Friday, June 15, 2018

Great Wall of China with kids: 慕田峪 Mutianyu is the choice

Songkran is the best time to stay in Bangkok. Not because of the festivities and watergun battles (ok, maybe that too), but because everyone who is not from Bangkok would have gone back to their respective hometowns and work comes to a standstill, resulting in a less-crowded city with little or no traffic jams. However, for some reason, this year, I swapped a staycation in downtown Bangkok for an incredible 6D5N trip to Beijing involving 2 families, 4 adults and 4 kids (aged 3 to 7).

I contemplated discussing in detail my entire itinerary like I did in the past for Hua Hin and Khao Yai, but no, because nothing in Beijing matters more than leaving our footprints on the Great Wall of China. It was personally, my 3rd time on the Great Wall, though the 1st 2 times were literally decades ago and obviously without the kids. So, with this post, I hope to give you as many tips as I can, to make a trip with kids to the Great Wall an unforgettable one.

The little one taking a breather.

1. Choose Mutianyu

There are 3 popular entrances into the Great Wall, with Badaling (closest to Beijing city) being the most popular of them all. Having experienced it myself, I would personally endorse taking a longer drive and go to Mutianyu instead.

Firstly, it is much much less crowded, which makes a hell of a difference especially during peak seasons, be it for comfort or photo-taking purposes (see the first picture above).

In the cable car.
Secondly, I recommend taking cable car up to Tower 14, followed by a leisurely stroll down to Tower 6 before taking the really fun and relatively-long Toboggan ride (no pictures allowed there) back down to the entrance area. It will give you a chance to take in the grandeur of the Great Wall during the stroll through many watch towers.

Stroll on the Great Wall

2. Timing

April usually isn't the most popular time to visit. It's approaching spring, but not quite spring yet. It can also get a little cold and windy high up on the Great Wall. But after this visit, I feel that it could be the perfect time to visit. It is less crowded, and even if the trees are not at their colourful best, the leaves and flowers are beginning to sprout, so it's not total gloom.

Spring is around the corner.
It's also good to note that we shot right down to Mutianyu from the airport at 7am right after disembarkation from a red-eye flight. Some might see this as a risk, given we have so many kids in tow, I feel that arriving at Mutianyu before 10am felt like a good decision, as the crowds have yet to build up and we could avoid the scorching afternoon sun.

3. Prep the kids before the trip

Thanks to my genius wife, my kids were shown documentaries and songs about the Great Wall of China (and other famous sites in Beijing) before the trip, so much so that by the time the trip came, they could already sing songs about the Great Wall and understood its significance.

Snacking in one of the watch towers.
Even though my little girl is only 3, and required me to carry her up and down uneven steps for long distances during our stroll, it's still more than surreal for me to see them actually running and playing on this monumental construction, one that means so much to our pride as Chinese. I wouldn't change the experience for anything.

Picture of my struggles, but we survived! I call this father-daughter bonding, haha.
So there you go, my tips and tricks for conquering the Great Wall as a family with small children. For those who are worried, I hope by doing it and sharing my experience, you will be encouraged to go ahead with your trip too!

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I will gladly answer them if I can.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Oh Teddy Teddy... and the dream comes true....

The dream comes true?

Nah.... not really. Some things, you never even dream of. If you adore Taylor Swift, or Ed Sheeran, would you even bother to dream of meeting them one day?

This guy, he's the reason why I watch football, and why I love Tottenham Hotspur till this day. Truth be told, the first Spurs match I watched was the 1991 FA Cup semi-final where Paul Gascoigne scored an incredible free-kick to win the match. Nothing to do with Teddy. Teddy took over the reigns from Gary Lineker in 1992 and from then on he became the absolute reason to watch Spurs in honestly not a very good period for the club (of course there was the Klinsmann season but the flame flickered out before we realised).

The reason why I love football.
He was really a one-of-a-kind football player. He was slow, thus played equally much with his brain as his feet. How he saw the game and made his team tick with his link-up play always intrigued me, and because he never relied on speed and took care of himself, he played well into his forties. In case you didn't know, he was the oldest player to score a hat-trick in the Premier League (for Portsmouth at age 38) and also the oldest player to score a Premier League goal (for West Ham at 40 years 8 months and 24 days).

Pick me. Pick me.
I wish he stayed at Spurs for his entire career, but I am pleased that he managed to win everything in the end, playing a huge part in it as well, though people sometimes undervalue his importance for scoring the equaliser and assisting Ole's winner in the 1999 Champions League final (matchwinner gets all the glory).

