Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Why I choose to cook at home - the evolution

Deep into my 2nd decade of intensive cooking for my family, I realise how much I have changed since I began. While I used to focus more on how good the food tasted, I have slowly but surely pivoted more to the quality of the ingredients (resulting in even better-tasting food😂👌👌).

There are many reasons for my natural evolution. Living in an agricultural country and being semi-active in the F&B world, I am lucky to access to premium produce (local and imported) from farms and suppliers. I have kids with growing appetites - making nutritious home-made meals more cost-efficient and also increasingly worth the time and effort.

Let me break it down simply. 

If you order a dish priced at $10 at a good restaurant, as a safe rule of thumb, the ingredients will cost approximately $3. The other $7 will be used to pay for overheads (set up costs, manpower, rental which contribute to the preparation/presentation, service, cleanliness, air-conditioning, marketing etc.), government taxes, service charge and (hopefully) some profit margin for the owners.

Obviously, the restaurant will have economies of scale ordering ingredients from their suppliers. What they get for $3, we might get the same for $6.

Then comes even more analysis. Firstly, $6 is already less than $10. Secondly, depending on your habits, there is an opportunity this $6 can be stretched into 2, 3, 4, 5 meals. How does that start to sound? 

I would like to think that the basic principle behind my current style is the focus on ingredient and giving it the respect it deserves. 

Take an 'expensive', premium quality free range chicken for example:

1. You can separate the meaty parts from the carcass and use the parts as the centrepiece of your champion dish, be it a roast/braise/curry.... 

2. The carcass can be used to make the most wonderful pot of chicken stock (using frozen leek tops, parsley stalks etc, you get the idea😏, other accumulated chicken 'spare parts') that will be the base of your cooking (soups, braises, sauces) for meals to come. 

3. Innards can be accumulated for a future stir-fry or pate. 

Just 1 good chicken can grace your dining table in different forms for days. 

If I buy a slab of good grass-fed beef for the BBQ, I will save the precious fat for a subsequent meal of heavenly beef fat fried rice, and the grilled bones to add delicious smoky beefiness to my next pot of Ragu. 

If you are still reading, I believe you get the drift. I just hope you can reconsider the pros and cons of cooking at home. The key is to get your hands on ingredients you can trust, and have no hesitation feeding your family with, and give it the greatest form of respect it deserves. This is the basis of a lifestyle of wholesome home-cooked family meals. Bless you! 

PS. If you are worried about your cooking skills, just know that like any other activity, you can only get better. Just do it! 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Ultimate Hong Kong Guide 2023 - Where to eat Dim Sum (Yum Cha), Seafood and Roast Goose!

Hong Kong has been through a lot since my last visit in 2016. 7 years, the longest interval I remember having between 2 Hong Kong trips, as Hong Kong had always been one of my favourite places to visit, mainly because of the tip-top quality of food, be it fine-dining or straightforward everyday Cantonese fare (ie. cha chan tengs, dim sum houses, wanton noodles, roast etc). 

Hong Kong in a nutshell (to me anyway)

Then again, a lot has changed. Obvious geo-political issues have resulted in severe talent drain, further alleviated by the pandemic. Hong Kong has remained expensive without getting better. One though, can take comfort that it might be slightly less crowded (but still crowded nonetheless), and the notorious impolite service staff have become more accommodating, or been replaced by seamless online ordering platforms. 

Take my words with a pinch of salt, as I only went for 4D3N, and did not touch the exclusive realms of fine dining, which may well still be Asia's pinnacle. I am here to help, not dissuade you from visiting Hong Kong, by plucking out the best of what I enjoyed:

1. Life-changing Roast Goose (and it's not Kam's)

 2. The best seafood and sunset view

3. Affordable Dim Sum with Michelin Star (need to queue)

4. Dim Sum with a view (and no queue)

5. Dim Sum to be enjoyed like royalty having high tea

So there you go, and like my Taiwan guide, hopefully this becomes a running post that is constantly updated with every visit. Enjoy Hong Kong! 

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

How I get my kids to try new food

Ok, I have to clarify, I am not an established parenting blogger or child educator, so please read on and take my advice with a pinch of salt. What I can offer here is only a regurgitation of my thoughts after making at least 4-5,000 meals (if not more) for my family since we had kids (my son is 11 and daughter is turning 9). I also had a good chat with the little ones and gathered their personal tips, which I will share below as well.

First, I want to share my mentality towards food. We eat an average of 3 times a day, each and every day. Civilizations can be defined by or easily recognizable simply from the cuisine their people grow up eating. Food is, therefore, to me, one of the most important forms of general knowledge you can impart your kids, whether it's understanding the sources of food, differentiating good ingredients from bad, knowing exactly what they put in their mouths, or learning how to prepare their own meals.

