Monday, March 16, 2020

2020, the Year of Reaction

At the end of 2019, I already knew my first part of 2020 would be disjointed. The end-of-year break (which I took in Taiwan) and early Chinese New Year meant that I wouldn't have a settled start to the year in Bangkok.

The thing is, I planned the trips personally, thus have made all the mental preparation required to go through the mess in Bangkok resulting from my travels.

On my return flight to Bangkok, I watched Oscar-winning movie "Parasite" on-board. This brilliant cinematic masterpiece boggled my mind for days..

I couldn't forget male lead Kim Ki-taek's quote before the movie's final act, "You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned."

Little did I know that this will become the theme for most of us for the best part of 2020 so far.

A couple of weeks after my Chinese New Year trip, I came down with chicken pox, which I failed to get as a boy despite many attempts by my mum. I didn't leave my house for the 7 days that ensued. It was easier than expected though, especially after I realised I hadn't had such a long rest in Thailand since the day I stepped in 10 years ago.

The Covid-19 catastrophe was steadily brewing globally in the meantime, and soon my everyday-life would not be spared. A day scheduled for pivotal meetings was punctured by urgent school closure for Covid-19-related issues.

From then on, 2020 was about reaction.

There was no longer a necessity to plan.

The day's activities would be dependent on official announcements/recommendations from schools and various governing authorities.

One would go bonkers in his/her struggle to keep to settled routines.

Travel, hospitality and retail are taking the first hit, which will not spare anyone moving forward, as disruptions in the supply chain and decreased demand rear their heads.

As nature takes its cruel course, I guess we have to go back to the basic priorities of our lives. Keep well, be socially-responsible, and keep your loved ones well.

I also believe strongly that somehow, good businesses deserve to survive. While we stumble around fighting for our dear lives, many livelihoods are hanging by a thread. It might be ours tomorrow.  Hopefully, once we take care of ourselves, we will not forget the people around us.

In this year of "no plan at all", we need each other more than ever.

Stay strong everyone.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Follow the Chef Project Taiwan: Wes Kuo 郭庭玮, damn I wish he's in Thailand!

My unexpected romantic relationship with Taiwan originates more from the people than the food or place itself. Every new visit brings me closer to more passionate craftsmen fighting everyday for what they believe in.

My first contact with Chef Wes Kuo started in an odd fashion. Highly recommended by my good friend Jeek, I spent nearly half an hour like a headless chicken looking for Chef Wes's restaurant, only to realize it's a hidden 'speakeasy' style bistro 2 levels above a popular Taiwanese hotpot shop at Shilin Night Market. Used to seeing similar modern bistro-style establishments in Thailand command an entire army in the kitchen, I was shocked to see Chef Wes pushing out equal quality with only 1 assistant in the open kitchen and 1 person on the floor, his wife Lucia.

Finally hanging out together in Taipei, December 2019

I enjoyed the meal tremendously. I guess deep inside me, I was yearning to dine at a modern bistro with a distinct Chinese (in this case, Taiwanese) soul running through the food regardless of its final form. Boogie Bistro would easily be one of my most frequented restaurants if it was here in Bangkok.

Then again, our first meet-up ended without speaking a single word to each other. Later in the week, we did speak briefly at Chefs Top and Michelle's pop-up at Jeek's Foodmaze Studio. It was only after I returned to Bangkok did we start communicating more online, and that was when I realised how much fire was buried within that quiet petite frame of his. Every inch of him was burning with the desire to showcase the unknown food wisdom on Taiwan's small but diverse terroir, and the energy to move towards having a louder voice to share his idealogies.

