Friday, September 27, 2019

The Ultimate Singapore Bak Kut Teh Face-off in Bangkok: Old Street vs Song Fa

Bangkok has seen an invasion of Singapore-style (meaning, the broth is made up of 3 main ingredients - pork, garlic, white pepper) Bak Kut Teh in 2019.

I took my time to hop onto the bandwagon, but now that Song Fa has opened their 2nd branch precariously close to my office, it's probably time to make a 'comparison', which will hopefully help you make a decision based on your preference.

Song Fa - Bak Kut Teh with 50 years of heritage

Started in 1969, exactly 50 years ago, Song Fa is one of the original Bak Kut Teh names in Singapore. If you ask me where to go for Bak Kut Teh in Singapore, I will always say Song Fa, because it's consistent, has good cuts of rib, good control of meat done-ness, and has well-drilled service staff who happily makes sure your bowl is full of piping-hot soup at all times.

With this Mega Bang Na branch, it is closer to me in Bangkok than it has ever been in Singapore.
The must-order at Song Fa. Not bad, but I thought the cut would be even more impressive.
Mee Sua is the other item that Song Fa is pushing in Thailand.


I appreciate the focus on Song Fa's menu. Go to a Bak Kut Teh shop to eat Bak Kut Teh is the message.

Food came within minutes, and the service was just as prompt as I remembered it was in Singapore, topping up piping hot (important) soup until you tell them it's enough.

Soup was tasty but not overly peppery, meesua was springy (a pleasant surprise), and the dough fritters were plump and crispy.

They did the basics right. One might not be jumping for joy at Song Fa, but might find it hard to fault their effectiveness in feeding the crowd with heart-warming peppery pork bone soup, unless its rather steep price that puts you off. I guess my tip will be not to over-order, stick to the ones I mentioned, remembering this is technically a soup-buffet.

Old Street Bak Kut Teh - The Original Shopping Mall Bak Kut Teh of Singapore

Unlike Song Fa, Old Street started out much later in Singapore, focusing on accessible locations in malls. Its success and rapid expansion brought it to Bangkok, blessing tired shoppers in MBK.

I have to say though, that one can be forgiven if he forgets to order Bak Kut Teh at Old Street, such is the variety on its menu. It's technically a full-fledge restaurant, more like a "tze-char" in Singapore, as we like to call it. You can have multiple meals at Old Street without repeating a single dish if you wanted to.

Old Street packs a spicier punch compared to Song Fa, the cuts of meat are quite ordinary though. Soup is also free-flow.
Dry Bak Kut Teh that stole the show.
Peppery Bak Kut Teh Seafood Congee is another legitimate choice.
Really enjoyed the traditional bean curd, which reminded me of my childhood days.


For me, Old Street is still very much a Bak Kut Teh specialty shop. Those who like a stronger peppery hit might enjoy Old Street's soup more.

I don't particularly fancy Old Street's dilution of its concept with many other menu choices as the non-Bak Kut Teh dishes were a bit of a hit and miss during my 2 visits (as can be seen from my recommendations above). I believe customer satisfaction will be higher in general if you only order Bak Kut Teh dishes at Old Street.

That said, Old Street remains a very welcome addition to the culinary landscape in Bangkok!

So, Song Fa or Old Street?

Ermmm, just go to the one nearer to you I guess?

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Birthday Letters from Daddy: Ellie is 5!

What's in a name? Does a name determine the characteristics of a person?

We called you brother Noah, because he was with us when Thailand was facing its worst floods in 50 years. We wanted him to become a beacon of hope during times of difficulty, to be the light delivering people from disaster.

And for you, the most significant character of your chinese name is "晴", which literally means a clear sunny day. You are our little princess, we just wanted you to be a chirpy lady, the sun that reappears to put smiles on people's faces after the floods have cleared.

Intrigued by a flickering candle.

It's amazing how you've turned out to be exactly what your name means, humorous, bubbly, and always thinking of means to make everyone laugh.

But I think when we named you, we forgot that the sun is not only happy. The sun signifies perseverance, the only constant that keeps the galaxy trotting along. The sun is the symbol of not giving up, the energy of life.

A rare family picture during your school celebration.

Last Thursday, when we had our first Mid-Autumn Festivities with special guests from Singapore, you wanted to wear a pair of glow-in-the-dark unicorn glasses, but somehow, it couldn't light up.

I am embarrassed to admit that I was one of the adults who wanted to talk you out of getting it to work. Instead of giving in to our persuasions, you insisted there was a speck of light and we must continue to work on it. Poor Auntie Constance was on it for nearly an hour, with bits of help from everyone else, but guess what, the unicorn lit up in the end, and the adults, speechless.

