Monday, April 7, 2014

Baby in Bangkok's step-by-step recipe for the most delicious home-made Gyoza!

Hello everyone, today we are going to teach you step-by-step on how to make the most delicious gyoza in the world.

So please pay attention.

Take 300grams of the finest ground pork, add to it 1 tablespoon of light soy (we use Kikkoman), a generous dash of pepper, 3 sprigs of spring onion, finely chopped, then grate in a clove of garlic and a small thumb of ginger. This makes around 40 nice plump gyozas

Now carefully lay a piece of gyoza skin on a clean plate

Dab some clean water in a semicircle round the edges of the skin.

Place a generous amount of the delicious minced pork in the centre

Fold the edges together and then pinch them tightly shut, the water will help it stick

Tadaaa.... one nice gyoza, done! If I can do it so can you

Now place them carefully on a large plate. The skins dry up really fast so if you are not cooking them immediately you could cover them up with some damp cloth

For cooking, heat some oil in a on-stick pan, lay the gyozas down and let them sizzle

When the bottom crisps and brown beautifully, it's time to pour in some water and cover the pan to let them steam till they are cooked

Once the water gets boiling, cover your pan immediately, and let the water dry out so that the gyoza returns to being fried by the remaining oil, then you are done!

The only thing left now is to chomp down your beautiful end-product. Enjoy!
PS. For a simple home-made gyoza sauce, dilute some japanese soya sauce with a bit of water, adding a bit of sugar and vinegar to it. I like to grate some ginger in but it's totally optional. Always taste the sauce as you add more condiments and you can stop when it tastes perfect!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tea Avenue: Creating a new tea culture in Bangkok

Did you know all these benefits of tea?
My wife is Hainanese, and if you are from my part of Asia, you surely know that apart from chicken rice, they are most famous for their undying love for a cup of tea/coffee everyday and the excellence of their coffeeshops. As much as the new generation has moved away from the trade of operating traditional kopitiams, I still can't run away from making a cup of smooth milk tea for my wife every morning.

Even though almost all established international coffee joints (CBTL, Starbucks, Coffeeclub, Tom and Tom's to name a few) I know have settled themselves well in Thailand, the recent appearances of Twinings, TWG and Harrods tea houses here means that tea is starting to announce itself as well, albeit in a different way, targeting more of the high society who focus on style and luxury instead of working people on the go. It is an indication that the Thai public is slowing moving on from the cup of bright orange Thai Assam Milk Tea (which to me is a genuine work of culinary art in itself) to a more sophisticated enjoyment of this drink.

Alexis, his wife Tayika and the Strangers in Bangkok
Last month, I had the privilege to visit and speak to Alexis, founder of the new tea cafe called Tea Avenue in Bangkok to understand the concept behind his new venture. It's fascinating for me to know another fellow young foreigner who gave up everything he knew in his home-country (he's Canadian) to pursue his passion/s (his wife's Thai) in Bangkok.

Instead of serving tea in expensive China and leaving you to slowly consume with sandwiches and pastry, Tea Avenue chooses to focus predominantly on tea itself. Alexis sat with me with his favourite Chinese tea, the Milky Oolong and talked me through the specifications of the tea and the process of brewing, resulting in cup after cup of perfect Oolong that's been infused with a faint fragrance of milk.

Unpretentious tea, that's what you get here

He told me that tea houses like this are common in North America but rare in this part of the world. He brings in tea from all over the world, focusing on unique blends like the Milky Oolong and many others that cannot be found anywhere else in Thailand, and his ultimate aim is to become more of a specialty tea retail shop/wholesale supplier than a cafe. I feel that his goal is a big but achievable one, but his cafe will be required to act as his location to educate locals on the beauty of blended tea and the correct brewing techniques.

Li Li's refreshing mix, the cloud catcher, a caffeine-free fruit infusion

My brief time with Alexis led me to realise how versatile tea actually is. Browsing through his small canisters of blends, I saw black and green teas infused with fruit and aromatics, pure fruit infusions sprinkled with whimsical ingredients like popcorn (!), yoghurt etc., with every creative element combining to give the drinker a cup of brow-raising satisfaction.

