Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dreaming of my Grandparents

I walked out of the room.

There, in the living room of my maternal grandparents' house, was my brother, some maternal aunties and uncles, and little Miss Ellie sitting on her green glider.

Standing behind the sofa was an old couple. They looked familiar, probably in their 70s. The lady had curly hair and the man had a box of something in his hand. They smiled lovingly at me. Was it really them?

"Can't you recognise me? I am grandma!" she said, with her usual boisterous tone in our native Foochow language.

One of my aunts smiled, as if she knew about the surprise.

Grandpa didn't say a word. He put his hand forward, gesturing me to take a snack from the box. It was my favourite 礼饼 (a foochow pastry eaten during happy occasions with filling made of dates). I took a wedge and sat down beside my brother.

Subsequently, after some random chatter (which I don't remember) with the folks in the room, I was shocked to realise that my aunts and uncles did not know of their presence. I then looked at my brother, who was also munching on the same pastry. He nodded, indicating he saw them too, and the pastry in our mouths were more real than ever (I can still taste the sweetness in my mouth while typing this).

I shut my eyes to suck it all in, and when I opened them, I was back in my own living room in Bangkok (I sleep in the living room sometimes when I have to get up early in the morning). This was when I couldn't control it anymore. I sobbed like a baby.

I took at look at my phone, it was 5.41am, exactly 4 minutes before my alarm is supposed to go off, waking me up to cook chicken soup for my family. They even woke me up at the right time, so that I can switch off my alarm to allow my family to continue sleeping in peace.

Why did they appear? On this day, at this time, right before I was supposed to cook my favourite Foochow style kampung chicken soup, the soup that they cooked for my mum, the soup my mum cooked for me, and now I am cooking for my family.


The same pot of soup linking generations together

One thing I know for sure, is that the soup tonight will taste doubly sweet.



Monday, April 4, 2016

Answer Cheeze Food Truck: Cheese sandwiches that taste as good as they look

If you read my previous post on ArtBox@The Em District (direct link here), you will realise I found Answer Cheeze via an accidental decision while feeling bored at the popular pop-up market.

How Answer Cheeze looks at the current version of ArtBox
I will be lying if I told you cheese is one of my favourite foods, but even though a cheese sandwich does not sound like anything that inspires imagination, I was surprised it could taste this good. After my wife gave a similar thumbs up, I decided to dedicate a blogpost specially to them.

The blogger trying to catch their attention with a myriad of moves

One cannot talk about Answer Cheeze without mentioning the 2 exceptionally good-looking young men behind it. Oat and Ton, after graduating from Dusit Thani College together, spent many years refining their craft in the kitchens of 5-star hotels before recently deciding to come out on their own. With the bustling food truck scene in Bangkok overly-crowded with one too many burger trucks (so many that they are differentiating themselves with one suggestive name after another), Oat and Ton capitalised on the vacuum in the sandwich market with their own take on the perfect gourmet cheese sandwich.

Sandwich-making process at a glance

As the name suggests, their answer to your hunger revolves solely around cheese. Each sandwich consists of up to 5 kinds of imported cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar, Mozzarella, Brie and Emmental), all intricately-cooked to contribute both crispy and oozy textures in every bite we take. For a neutral like me, it delivers exactly what it promises, which is fantastic, but for the cheese lover, it could be a trip to cheese paradise. There are only 3 sandwich choices at the moment, so it's basically like a simple multiple choice question while deciding. My personal favourite is the BBQ as I love bacon.

Cheese Heaven or what

From my brief meeting with Oat and Ton, I can almost feel a silent determination from them to make this venture much bigger than what it is now, so the old man here is going to do whatever small part I can to give them the postive energy they need to perservere.

In any case, from now till 19 June, you can find Answer Cheeze parked at ArtBox@The Em District every Friday-Sunday from 4pm until all their 200 sandwiches run out (often before 10pm). After that, you will have to either follow their Instagram stream @answercheezebkk or their Facebook page to be updated on their next location.

Beauties and the beast

So ladies and gentlemen, here's the Stranger in Bangkok promising you that the sandwiches taste as good as they look, so if you do happen to find this bright yellow truck parking round the corner, do show your support.