I am also not going to tell you to reward/punish your kids for trying new food. I tried it before, to limited success, but it goes against everything I believe eating should be. If they learn to enjoy a new kind of food, it is the best reward they can get, not anything you give them after.

If you are still reading, thank you, it means you might benefit from this, so here goes:

  1. Don't be picky

    By that, I don't only mean picking the kinds of food you eat, I also mean the time you eat. I made it a point for the family to sit at the table to eat together as much as possible. If you start telling your kids frequently you are skipping meals  or eating later, you will have no  comeback line when they do the same to you in the future. To the next point....

  2. Don't be a picky eater and expect them to like what you dislike!

    If you do not like vegetables, it's not reasonable to expect them to like it. If you are drinking coke, it is a weak excuse telling them coke is not good for them. Kids know. They model, so set a good example. At the very least, if they eat exactly the same things as you, don't complain that they are not eating more variety, or eating unhealthy. Look into the mirror first.

  3. Don't stop trying.

    In my parental experience, I kind of feel that liking vegetables is not intuitive to human nature in general, but maybe it's just my kids. However, the only way to beat it is to keep trying. Just because your kids like chicken and hate vegetables doesn't mean you should only put chicken on the table and make less dishes for convenience. You will end up with kids who only eat chicken!

    In fact, you should still cook vegetables and put them on the table regardless. One day, the switch in their brains will flip and they will ask to try. Trust me. It works. Just don't stop.

  4. Make them jealous (from my soon-to-be 9-yr-old daughter)

    An extension to the previous point, she explained that she started eating many things because she saw us enjoying some dishes repeatedly and got 'jealous'. For example, curry chicken (spicy) and braised bittergourd (bitter). So yes, keep cooking the things (you thought) they don't like!

  5. Mix new ingredients into old favourites (from my 11-yr-old son)

    This is an old 'trick', like how I keep adding a lot of chopped parsley into my pasta, because I know if they get tired of removing them one by one and just pop a piece in their mouths, they will learn that parsley is actually acceptable.

  6. Know your food

    This is very, very helpful. Knowing Nutella is made of hazelnuts (*smirk) can help you convince the kids to try hazelnuts. Knowing Ribena is made of blackcurrants might help you encourage them to eat blackcurrants. Use every morsel of knowledge you have, and educate them all about food in the process.
I hope these 6 short pointers can inspire you to push on in your quest to lay a foundation to get the kids to eat a healthy variety, doing them a world of good as they live their own lives in the future as parents to your grandchildren. It's actually more a mindset that what you do, isn't it?

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

From 13 to 42: Celebrating 30 Years of Brotherhood in Taipei #from13to42

 30 years man. 3 decades. 

That's how long we've known each other. 

For better or worse, the 3 years lost to Covid meant that we could only make a trip together 5 years after our previous one, but this time, instead of 3, 4 out of 5 of us could make it (for most of the trip anyway)!

Under the bright lights of Taipei. Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze

Even though we do not live in the same country, with most of our correspondences limited to an active WhatsApp chatgroup, our friendship and mutual understanding just got stronger over the years. I loved how we used "Oh-Peh-Som" (#iykyk) to decide our roommates for the trip, confirming how we loved each other equally and would enjoy any companion without preferences.

It's also interesting how we chose to reminisce in Taiwan again, albeit adding Tainan as a new destination to freshen things up, and had little to no comments to whatever we decided to do on the day, as long as we were together. We ended up walking 15-20km per day in between countless meals, trying to burn the calories we consumed, even though we consciously reduced the portions we ordered throughout the trip. 

I guess I will keep this simple and let these precious pictures tell the rest of the story.

The 3 of us shot to Tainan straight after arrival, still wide-eyed and excited over our late night supper.

It was street food mania, left-right-centre in Tainan. We ate and ate.

Not forgetting to explore the little alleys of Tainan.

Of course the big ones too.

During some rare down-time where we couldn't eat anymore, we visited the Confucius Temple.

Till we hobbled back to Taipei to complete the Fearsome 4some aka F4.

And things started to get a bit more interesting. Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze

Though some things remained the same - we walked.

And ate. Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze

And ate.

Threw in a hike up Elephant Mountain.

In order to eat again. Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze

Woke early to hit the gym.

To enjoy our one and only bubble tea (less ice less sweet).

But the most important thing.