If you are interested to drop by Tea Avenue to see for yourself what I am talking about, please take note that it's not very straightforward to spot. It's located in a building called Thong Lor Art Village, just a bit pass J Avenue along the main street of Thong Lor (Sukhumvit 55), opposite Mercedes showroom. Look out for signs, otherwise you might pass by without finding it. If you are a coffee lover in Bangkok, Tea Avenue is Casa Lapin's new neighbour.

Look out for signs while looking for Tea Avenue

A tip from the Stranger in Bangkok is to concentrate only on tea when you are there, and if you are really short of ideas scouring through the massive glossary of unfamiliar tea blends, ask for their specialty drink of the day, which might just be as eye-opening as what I had during my visit.

Caramel Milky Oolong!
PS. Tea Avenue will be opening a new retail outlet at Asiatique (Warehouse 4 Unit 4098) starting from today 3rd April. Their working hours will be from 11am to 7pm at Thong Lor and from 5 to 11pm at Asiatique.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Songkran in Singapore without water: Is there any point?

The word "Songkran" has recently stirred up quite a bit of controversy. Though I haven't been following developments very closely, I feel that my position makes it appropriate to give my view on this matter.

Firstly, what is Songkran? From my shallow understanding, it's considered the new year (just like what Lunar New Year means to us) for people in Thailand, Mynamar, Cambodia, Laos and some minority tribes in China. Traditionally, during this festival, people visit temples and cleanse Buddha images with water in order to bring good luck for the new year. This gradually transformed into a crazy festival with everyone hurling water at everyone else to celebrate the new year. Tourists from every corner of the globe flock to different parts of Thailand during this event to experience it. In Mandarin, Songkran is called "泼水节", which translates literally as "Splashing Water Festival".  Suffice to say, no matter whether you are cleansing your Buddha images or throwing water at everyone you see, the spirit of Songkran revolves around 1 element, yes, you guessed it, water.

This controversy first caught my eye when I read an article which talked about some officials in Thailand's Culture Ministry threatening to sue Singapore over the organisation of their very own festival. My first thought was, "Why the big deal? Even though it might purely be a marketing event, at least it helps to showcase Thai culture, especially the Songkran culture to more people, surely that can't be a bad thing."

Besides, if anyone wants to REALLY experience what Songkran is really about, they will DEFINITELY choose to come to Thailand, no matter what Singapore can offer, so it's not really a threat to tourism as well. A couple of nights ago, I mentioned to my wife that it would be almost impossible for Singapore to close a couple streets to allow "water-fights" to take place for 2 whole days. Before I knew it, the bombshell was announced, Singapore's Songkran is to take place, dry.

This morning, I finally visited Singapore Songkran's official website. To my astonishment, this was the very first picture that greeted me.

Is this going to happen? NO

I also found out that it is going to involve a lot of Thai food, Thai products, Muay Thai and a plethora of gigs involving a few entertainers from Thailand.

If you ask me, attending a Songkran event without water is like going to Singaporean chicken rice stall to order chicken rice, and end up getting char kway teow instead. No matter how Singaporean the char kway teow tastes, I want my bloody chicken rice, complete with chicken, rice and chilli sauce, not lacking in ANY element.

If I can give my 2 cents worth to the organising committee, I feel that all backdrops and information regarding water pistol fights on the website need to be removed immediately in case more paying attendees (as not all events are free) are misled, and that the name of the festival needs to be carefully reconsidered, at least for future versions of the same event.

No water, no Songkran. Period.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An hour in the life of Daddy Eddie

I peeped through the small little clear circle on the otherwise totally frosted glass window of the classroom. Little Noah, just woken up not long ago, looked okay with attending the lesson and Li Li seemed up for it too. I guess it's time for me to leave and 'do my stuff'.

It's 5pm sharp, so now, what do I have to do? Ah yes, UOB and AIS to run some company errands, hopefully make an important phonecall, then it's a trip to the musical instrument shop, buy a cheap Ukelele, settle myself down in a cafe and master playing 爱琳娜 to give my sweeties a surprise when they see me again.

While waiting in line at UOB, a familiar vibration in my pockets prompts me to take another look at my phone. It's a WhatsApp message.

"Hi Eddie, your friend xxx just called asking about any news of the projects?"