I am pretty confident these gentlemen won't disappoint.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Monster Father

I did it.

I exploded.

It was a major explosion. I don't remember shouting so loud for a long, long time. Maybe it's the hardest I ever bellowed.

To a point, my heart told me to stop. Not the emotional kind of telling me to stop, but the physical kind, warning me that if I didn't stop, it will.

It was my son. Over much about nothing. It was during a time when he was sleepy and cranky, a wrong time to test his boundaries.

He asked for an orange and demanded me to feed him while his hands hung loose beside him. I was waiting for him to say the right things and make it more acceptable for me to feed him on request, but after a long while of asking in different ways, by me and then my wife, the requests became demands, then screaming for me to stop and whacking me in angst.

I will spare you more heart-wrenching details.

Then, the explosion, and Noah was stunned into silence.

The effort required for him to blurt out the words, "I am sorry, I will stop!" It nearly took a cardiac arrest.

Noah, if you get to read this, Daddy is sorry.

Daddy became a monster, and I hope I never need to become one again.

Nonetheless, I want you to remember that night.

Because, I am your friend, the person who spends almost every minute of your off-school hours with you. I am your guardian, your chef, your shower buddy, your biggest fan, your teacher, your playmate, your bolster at night.

I am the only man who loved you before you were born till forevermore.

Picture credit: One Eye Click

But first and foremost, and I want you never to forget.

I am your father.




Monday, March 14, 2016

What to eat near Bangkok BTS Stations: Asoke (E4)

My second post of this series brings me the ever accessible Asoke station, which is also the interchange to Sukhumvit MRT station. When I just arrived in 2009, this area only had Times Square and Robinson. If I had to summarize Asoke back then with 3 words, I would say it felt over-the-hill.

The opening of Terminal 21 in 2011 completely rejuvenated Asoke, injecting it with new energy, and it has thrived ever since. In fact, Asoke has become my go-to location when I do staycations with my family in town. What I like about Asoke over other lifestyle spots (eg. Thong Lor) is how compact it is. Nice eateries, massages, hotels and watering holes cluster within walking distances from each other, mainly along the little streets connecting Soi 19,21 and 23 together, unlike at the long wide street of Thong Lor where you might struggle to get from one popular spot to another without a car.

With the help of my Asoke local, here's my first instalment of the hidden eateries within walking distance from the BTS station:

1. Ping's Sharks' Fin: Fish maw soup I would drink everyday

Picture with lady boss Mrs Ho, look out for my sticker if you do visit!

This is the flagship store of the Ping's Restaurant Group, owners of Ping's Thai Teochew Seafood Restaurant at Pathumwan Princess Hotel, which I reviewed with a "Wah Lau Eh!" last year. You can enjoy the same menu (and cheaper drinks) plus some authentic Singapore curry puffs at this outlet in a more old-school ambience.

2. Uma Uma!: Focus your calories on Ramen

Like any typical Sarawakian, I love noodles. From the over-hyped Ippudo (I certainly wouldn't queue for it), to the delicious but wildly inconsistent Yamagoya and Chabuton (it has way too many branches), ramen is something I consistently go for when I need a quick meal.

Uma Uma Ramen, right beside Lawson 108 Convenient Store
Uma Uma's ramen blew me away. There was nothing to complain about their rich broth and perfectly al-dente noodles. Is the option for a small bowl really necessary?

Work of art
They are supposed to be big on gyoza too
The gyoza though, was forgettable, even if they are also one of Uma Uma's signature dishes. So if you specially made your way here in the midst of a day-long food trail in Bangkok, focus your precious calories on their noodles please!


3. Paris Mikki: Exquisite French cakes and pastry

For some reason, the excellent Let Them Eat Cake closed permanently last October. I am relieved to rediscover top-class French-style cakes and pastry at a little bakery called Paris Mikki near Asoke BTS station.

