Food Meets Fashion: Ling Tan

Food Meets Fashion examines the median where New York’s taste makers from the fashion and food industries converge. After all, foodies in fashion can’t live on green juice and champagne alone! We’re unveiling where our favorite designers, editors, and influentials love to eat, whether they’re wooing a client or chowing down with friends.

Ling Tan


Ling Tan is Southeast Asia’s first supermodel. Though ethnically Chinese, she was born and raised in Malaysia. She changed the face of fashion with her exotic beauty, walking runways worldwide for designers like Giorgio Armani, Christian Dior, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen among many others. The masters of fashion photography have captured her in their work, including Steven Meisel, Irving Penn, Annie Leibovitz, Peter Lindbergh, Mario Testino, and the legendary Richard Avedon, who photographed Ling for the prestigious Pirelli calendar. Ling has appeared in the pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as in the campaigns of brands like Issey Miyake, Yves Saint Laurent, and Estee Lauder. Add to this a career in television (she appeared on Sex and The City and Blue Bloods after appearing on CNN’s Style Network) and you’ve got a mere sampling of her incredible resume.

What’s your favorite summer cocktail?
My all-time favorite cocktail is a Bellini from Harry’s Bar in Venice and Cipriani restaurants.

How would you describe your food-style?
I’m very health conscious. I like food that has natural flavors, is fresh, low-fat, low-sodium and high in vitamins, nutrients, minerals and fiber. My daily diet comprises of seven different color groups of fruits and vegetables.

What did you have for breakfast today?
Today I had breakfast at the Ubud Hanging Gardens in Indonesia at 8am. I had fresh papaya, orange, and watermelon juice, dragon fruit, pork rice soup, mie goreng (fried noodles), an omelette with bell peppers, tomatoes and onion; baby potatoes; croissants with pineapple, tamarillo and papaya jam.

At 4pm, for afternoon tea, I had Indonesian sweet coconut rice wrapped in banana leaves, banana cake, pastries and biscuits.

Do you identify as a “foodie”?
No, because I don’t own 20 different kinds of salt. That will be an “extreme foodie.” But I have lots of chef friends and everybody around me is obsessed with food. I always ask local friends for a “must eat” list before I arrive in each city. Many of my friends work in the food business or are traveling journalists, so they can help. I like to plan food-centric trips in every city whenever I travel.

What’s your hands-down favorite restaurant?
I was born and rised in Kuala Lumpur — the greatest street food not just in Asia, but the world. My favorite restaurants are the the hawker food stalls in Petaling streets, Jalan Alor, Jalan Imbi and Jalan Ipoh in Kuala Lumpur. These casual stalls are usually outdoors, under big trees, and have been around for more then 50 years. They’re run by 2nd and 3rd generation owners. When I was very young my parents took me to these food stalls, and my grandparents took my parents when they were young too. Every dish retains its authentic quality since these stalls were established in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.

What’s your go-to snack for mid-day cravings?
Kaya toast, roti canai (Indian flat bread) with chicken curry potatoes, Hainanese chicken rice, Din Tai Fung Dumpling Xiao Long Bao, and homemade durian ice cream with blue glutinous rice.

Have you ever tried a fad diet? 
I’m always on an “Asian diet.”

What’s in your fridge right now?
For foods, I have kaya jam, apples, oranges, papayas, pears, carrots, beets, tomatoes, pumpkin, dragon fruit, eggplant, edamame, asparagus, pretty much every color bell pepper, yellow corn, lemons, spinach, cauliflower, cucumbers, onions, okra, mushrooms, organic whole ground flaxseed meal, raw walnut, raw almonds, craberries, tea, balance nutrition energy bars, ginseng roots, homemade fruit rum cakes and homemade durian ice cream.

Also, non-foods: lip balms and lipsticks, liquid foundation makeup, eau de toilette, eye lubricants, eye, face and boy creams, facial spray, face masks and sun screens.

What’s one newly opened restaurant or bar in the city that you’re psyched about?
Recently, I’ve been psyched about delicious vegan foods in general, as well as vegan desserts and bakeries. Vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters, according to a study published on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, a Journal of the American Medical Association.

On a global spectrum, where does your favorite food (or food culture) reside?
I like all Asian food, but my favorite is Malaysian cuisine.  It represents culinary diversity originating from Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country. Malaysia’s culinary style is a mixture of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Nyonya (Peranakan) and Sarawakian Cuisines.

Any food you want to try but haven’t yet?
Burmese, Iranian, Iraqi, Tajik and Palestinian cuiseine.

What’s your go-to spot after a long day?
I’ll go to a good Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown.

What’s one thing you simply won’t eat?
I don’t eat raw seafood, raw meat or raw eggs (raw egg can contain salmonella bacteria). I won’t eat insects, worm and balut. Balut is a three weeks old developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell.

You’ve got a reservation at your favorite spot tonight with a group of friends.
Describe your outfit from top to bottom.

It depends which neighborhood I’m going to and what the weather will be. I like comfortable clothes and shoes. If I go to dinner with a group of friends in Chinatown, Korean Town, the East Village, or Brooklyn, I’d wear a simple casual dress and ballerina flats. I’d also carry a recycled canvas bag, because I always buy some desserts for my mid-night cravings before we go to dinner. If I’m going somewhere upscale, I’ll wear an elegant gown, Manolo Blahnik heels and my Louis Vuitton black handbag.


Food Meets Fashion: Ling Tan


If you were to open your own restaurant or cafe in the city, what would it look like? The theme? Your specialty dish?
I am always hungry, so it’d be a 24-hour kopitiam (Hokkein dialect for coffee shop). I’d fill it with my favorite delicious Asian street food dishes, lots of vegetables and vegan options, fresh fruit and veggie juices, smoothies, non-alcoholic drinks, soups, teas and desserts.