Anyway, a month ago, at the grand opening of Score Bar, here in Bangkok, I got to play pool with my footballing hero, took pictures with him, and had the honour of having him pick my name out of a glass, to present me personally with an autographed football. Talk about doing the impossible.

No captions needed.
So thank you Score Bar, for this truly #scoremoment, and also to Wilbur for coming along so that I can ditch my camera and concentrate on enjoying the night.

I am eternally grateful.

Photo credits: Score Bar.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Follow the Chef: Charlie Jones, focusing on the basics

Everyone who has been living in Bangkok long enough should know Quince. I personally feel that it had an important part to play in the city's casual dining scene. It was one of the successful pioneers of offering a casual yet classy space that's equally adequate holding a family-style brunch in the day or a cool night out with close friends over some cocktails at night. It has held its ground pretty firmly over the last 5 or 6 years, and that's why they caught my attention when they recently put a 29-year old at the head of its kitchen.

quince bangkok
Charlie Jones
Enter, Charlie Jones, a local from Chiang Mai with a Thai mother and South African father, hoping to stamp his character on a menu at Quince (which needs to please everyone, given its highly-mainstream market positioning and its hordes of regulars). If his start is anything to go by, he's already on the right track. Take his braised-oxtail stuffed donut starter for example, it's not something we typically expect to appear on the table at Quince, but I feel it's going to become a firm favourite in no time.

Despite his young age, Charlie has already spent nearly an entire decade in the kitchen, being part of the opening team at Rocket in Bangkok, and having spent a few years in Singapore at Esquina then Maggie Joan's, before taking over at Quince.

However, he shared that most of his cooking philosophies were honed right at the beginning of his journey, at Elliot's, a cafe based in London's Borough Market, which creates its menu solely on the best ingredients found at the market daily. He learnt that the best cooking, is simply getting hold of the best produce and doing them justice. I love his philosophy, because it is close to my heart, and what I feel is the essence of good cooking.

Charlie is an absolute workaholic who devotes himself to the kitchen. He simply loves cooking. I can see him quietly staying away from the limelight and enjoy his life tending a simple eatery back in Chiang Mai, roasting chunks of meat over slow wood fires, serving a small number of customers every night who will leave wondering why food as "back-to-basics" as his can taste so unforgettable.

Speaking of limelight, the last Bangkok-based chef featured in this series is now BK's Young Chef of the Year. I am not one to make predictions, but I have a feeling it will be difficult for Charlie to run away from attention if he continues his natural progression in this cooking adventure of his, and that's not a bad thing.


"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Ultimate Taipei Eating Guide, according to the Stranger in Bangkok

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
A post shared by Eddie Yii (@strangerinbangkok) on

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!

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Follow the Chef Project Taiwan: Jeek Pan, walking his own path

Last year, I stumbled upon a video demonstration like I've never seen before. It was a quite shocking depiction of how to cook Taiwanese braised pork, portraying every step like a kind of Kung Fu move, combining the power of cooking, music, calligraphy and video production that left a huge impression, so much so I made the dish myself, even if there was no clear recipe given.

After that, I began following Jeek Pan, the young man behind this video and came to understand that over the last couple years he has been churning food-related productions of all sorts, be it videos, photos, articles, collaborations and even random pop-ups. During this trip to Taipei, I couldn't miss the chance to make this new friend.

This picture shows everything about Jeek--flamboyance and hospitality.

Turns out that Jeek is a 27 year-old chef who grew up in a family which ran a mass-market buffet restaurant, and used to be part of Chef Andre Chiang's team at Robin's Grill-- Regent Hotel. What he does now, though, is a little more abstract.

With his proficiency in photography, video production and social media, he has decided not to 'trap' himself in a restaurant, even if that might be the most tried-and-tested way to showcase one's culinary talent. He feels that doing creative customized food collaborations and inventive random events might be more value-adding for him towards his goal, for the near future at least.

Another common sight of him-- his signature cap and camera.
To most, that is a daring proposition, for a chef to take on the world using online marketing and social media. For me though, being in social media for the past few years, I feel that he has the character and unique image to do well. He knows what he's good at. Moving forward, it's how he can continue to improve and seek breakthrough in both his cookery and production quality.

If his ultimate goal is to play a big part in influencing the public to portray the chef's profession in a new light, to encourage appreciation of cooks as artists/craftsmen rather than a path chosen by ones with no 'better opportunity', Jeek's unique method-of-choice seems like the most efficient way to garner eyeballs.

