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Profile : Helen Ong PDF Print E-mail
Written by Administrator III   
Wednesday, 18 February 2009 17:43



Helen Ong is a self-confessed foodie who loves to hunt down the best of Penang. She is the author of the book Great Dining in Penang.


    Penang’s official foodie is no stranger to the public. As Star Sunday Metro’s regular columnist, she has been helping to promote not just our famous (and not so famous) hawker stalls and restaurateurs, but other things about the state, to the rest of Malaysia. Helen has also reviewed food outlets on the island for Star Metro North’s Gourmet Guide column for the past three years. That, together with the guide to Penang restaurants that she published last year (Great Dining in Penang), has helped to establish her as one of our personalities.

   As she lived in Europe (UK and France) for many years, but still adores local food, Helen feels she is amply qualified to appreciate both western and Asian cuisine. A lady of many talents, she is both a qualified Beauty Therapist and an IBM Systems Engineer. “Although I used to teach Malaysian cooking in France and also wrote a regular beauty column for the local papers in the UK, I fell into writing here almost by accident, and specialised in food because I love eating!”

    Describing herself as a “fairly good cook”, she tends not to spend much time in the kitchen herself now, especially as both her sons have flown the nest. “When I lived abroad, the only opportunity to get good Malaysian food was to cook it myself,” she said. That, she feels, has given her the experience to eat and comment on other people’s cooking.

    She has a little game she plays with people which helps them to identify which their ultimate favourite food is. “If you were stuck on a desert island, and came across a kind genii who gave you the choice of having just one type of cuisine, what would it be?” In her case, it is definitely Thai food. “My Dad always believed we had a bit of Siamese blood on my maternal side,” she laughed. “That probably explains my love for their delicious sweet, hot and sour dishes!”

    Helen eschews the title food “critic”, preferring instead the word “writer”. In fact, a fellow journalist once referred to her as the “Paula Abdul of the Penang culinary scene”, a description she relishes in. “I’m not out to do hatchet jobs on something which has probably have taken a lot of hard work and maybe their life savings to achieve,” she explained. “It’s not fair to them, as what I think is poor may not necessarily be so to others’ tastes. Besides,” she added, “Penang is much too small a place. I want to be welcomed when I patronise an outlet, not have the doors shut in my face!”

    Having said that, she will make it clear to the proprietor when she doesn’t feel something is up to standard. “I think it’s almost my duty to do so. It’s not criticism per se, and done more to make them aware so they have the option of doing something about it. Whether they accept it and act upon it is up to them,” she said, “but in order to survive, let alone do well, it’s vital they give their best, especially in Penang where everyone is a food critic! Having looked behind the scenes as such and seen how difficult it is to run a restaurant or even just a hawker stall, I really want them all to succeed.”

Check out her blog on 

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 March 2009 13:43

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