PM Lee Kuan Yew: A rare detailed insight into his diet, likes and dislikes

I am not a particularly big fan of history nor do I give in easily to the cult of personality. Sometimes, though, stories of the past about a larger-than-life person draw me in. That’s exactly what happened when I chanced across an Instagram post about former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

PM Lee Kuan Yew in the UK - with Queen Elizabeth II

Historian PJ Thum came across an interesting document sent by the Singapore High Commission to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK.

Archive document extract 1

It was a detailed set of instructions about our then-PM Lee’s likes and dislikes so that preparations could be made for his 1979 state visit.

What PM Lee ate and drank in the UK in 1979

Archive document extract 2

Soup was to be served “clear and hot”. I read some derisive and/or dismissive comments about the request for “onion soup… without the onions”. That seemingly paradoxical statement just means that the onion soup is served with the solid pieces of onion strained out, people, no biggie.

PM Lee Kuan Yew in the UK - Ikan kurau

Mr. Lee’s favourite fish was ikan kurau and he liked it fried with fine bread crumbs and served with a fresh lemon. He wasn’t the biggest seafood lover, though, as the document specified that there was to be no crab meat or cuttle fish.

Pork chops were to be limited to a single piece of approximately 7 ounces (198 grams) and served with baked beans and French beans. See, that’s why he was always so slim.

Steak lovers can be obsessively pedantic about the preparation of their meat and Mr. Lee was no different. He was to be served only an 8-ounce (227 gram) Scotch Aberdeen Angus or American Sirloin and Porterhouse, and Fillet from New Zealand.

The meat first had to be marinated with Lea and Perrin sauce, mustard, ginger juice, salt and pepper. The meat was then to be fried brown with corn oil till ‘medium done’.

The standalone section on alcohol made me smile, too.

Mr Lee did not want served wine by default but would ask when he felt like having some. His preferences were La Tour Saint Emilion 1972 and Chassange Montrachet 1972/74 for reds. His list of preferred whites stretched to 4, topped by Serrger Wurtzberg Riesling Spatless 1976 and Brauneberger Juffer Spatless 1973.

PM Lee Kuan Yew in the UK - Heineken and Tuborg beer bottles

Beers had to be served “slightly chilled” with the list limited to Heineken and Tuborg. “Beer with curry food” was laid out in black and white. I smiled wider when I read that Mrs. Lee shared her husband’s taste in beer. That’s half the battles won, guys.

His pre-dinner cocktail was to be “Stolichnaya Vodka with tonic water and a slice of lemon or 1 teaspoon pure honey with juice of half lemon and boiled water in a glass”. This explains why there has been some online chatter about how specific some of these requests were.

Archive document extract 3

Another thing made clear was that there was to be “no alcohol during working lunch” (emphasis from original document).

PM Lee had asked for fruit after lunch and dinner, limited to papaya, pisang mas and mandarin oranges. And “Sunkist after a curry meal”. It was advised that he “may require” a cup of Milo or Ovaltine at night. I can empathise.

Final thoughts

I’m sure that to some people, this may seem like just a list of random food and drink preferences. My fascination with tense revelations stems from how specific some of the requests were while others were so typically Singaporean, particularly the request for Milo, which virtually all of us can understand.

I also appreciate the former PM’s emphasis on excluding alcohol from working lunches. On the other hand, it was cute how he and Mrs. Lee would have sat about sharing the same bottles of Heineken and Tuborg as he recounted the day’s happenings to her.

PM Lee Kuan Yew in the UK - LKY young and old

More than anything, this was an infusion of humanity into the person behind the personality, and we should all be able to appreciate that.

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