Friendly fire from my supplier, pleasant but a definite addition to my stress levels for the day. The next hour would now be punctuated by message after message with him, explaining everything that's happening in Thailand.

5.34pm, UOB errands complete. It must be time to slowly walk back to the school, passing by the Ukelele shop. It must also be time to call my media company to tell them what I expect from our next meeting.

5.45pm, head a little bit groggy from the long conversation. Hmmm...... maybe I should call a potential dealer who had been stalling on our cooperation for many weeks.

6.00pm sharp. Unknowingly, I am back at the entrance of the school. I activated WhatsApp again to send my final message to my supplier. I scrolled back to have a look at our chat history. Gosh, more than 60 correspondences within the last hour.... really?

Wait a minute, wasn't I supposed to pass by AIS? Ah sh*t, so the errand accumulates and has to be done tomorrow. What about the Ukelele? I must have passed the place while on the phone and totally missed it.

I took a deep breath and walked into the school again to peer through the same tiny hole I did exactly an hour ago.

Ah..... my babies, my lovely babies. How nice to see you all again. What does my life even mean without you?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

3rd couple date in 3 years on International Woman's Day 2014, and it's all about Singapore!

Posing with our cod dish

One of the major drawbacks of having a young family in a foreign land is that couple dates are virtually impossible. Noah is 25 months old now, and over the 3 calendar years, we have only had real couple dates twice, which have been extensively documented here and here. Family members came and went since the last one, but couple time just simply did not materialize for some reason or another, until saviour Miss Li Kunqi arrived last week. So here's a big THANK YOU to her for looking after Noah for a whole afternoon and agreeing to it without even flinching!

My plan for the 6 hours was very simple, and it revolved around making sure Li Li got an opportunity to walk through the brilliant "Hello World!" Exhibition at Emporium's TCDC before it ends later this month. However, exhibition aside, the date became one which felt like it happened in Singapore!

Cherry duck with tea-infused tangy sauce
Lunch was a simple but satisfying one at TWG, which is an up-class tea salon and boutique from Singapore. Food was good (not great), service was excellent and the dessert was decent as well. I had wanted to do a post on TWG a while ago when it just opened but got put off by a waiter telling me that pictures were not allowed. I am glad that they are now more open to customers taking pictures in the restaurant, though I am no longer in the mood to write about them.

Our tickets at the Singapore Film Festival
Gotten after around half an hour of queueing

The highlight of the date has got to be our participation in the Singapore Film Festival. 2 movies were on show, That Girl in Pinafore and Ilo Ilo of Golden Horse fame. Due to timing issues, we could only watch the first one but boy was it entertaining. 

I think it is also worth mentioning that this was our first cinema experience after Noah's birth (no, I did not watch a movie alone or with other friends), and due to it being a film festival, we could not choose our seats and ended up with a location requiring us to raise our heads in the northeast direction throughout the whole movie. It didn't help too, that my seat was faulty and uncomfortable, but ah well, it's free, it's a rare couple date and I got to watch the movie with the director himself, I shouldn't complain too much.

The movie itself though, was quite unforgettable. Set in 1993 Singapore talking about the lives and dreams of JC students linked together by a local folk music movement, it was really nostalgic and brought back a lot of memories, though I think my elder brother might be able to relate even more with the songs. I personally would have preferred a less abrupt end and perhaps at least 1 more uplifting song performance by the cast, but the movie is impressive enough for me to consider buying the DVD for keepsakes.

I will thus like to end this simple post off with a MV of my favourite song of the movie, "黎明的心", youthfully sung by the 3 energetic female leads in the show. Enjoy.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Art in Paradise Pattaya, where imagination runs wild

So, is that it? I'm dead? There are so many things I haven't done.

Pattaya has always, to me at least, been Thailand's Sin City. The beaches are mostly shallow, low class coyote bars spread all across the city and half-naked old Caucasian men stroll along the streets every single day as if it was their backyard. I was told that Pattaya used to be an army base for the US army during the Vietnam War, and goodness knows what they did here during their 'vacations' to make it what it is now.