Look at you, so proud with Auntie Constance, with your unicorn all lit up.
Happy 5th birthday Ellie, our sunny determined lady.

You go girl.

Loving you more everyday, Daddy.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ultimate Kuching Cafe-Hopping Guide

In the last couple of years, the Kuching has progressed leaps and bounds in many aspects.

The cafe scene is no different, and I'm not even including the glut of bubble tea locations sprouting up everywhere, open into the wee hours of the night.

Then again, I have to admit that in terms of coffee, Kuching still has a long way to go before it can call itself a legit destination, but after my latest trip, I am suitably impressed with so many cafes that I doubt you will be disappointed hopping around this list.

Guess where? Credit: @kfline

Like my laksa guide, this will be a guide that will continue to evolve after every trip back home.

1. The Coffee Code - starting off with the best (with long working hours too)

If we consider a cafe being coffee, beverages, cake and dessert, The Coffee Code scores the highest average marks across all categories. The waffles, for 14 Ringgit, is a worthy signature dessert.

2. Wonderboom - when 'trying too hard' wins my heart

Of all the cafes visited, Wonderboom tries the hardest, in a way that I really root for them. Using healthy food as a backdrop, they have a well-designed menu expressed in a conducive newsletter format, even their cocktails are rare sake-based.

Interior design is on-point, combining many concepts in one effortlessly, even working in a kids reading corner and private event space. I love their smoothie bowls!

[First Impressions Kuching] @wonderboomkch Pleasantly surprised to find Wonderboom within comfortable walking distance from where I live in Kuching. Was just there for a snack, so only tried a coffee and a smoothie bowl from the huge well-thought-out menu that consists of everything we can expect from a good cafe and more. Smoothie bowl was delicious and wholesome. Cold, thick and smooth, not melting into a watery mess, proof that it's made of the real stuff. Coffee was passable but not outstanding. Looking forward to visiting again, and even though a cafe with such a menu might be deemed as "trying too hard" in a mature market like Bangkok, I am quite excited with folks who try very very hard to set new standards in a smaller place like this. Rock on. #wonderboomkch #makekuchinggreatagain #smoothiebowl #strangerinmerokok #strangerfirstimpressionkuching #greenheightsmall #cafehopping #cafehoppingkuching
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3. Favour by Happy - Focus on substance, not form

Looking past the simplistic decor, you will find a small team working day and night busting their asses personally making every single cake the best they can be. I recommend their gluten-free flourless orange cake, they also did a great job making a diabetic-friendly cheese tart for my Dad's birthday.

Oh, baker/owner Happy also conducts occasional baking workshops for kids so take note.

[First Impressions Kuching] @favourbyhappy Made it a point to visit a cafe/bakery in my hometown owned by a loyal supporter of my blog, which incidentally is also one of the highly-recommended cake houses in the city. Upon entry, my first thought was, "wah, very difficult to take nice pictures here because of the lighting." Then again, when you observe and taste the products eventually, you will realise that baker/owner Happy is one who favours substance over form. The Fudgy Chocolate Mousse and Gluten-free Flourless Orange Cake were both a satisfying 7.5-8/10 in terms of taste though lacking a bit of finesse in presentation, while her waffles are easily better than most waffles I can find in Bangkok, only to be slightly let-down by generic-tasting ice cream. Happy shared that they are usually overwhelmed with whole cake orders, where they will weave their creative efforts more than individual slices sold in the cafe. I could see Happy's passion to focus her limited resources on consistency, taste and premium ingredients. She also organises children workshops during school holidays where she insists on a high teacher-kid ratio and bans parents from attending (not complaining). My kids had a ball making snowskin mooncakes. Definitely a cafe worth considering if you are looking for unpretentious delicious cakes and waffles, or a yummy cake for a special occasion. #cafehoppingkuching #favourbyhappy #strangerfirstimpressionkuching #strangerinmerokok #makekuchinggreatagain #kuchingcafe
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4. Commons - justice done to a familiar name

Regardless of where the name inspiration came from, Commons at the Old Court House remains one of the most cleverly-executed spaces in the city. Love the loooooong table in the centre designed for large social gatherings, and really set the stage for Old Court House's classy makeover.