Just a very small space

Similar offerings as Let Them Eat Cake, but less colourful more down-to-earth

I will personally recommend the Mille-Feuille and croissants, though I think most of their desserts should taste pretty good. If you feel like pampering yourself with delicate desserts sprinkled with a bit of class, you can't go wrong with Paris Mikki.

Mille-Feuille, simplicity at its best


4. Bharani: 66-yr-old boat noodle with live jazz

Some of my friends swear by having boat noodles when they come to Thailand, but I wonder if ther know that the soup of boat noodles gets its unmistakeable deep hue and cloudy viscosity from a mixture of cow/pig's blood and salt? Because of this, I am not too big on boat noodles except for a select few, and this is one of them.

You have found the right place if you see half a boat sticking out of a restaurant

Looking at the chalkboard of specialties inside Bharani, I was surprised to find international favourites like Paella, but if you are visiting Thailand for the first time, my recommendation would be to go for their Sansab boat noodles, which they have been selling since 1949.

Clean-tasting broth, not a description you will normally associate with boat noodles
You get to enjoy this taste of tradition in comfort
Come at the right time (7pm on Saturday), you could be slurping down your noodles in the accompaniment of live jazz!


5. Khua Kling Pak Sod: Southern classics done the right way

Khua Kling Pak Sod offers ample parking space 
Of the various regional cuisines Thailand has to offer, I find dishes from the South most fascinating. Khua Kling Pak Sod is therefore a fitting finale to my list of recommendations.

Colourful decoration
Toughtful touch: Deliberate introduction of natural light into the dining area 
Some essential Southern Thai classics include the Thai stink beans (aka petai/sataw) with shrimp paste, crab-meat chilli paste with beehoon, yellow fish curry with coconut shoots etc., all of which can be found here.

Fried beehoon with crabmeat, more like fried crabmeat with beehoon

Stir-fried pork with shrimp paste

Despite the obvious glut of Thai eateries in Bangkok, I would say it is quite a rarity to find a good restaurant completely focused on Southern Thai dishes. Khua Kling Pak Sod is certainly worth a try if you are adventurous, or just simply curious to find out what Thai food has to offer outside Tom Yum Soup and Pad Thai.

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So there you go, the first instalment of my BTS Asoke series, enough to keep your tummies satisfied for a good 2 days. Do you have any other recommendations? I will definitely check them out!




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

What to eat near Bangkok BTS Stations: Udomsuk (E12)

6 years into my stint in Bangkok, I finally try to make myself more useful, especially for comrades who frequently crack their brains thinking of dinner options on their way home from work. As I do not commute via BTS most of the time, I have garnered the help from some 'local' friends to slowly but surely compile useful lists of my personal favourite eateries within reasonable walking distance from BTS stations.

Take note though, that these choices are based on my own preferences after visiting all of them myself, and the walking distances are also deemed reasonable based on my own level of acceptance (usually not more than 15 minutes' walk from BTS station at my average pace).

So, where better to start than my homeground, Udomsuk BTS station?

1. Devilish Eats: Addictive low and slow BBQ

Because "Wah Lau Eh!"

With co-owner Patrick after pasting my Stamp of Approval

2. Rabbito' Cafe': Eat with bunny company

Also along Sukhumvit 101/1 inside Di Wavery Place (a neighbourhood community mall), just 2 shops away from Devilish Eats lies one of the only rabbit-themed cafes in Bangkok.

It's always full during the weekends so be prepared to wait

Rabbits roam free at Rabbito'
If you are into rabbits, or pretty Thai ladies who come for rabbits, this is the place for you, because down here it's possible to hold a bunny on your lap while digging into your nuggets and fries.

Relaxing ambience
Food's pretty acceptable too
My only issue with Rabbito' is the mental block of eating in a space with unavoidable random mini balls of bunny poop scattered over the floor, but if the Thai ladies don't mind, who am I to make a fuss?


3. Chicken Rice: Thai chicken rice also nice

There are many great choices of street food right at the junction of Udomsuk Road, especially in the evenings. One of my favourites is the popular chicken rice stall.

