Monday, October 17, 2022

Be Kind

Dear Noah and Ellie,

Daddy takes pride in making food for the family. I have been cooking for both of you since you started to ingest solids. I know your likes and dislikes, even what you used to like, but don’t like anymore, and what you used to dislike but learnt to accept (this makes me super happy btw, every single time).

Daddy knows both of you love eating my Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice (
鲁肉饭) which I haven’t made for a long time, so Daddy decided to do a big portion so we can enjoy it many times in the near future – wait, not just any big portion, but the best big portion I can make within my ability.

I ordered beautiful pork belly from Sloane’s, one of the main pork suppliers for some of the best restaurants in the country. I know Ellie doesn’t like things too greasy, so I ordered it less fat.

I bought half a kg of shallots, peeled (thank you Noah for helping me) and sliced them, because fresh is best (I don’t trust those peeled shallots from the supermarkets). I also pounded beautiful
 Sarawak white peppercorns in the pestle and mortar. 

I started the process of cooking the braised pork after dinner on Saturday and only turned off the gas at 2.30am on Sunday. These late cooking nights are lonely nights. That’s why I always share my cooking process on social media so I feel like there’s company.

I wanted to continue braising the next morning but the gas ran out, and while sending the gas delivery man off, I turned my ankle badly with a mis-step on our porch.

Still, I wanted to finish where I left off, as I could picture the joy in your eyes when I serve dinner.

Dinner was ok. All of you ate, just not with the excitement I thought it would bring.

“It’s not as melt-in-your mouth as before,” Noah said.

“I am afraid I don’t feel well after eating too much greasy stuff,” Ellie said.

I know both of you knew that I was not too pleased with these comments and subsequently apologized.

Noah and Ellie, you did not do anything wrong. I would much rather you have a good palate than not. Knowing what’s greasy and what’s not, and knowing this batch is not as melt-in-your-mouth as previous batches is evidence of that.

I understand too, that in my willingness to present a greasy dish that’s not-too-greasy, I cannot please every customer.

Then again, you are not my customer. You are my children. My children that I have literally cooked tens of thousands of meals for.

I just request that in your brutal honesty, be kind.

Loving you more everyday

Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Ultimate Guide to Sarawak Laksa in Kuching 2022

It's a bit hard to explain what Sarawak Laksa is. You have to taste it to know that it's completely different from any other more well-known laksa variants. Why it's so under-the-radar, wow, I think I could spend another post simply talking about its origins, but just understand that traditionally there were only a few small family-owned establishments dominating the laksa paste supply chain, thus the small supply and inability to spread its wings.

As good as an overview you can find, though I feel that the only legitimate noodle is vermicelli.

I remember whenever my mum spent an entire day making laksa at home, every drop of broth felt like liquid gold. If I used less broth for each bowl, I might accumulate enough to make an extra bowl for supper. Therefore when I see customers leaving entire bowls of (good) laksa broth behind, I get super angry deep down inside. That's how much I love my Sarawak Laksa.

Cutting the long story short, I shall now go straight into my report on all the noteworthy Sarawak Laksa stalls I've personally tried in Kuching, and this is a post that will continuously be updated.

Update August 2022:

Newcomer - Laksa Stall at Jia Yan Cafe (thanks to the recommendation from Kopikho!)

There are a couple of interesting notes about this new addition. Firstly, it's located along the 2nd row of shophouses right opposite The Spring Kuching (there is a nice overhead bridge), so a shopping/movie date can be planned in conjunction with the laksa trip. Secondly, I looked at my picture of the stall again and again but couldn't find a name for the shop, so let's just call it "Laksa Stall at Jia Yan Cafe".

The beauty of this laksa is in the broth - intense with laksa flavour without being too rich or viscous, good to be slurped till the last drop.

See, no name right?

Beautiful bowl of laksa

Pro tip: The Teh Tarik and Kolo Mee Tai Mak in the same coffeeshop are excellent as well.

Teh Tarik Porn

Original Post in late 2019:

1. Ah Mui Laksa - currently, my favourite

Foody Goody Cafe beside the current Kuching Specialist Hospital (it's moving soon) is a place known for having slightly pricier products due to the steady clientele from the hospital. Looking past the prices, it also houses my favourite laksa of the moment, Ah Mui laksa.

Everyone has their own laksa preferences, and I like mine with a wholesome seafood broth and strong spicy flavours, without being too viscous at the same time. Ah Mui hits the spot.

