Dr Leslie Tay, co-hosting 8 Days Eat, with TV personality Belinda Lee. Photo courtesy of Belinda Lee.

Ask Dr Leslie Tay if he remembers his first food date with college sweetheart, Lisa, and the answer is unhesitating.

“Taman Jurong hawker centre. Hor fun. $3. I paid.”

He adds a tad sheepishly: “Actually, I didn’t focus on the food so much because of the company.”

Lisa, of course, is now his wife.

In fact, one of his food books, The end of char kway teow and other hawker mysteries, is dedicated:

 To my college sweetheart, wife, and best friend Lisa

Food and his wife, it seems, are inextricably linked.

Dr Tay shares many meal memories with wife, Lisa, his college sweetheart. Photo from ieatishootipost.sg.

One of their favourite meal memories involves a certain steakhouse in Orchard Road.

“We were both students standing outside the steakhouse and when they opened the door, wah the smell of the steak just wafted out and you go, whoa that smells good, and then you look at the price – so expensive, 35 bucks plus-plus – for a set dinner,” he recalls with good humour.

“And we were lingering outside for a while, and this kindly Hainanese man looked at us and said, ‘Come, come, come’. That price is for tourists. For locals, it’s $30. We didn’t need much more persuasion. It was like our whole month’s savings just to eat that $30 steak meal. But that was the best steak, man!”

Blame it on the hokkien mee

It doesn’t take much to get Dr Tay to wax lyrical about his favourite topic.

“Okay, I love food, I love to write about food. I see food as a way of bringing people together,” he says. “In the course of my blogging, I get to meet a lot of people. And in meeting people I get to share their lives.”

Holidaying with daughter Megan, son James, and wife Lisa. Photo from ieatishootipost.sg.

His grandmother was the one who taught him how to wield a frying pan when she got him to fry an egg in primary school. But his love of food came from his mother, who was a housewife until she qualified as a chef in her 50s and promptly turned professional.

“Ever wondered why God created so many different plants in the world? Because He’s a God of creativity and variety!”

The GP who started ieatishootipost because “I just wanted to eat all the nice hokkien mee in Singapore” has, over his past 12 years of blogging, hosted television shows, written food tomes, created the curry sauce for McNuggets in the UK, and was a member of the Hawker 3.0 committee convened by the Government last year to recommend ways to keep hawker culture thriving. 

“When I think about food, I get quite happy,” he confesses, adding that the blog began with the question: Where are the best places for hokkien mee?

The hokkien mee list became a char kway teow list, which became a wanton mee list … and the rest is history.

A favourite part of his blogging life is meeting the people behind the food. Photo from ieatishootipost.sg.

He is quick to add, however, that “food is a part of my life, but it is not the most important. We always have to keep our loves in the right order: It’s always love for God first before everything else.”

In fact Dr Tay, who also runs Karri Family Clinic, sees God as the bountiful Creator of the food he so enjoys.

“God created food for our good, for our enjoyment,” he says animatedly, quoting Psalm 104:14.

“Ever wondered why God needed to create so many different fish in the world? Because different fish taste different! And why so many different plants? Because He’s a God of creativity and variety!

“I always like to think of it this way: That He actually put certain plants all over the earth for us to discover. Then we suddenly discover, hey, actually garlic and olive go so well together. Then if we put chilli into the mix, add in a few prawns – wow, the whole thing comes together like magic!

“And I can imagine God in heaven thinking, ‘Wow you got it!’”  

Table fellowship

With his tireless search for the best makan places and recipes, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Dr Tay’s main concern in life is food. But you’d be wrong.

Those who know him well will tell you: It’s the people behind the food.

“The meal is a vision of friendship, of camaraderie, of fellowship.”

“The Gospels paint Jesus as a person who loved to go and hang out with people. He’s always eating with people, and using that occasion to connect with people,” he says.

“So the meal is a vision of friendship, of camaraderie, of fellowship when we can get together for a meal.”

So did a food thing evolve into a people thing?

“You know, when you’re a Christian, you always have at the back of your mind your mission in life: Love God, love your neighbour. See how you can serve Him, see how you can serve your neighbour.

“And in the area of writing about food, that is your mission. Whether you’re a musician, a teacher, or a doctor, that is still your mission.

“We’re ambassadors of God and we are here to show that God is a good God, He loves the world, He loves people. He wants to bring them home.”

Food as ministry

The love of food turned out to be a way that Leslie could make a real impact on lives.

Raymond Tan, for instance, was a young hawker in need of help in more ways than one. Little did he know, when he emailed Dr Tay to review his crab wanton mee hawker stall in Macpherson, that it would trigger a divine chain of events.

With former hawker Raymond Tan. Photo courtesy of Raymond Tan.

“We don’t want a Christianity that only requires the minimum – we want to take seriously what the Bible says about living this life.”

Dr Tay recalls: “When I received that email from Raymond, I just had this feeling inside: I need to go. Today.” 

“So I went. And that was one of those moments when I felt that I was where God wanted me to be. And it was just the right time.”

Unknown to him, Raymond had been a struggling ex-offender. An invitation to Dr Tay’s church eventually led to Raymond receiving Christ. The father of two now runs an auto rescue business and volunteers at the Boys Home.

Raymond (in brown t-shirt) on his baptism day, together with his men’s discipleship group. Photo courtesy of Raymond Tan.

Today Raymond and his family are warmly welcomed into the Tay household, where Dr Tay’s 19-year-old son, James, and 16-year-old daughter, Megan, call him “Uncle Raymond”.

Together with a group of men in a discipleship group, Raymond is still being spiritually mentored by Dr Tay.

“Basically our men’s group meets together to try to live out our faith. One of the things I’ve always told them is: Jesus told us to enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and easy is the way that leads to destruction. And those who find it are many.

“But narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14) We are together because we want to encourage each other to walk this path, where we are fully surrendered to God, putting Him first in whatever we do.

“We don’t want to have a Christianity that only requires the minimum – just go to church or say a prayer and that’s enough. We want to really take seriously what the Bible says about living this life. People’s lives change when they give 100% to God.”

The great feast

As much satisfaction as his award-winning blog has given him, Dr Tay carries his passion lightly.

“I always tell my makan kakis that one day I’ll stop blogging. I can’t go on forever. So what is it that I’ve done that will last? It’s the friendships, it’s the people that I’ve influenced in one way or another. Those are the things that have eternal value.”

Food is all about the fellowship. Photo from ieatishootipost.sg.

Speaking of eternity, Leslie delights in talking about the delectable dining to come in heaven.

“The Bible says that in the new heaven and the new earth, there will be lots of feasting! Isaiah 25:6 says, on this mountain, the Lord will hold a feast for all the people – a feast of rich food, a feast of aged wine. We’re given a vision of a heaven that is full of good food!

“So I’m looking forward to it! We’re not going to be just singing all day long, you know. There’s going to be a lot of feasting.

“The good thing is – you’re going to live forever, right, so you don’t have to worry about your cholesterol!”

About the author

Juleen Shaw

Salt&Light Managing Editor Juleen hails from the newsrooms of Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp Publishing. She has had two encounters with baptismal pools. The first was at age four when her mother, who was holding her hand, tripped and fell into the church baptismal pool, taking Juleen with her. The second was when she actually chose to get baptised.