Monday, May 10, 2021

Back to Basics Mother's Day 2021

6.30am, Sunday 9th May, I got out of bed and looked around, taking in the peace of watching my family members fast asleep. They would not be awake anytime soon, unlike during weekdays where my children will be glued to their laptops from as early as 7.30am for their Home-Based Learning. 

I decided to use my morning quiet time to do something I'd never done before - hand-make my favourite pasta - orecchiette (little ears). It's exciting yet a little scary at the same time, knowing I had to get it ready for lunch. With 300g of Semola Rimacinata (De Cecco brand) and approximately half the amount of tepid water, I kneaded the dough, rested it for 30minutes, and started to press my first orecchiette with a butter knife. A few 'little ears' later, I was gaining confidence, as both the dough and the resultant pasta looked 'passable'.

My kids then appeared beside me at the dining table. Timely actually, as the final move of flipping the pressed dough inside-out over my finger was slowing me down, so I delegated this job to them. Together, with just a butter knife (which would not even be required had I decided to make Strascinati), we made enough pasta to feed a family of 4. It took a while, but we managed to finish before 9am, in time for a late Sunday breakfast.

The sauce to go with it was equally straightforward. I opened a can of Fiamma cherry tomatoes, a can of Mutti tomato paste, a can of anchovies and some leftover olives and capers in the fridge, plus the only fresh ingredient - sliced garlic, to put together (you should know by now), some Puttanesca sauce.

I was fascinated by what I was able to achieve all in a morning. To most, it's just a plate of food, consumed in a matter of minutes at the dining table, but for me, I was transported back to the olden days, where our forefathers had to make the best out of whatever little they had.

Look, I didn't have a pasta machine. Heck, I didn't even use a rolling pin. Even if I had NO eggs at home, I would still have pushed out this dish. It was really back to basics. Yet, how many restaurants can cross their hearts and say they serve dishes made the way they were supposed to be? I am all for efficiency, consistency and creativity. I enjoy all sorts of delicious food, but why has traditional "back to basics" cooking become the minority? Anyway, that's a debate for another day.

With this spirit, I pushed on for the rest of the day.

I turned tiny, tart, borderline-inedible local plums into unexpectedly-delicious jam using just brown sugar and a pinch of salt, and cured some egg yolks with sugar, fish sauce and vinegar. So much can be done with so little, as long as you believe you can and bother to give it a go.

This bloody irritating pandemic might be a major pain-in-the-arse for all of us, but it's becoming quite obvious that it has also forced mankind to reshuffle its priorities and get 'back to basics'. At least for me, more than ever, my top priority has become my health and being responsible for all the people in my direct sphere of influence, be it my family, friends, colleagues or customers. 

I hope all of us will walk out of this better prepared for future crises, equipped with closer bonds with the people who mean the most to you and a deeper appreciation for simple things in life. 

Meanwhile, happy Mother's Day to the evergreen beauty of the house!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Throwback to the First Funeral I attended in Thailand


"Eddie, Carlos has passed away, do you want to send him off?"


I had been avoiding him for the best part of 6/7 years. In this case, I decided not to avoid him anymore.

I arrived at his cremation ceremony. As expected, there was hardly anyone. Some direct kins, and a few work associates like myself. Everyone was still trying to avoid him, I guess. I was happy I turned up. He deserves this.

I sat through the ritual, holding the paper flower in my hand. I was then asked to move forward to give my final blessings. Moments after I stood by the coffin, something completely unexpected happened. They opened its cover. It was shocking to have to see him like that. Lifeless, shriveled. No wonder most of the funeral attendees remained on their seats. They obviously knew what was coming. 

Shuddering, I lowered my paper flower into his coffin and murmured a final blessing. 

Sharp, tricky, sarcastic, he was. It was a pain to be in the same room as him. I warned my staff time and again to be careful of him.

Then again, he was also talented, multilingual, resourceful, and always paid for his orders. I have to remember him as a good customer.



Fleeting and unpredictable.

Let's inspire and bless as many people as we can, while we can. 

Let's remember the good of others, not hold on to the bad.

2021 has not started off as expected. Since the end of February, various people around me have fallen.

Stuck in Thailand, I'm emotionally shattered, yet helpless as they are all happening in countries I call home but struggle to return to amidst the pandemic.

RIP. Uncle, Choon, KL, and Carlos. I will remember you fondly, every one of you.

Bye Bye Uncle, thank you for your love and generosity.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Follow the Chef: Gabriele Luna, the soulful Italian chef in Bangkok

Update 26/3/2021:

Since 1st February 2021, Chef Gabriele has taken his talents to L'Oliva, a beautiful Abruzzo restaurant in Sukhumvit 36. I personally feel that it's a nice step in his career, as he can share his cooking philosophy to a bigger group of mainly-local diners, and for me, to be able to enjoy his food in an even more comfortable environment. You know where to "follow' him now!


Foreword: I wanted to describe him as the "hidden pasta granny" in Bangkok, but chickened out in the last second! The soulful Italian chef works too I guess, just not as well😂.