Stranger in Bangkok X Jeek's Foodmaze

So, for all who are interested, do follow his website, or if you cannot read chinese, his IG account, where he often shares in English, to give him a pat on his back as he arrows ahead in the direction he created for himself, on a road less traveled.

PS. 号外. During our brunch meet-up, Jeek suddenly popped a peculiar question.

Jeek to us, "So, which school were you from in Singapore?" Photo credit: Jeek's Foodmaze

There was an awkward silence from us. Why did he ask? Would he know even if we told him?

"华侨中学 (The Chinese High School aka HCI as it's known now)," Junxiong answered.

"I am also from the same school!" Jeek replied.


Life is a tricky little thing. Everyone takes a different road, meeting different people in the process.

Somehow, nothing happens by chance, the Universe will find its way to link the right people together. Never suppress the little hints life drops you along the way, or you might miss out on the biggest prizes.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

From 13 to 37: First trip together (to Taipei) after 24 years! #cobrosintaiwan

24 years.

2 full zodiac cycle runs.

288 months.

105,120 days.

6 million 3 hundred thousand 7 thousand and 2 hundred minutes.

My favourite picture of the entire trip. Sunset, brotherhood, sights at 九份.
You would think we would have traveled the world multiple times in these 2.5 decades.


Aside of a visit by them 6 years ago, the closest we had to traveling as a group was nearly 20 years ago to Beijing performing for our secondary school's chinese orchestra (which didn't feel THAT long ago).

Apparently, during the occasional supper/breakfast gatherings the group conducted in my absence (in Singapore), they decided to simply go ahead to plan this trip. This "do-it-or-it-will-never-happen" is the spirit I have grown to love. Eventually, only 3 of us made it, but we made it!

We sacrificed sleep, took red-eye flights from 2 different cities to meet up in Taipei as early as possible and set off on our food journey, luggage and all, immediately.

Our first stop, with luggages and all.

We walked and walked, ate and ate, from daybreak till almost daybreak the following day. Every night, I walked, zombified with them, filled to the brim with whatever Taipei had to offer, thinking we were heading back to our room, only for them to shockingly turn into another shop, for one more meal.

Pretty lady aside, I realised my friends have the skill of eating while sleeping.

Yet, it was during these most physically-draining hours that we poured our hearts out (over mineral water and Ume Plum Juice) and shared the most intimate details of our lives.

It was not all food though, we also managed to catch "Ready Player One".

Of course, we made sure not to miss out the best parts from our respective previous trips to Taipei (while skipping the bad parts), experiencing each other's best memories of the city.

Here, I would like to first, thank Youchun and Junxiong, for being such great company. For a trip like this, cliche as it may sound, I cannot ask for better companions. I am not the best travel partner, I am not easy to please, so thank you, for being such a good sport navigating everyday to find the best dining spots, accompanying me to RAW and spending a precious day with my friends. I hope you guys had fun along the way.

Over-exposed pic of us at RAW, glad to get seats, glad for the company!

Thanks to all my foodie pals for your pointers and recommendations, time and hospitality. Our food trip wouldn't be half as fruitful without your divine interventions and input.

The biggest thanks MUST go to Regine and Li Li, our better halves who blessed us on this trip, weathering everything at home with the little ones, making sure we can have as much fun as possible.

Trust me, we were good boys, we either ate, listened to singing performances, or chilled at 24-hr bookstores when we decided it was not time to sleep yet. Really!!

Lastly, using a special song, let's remember this trip fondly, and know it in our hearts that no matter where our lives' journey take us, our brotherhood shall not waver.

Cheers to more milestones together.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Freebird Bangkok: The Definition of Casual Fine Dining

What? Eddie is writing about Freebird again?


And even though I have been there maybe 10 times over the past year, and written about both its head chef and the food multiple times over various channels, no, Freebird hasn't been reviewed on this blog before.

It's not easy to put a finger to why I love this place so much.

Have I eaten better food than at Freebird? Yes.

Have I been to a more well-decorated restaurant with better service? This is a close call, but yes.

What's Modern Australian Cuisine anyway? That's quite a blur for me too. But after frequenting Freebird and totally enjoying my meal at Cheek by Jowl in Singapore, I sort of understand it as a produce-oriented cuisine, blending European cooking techniques with Asian flavours (since Australia is such a melting pot in terms of culture as it's a relatively-new immigrant-based country). It's a kind of cooking that allows the chef to totally express himself without having his hands tied behind his back by stiff rules of cuisine authenticity.

So, why Freebird?