Ah Mui Laksa: Take 1

Ah Mui Laksa - Take 2
Pro Tip: Suck up the remaining broth with some crispy dough fritters from the same coffeeshop.

2. Laksa at Sin Chong Choon Cafe - you will be lucky to find a seat

This is the laksa I 'grew old eating', as I must have been already 20 when I started having it, as it's literally within walking distance from my apartment.

The owner obviously didn't grow much older after all these years, what happened to me?
A very good bowl of Sarawak Laksa

Honestly, it's hard to find fault in this bowl of laksa, as can be seen from the sheer popularity of it. Then again, I feel it has lost a bit of magic over the years. Because they cook vermicelli in bulk to speed up the cooking process (reduce waiting time), the hot broth is added to a bowl of cold vermicelli these days, resulting in a lukewarm bowl. If I had my way, I prefer a bowl served piping hot.

Pro Tip: Order the Teh C Peng Special, which must be one of the very best in town.

3. Poh Lam Laksa at Chong Choon Cafe - The OG of the Laksa I "grew old eating"?

The OG of the laksa and Teh C Peng Special at Sin Chong Choon? I need to dig deeper to give you a better answer, but there are definitely similarities!

If you are a tourist living downtown in Kuching and only have time for 1 laksa, this should be the one you go for. It has the well-balanced characteristics of the one at Sin Chong Choon, but feels hotter and fresher when served.

Closed on Tuesdays!

Another great bowl.
Pro Tip: The Teh C Peng Special as well. After having them at Chong Choon and Sin Chong Choon, you will struggle to find a better glass of Teh C Peng Special in Kuching.

 4. Laksa at Choon Hui Cafe - Anthony Bourdain's "Breakfast of the Gods"

Supporters of deceased culinary legend Anthony Bourdain will have to walk this rite of passage to understand what he meant describing Choon Hui's laksa as the "Breakfast of the Gods". He confirmed his love for this dish by visiting Choon Hui not once but twice during his rare voyages into Kuching.

Highest base price of them all.
The richest of them all too.
I have to say, I understand why a non-local will really really love Choon Hui's version of Sarawak Laksa. It's rich, heavy, thick and packs a really good punch, giving you high levels of every sensation Sarawak Laksa is supposed to provide.

That said, I find it very difficult, if I live long-term in Kuching, to have this version of Laksa frequently, as it's a little bit of an overkill, but don't misunderstand me, it's still an excellent bowl, made for the occasional indulgence.

Pro Tip: Don't leave Choon Hui Cafe without trying their Popiah.

Also a very worthy item in the famous coffeeshop.

I've actually tried many more laksas during my last visit to Kuching.

Sad to say, things don't always remain the same. Some of my old favourites were not what they used to be.

After much deliberation, I've decided to only include the stalls that I am confident will give you a good laksa experience, so that's all for now. I will continue updating this list with new worthy candidates though, so do stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

A letter to Noah and Ellie - You are not alone

Dear Noah and Ellie

I have a worrying observation of the world you are living in.

While your grandparents grew up running in the field catching grasshoppers, Daddy and Mummy grew up playing hopscotch with friends, you are growing up watching on-demand videos on YouTube and playing computer games from a young age. This was made worse by Covid, which grounded you for best part of an entire year, when socializing was deemed dangerous.

Of course, this is not your fault. We cannot control the tide. Your generation will breathe social media and tech-literacy. Many of you will become influencers in your own right, and with working from home increasingly a norm, you might no longer need to report to an office when you eventually start working. You might be able to showcase your talent to the world remotely, from anywhere, alone.

Now, here’s the main problem. The word ‘alone’. No man is an island. I believe we are always better together. That’s how I was brought up. Take the movie you recently watched, “Fast and Feel Love” for example. Didn’t it effectively highlight an aspect of teamwork when it otherwise would not be obvious? If not for the help of a village of people in every other aspect of his life, how would the male lead “Kao” be able to concentrate on practicing to become the world’s fastest sport stacker, an activity that otherwise looks as lonely as it gets?

We might feel like we are taking on the world ourselves, but we’re not. Many people have put everything in place, to facilitate this misconception of solo heroism. It will be a crime to undermine the importance of social skills, team work, and the ability to love the people around us.

That is also why Daddy and Mummy hope that in your formative years, on top of developing on your interests, you will actively partake in team activities, be it in academic groups, social clubs, music orchestras or team sports. The experience of being surrounded by peers fighting for the same goal, sacrificing for each other will definitely become a highlight of your childhood memories. This is also the time you can witness the magic of a united collective spirit making a team bigger than the sum of its parts, and the possibility of lifelong friendships as its ultimate by-product.

