For Edina Hong, marketing director of the Emmanuel Stroobant Group, one “perk” of having a multi-cultural family are the festive feasts that offer the best of their different traditions during holidays and special occasions

Singapore’s most exacting gourmands know Edina Hong as one-half of the culinary power couple behind the Emmanuel Stroobant Group. Married to Belgium-born chef Stroobant, she is the marketing director of the Group and together, they helm some of Singapore’s most popular restaurants, including Saint Pierre and Shoukouwa, which have two Michelin stars each.

At home, Hong, a Malaysian is known as mummy to two girls, Keira, 11 and Mia, eight, who are the joys of her life. As a multicultural family, their lives are certainly filled with multiple reasons to celebrate special occasions while showcasing their varied cultures and backgrounds. Hong reflects on how motherhood has changed her life and how the family blends each other's favourite traditions to create their own one-of-a-kind celebrations. 

Please describe your relationship with your girls.

Edina Hong (EH) My girls and I have a very open relationship where we can share just about everything and anything.

One morning on the way to school, the song B***h by Meredith Brooks started playing on the radio. I remember Keira singing along to the song when she asked me what the term meant. She was just about five or six years old then and I explained that it referred to a female dog but if used in a colloquial sense, it can be very offensive and that she shouldn’t use the term at all.

There is no subject that is taboo and they can ask me anything without the fear of being reprimanded.

What is your parenting style and philosophy?

EH I am not one for child-proofing the house. I do not believe in protecting the girls, I believe in educating them. For example, when Keira first started to walk, we taught her to always wait for an adult at the top of the staircase to walk with her lest she may slip and fall.

Recently, while driving Keira to school, she realised that she had forgotten to pack her homework in her bag and asked to return home to get it. My take is, if you forget or are not responsible, you need to face the music. Turning around would enable her to be forgetful and irresponsible in the future.

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How do you and your husband share your cultures with your children?

EH We have always taught them to embrace different cultures and races. At school, the girls learn Malay as their mother tongue and during cultural week, we dress them up in the baju kurung to introduce them to my family’s Peranakan heritage.

The Belgian culture comes through in our family via food. There are the classic Belgian foods such as waffles, chocolate, and frites (French fries) that they have enjoyed since young and they even eat their fries with mayonnaise just as the Belgians do. Other Belgian favourites of theirs are the filet American, which is Belgium’s version of the steak tartare, and the vol au vent, which is similar to a cream of mushroom and chicken pie.

One of the wonderful things about having a multi-cultural family is getting to celebrate many special occasions together! What festivals does the family commemorate?

EH In terms of festivities, both Emmanuel and my family celebrate Christmas. As a Catholic, I have always had a big celebration on Christmas Day while Emmanuel’s family dinner was always held on Christmas Eve. That being said, the type of dishes that we ate during our celebrations were quite different. I remember having everything from chicken curry to roast turkey while Emmanuel enjoyed oysters, roasts and a log cake as a typical Christmas meal.

As a family now, we have incorporated traditions from both sides and the spread is a mix of what Emmanuel and I grew up with. My extended family also comes to visit on Christmas Day and the kids have a good time playing together.

Chinese new year is also a big celebration in our family and on the first day of the lunar new year, both Keira and Mia will wake up early, shower, get dressed in their new clothes and bring tea to greet their grandparents and us.

While Easter celebration was not a big deal for me while growing up, Emmanuel makes it a point of celebrating Easter with the family. We also celebrate Hari Raya at home with our helper and we enjoy a variety of dishes such as ketupat and rendang together.

How has becoming a mother changed the way you live your life?

EH Motherhood has forced me to become a more patient person. Prior to having kids, I never had the patience to elaborate on my explanations, but I learned that the girls were more willing to listen when I took the time to explain why things happened in a certain way and the resulting consequences for not abiding to the rules. This also translated to the workplace where my staff performed better when they understood where I was coming from.

Having kids also really put life into perspective. As a parent, you are forced to curb bad habits and be more disciplined and responsible so that you can lead by example. My girls have made me into a better person.

What do you consider your biggest challenge in becoming a mother?

EH The biggest challenge is that there is no absolute right or wrong method when raising your children. Sure, there are a few parenting guide books out in the market, but it does not apply to all children. You have to feel your way around and just be the best you can be. 

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How has your mother helped you in your journey of motherhood?

EH I think I emulate my mother’s parenting skills. She has always been open-minded and would take the time to explain life lessons to me. When I was seven, I hated going to school and would cry at home every day. My mother took me aside and we had a very long conversation where she told me that life wasn’t a bed of roses and even if I did not like something, I had to soldier on and not give up regardless of my preferences.