40THB for standard, 50THB for special

The usual complaint with Thai chicken rice is the overcooked chicken, but the meat here is tender and succulent. In my humble opinion, I don't feel that a good plate of Thai chicken rice is inferior to those found in Singapore in any way. I have also grown to enjoy the unique chilli sauce in Thailand.

I mixed steamed chicken with fried chicken, generous serving as you can see

4. Stir-fried Yakisoba: Pops of wok-hei goodness

Right beside the chicken rice stall is a place that sells stir-fried Yakisoba (similar to the yellow noodle in Singapore), something rather uncommon along the streets of Bangkok.

This stall sells both stir-fried Yakisoba, and the more commonly-found Suki, both dry and soup

The surprisingly-delicious Yakisoba

The plate of stir-fried Yakisoba was slightly greasy, filled with generous amounts of cabbage and pork. What struck me was the immense wok-hei infused into the noodles, which made every bite really enjoyable. Serving is small though, a standard portion is definitely not enough if you are hungry.


5. Play Plern: Cosy ukulele cafe

On the opposite side of Udomsuk Road, less than 100m into Sukhumvit Soi 66/1, there's a perfect place to chillax.

Play Plern
Play Plern is a ukulele-themed cafe opened by a YouTube celebrity Apple Show. She made a name for herself singing and posting (extremely endearing) ukulele lessons online and this cafe serves also as a training centre for people who would like to take ukulele lessons from her.

Fun decoration and nice drinks
Glad to take a picture with Apple Show and my Udomsuk exploration team-member Wendy

Don't be surprised if you turn up one day to find yourself walking into an impromptu crooning session by Apple Show herself.

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There are certainly many more eateries worth recommending around Udomsuk BTS station, and I am already working on a couple of other stations, so please watch this space!

Friday, March 4, 2016

3D2N Hua Hin Itinerary: Family-Friendly Version

My family came over to Thailand for Chinese New Year last month, and being the resident here, naturally I was tasked to plan a 3D2N trip to Hua Hin. However, transportation aside, there were challenges. We had 6 adults, 2 in their 60s, and 4 kids, 2 of them having just turned 1. Is it even possible to plan a trip that's suitable for all ages, not too boring yet not ambitious to the point of being unfeasible?

Well, the trip is over now, and we survived it with minimal hassle. I do not exactly know how much the older folks enjoyed it, but the little ones sure had a whale of a time. So if you are interested, here's exactly what we did during our 3D2N family-friendly Hua Hin getaway.


Day 1 

Morning set off/Lunch at Tha Rua Restaurant, Mahachai

So as to allow everyone to have their own comfortable time to get ready, we set off from Bangkok to Hua Hin at round about 11am. With recommendation from my friend Wendy, we stopped over at Mahachai, 1 hour drive away from Bangkok for a unique lunch at Tha Rua Restaurant, which overlooks a pier and is close to a seafood market.

Dish of the restaurant is this pomfret hotpot, where 1 uber-fresh pomfret is served in a peppery bak kut teh style hotpot.
Verdict: Not exactly worth it for the price (1,700THB per kg) but it serves as a unique pitstop for lunch along the way.

Fun has started for grandpa and grandchildren
We headed full speed ahead to our resort in Hua Hin (Amari Hua Hin), which took another 2.5hours after lunch.


Dinner at Alpaca Restaurant, Cha Am

Following a short rest at our resort, we took a 20km journey back towards Cha Am to have dinner at the spectacularly-executed Alpaca Restaurant.
Don't miss the Alpacas if you are here, they will be available for feeding in the evening till around 8pm

Our colourful indoor VIP room specially reserved for our family

Picture-perfect for one of my favourite pictures of the trip

Verdict: Definitely worth the experience. Food is decent and reasonably priced, decoration fantastic, with huge indoor and outdoor spaces and acoustic live music. The alpacas and a well-equipped indoor playground will keep any kid interested.


Cicada Night Market after dinner


The cousins enjoying their stroll in Cicada Night Market
If there is one place I would like to visit every single time in Hua Hin, it will undoubtedly be Cicada Night Market. It's a well-organised arty market with areas for buskers and artists to express their talents, as well as clearly-segregated food and product zones. I don't recommend the food zone even if it might provide a decent variety of (overpriced) Thai favourites, but the products sold here are really worth a look, as they are mostly chic and creative, similar to up-class night markets in Bangkok like Art Box and the various winter markets that pop up during the cool season.

