Crazy Rich Asians is full of glamour, designer gowns, exotic locations (that are real) and a cast of stunning actresses, but without a doubt, its biggest star is Singapore. The bestselling book turned movie has the world wondering about this seemingly magical place, full of fairytale gardens, luxury hotels and palace-like condominiums. And great food.
We posed 10 questions to a few of the native Singaporean cast members — Janice Koh ( who plays Felicity Young), Koh Chieng Mun (Neena Goh, Peik Lin’s memorable mother), Tan Kheng Hua (Rachel Chu’s mother, Kerry) and Fiona Xie (the Kitty Pong) — to find out what they recommend in their Singapore.
This is obviously a breakthrough movie for how Asians are depicted by Hollywood. How accurate is it as a portrait of Asian life, and Singapore, specifically?
Janice Koh: This is a lavish, escapist Hollywood rom-com based on a satirical novel about one ultra-rich Chinese family. It is about the 1% of the 1%, and in that sense, it cannot accurately portray the multiple facets and nuances of Singapore life, or most parts of Asia for that matter.
Having said that, the skyline and cityscape of Singapore is captured beautifully in this movie, and one of my favorite scenes is the hawker food scene shot at Newton Circus. Food is a big deal in Singapore. We were the first country in the world to earn Michelin stars for our street food, and you can buy a delicious hot meal for under $5US!
But the battle of wills in the film – between putting family first versus following your individual passions – is also a recognizably Asian perspective. In the end, this movie is about how love and integrity overcomes the age-old barriers of status, tradition and class divide. These themes are universally understood, and I hope that’s what audiences will simply be moved by, whatever their ethnicity or background.
Fiona Xie: Singapore is an interesting place where there is something for everyone. You can be living it up at a Michelin-starred restaurant or having simple but yummy hawker fare for less than 10 dollars. We are also have a diverse culture of Malay, Indian, Chinese and Eurasian, which makes our landscape and food thriving with variety. Of course, Crazy Rich Asians is only a two-hour movie, so you don’t have enough time to encapsulate everything, so you have to come visit us in Singapore for the entire experience. But what rings through for the movie is the Asian values of family and love and that’s what unites us all.
If you had the choice of any place in the world to live other than Singapore, where would it be?
Janice Koh: New York!
Koh Chieng Mun: It would probably be Japan. Japan has this culture of respect and courtesy, so living there would be nice. And of course, the food they have is amazing.
Tan Kheng Hua: For now, London.
What is the best bar for cocktails?
Janice Koh: 28 Hongkong on Hongkong Street, and Employees Only on Amoy Street. It’s impossible to just choose one!
Koh Chieng Mun: The best bar would probably be Mischief at Esplanade. Cocktails are one thing, but sitting by the Singapore river, watching the night lights and sipping away is another.
What is the best place for a wedding and reception?
Janice Koh: I got married eighteen years ago at the Shangri-La in Singapore, and the service was exceptional. I believe it still is!
Koh Chieng Mun: In my opinion, I would love to have my wedding/reception at the S.E.A Aquarium simply because it would be unforgettable. Ballrooms are too common – marine life is exquisite!
Street Food is big in Singapore. Where do you find the best?
Janice Koh : We have many open-air hawker centres and coffee shops in Singapore with an amazing array of street food. It’s hard to recommend a best one because food is emotional comfort to most Singaporeans and therefore very subjective. My personal favorites are Old Airport Road Hawker Centre for prawn noodles, Tiong Bahru Market for ‘chwee kueh’ (steamed rice cake with salted radish) and Jalan Tua Kong coffee shop for the best Malay Nasi Padang and ‘Mee Pok’.
Koh Chieng Mun: The only carts still commonly found are ice-cream carts on the streets of town (we need something to beat the heat!)
What are the three best restaurants in Singapore?
Koh Chieng Mun: I love the revolving restaurant by Prima at Harbourfront. Great dim sum, with views overlooking the city. Another one of my favorites is CreatureS on Desker Road. On top of fusion Peranakan cuisine, you should try their durian cake and their decadent chocolate cake.
Lastly, I would recommend Cat Cora’s restaurant in the S.E.A Aquarium. Not only is the food great, but you can dine alongside the fishes! Shiok! [Malaysian slang for pleasure, FYI]
Tan Kheng Hua: Here are my three favorites – but they don’t necessarily mean they are the best: Werner’s Oven for home-style German food and breads; Long Ji for crab meehoon and tzi char; and Karu’s for fish-head curry.
What’s the one thing people don’t know about your country that they should?
Janice Koh: We are a very green city, and we have many green corridors and wetlands dotted all around Singapore which are worth a visit, from the futuristic looking Gardens by the Bay, to a lovely trek through the rainforest up Bukit Timah Hill, to the Sungei Bulls Wetland Reserve.
Koh Chieng Mun: They should know that if there’s a long queue for food, they should join it! It’s unlikely that they’ll be disappointed – Singaporeans are discerning foodies!
Tan Kheng Hua: That we try very hard.
What three things should our readers do when they visit Singapore?
1 Eat at an open-air hawker centre and order dishes from Malay, Indian and Chinese food stalls to share!
2 Take a walk through my favorite neighborhood Katong and Joo Chiat, and appreciate the shophouse architecture in the area, drop by Rumah Bebe to learn more about Peranakan culture, and finish off with a bowl of Katong Laksa.
3 Go to the theatre and catch a play by any of the local theatre companies including Wild Rice, The Necessary Stage or Nine Years Theatre.
Koh Chieng Mun: They should try some durian, go to Gardens By The Bay at night for the light shows, and shop till you drop at Orchard Road, the shopping belt in Singapore!
Tan Kheng Hua: Go to Books Actually, jog along Hort Park, and cycle in Pulau Ubin.
What’s worth fighting the crowds for at Lau Pa Sat?
Janice Koh: I would head straight for the satay stall (barbecued chicken and beef skewers)! However, there’s need to to fight the crowds at Lau Pa Sat as there are many other great hawker centres to try in Singapore. I would go to Maxwell Food Centre, which is where Tian Tian Chicken Rice can be found, or go in search of spicy Chicken Briyani at Tekka Market in Little India. If you are a foodie, the options are endless!
Koh Chieng Mun: In my opinion, no. Go to Old Airport Road for food instead – you won’t be disappointed!
Tan Kheng Hua: Yes – the satay!
What hotels have the best views?
Janice Koh: I love the views from Marina Bay Sands. At night, the shimmering city view from the rooftop is quite jaw-dropping, but my favorite is catching the sunrise from the rooms overlooking Gardens by the Bay. It is spectacular.
If you’re a big fan of the Grand Prix and the annual Formula One Night Race in Singapore, you could grab some amazing views of the circuit from the many hotels around the track, including Ritz Carlton Millenia, Swissotel the Stamford and the Fullerton Hotel.
Fiona Xie: Marina Bay Sands! It’s seen in the last scene of Nick (Henry Golding) and Rachel’s (Constance Wu) engagement with the floating pool with the sprawling city skyline of Singapore. Yes, this actually exists!!