Was obviously (not my shirt). Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze

That we were hanging out together. Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze

Through our last 2 trips in Taiwan, aside of us, there was 1 other constant, Jeek, whose showed us true Taiwanese spirit and hospitality by bringing us to the best places in Taipei, taking the best pictures of us in the process, leaving us with the best memories. Thank you Jeek, it was tough on you, we promise to come bother you again in the future.

The last word, as usual, has to go to our better halves, who held the fort at home with the little ones while the 4 musketeers had the time of our lives. It would not have been possible without your generous blessings.

So thank you, Li Li, Grace, Zhimin and Regine. Now that you know we are such good boys, when can we do it again?

PS. To complete the archives of our travel series, look here.

Ultimate Taipei Eating Guide, updated in 2023 post-Covid!

Latest Update April 2023

Many things have changed after Covid, but Taipei's food scene remains bustling with life. I visited many great restaurants and eateries in my latest trip, so here's another update! Of course, most of my old recommendations remain relevant, however, I might not have visited them for years, so check up on their more recent reviews and make an informed decision before taking the punt.

1. Rong Rong Yuan 榮榮園浙寧餐廳

Hungry for a good bowl of chicken soup? You will not go wrong here.

3. Embers

Immerse yourself into Chef Wes's world of exotic Taiwanese ingredients and flavours.

4. Mountain and Sea House 山海樓 手工台菜餐廳

Experience the immense hidden potential and intricacy of authentic Taiwanese cuisine.

6. Dong Yi Pork Chop Rice 東一排骨

The OG of Taiwanese Fried Pork Chop.


Updated March 2019

I just returned from Taipei following another food-centric trip and feel that it's only fair for you guys that I keep this piece updated. So here are 3 more additions to my Ultimate Taipei Eating Guide, complete with my detailed captions on my IG posts (all with multiple pictures), and a one-line summary of the place:

1. Din Tai Fung Original Shop

If you frequently queue at various Din Tai Fung outlets, you might as well queue here.

[Stranger in Taipei #eatdrink_02] Din Tai Fung original shop The perfect final lunch location for the trip brought us to the OG, international culinary pride of Taiwan, Din Tai Fung original shop at Yongkang District, within short walking distance from Dongmen MRT station. Arriving at 11.15am on a wet Sunday morning, we had to wait 40 minutes for our table of 8, a reasonable time in my opinion. Service, as expected, was excellent, and I appreciated that they made sure we felt comfortable once we got our seats, a stark contrast from the rowdy mess while waiting outside. Food-wise, fried rice was DA BOMB, especially the shrimp fried rice. Gyoza was also served in a way you wouldn't expect. The eggplant starter and the wantons tossed in spicy vinegar were yummy too, and soupy xiaolongbaos came in flavours I've never seen before, like the luffa and shrimp flavour. I forgot to order one of my favourite DTF items just for the sake of comparison - the steamed chicken soup, but I guess I will be back, even if it's just for the fried rice. #dintaifung #dintaifungtaipei #theOG #xiaolongbao #strangerfirstimpressiontaipei #strangerin台北 #michelinguide #鼑泰豐本店
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2. Bar Mood 吧沐

Not too dark, not too noisy, great drinks, great presentation, great bar food!

[Stranger in Taipei #eatdrink_02] Bar Mood Taipei 吧沐 Couldn't leave Taipei this time without visiting @barmood_taipei, helmed by Nick Wu, one of the founders of #findthelockerroom and #findthephotobooth in Bangkok. I soon realised why this place is so popular. It has one of the most beautiful cocktail menus I have ever seen (unfortunately I didn't take pics of it), its drinks are served in all sorts of interesting ways we didn't expect, the music's not too loud and neither is it too dark. More importantly, for a foodie like me, there's nice comfort food made by the talented Chage Liu (who also came to our event with the ever-supportive Nick and Sandy). We enjoyed his spicy carbonara very much. Personally, I would love for Bangkok to have a cocktail bar that serves nice food that can satisfy even the non-drinker. We had a great time. #barmood #barmoodtaiwan #barhoppingtaipei #barcrawltaipei #nightlifetaipei #strangerin台北 #strangerbehindbars #afterparty #strangerfirstimpressiontaipei
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3. Foodmaze Studio   See Weekend Chicken Club in the newest update above.

Only open 2/3days at the end of every month, each time with a completely different theme, this is the monthly event foodies should be looking to attend.

