Interview with Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Editor of the Fiction Anthology, “Singapore Noir”

by Leah on June 4, 2014

Tan.Author Photo.byJohn SearlesFrom time to time, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you.

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is the New York-based editor of “Singapore Noir,” a new fiction anthology, and author of “A Tiger In The Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family”.  She is currently working on her first novel.

Tan was a staff writer at the Wall Street Journal, In Style magazine and the Baltimore Sun. Her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Marie Claire, and Newsweek among other publications. “Singapore Noir” was just named one of Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month: Mystery” for June.

Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan: I was about 15 or 16, which sounds early, except that in Singapore, where I grew up, the drinking age is 18 and teenagers being what they are anywhere in the world, you figure out a way to sneak into places you’re not supposed to go. I didn’t much care for alcohol then though — and drinks are rather expensive in Singaporean bars and clubs — so it wasn’t a regular occurrence. Back then, vodka Ribenas were the rage in Singapore so that’s probably what my first drink was. It’s like vodka cranberry but much more delicious. I love Ribena, a British blackcurrant syrup, in a cocktail.

How did/does your family treat drinking? 

My father briefly worked for a company that distributed liquor in Asia when I was a child so I may have drinking to thank for my college education! I have this very vivid memory of my father coming home from the end of a long work day, pouring a glass of Chivas and stretching out on the balcony to unwind for a bit. I’ve never been a big whiskey drinker myself but I’ll always associate that drink with my dad. When we have a special family dinner these days though, wine — Bordeaux, red — is typically the beverage of choice.

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?

It’s not part of my every day life unless I’m seeing friends — I’ve never been a writer who can write while buzzed (even a little sip of something light will throw me off) so I tend to avoid it when I’m in the thick of a book. I never drink during the day unless I’m on holiday. (How can one say no to that little lunchtime splash when you’re having the most perfect meal on the sunny Sicilian Coast?) It’s a marvelous social lubricant though — I love sitting at a large dinner table with friends with a few bottles of splendid wine, good nibbles and hours and hours to just gab and laugh.

Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?SingaporeNoir_LoRes

It’s funny — people sometimes joke that now that I don’t have to be in an office every day and I write books, I’m probably drinking all the time a la Hemingway. But I probably drank more frequently in the twelve years I worked full-time as a journalist! I love the newsroom culture of grabbing a beer at the end of the day with your colleagues when you’ve all survived deadline, filed all your stories and you’re looking for that cold fresh something to cap another intense day of putting the paper out. When I worked as a cub reporter in the Annapolis, Maryland, bureau of the Baltimore Sun, our editors knew that on Fridays, if it was past five p.m., to call the bar — the Ram’s Head — across the street if they had questions about our stories. I love how that was one of the first things explained to me when I started in that bureau.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

I adore gin gimlets, straight up. I love anything very tart and tangy and the lime in it always perks me up.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

A quiet autumn evening on the Ligurian Coast a few years ago, my ex and I found ourselves in teeny tiny Manarola, a town so small it seemed to just have four restaurants and a bar. We weren’t quite sure what to expect when we first walked into Cantina dello Zio Bramante for an after-dinner drink — it was an intimate dark space, filled with tourists from various bits of the world who had somehow found themselves in Cinque Terre during the off-season and several locals. At first, the groups kept to themselves — British students from Oxford in one corner, Swiss backpackers in another, the old Italian guys who lived around the corner scattered around. After a few drinks, the owner of the bar pulled out a guitar, started strumming songs and the entire bar just automatically began singing along. (We found that Beatles tunes were the ones everyone, regardless of age or nationality, seemed to know the words to.) At some point an elderly Italian guy suddenly sprang to his feet and started belting out O Sole Mio with impressive gusto. You couldn’t have scripted it better. We all left feeling like we’d stumbled upon a truly special evening.

What about the worst time?

No comment!

Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking? 

If you haven’t read Lawrence Osborne’s “The Wet and the Dry: A Drinker’s Journey,” you must.

What do you like most about drinking?

There’s something very appealing about having that chilled glass of Sancerre to look forward to at the end of a long, hard writing day.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

A strong, spicy Bloody Mary. I love how complex and heady the drink can be if done well — peppery, vinegary, salty, tart, and all of that bound together with the sweetness of tomatoes and divine when cut with a shot of green freshness from biting that crunchy celery stick. (I was at a Cape Cod restaurant recently with a Bloody Mary buffet that allowed you to add ingredients such as crispy bacon to your drink — lovely.) A good Bloody Mary bites and invigorates — that’s a drink that can really smack you around.

Author Photo by John Searles


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