You are in the best part of your lives. Daddy and Mummy are happy to see you enjoying your childhood with us, with each other. Don’t lose sight of what’s important, of what’s happening around you, as this world has a knack of making you feel lonely.

Remember, you are never alone.

Loving you more everyday

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brassica: Wah Lau Eh, my favourite Doughnuts in Bangkok

It’s that time of the year again, where a new favourite of mine is added to the small list of eateries with the “Wah Lau Eh!” Stamp of Approval.

Wah Lau Eh!

In April, I was supposed to meet a couple of friends at Pridi for a chat, only to find it closed on a day it was supposed to open. We then changed our location to One Once for Onion (thanks to Jackie!), firstly because it was close to Pridi, but also because Brassica just moved there after a long hiatus.

It started a fattening journey for my family, as Brassica doughnuts became our go-to snack
whenever we passed by the area, partly to enjoy, but also to taste different flavours and understand its consistency. I even brought the harshest critic I know (you know who you are) and talked to the only Polish friends in the city, who all gave Brassica their thumbs up👍.

However, I will be very honest. Cong and I didn’t get off to a great start. In fact, it couldn’t have been worse. I will use this opportunity to air all our dirty laundry.

Cong graduated from CIA Singapore in 2015, and after 1.5 years cooking in Singapore, at 2 iterations of Bird Bird (permanently closed) under Bjorn Shen, moved to head the kitchen at Prelude (permanently closed) in Bangkok in 2017. Let’s just say that my first (and only) impression of the food at Prelude was a pretty bad one, based on the experience my family had at their Sunday Brunch.

Brassica Yenakart in 2019

Subsequently, Cong left Prelude to open Brassica in Yenakart, championing his brand of fried chicken and…… doughnuts. Even then, I wasn’t too impressed with the fried chicken, but that was also the time I saw tremendous potential in his doughnuts. They weren’t perfect, but just needed some tweaks to reach another level.

In my recent conversation with Cong, he too admitted that the customer response gave him clear indication to focus on his doughnuts, resulting in this mature and complete version of Brassica Doughnuts at One Once for Onion - made even more perfect by the café’s excellent coffee.

Finally, to the doughnuts. I like it that they are fluffy, not greasy and more importantly, do not stick to my teeth. His custard-based fillings are rich, smooth, not too sweet and incredibly generous. If you are dining in, don’t miss the brown butter ice cream doughnut, which cannot be delivered, and please ask for their monthly specials too!

As I look back at my journey with Cong, I guess it’s fair for me to describe him as the ‘least-likely’ candidate to be offered this sticker (not that the sticker means anything at all). However, he is also an example of a young man who accepts honest criticism, is willing to focus on his strengths and perfect his craft. That, in itself, deserves my respect.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

To boost or not to boost?

Is the multi-year Covid cycle coming to an end?

It does look more and more like it, doesn't it? 

Many European countries have opened up completely. It still boggles my mind to see stadiums full of spectators without masks every weekend, but I guess that shows how we're trending.

In Singapore and Thailand, more than ever, people I know are contracting, then recovering from Covid. At this rate, most of us will be vaccinated/boosted/Covid-recovered/all-of-the-above in the next few months, which could allow most nations to declare Covid endemic.

In the first year of the pandemic, people were dying from Covid in the hundred of thousands, I lost (mostly unvaccinated) friends and colleagues from the virus. It was impossible for me to accept a colleague passing away because he went to work. On the other hand, I had colleagues who did not know anything about vaccines and rejected them. At that time, the reason for vaccination was clear - to prevent serious life-threatening symptoms, and set an example for my colleagues to accept the concept of vaccination. We couldn't bear to lose anymore of them.

Now, we are almost two and a half years down from the start of the pandemic. The world has lost millions of lives. Covid-vaccination is no longer a foreign concept. In fact, most of us are staring down another deep blackhole - boosters.

Before you start thinking that I am anti-vaccination, let me clarify that I have just gotten my booster 2 days ago. What prompted me to write this is the fact that the decision to take the booster was one of the most difficult and unnerving ones I've made in a while.

I can list down a whole host of good reasons to get boosted:

  1. I already paid for it long ago (yes, it was a warzone to secure vaccinations in Thailand, be thankful if you got yours without a fight), and it wasn't easy to get it.