Eatdrink_02|曼谷新銳雙主廚 Ter' ra x Foodmaze studio客座之夜-THAI x TAI 泰台風土料理 As I prepare to bring a new friend to have dinner at Ter'ra's pop-up tonight, I can't help but reminisce the event we managed to pull of in Taipei barely a week ago. With the able support of the brilliant @jeeksfoodmaze team (thanks to all involved, including the kind volunteers), @toprussell and @rokin_shells turned 3 days of relentless Taiwan experience into an inspired 72hr-in-Taipei menu, which made use of more than 90% Taiwanese produce plus splashes of Thai colour to showcase their culinary concept. Considering dinner prep started only at close to 1pm the day before the event, it was a pretty commendable effort to successfully push out 9 dishes each to around 80 diners over 4 seatings in 2 nights. More post-mortem to come for the event, stay tuned. #eatdrink_02 #kuchingthaitai #strangerinbangkokxjeeksfoodmaze #modernterritorialcuisine #terrabkk #topcheftop #gomichellegoh #strangerin台北
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Original post April 2018:

I had a love-hate relationship with Taiwanese food.

I grew up watching Taiwanese variety shows in Singapore. The "ooohs" and "aaahs" that followed before the hosts even started chewing their food brainwashed me to believe that Taiwan is a gourmet destination made in the heavens.

When I finally went to Taiwan when I was 23, bad food and the rain washed all those fantasies away. I could only tell myself that I either went to all the wrong places, or the food really didn't suit my taste. The only things I enjoyed were the sweets and world-class seasonal fruit. I went again for a couple of short trips in the next few years, but nothing convinced me to change my belief that the variety shows were just a blatant exaggeration.

Come 2018, information accessiblity is no longer limited to TV. Taipei was the chosen destination for my first ever brothers trip. Armed with research from the internet, blessings from friends in the food industry and personal recommendations from some of the best food bloggers I know, I set off, eager to prove myself wrong about Taipei food.

We walked for 4 days and 4 nights, from morning, till we couldn't walk anymore, often until 2-3am the next day, eating non-stop. So, did my impression of Taiwanese food change? Yes, but more on that later.

First, my ultimate Taipei eating guide, solely based on my 4 days and 4 nights:

1. RAW

If you are into fine-dining, the names Alain Huang, Zor Tan and especially Andre Chiang (from the recently-closed 2-Michelin star Restaurant Andre in Singapore) will not be unfamiliar to you. My experience at RAW convinced me that it has to be THE must-try restaurant in Taiwan, and the exact kind of restaurant that Bangkok is sorely lacking, one that combines loud (but classy) interior decoration (including the toilets), an understanding of the top seasonal local produce, meticulate execution, personal service, plus a casual vibe and a palatable price point.

The casual vibe of Raw in the day.

The ultimate kitchen definition.

Food was not perfect, because it never is, in fact, a dish or two were a bit baffling, but it is what it is, and we have to appreciate the chefs for serving us what they feel is necessary for the experience.

In any case, your challenge is now to get a seat. If you have a trip to Taipei coming up, you have to start planning for RAW now.

2. Huang Ji Lu Rou Fan 黃記魯肉飯

When it comes to street food, the Taiwanese braised pork rice has to be one of the most basic staple of all. A shop/stall could be selling anything, but if you need rice to go with the dishes, braised pork rice will usually be one of most readily-available and popular choices.

Pork heaven, washed down with the tastiest of radish soups.

Of the places we ate at in our 4 days and 4 nights, this was the only one we found a reason to patronize at on separate days, despite its slightly-challenging location. My companions even packed another serving to enjoy on the plane back to Singapore!

I tried 2 other versions of braised pork rice during the trip, and didn't finish both as I couldn't help but compare them with the offerings here. I love it that their rice was cooked to perfection, almost omakase-like. A must-try in Taipei.

3. Fuzhou Pepper Bun at Raohe Night Market 福州世祖胡椒饼 

This pepper bun stoked a lot of curiosity in me because I am Foochow by heritage, but I have never eaten this before in my native Sarawak. Furthermore, this pepper bun was awarded a Bib Gourmand by Michelin just 2 weeks before my visit.

In terms of accessibility, it cannot be better. It's virtually the first store after entering Raohe Night Market and the snaking queue means you will not miss it.

Fresh out of the tandoor into your hand.
I appreciate their machine-like efficiency, ensuring the queue was constantly moving, and pepper buns come out scorching hot from the tandoor right into your hand. The bun is huge, and filled to the brim with pork and leek, so I recommend sharing it, even if it will be a a pain to give any of it away, so that you actually have the stomach to eat more further into the night market. You don't want to be stuffed right after entering!

4. Muachee Bao Bao in Raohe Night Market 麻糬宝宝

You need to open your eyes really wide so that you don't miss this tiny stall.

It's actually just a friendly masked uncle selling the same thing in a small pushcart for more than a decade, but it actually got mentioned by the Michelin Guide, and it was not by chance. Muachee is not something I am not familiar with, but I have never eaten any that prompted me to go back for seconds immediately, until Muachee Baobao.

