year, she hosted two dinners for her friends in Taiwan including Leong, fellow Singaporean singer Kelly Poon, and Taiwanese friends Alyssa Chia and Hsiu Chieh-kai.

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A post shared by 💋💋Yvonne Lim✨✨ (@yvonnelim928)

She told us that she cooked a Singaporean feast of dry laksa, salted egg prawn, and handmade ngoh hiang.

Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

Of course, a Singaporean Chinese New Year wouldn't be complete without yusheng, which Lim painstakingly designed to make it look like adorable little cows to commemorate the year of the ox.

Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

Photo from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.

Her harshest critic

Having fed so many famous people, we had to ask: Who's her harshest critic?

Without hesitation, she said it was her good pal (Fish) Leong. Needless to say, Leong's comments comes from a place of love.

"Fish is really close to me so she's very, very honest with her comments. She will tell me what to do to improve. So whatever I do, she's the first to see what I have made."

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A post shared by 💋💋Yvonne Lim✨✨ (@yvonnelim928)

But it's safe to say that Lim is a pretty good cook considering that her friends would always leave her home with a full tummy and more food in their hands.

Lim said,

"I prepare my own takeout boxes [whenever my friends come over] and the happiest moment for me would be to see them dabao the food away. That's how I know that they enjoy the food."

Coming home

While Lim can cook a lot of local dishes right now, there are just some things that she can't replicate — such as kway chap and nasi padang.

"Wah, I miss nasi padang so much, it's one of my favourites," Lim told us.

If you want to know, here's her nasi padang combination: Fried or curry chicken, bergedil (potato patties), any vegetable dish, sambal sotong or prawns, fried egg (a must) and sambal belacan.

On the bright side, it seems like Lim can return to Singapore as soon as the Covid-19 situation improves, as her seven-year-old son managed to get a spot in a local primary school.

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A post shared by 💋💋Yvonne Lim✨✨ (@yvonnelim928)

She jokingly said: "Our ultimate aim is to come back home, but all my friends here are telling me not to go home."

Sold cookies for charity

If you're wondering if Lim will ever try selling the food she makes, she told us that she did sell a "small batch" of Singaporean Chinese New Year snacks set to her friends and acquaintances in Taiwan.

And by a "small batch", she meant over 800 pieces of pineapple tarts and cashew nut cookies, and over 1,000 hae bee hiam rolls.

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A post shared by 💋💋Yvonne Lim✨✨ (@yvonnelim928)

Part of the proceeds, Lim told us, will be donated to a children's charity.

Spending close to 20 days prior to the festive season to prepare the orders made Lim really appreciative of the home bakers who do it on a regular basis.

"I don't have nice hands anymore, my hands are dry and full of cuts. While making the pineapple tarts, I accidentally burned myself as well and it's still healing."

She added: "I really have to give it up to all these home-based businesses. It's not easy, it's very tedious work. Maybe I'll do it occasionally, but not every day."

While you may not be able to try any of Lim's bakes just yet, she did share the "foolproof" recipe to her cashew nut cookies.

Yvonne Lim's Cashew Nut Almond Cookies (笑口常开)

Photo courtesy of Yvonne Lim.

Wet ingredients:

  • 200 grams butter (room temperature)
  • 240 grams all-purpose flour
  • 120 grams icing sugar
  • One egg yolk

Dry ingredients:

  • 64 grams almond powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt (can be substituted with sea salt)

Toppings:

  • Whole cashew nuts

Egg wash:

  • One egg yolk
  • One teaspoon water

Method:

1. Beat softened butter, icing sugar and egg yolk till pale yellow & fluffy.

2. Sift all dry ingredients together.

3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients to form a dough. Do not over mix.

4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (It's easier to work with once chilled, Lim said).

5. Shape to smaller balls of about 10 grams each in weight. Lightly flatten it and place a cashew nut on top. Brush it with the egg wash.

6. Bake at 160°C for about 20 minutes or when they are nicely browned.

Top image from Yvonne Lim's Instagram page.