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The Global Insider – A Meal With Jaelle Ang

Jaelle Ang on impromptu travels, serendipitous encounters and how to get coveted reservations, almost all the time.

Have you noticed that in most countries, the roads have signs that tell you where you are not allowed to make a U-turn, as you are free to do so everywhere else, whereas in Singapore, you are told where you are allowed to?

That’s one of the observations made by Jaelle Ang, who adds: “That’s how most Singaporeans are. We do things only when we are told that it is allowed.” That, however, is not how the 35-year-old Raffles Girls School alumnus rolls.

In her capacity as founding director and head of acquisitions and development for Country Group Development Public Company Limited – which includes a Four Seasons Hotel, the first Four Seasons Private Residences in Asia, and a Capella Hotel – Ang travels two to three times a month. The real-estate company currently headlines Bangkok’s largest waterfront mixed-use development.

Yet the mother of two toddlers still finds time to travel for leisure, and she does most of it impromptu. Her spur-of-the-moment trips are not the usual weekend shopping excursions to Hong Kong or food tours around Penang. With her husband, Yiang Huang, a documentary photographer and investor, they jet off to destinations like Istanbul and Iran. Their honeymoon was in Uganda. “We love travelling to far-flung places,” says Ang. “And we are very extreme – so our holidays range from super luxe to super gritty.”

Here, the globetrotter shares her experiences and travel tips with us.

Does your training as an architect and artist give you a different appreciation of the places you travel to?

Architecture is a marriage of art and science; you can’t help but think of the beauty and the economic forces that allowed the beauty to happen. Also, much of architecture is driven by culture, history and people. It is a training that helps me look at things through a different lens.

Which are some of the most beautiful restaurants you have been to?

Monsieur Bleu Restaurant in Paris designed by Joseph Dirand, who also designs Alexander Wang and Cartier boutiques around the world. I always go to Berners Tavern at Edition Hotel when I am in London – it is luxe but feels very relaxed. The loo’s very contemporary but with elements of history, like a beautiful chandelier from New York’s Grand Central Station. He makes use of the space beautifully. HKK (in London) is a nice modern Chinese restaurant, with very simple but refined interiors.

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Can’t fault the view at Berners Tavern, at Edition London.

Which cities do you never tire of?

Summer and winter holidays with the family are often spent in England because we have a family home there. I also went to architecture and business school in London, and did my MBA at Imperial College. London always has a lot of new concepts and it is very cosmopolitan, so you feel like you are in many parts of the world at once. Istanbul is another city that is always exciting. It has such a large percentage of young people, and the energy is incredible. It is very forward-thinking yet steeped in culture, and there is a lot of interesting tensions and contrasts between the old and the new.

How do you decide where to go next?

I like to go to festivals because they bring people from all walks of life together. I have been to India for Kumbh Mela – it is the largest gathering of people in the world and there’s just this incredible energy. We are planning to go to Mongolia for the Naadam festival next. That said, we are quite spontaneous travellers – when we travel as a couple without our children, we would book a hotel only for the first night and go with the flow. When we went to Uganda, we struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger on the plane, and ended up spending Christmas at his place.

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On the cards: The colourful Naadam festival in Mongolia. (Photo credit: Wikimedia)

We are always surprised by the supreme hospitality and kindness from strangers. In Iran, we spent hours at a hijab shop speaking to the sellers and then found ourselves in the home of the locals, witnessing the women in their home singing and dancing – a very different sight from how they are in public. When you go into the homes of the locals, you get the most incredibly touching experiences.

Not pre-booking must be challenging, when it comes to getting rooms or even tables at popular destinations.

You will be surprised. We’ve almost always been able to get what we want – and it is not about connections. For example, if a restaurant says that it is booked out, we will tell them that we understand the situation, but we will come at 7pm anyway and see how things go – and, usually, we would get a seat. Sometimes, it is all about convincing people and being firm about your requests – while being polite, of course.

What are some overseas addresses that have never failed you?

I love Bangkok as a food place – it is so good at many cuisines, and at so many levels, from street food to high-end offerings. I often bring guests to Siam Wisdom – its tom yam bisque is amazing. Another new-ish favourite that is very dependable is The Never Ending Summer. The name might be cheesy but it makes classic dishes that are rarely served at other places, because they are so time-consuming. I don’t necessarily entertain at posh places, because everyone has been to and seen the best of the hotels. Instead, I seek out places that serve good, reliable and authentic food – such as a place like Wild Rocket in Singapore, where the food is good and has a special touch.

What are the souvenirs that you tend to pick up?

I like to buy local kitchen tools and utensils, like ceramic plates from Tokyo and handhammered copper pots from Shiraz. Food is the heart of many cultures and these wares and utensils are, in a way, cultural artefacts.

(RELATED: We recommend precisely these souvenirs as well – check out our chef gifting guide this issue.)

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