Note: It's only open from Friday to Sunday.


Day 2


After hotel breakfast, set off to Mrigadayavan: Palace of Love and Hope

Simple and elegant looking Summer Palace

More simply known as the King Rama VI Summer Palace, the place really didn't look like much initially, just a simple elevated big bungalow built by the beach. It is only after taking the tour upstairs (where we could not wear shoes, take pictures nor make noise) that we understood why this Palace remains a popular destination for visitors. Life of royalty in that era (1910s-20s) was basic yet classy and elegant. With the cool sea breeze blowing at us every minute, no wonder the royal family loved spending their time here during the blistering summer months.

Dad as happy as a King
Verdict: It's a distance of around 20km from Hua Hin, close to where Alpaca Restaurant is. If you like a peaceful stroll by the sea and take in a bit of Thai culture at the same time, you might want to make the trip. Please take note of your attire if you plan to visit. Long pants and modest shirts with sleeves are a must.


Lunch at Wilaiwan Bakery

This quaint bungalow houses Wilaiwan Bakery

I am glad we got to know about Wilaiwan Bakery. It represents so much of what Thais are good at - creating picturesque ambience and unforgettable desserts.

I couldn't take my eyes off this cake display.
No one does coconut cake better than the Thais. Try their orange sponge and banoffee cake too!
The latest generation of Yiis!

Verdict: Just a stone's throw from Khao Takiab, Wilaiwan Bakery is a must if you just want to relax an afternoon away. Food is good and desserts are excellent. Enough toys to keep kids occupied too.

After lunch: Enjoy hotel facilities/beach

I wish we had more time to enjoy our nice resort. We only spent a few hours chilling there after lunch on our 2nd day. I do recommend you to book a nice resort and spend some time there just doing much about nothing your family, as any adventure to Hua Hin involves an insane amount of traveling. 

Pony at the beach
A note about the beach along Khao Takiab stretch though. You have to choose the right time for your beach activities. We went at around 4pm, during high tide, when the waves were strong and there was hardly any dry sand left for the kids to play. 

Dinner at Jitthra Seafood

Definitely a hidden seafood haunt that only locals know about.

Literally carved into rock!
Dark and elusive, this little restaurant did not inspire much confidence on first impression. Everything changed when the food started arriving.

One of the freshest cleanest cockles you will ever see.
The best steamed blue swimmer crab I have eaten, only 750THB per kilo!!
Verdict: Freshest seafood at surprisingly-reasonable prices. Don't ask me how to get here though.

After Dinner: Hua Hin Night Market

No pictures to show, because it's the most forgettable part of the trip. No harm visiting if this is your first time in Thailand. A little like Ladies' Street in Hong Kong.


Day 3

Check out followed by lunch at Hua Hin Hills Vineyard before heading back to Bangkok

An hour's drive away from Hua Hin, this Vineyard gives an opportunity to immerse yourself in a totally different environment. When we arrived, we had to brave the howling winds at the restaurant and low temperatures of around 20degC.

The view in a nutshell

Take a romantic walk under the grapevines with your loved one

Grapes!

According to my brother, the best pork chop he has ever eaten
Verdict: Some don't even believe there are vineyards in Thailand, so if you want to experience an unexpected side of this amazing country, please mark this down in your schedule. Make a reservation if you plan to dine at the restaurant. It can get really packed.

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So there you go, my tried-and-tested 3D2N Hua Hin Itinerary for all ages. It lacks a bit of excitement, but with so many in tow, perhaps the less excitement, the better?

PS. This trip was only made possible after days of extensive research and more importantly, input from some dear friends, including Li Lian, Cons, Wendy, Wilbur from Aroimakmak.com, and the folks from Two Madames (undoubtedly the biggest family blog in Thailand).

PSS. For more pictures of my trips to Hua Hin, please follow my IG account and search under #strangerinhuahin.



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