[First Impressions: Kuching] Old CourtHouse Kch X Commons Kch Thanks to some new friends, this trip to Kuching gave me a completely-different view of my own city. The Kuching Waterfront itself is quite a spectacle, from the new bridge, to the Waterfront Hotel, to the Old Court House, Kuching is really becoming an increasingly-attractive location for the tourist. I will zero-in now on the Old Court House, which surprised me as it has now become a great place to chill. The execution of the interior is absolutely on-par with the cool places in Singapore and Bangkok, though the only complete place so far is probably the Commons Cafe (don't ask me where they got the name from). The familiar name aside, Commons is a place that I had been looking forward to in Kuching. It serves simple food in good portions, has a classy yet relaxing vibe, and welcomes everyone in the family. I was there twice, once at night chatting with friends, and another in the day with my parents and kids. I spent a great afternoon playing board games with my children. If you are there, try their Nasi Lemak with fried chicken, as well as their huge array of quality cakes. I hope Commons continues to improve, especially on their drinks, which can be much much better, especially for the prices they are charging. #oldcourthousekch #commonskch #kuching #kuchingfoodies #kuchingcafehopping #cafe #kuchingwaterfront #strangerinmerokok #strangerfirstimpressionkuching
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5. Keeper's Ground - great cafe inside the best mall in Kuching

Owned by the folks behind Commons, expect the same tasteful execution, cutely nestled at the back of the best mall in town.

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China Street

6. Indah House - perfect for tourists and locals alike

The perfect one-stop-shop for anyone who wants to understand the art and culture of Kuching in a matter of days. Don't leave without trying their Batik cake.

[#makekuchinggreatagain] @indahhousekuching The 3rd cafe on China Street, and probably the most popular one. I do not know whether it's fair to call this a cafe, as Indah House is more like an all-in-one that can provide every visitor a great experience of Sarawak culture. As I wasn't here for the food, what struck me this time was the abundance of art and culture in the little space (they have an event space on the 2nd floor), and the possibilities of the owners arranging a huge array of local tours/experiences for you. Food-wise, they have local dishes, as well as vegan options. One item that has a local following is their batik cake (shown in pics), which is no longer easy to find. Also, during Chinese New Year, they will start selling festive cookies with stunning flavours like Sarawak Laksa. Pinggai, Limatujoh and Indah House form the golden triangle on China Street that will give you an unforgettable afternoon in Kuching. #indahhouse #chinastreet #kuching #sarawak #strangerinmerokok
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7. Pinggai Cafe - A great first exposure to Sarawak native cuisine

Unforgettable Dayak Charsiu, with intoxicating smokiness I've never had before. I am looking forward to trying more dishes at Pinggai.

[First Impressions Kuching] Pinggai Cafe First of 3 cafes on China Street which are bound to make you quite happy. Pinggai is the newest of the 3, and is a legitimate choice for you to have a full meal if you are curious about Sarawakian native cuisine. The Dayak Charsiu (barbeque pork) was especially unforgettable. It has a kind of alluring smokiness that I've never tasted before. The Ayam Pansuh (chicken cooked in bamboo with tapioca leaves), on the other hand, has a clean refined taste that went well with the flavoursome pork. I was also asked to try the smoothie bowl, but had other stops moving forward, so might have to leave it for next time. Lots on the menu still to try, like the dabai fried rice and their signature passion fruit tea + Tuak (native rice wine) 'cocktail'. #makekuchinggreatagain #pinggaicafe #chinastreet #kuchingfood #dayakfood #nativefood #strangerinmerokok #kuching #ayampansuh #dayakroastpork #kuchingcafe #cafehoppingkuching #strangerfirstimpressionkuching
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8. Lima Tujoh - perfect vintage hipster cafe

Stands alone in this list exuding cool vintage character. Also serves local cuisine, including Nasi Lemak and some native dishes, which I have yet to try, watch this space as I am bound to say more once I've tried their food.

[First Impressions Kuching] @limatujoh The 2nd excellent cafe along the short stretch of China Street. Customers usually come here for Nasi Lemak, but after the meal at Pinggai, we only had room for a coffee and toast. Vibe-wise, it's very different from Pinggai, as it exudes a hipster vintage atmosphere. I especially like the corner (shown in pictures attached) where a Peranakan tea set, an old-skool milo cashier tin and Noma's Guide to Fermentation snuggling together. You will not miss the resident cat as well. On to the food, we ordered the Yuan Yang Vietnamese drip, which interestingly, is Vietnamese coffee dripped with black tea! It was pretty pleasant! And the toast was made with home-made pineapple jam, which was a good eat at 3MYR, though we would have preferred more jam to taste it better. It's hard to say much more about food here until I revisit to try their Nasi Lemak. Definitely another great place to chill in Kuching! #makekuchinggreatagain #limatujoh #chinastreet #kuchingfood #dayakfood #vietnamesedripcoffee #strangerinmerokok #kuching #catsofinstagram #kuchingcafe #cafehoppingkuching #strangerfirstimpressionkuching
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Apologies to those excellent cafes in Kuching I have yet to visit (thus impossible to add into this list), please give me your comments after visiting these cafes and let me know if there are any which deserve to be here!

Let's #makekuchinggreatagain.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Ultimate Guide to Sarawak Laksa in Kuching

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.

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!

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