Because Freebird is an extravagantly-eclectic space, executed perfectly, has a grassy backyard with rabbits on the roam. It's a restaurant that wouldn't look out of place if you decide to bring your most important corporate guest for an important discussion, nor will you feel embarrassed turning up in shorts and flip flops pushing a stroller (or two) to have a slow, casual meal with the family. I've done both, many times.

And the food, yes, it's borderline fine dining, and you know the kitchen is capable of more. They are just holding back, simplifying the dishes to keep them approachable and comforting.

A couple of days ago, I went in on the first day of their menu overhaul (first in a year since Chef Top took over) and I am pleased to report that the newly-crowned Best Young Chef 2018 seems to have upped his game, challenging bigger ingredients.

Spiced Cashews.

Grilled Ciabatta with House Dips.

I'm actually kinda glad they chose to keep the start of the meal the same, because a meal at Freebird will feel a little different otherwise.

Soft Shell Crab with Sweet Pepper Dip and Burnt Lime.

One of the new dishes, and a show that Top's deep-frying skills has improved tremendously since a year ago. A safe start for the wife who doesn't fancy raw stuff.

Tea-cured Sea Bream  with Mango Salsa, Herb Dressing and Pickled Daikon.
This was a necessary refreshing starter, combining freshness of the bream with tangy mango (in season now), to prepare us for the full blast coming ahead.

Potato Gnocchi with hazelnut oil, lettuce, Parma Ham and aged Parmesan.
This gnocchi dish has come on leaps and bounds since I tried another iteration of it a few months ago. Gnocchi and Parma Ham fans will love this.

Pan-seared Scallops, spiced butternut, pomegranate, and guanciale
One of the winners of the new menu. I love how Top frequently places a thinly-sliced cured ham atop burning-hot seafood to achieve a salty, oily transparent sheet that lifts the whole dish.

Grilled wild tiger prawns with Masala butter and lemon curd.
When I saw this posted on Freebird's IG feed, I wondered whether a dish as simple as this would work as a main at Freebird, and how wrong I was. This was unanimously our favourite dish of the night. How the masala butter gave the dish its X-factor was completely unexpected. It will be challenging to find a prawn cooked better than this.

Oh, such decadence.
King crab Ravioli with seafood broth, Chardonnay gel and basil oil.
I didn't fancy this dish quite as much as the rest, but I still dedicate 2 pictures to it because this is THE dish in the menu that I see the most potential in. Who doesn't love a HUGE ravioli stuffed full of King Crab drenched in lobster bisque? It's luxury personified. With a few tweaks here and there I am sure this will become a crowd favourite.

Local Jerusalem Artichoke soup with parsley emulsion, paired with celeriac bread and gorgonzola cheese.
This warm soup reminded me of the pea and ham chowder I had in Amsterdam years ago in the middle of a bitterly-cold, rainy winter afternoon. A suitable course to welcome what's coming.

Pan-seared Cod, Broccoli two ways, lemon gel, chicken consomme.
I most look forward to Top's fish dishes, which are always excellent. He replaced my favorite Hake on the old menu (!!) and replaced it with this. It was a generous serving of cod with burnt broccoli so good you can eat a whole plate of it on its own, in the most wonderfully-light but flavorful chicken consomme. An eye for an eye I suppose, can't complain.

Pork collar with yellow pepper emulsion and watercress.
It's the chef's interpretation of sweet and sour pork. I can see customers loving this dish, it's just a bit safe for me.

48hr short rib, miso eggplant, potato mille feuille.
This was a perfect ending to the savouries, immaculately-executed elements that we couldn't get enough of.

The typical pre-dessert, passion fruit, white chocolate and meringue sprinkled with chilli flakes.

Chef's rendition of banana cake.

Chef Top shared with me that he will take over the desserts from now on. It's interesting, because I always had a feeling that desserts were his 'weakness', if he had any. Taking over the desserts at Freebird would give him the perfect platform to experiment and improve. If this banana cake dessert is any indication, he is on the right track.

Freebird is a restaurant that started with a bang but fell with a thud. The head chef who started it all off didn't deliver what's promised. I had numerous foodie friends who went in when Freebird was newly open and told me, "oh it's a nice place but the food was not very good." Even though things have taken a complete turn after Chef Top took over, it's still a long hard road winning back hearts that have already been lost.

I love the current Freebird for what it is.