  2. I have to be fair to my colleagues, who have mostly gone for their boosters, even though many were anti-vaccination in the beginning.

  3. I need it to be able to travel (in fact, countries like Singapore give a validity period for vaccinations, and Malaysia requires different number of quarantine days depending on how many jabs you have, etc. etc.)

  4. For protection, for health, for my family.
But why am I not convinced?

I want it to be solely because of 4., but why do I feel like I did it even more because of a combination of 1-3?

I hate this feeling.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Turning 40: A Milestone Birthday Letter to Myself in Groundhog Year 2021

And just like that, (in case you are interested), I am 40.

I will be easy for me to say, "Time flies," or, "Where did the time go?" But damn, it wasn't easy to get here.

I also have to admit that more than half my life is already behind me, like it or not.

Life before 40 was my youth, a period most would consider the 'best part' of their lives.

So what lies ahead, nothing but down?

I had my first child when I was 31, around the same time as when my Dad had me. Looking back, my more impactful memories of him started when he stepped into his 40s. 

There could be many reasons for this, including the possibility of me being too young to understand/remember much when I was a little kid under 10 years old. I, however, choose to believe that it was because the most influential part of his life probably started after 40. A lot of that period remained crystal clear in my mind, including major highs and devastating lows both in his health and career, culminating in an inspirational turnaround when he was 50 when he started a new company back in Kuching which has sustained the family for the last 20 years.

With that in mind, I am convinced that I might not have seen my best years yet, but man, this Covid and the never-ending Groundhog Years are really not helping, though there's never a good reason to give up.

Dad, if you are reading this, I want to tell you that your little son is sorry that he has not been able to perform his duties to take care of you properly. This situation is really a test of our discipline and patience. Go easy on the cigarettes and diet coke, rest more, take some walks and always wear a mask. Please stay safe, stay healthy with Mum, take good care of each other. We all love you very much and we will meet soon.

To my peers and people who call me their brother (including my own of course), whenever life is too hard and seemingly impossible to fight another day, never forget that there are people we love who are always watching. 

Our parents are watching with concern,

Our kids are watching us as their role model,

Our spouses are watching with all the love in the world we do not deserve,

Let's make them proud.

Happy 40 to me. 

Happy post-40 years to all of us.

To many (better) years ahead!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2020: Koh Kret - small island near Bangkok with a bit of everything

Yeah I know. It's already September 2021. I'm almost a year late.

We can't travel anyway. What does it matter whether such information comes in January or September? I contemplated whether to write this at all, but decided to because my kids look too cute in the pictures =D. Also, winter's coming soon!

This will be a family photo album.

Anyway, during my first 11 years, I've never even really heard of Koh Kret, and I went there for the first time in September 2020 only because I was involved in coming up with an article about it (so if you would like a comprehensive Koh Kret Guide, please see here).

Personally, I feel that Koh Kret has a certain charm that you will usually expect to get further away from Bangkok. It's only an hour's drive + a minute's ferry ride away from most places in Bangkok, yet possesses the old-time energy of rural towns, with a good mix of its own character (eg. pottery, Mon culture) and modern vibes (eg. craft beer brewery, hip new cafe at old rice mill etc.). I love it that most of the stalls are run by folks who have lived on the island for generations, and that there are cool riverside views almost everywhere you go.

Literally a 1-minute ferry ride.

What made this trip special was that it was completely random. I woke up one Sunday morning not expecting the cool weather to visit Bangkok again (having arrived and disappeared a few times over in the past weeks), and was determined to do something completely spontaneous with the family.

So off we went, with no plans and no expectations, just a day together walking half the island, snapping and eating along the way, in comfy cool weather. 

And island of nostalgia.

It was a first for the kids to visit a 'leaning tower'.

"Leaning Tower" of Koh Kret, Wat Paramaiyikawat.

A first for us to take an old-school family portrait.

Only took us a few minutes to get this precious memory.

A first for them to make their own pottery.

It was also a first for them to follow some free-range chicken and walk accidentally into a stranger's backyard, only to be greeted unexpectedly with warmth by the friendly villager, all on this 3kmx3km island on the Chao Phraya River.

They really had a great time.

I watched a video a few days ago on the current state of Koh Kret following this current Covid wave. As expected, it's not anything like before, when local tourists fill it every weekend. It's a little saddening but we also know that Bangkokians will flock back again once the situation allows. Hang in there, Koh Kret!

This picture makes me think of mooncakes.


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