However, over the last few years, there has been commendable effort to re-create Pattaya into a family destination. Up came many mega shopping malls, photo spots and top-class hotels and resorts. I still did not fancy it too much, but this Chinese New Year, I decided to make it my family's getaway destination while they were in town (my dad had been wanting to visit for a while and it's about time I granted his simple wish).

If you have to go to Pattaya, especially with your family, you really should not miss a visit to Art in Paradise, because, it is to me, a very good summary of Thailand in 1 building: whimsical, creative and absolutely no inhibition to turn ideas into creations. It's difficult to imagine what a 3D art gallery actually is, but boy will it keep you entertained for a good couple hours once you step in.

Noah enjoying a peck on his cheek

Showing off my brilliant fishing technique

Ah sh*t, there goes our coconut juice

Wait a minute, is that elephant actually coming towards us?
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
I sh*t in my pants

I meditated with Noah under the Bodhi tree
Li Li strolled through ancient Ayuthaya
Dad protected his grandchildren from the dinosaurs
Mum became the Angel I always thought she was. Why are you finding it funny, Noah.

Art in Paradise has just opened a branch in Bangkok at the end of February, so now you don't even have to visit Pattaya to immerse yourself in this wonderland.


So what are you waiting for?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Celebrating half our lives together - a Valentine's Day 2014 tribute to the lady in my life

My beautiful bride
It was during a chat with a friend earlier this week that I was abruptly reminded that this is my 16th year together with Li Li. Considering I am turning 33 and that we got together at the barely legal age of 17, we have already spent almost half our lives together *gasp*!

Our very first neoprint together
Such a long long time has passed. As I try to recall our journey, I realise that only the good parts remained, and all the unhappy events have become so unimportant that they have already faded into obscurity.

Having spent all of my secondary school days in a boy's school, I really did not know what to expect stepping into the JC environment with girls sitting in class. I remembered making sure my braces (which had cuffed my teeth up for more than 6 years) were removed in time to look more presentable, only to be immediately plagued with acne problems (which had never bothered me before). So much for trying to look cool in front of girls.

Before I knew it, this cute girl in class with vibrant short hair and chubby cheeks started calling me "妹妹" (mind you, there will be no other person in this world who will look at me and even remotely hatch the idea of calling me anything associated with the female species). It was certainly not love at first sight, but over the course of J1, through countless carrom and Ghim Moh market eating sessions, our mutual affection became too difficult to ignore and we eventually got together on Valentine's Day 1999.

Li Li has always been a bright young lady. I always tell my friends in pride that she is up there among the most intelligent people I have ever known (trust me, I know many in my generation) and I am glad to have successfully invited her to permanently reside in my house. Over the years, she has matured so well that now she has become a beautiful mature woman and the best wife and mum in the world.

Our ROM in 2009

I have never been the perfect guy for her. Ever since I started working, I had to spend half my time flying all over the world fighting different corporate battles for my ex-company. Despite the little time spent together, Li Li never had a word of complaint and quietly supported me throughout the 4 years.

We got married in 2010, after more than a decade of courtship

Our Honeymoon in Greece 2011

Then came the opportunity to permanently leave Singapore for Bangkok, which must have been even more difficult for her to take. She is a high-flyer, and held a stable job in an excellent company. After I settled down in Bangkok and gave her assurances that the new company had decent potential of doing well in the long term, she made the decision to give up everything she had in Singapore just for me. I will forever be grateful to her for showing me her ultimate support.

Guess who's inside Li Li's tummy?
Li Li has now become my pillar of strength in Thailand and the loving mummy of our precious little Noah. Spending life in Thailand (kid in tow) with few friends and no relatives must be tough for her, and there have been many difficult moments, but she has not only prevailed, but thrived.

The Stranger in Bangkok's happy family

With this very unique opportunity initiated by Andy, I would like to dedicate this special post to Li Li, my best friend, my sister, my girlfriend, my fiancee, my wife and the loving mummy of my child(ren), for your endless love and support to this family.

Happy Valentine's Day, monthliversary and anniversary.

I am thankful everyday for having you in my life, and I hope in time you will find that your sacrifices for us have been absolutely worth it. Love you lots.

This post is part of a Valentine’s Day series, brought to you by Daddy Matters.

Special thanks for all the websites and portals giving this initiative so much love.