I couldn't allow 2020 to fly by without blessing you guys with a Bangkok-based addition to my "Follow the Chef" series could I? It hadn't been an easy process in my search, but I am proud to write about Chef Gabriele Luna of About Eatery as the latest one on my brilliant (if I may say so myself) list.

Chef Gabriele Luna with his Spaghetti Carbonara

Pasta is something close to my heart. Even though I am not Italian, it's probably the 2nd most-cooked food group in my personal cooking repertoire (after my mum's cuisine), and that is also why not many restaurants (even specialty pasta restaurants) can truly impress me with their pasta dishes, until I was invited to About Eatery last year by dear friend and fellow foodie Rosalind.

In fact, my first impression of Gabriele had nothing to do with pasta. I sat at the kitchen counter at About Eatery watching Chef Gabriele prepare his Locale tasting menu for me, which was quite memorable as I seldom see a chef show passion and attachment to his food in his every demeanour so naturally.

During my subsequent visit though, I tried his signature Strascinati, which convinced me that there is a whole new world of pasta Gabriele knew that I didn't. It's a world Chef Gabriele spent all 36 years of his life understanding, eating, making, cooking, and now, blessing all foodies in Bangkok with.

Strascinati, the first pasta shape Chef Gabriele made as a little boy

I grew up manipulating plasticine, my kids grew up kneading Playdough. Chef Gabriele, on the other hand, had a childhood in his native Basilicata surrounded by real pasta dough. His nonna (grandmother) made and sold hand-made pasta everyday, and by the time he was 6, Chef Gabriele was already making his first pasta shapes sitting under the kitchen counter. His first shape? Strascinati, the exact shape (with his fingerprints and all) he wow-ed me with, and also the dish he chose to showcase during his feature video on Iron Chef Thailand.

One of his proud signatures at About Eatery

Even though he spent a few of his younger years studying Computer Science Engineering in University, Gabriele's lived his life with cooking in his blood, learning in professional kitchens and eventually graduating from cooking school and working this way through around 10 restaurants in Italy, ranging from Michelin Star kitchens to high-volume restaurants (4 cooks serving 200 covers every service). A period of note, must definitely be his stint with "King of Carbonara" Luciano Monosilio, one which honed his skill to making the best version of this world-famous dish, one that you must not miss at About Eatery (not the set-lunch version!!).

Maybe the best Spaghetti Carbonara you will ever eat.

Ultimately, his love the culture and people (😄)of Indo-China brought him to Bangkok. Starting off at the recently-closed former Italian food powerhouse L'Opera, Chef Gabriele is now completing his 3rd year as executive chef at About Eatery, a restaurant more known for owner/sommelier Giulio Saverino and his catalogue of hand-picked natural wines. It's also a place that allowed Chef Gabriele to spread his wings and express himself. A place where he can scour Italy for the best ingredients to serve his customers on his intricate cold-cut boards and pasta dishes.

I would like to end off by mentioning a dish he prepared for me that touched my heart deeply. This Trittico Lucano (made of 3 different shapes of hand-made pasta served in a rich ragu and chilli oil) was the same pasta he ate every Sunday from young till he left his hometown at 26. While I chewed on it, I was imagining myself sitting at his family table in Basilicata. It was a moving moment, and an honour to have had the privilege to enjoy. 

Trittico Lucano

Then again, it would be thoroughly unfair to leave the final impression of Chef Gabriele as plainly a pasta expert. Even if his pasta dishes are out of this world, he is an accomplished chef who gives equal love to all the dishes he creates, pasta or not.

Let's just hope he continues to stay in Bangkok, or move to anywhere I may go in the future 😍, as having him around is certainly a huge blessing from the Italian pasta grannies. I will leave you with a video of him making pasta at his dedicated pasta corner at About Eatery.

"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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

New Normal 3D2N Family Road Trip to Hua Hin

2020 has been a special year. My wife and kids literally did not step out of our little apartment from March to June, and our usual trips back home to Singapore and Malaysia during summer vacation also wiped out due to the border closures.

That said, we can consider ourselves lucky to be in Amazing Thailand, where the situation is largely under control. It’s the perfect time for us to explore the country we live in and appreciate even more what it has to offer. We made a family road trip to Hua Hin last week, just to squeeze in a final getaway before school reopened.

The kids enjoying the pool view in the morning.

Then again, travelling is a touchy subject  in this climate, as most of us are understandably still focused on keeping our families safe. Thus, instead of listing down my full itinerary, I will share some tips and tricks I learnt from this Hua Hin exercise for you to make a more informed decision should you decide to embark on a trip yourself.

1. Go on weekdays and avoid long weekends.

I understand that some attractions only open during weekends in Hua Hin, but keeping social distancing in mind, I highly-recommend going Thu-Sat or Sun-Tue instead of Fri-Sun.

This way, you not only get to enjoy part of the usual weekend vibe, you also give yourselves a couple of quiet days, likely a less-occupied accommodation, and the choice to avoid crowds.

2. Choose a hotel/resort that gives you a peace of mind.

For me, this has to be the basis of your trip-planning. Through some research and direct communication with the shortlisted accommodation, you should have a feeling whether it has done its due diligence to keep its guests safe.