It is Bangkok's definition of casual fine dining.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

TheKawayiis' Inaugural Adventure on the Songthaew in Bangkok

For the past year, Noah had been bugging me about sitting in a Songthaew, one of Thailand's most creative ways of providing public transport for a population which absolutely detests walking under the sweltering Thailand heat. I kept telling him to wait for the cool season, and I will take the Songthaew with him to Seacon Square. Now that winter's come and gone without any Songthaew ride to boast of, it's time to fulfill a father's promise.

We were on our way to the BBQ Feast Mashup at Viva Thong Lor last Sunday and faced a long queue at the taxi stand outside Emquartier. A small truck parked in front of us and the security guards started asking whether anyone wanted to take it instead. It was a variation of the Songthaew, called the Sii Lor (literally translated as 4 wheels). It's a smaller vehicle, albeit also with two short rows of seats facing each other. Unlike the Songthaew, which in most cases have a fixed route, this smaller variation takes you to wherever you want in the vicinity, charging according to distance. My wife indicated her willingness to take this alternative form of transport, and off we went.

The girls were excited too!
It was quite a ride from Emquartier to Viva Thong Lor, weaving through countless tiny alleys, most of which I might not have passed by in my 8 years here, twisting and turning, bouncing up and down. It felt generally safe, but on occasions we had to hold on to the railings real tight to keep our balance.

Towards the end of the trip, I turned over to ask Noah if he enjoyed himself and whether he wanted to take the Songthaew again.

He smiled gleefully and nodded (oh crap).

Then I asked Ellie.



Fast asleep already!

PS. The trip cost us 60THB, comparable to a taxi journey (with metre). We did not haggle.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

RC怡香园 (Yi Xiang Yuan): Authentic Southern Chinese Cuisine in Pattanakan

I have been looking for a restaurant like this since the day I set foot in Bangkok. Proper authentic Chinese flavours are surprisingly not common in this metropolitan city, unless you either consider the high-class Chinese restaurants in 5* hotels (mostly Cantonese cuisine, and pricey), or Thai-Teochew Chinese restaurants, which are more common, but serve dishes that exhibit a fusion of locally-inspired flavours.

The unassuming shopfront of RC怡香园, which looks like a normal roast duck stall, but is more than meets the eye.
Sitting down with co-owner 大象 (literally translated as Elephant), he struggled to tell me exactly what cuisine his food represented. He came from Fujian, China, and his co-owner (who's in charge of the kitchen) spent much of his life in Hong Kong, and a few of his dishes are essentially Thai, like stir-fried basil roast duck and Tom Yum grouper head. Walking into the eatery, you will be forgiven for assuming it to be a typical roast duck stall. Don't be confused by its inaccurate packaging, look deeper into the menu and be daring when you order. If you love authentic Southern chinese cuisine, RC怡香园 will prove to be a precious hidden gem.

Their one and only double-boiled soup - cordyceps militaris with pork ribs

If you are a fan of double-boiled soups (老火汤) in Hong Kong, you will absolutely adore this cordyceps militaris soup. I can confidently say that it is the only place in Bangkok that I have tasted soup as good as this. They just don't do soup like this in Thailand.

Seafood/chicken porridge

Their porridge is another star. Unlike the usual gooey congee or boiled rice you find in Thailand, their porridge is somewhere in the middle, with a smooth consistency given by the Japanese rice that they use, and a flavorful punch contributed by their excellent soup base.

Flawless steamed pomfret.

One thing that strikes me about this place is their insistence to serve only the freshest fish. Whether it's their giant grouper fillets or pomfret, they either serve the best, or tell you they have none that day. Every dish is steamed to perfection, we've never had any fish that's overcooked. If you love fresh steamed fish, chinese-style, this place is perfect.

Claypot aubergines, warm and satisfying with steamed rice.

To balance off your meal, they have an assortment of other simple dishes, like vegetable stir-fries and hearty claypot dishes. You can also order some decent roast duck/pork from their counter, even though I don't think it's their strongest suit. For lamb lovers, don't miss their herbal lamb stew.

They have ample seating, both open-air and air-conditioned.

I think their only 'problem' would be their location, deep inside Pattanakan, beyond Pattanakan Soi 78, right opposite the bright red ATIKER building, towards the new flyover that leads to Onnut and Chaloem Phrakiat.

Their map in Thai.

They open everyday, only closing during the last Wednesday of every month. If you have been looking for such flavours in Thailand for a while, please make the journey, trust me that it will be a fruitful one.

There's only one thing left to do now.

Wah Lau Eh!

PS. RC 怡香园 was formerly known as 格香,and is currently going through its name change. Many of the large signages still bear its old name so hopefully they will be changed soon.

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