[Stranger in Taipei] 麻糬宝宝 Muachee Baobao I seriously don't understand how the Michelin Guide works, because Muachee Baobao is just a little stand at the same place at Raohe Night Market selling 1 single snack for the last 10 years and it managed to appear on Michelin Guide's list of recommended eats in Taipei. Muachee is a rice cake made of glutinous rice, the camera-shy owner shapes it like a burger, painstakingly stuffing every piece with black sesame before coating it with ground peanut. It was not overly sweet, and the sticky rice cake did not stick to my teeth at all. What's most impressive is the owner's attitude to serve only the best. "Are you eating now?" he asked. "Errr...." me "If you want me to coat it with peanut and you plan to eat it later then I'd rather you not buy because you will be wasting 60TWD." Turns out that once the Muachee's coated, the ground peanut will start to absorb water quickly, and soon become something that's deemed inedible by the owner. Such a perfectionist! Definitely worth a mention here! And I scored a photo with him even though he made it clear he doesn't welcome photos. Remember to look out for this shy uncle wearing a mask when you are there! #muachee #麻糬 #麻糬宝宝 #michelinguide #绕河夜市 #strangerin台北 #traveltaiwan #traveltaipei #cobrosintaiwan #taiwanfoodies
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5. Urn Chicken 正古早甕缸雞坊

This might not feel interesting to you, but it means everything to me. Free-range chicken (with a lean but meaty body and shiny black feet) smoked in a wood-fire urn at high heat, then low heat, to achieve a crispy skin without losing the original flavours of a good quality bird.

We took taxi from Tamshui Old Street to the shop with nothing else around it just for this chicken, and were not disappointed.

Each urn only cooks 2 birds at a time.

Ooh lala....

6. Peanut Soup with Dough Fritters 油条花生汤

Ah-Balling lovers look here, especially those who go there for the peanut soup, not the rice dumplings. I can't tell you where exactly to buy the peanut soup, but just go for it when you see any, because the sweet peanut soup here is doubly rich and delicious, perfect when dipped with crunchy dough fritters.

7. 别所 Shelter

This was not a cafe-hopping trip, we didn't visit any cafes on purpose. We stumbled upon Shelter when we needed a rest in the midst of our food hunt, and were glad to have spent an hour in this gem of a place.

Short features being played on the screen continuously.

Vinyl records, hipster movie posters enhancing the feel of the place.

Our handsome model enjoying his caffeine fix.
We made our drink choices after thoughtful explanation of virtually the entire menu by the friendly staff and all our drinks impressed. They were pricey (in the vicinity of 200TWD per cup), but we could feel the care that went into the products. Also, they have an interesting array of drink choices from specialty coffee/tea to cocktails and local craft beers, all in the same price range. You could say there is something for everyone.

Note: Shelter is within walking distance from Huang Ji Lu Rou Fan (number 2 on this list).

Special Mention: Pork Leg Soup at Keelung Miaokou Night Market 纪爱四路猪脚原汁专家

This would easily be number 2 if it was in Taipei. Unfortunately it can only be here due to its location in Keelung. For 200TWD per smallest bowl, it could be the most expensive street food we had all trip, but it proved to be most unforgettable. Just walk right to the end of the night market and you will not miss it. It's the only shop selling this dish.

So, was my food trip a success?


Did it change my impression of Taiwanese food?

To a certain extent.

Still, you have to remember that I equipped myself with a lot of ammo for this trip. I believe the situation will not be the same if I went to Taiwan uninformed and walked into any random shop to have my meals.

So, I have a few tips for you as you plan your foodie trip to Taiwan:
  1. Be prepared. Do your research, trust reliable sources (like this one lol). It will be worth it.

  2. Go with your best pals, ones whom you will enjoy eating with. There are too many things in Taiwan that I cannot imagine myself enjoying if I was eating alone or with the wrong crowd.

  3. Understand that Taiwanese food might not totally suit your palate. For me, Taiwan food is generally bland, especially when it comes to soups and broths, which are usually quite tasteless regardless of how heavy they look or how spicy their names sounded. There are exceptions of course (a few in my list above), but if this is what the locals are used to and prefer, who are we to say it's not good enough?

  4. When it comes to night markets, and this is quoting a Taiwanese friend who gave me a lot of good advice prior to the trip, order what you like. Simple, but true, if you don't like oysters in the first place, it's not likely the oyster at the night market will change your opinion, so order what you like to maximize the experience!

Verdict: My unhealthy love-hate relationship with Taiwan food has become a slightly-lopsided LOVE-hate relationship, and I am very very much looking forward to my next visit already!

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