[Stranger in Taipei #eatdrink_02] 好福食研室-Boogie bistro This trip to Taipei, the 1 place that left the deepest has to be this hidden gem, literally a Speakeasy restaurant called Boogie Bistro, hidden above a hotpot restaurant and a beauty salon in the middle of Shilin Night Market (where food is very average). Chef Wes Kuo works with one of the smallest teams I've ever seen for such a place, with his hospitable wife Lucia Chou and 1 sous chef. Chef Wes has only 1 message in his food, that is to bring out the best in Taiwanese premium ingredients, in the Taiwanese way, as can be seen from his chicken dish, which was seasoned with preserved salted radish and served with a side of bamboo shoot. My favourite dish of the night was the smoked oyster, bursting with salty goodness dressed with grass jelly sauce. His lamb shoulder was executed to perfection, in a way to allow the ingredient to shine as brightly as it can. Oh, don't forget the chicken liver Mille-feuille too. For the foodie, this place is a must-visit in Taipei, and the one legitimate reason to set foot in Shilin Night Market again. 本来不打算再去士林夜市,但是有了好福,应该每次到台北都得往士林跑一趟了。😕 #strangerin台北 #boogiebistro #好福食研室 #士林夜市 #strangerfirstimpression #strangerfirstimpressiontaipei #shilinnightmarket
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Subsequently, Boogie Bistro closed in view of opening a new restaurant that would communicate Chef's directions more effectively. During his break, I was glad to have spent a few days in Bangkok with him and Lucia to get to know them much better. I was a little taken aback when Chef Wes revealed his background in F & B management but actually got his success in the depths of Shilin Night Market selling 'premium' fried skewers. He then owned an equally-successful Kushiage restaurant before setting up Good Food Lab at Boogie Bistro (where I ate his food).

Without prior training in a fine-dining kitchen, he shared that all his inspirations come from ingredients from the land, and his infatuation with how to most-effectively present its story to the diners. If the best way is for the ingredient to be expressed as a mousse, he will then figure out how to make it into his perfect mousse for the dish. There is no emphasis whatsoever, on showing off how well he can cook, or how adept he is in a certain technique.

Chef Wes Kuo,  focusing on a dish at 80/20

In this moment, a mere matter of days before the grand-opening of Chef Wes's new restaurant Embers, I would like to congratulate him and Lucia for obtaining a new platform which will hopefully amplify what he has always been trying to do, that is to share and spread the spirit of his land.

與曲木在森林裡邂逅 創作出EMBERS的林 在筆直的杉木林中 挑選了三根柳杉 從伐木開始 我們一起參與 透過曲木製作與雕琢 期待在空間中重生 溝通的火花裡 曲木的製作如同料理 我們朔源以國產材的使用出發 透過設計、前處理、蒸氣、彎曲 雕朔成型 像是一道料理的呈現 用心對待 EMBERS的存在 想說的不是我們 而是遇見了這土地上用心經營每一專業的人們 期待你們親臨感受 We fortunately encountered Curvink Architects in the forest There we meet three cedars in the woodland Logging with the lumbermen we brought the trees back to Embers Bending and steaming the timbers just like what we do in our kitchen From farm to table From forest to bar Understanding, pre-processing, cooking and shaping with heart It’s exactly assemble to the dishes we present We would talk more than just about us More about the precious people who devote their talents to this land to share with you Looking forward to meet you here We are Embers #embers #曲墨建築師事務所 #正昌製材廠
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Chef Wes is the perfect personification of Embers, the glowing hot coal that remains after the fire, looking like the aftermath but packs more penetrative heat than you can ever imagine. I look forward to my first impression at his new restaurant. But damn, I wish he's here!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

石碇許家麵線 Shiding Xujia Noodle Factory: Pulling the (noodle) strings of my heart












Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Counting the ways you love me

Dear Ellie

You make me feel warm and fuzzy everyday.

It's as if our relationship has suddenly gone on overdrive ever since you turned 5.

Deep inside, I know you are slipping away, so I have to write this in order to note down all the different ways you love me.

  1. When I am dejected and sitting at the door, you will be the first one to sit down on my lap, to make me feel better.
  2. You will request to sleep in my arms every single night.
  3. You will ask for me when I fail to appear during dinnertime, afraid I was somewhere lost and couldn't find my way back to you.
  4. You will feed me grapes, candy, chips and Mensho smoked oysters.
  5. You will lay down on my lap after breakfast in the car every morning until you reach school.
  6. You will forbid me to shave so that you can play with my stubble.
  7. You will applaud my every little victory, even on Angry Birds.
  8. You will raise your hands high up in the air and hug/kiss me goodbye when I leave you at school in the morning.
  9. You will run to the toilet and hold my hand when I am brushing my teeth
Feeding me Mensho smoked oysters.

Thank you for loving me Ellie.

And sorry for writing this mushy love letter to you.

It's not that I want everyone to know, I am just afraid I will forget.


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.

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