Thorough sanitization by Amari Hua Hin.

My choice this time was Amari Hua Hin, as I understood how their new Onyx Clean initiative originated from a reaction to the pandemic. Their efforts started from the moment we arrived and their sanitization and crowd-control measures (splitting breakfast crowd to 3 timings, installation of sneeze guards for buffet stations, masked+gloved staff etc.) gave us a lot of assurance.

Sneeze Guards installed for the buffet breakfast.

They have also added many family-oriented activities to their repertoire, like a bigger Kids’ Club, cooking lessons, indoor movie screening and even beach-side boxing sessions, which was really an unforgettable experience. We ended up spending half our trip enjoying ourselves within a well-prepared beachside hotel.

The amazing Muay Thai by the Beach experience.

Pizza-making class for the kids,

3. Choose Nature

Whenever I make a roadtrip in Thailand, I will make sure I give my children a dose of nature, as a contrast to their everyday-life in the bustling city.

Enjoying at Hua Hin beach.

In this time, I feel it’s even more crucial for this, as not only do they get to learn about things they hardly get to see in Bangkok, they also gain access to space and fresh air.

Long Rak Na

Aside of the beach, which is not as crowded these days, we went to  Long Rak Na, a restaurant overseeing a lake in Petchaburi on our way to Hua Hin, and Pran Buri Forest Walk, a spectacular mangrove walk just a short drive away from our hotel. If the weather was more forgiving, we would have gone to the vineyard in the vicinity as well.

Viewing tower of Pran Buri Forest Walk.

4. Hua Hin Favourites

I am happy to announce that many of our favourite attractions at Hua Hin are already open.

Hua Hin Train Station

We went to Hua Hin Night Market, which is open every night and the historical Hua Hin Train Station, which is in normal operation.

Hua Hin Night Market

Our all-time favourite haunt in Hua Hin, Cicada Market is also open every Friday to Sunday. I have to give a special mention to their Cicada Amphitheatre, which gave us a brilliant magic bubble show during our visit, one so intriguing that the audience stayed through to the end in spite of the unrelenting drizzle.

Cicada Amphitheatre

It is also good to know that precautions have been taken at many of these favourites and many vendors/visitors are wearing masks.

Precautions taken at Cicada Market.

5. Your own mentality

I can’t stress this enough.

At the end of the day, how much you enjoy a trip largely depends on your own attitude.

First and foremost, we have to do our part to be responsible for our family and the people around us.

Travelling in the new normal means we have to, at the very least, wear our masks and wash our hands as much as possible.

With sufficient research, we can also make sure we stay in and visit places that have made reasonable precautions.

One other challenge we faced during the trip was the rainy season. We worked our loose schedule around our limitations, even if we are clad in raincoats, holding umbrellas, or plain drenched, happily taking in everything Hua Hin had in store for us.

New Normal Family Portrait!

It was a great trip!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mae NongNuch (Meechai Shop) - Must-try Desserts in Hua Hin made with heart

If you frequent Hua Hin and love traditional Thai desserts, Mae Nongnuch (Meechai Shop) probably needs no further recommendation. In preparation for our Hua Hin roadtrip, some discussions with foodie pals and online research pointed us there left-right-centre. So no, this is not a post to tell you more about this long-established dessert powerhouse, but to share an unforgettable incident which took place at the shop itself.

Meechai Shop, Raan Michay, Mae NongNuch?

The month of August coincides with the peak of Thailand's rainy season. We were not spared. Scary dark clouds were gathering when we made our way to Meechai Shop. Unaware that it was predominantly a take-away operation, we planned to eat our desserts there before moving on to our next stop. However, once we settled into the sole little round table outside the shop, it literally poured cats and dogs and threatened to destroy my family's experience.

Hand-gel prepared and every shopkeeper masked up.

Knowing the situation, the owner of Meechai rushed out and invited us to eat inside the shop, clearing a table where they were working on for us to enjoy our desserts in comfort. We were so grateful, yet stunned by their sincerity and warmth. This gesture might seem straightfoward, but was one that should never be expected, and one we definitely could not take for granted! They even pulled down the roller shutter closest to us to stop any possible splashing due to strong winds.

Eating in comfort, completely-sheltered from the rain.

So, to their food. Since we had the comfort of dining where most do not have the privilege to on a rainy afternoon where we were stuck for a bit, we could carefully savour the desserts.

Having been in Thailand for a decade, I am not shy to say I've tasted numerous versions of Mango Sticky Rice, including some of the most famous in Bangkok. From my first impression of Mae Nongnuch's version though, I think it's easily up there with the best. For this dish, mango has never been a spot of bother for me as it's more related to cost and sourcing (they use the rare Chok Anan breed btw). It's the sticky rice (khao niao moon) execution that makes or breaks the deal. Mae Nongnuch's version was glistening, every grain soft yet defined, with hints of pandan aroma, and the lightly-salted fresh coconut cream an icing on the cake.

A nice picture taken at the little table outside before we were completely washed out.

Thanks to my good friend Nicholas, I also bought their Khanom Tian, little pyramids of awesomeness. Unlike ones I'd eaten in Bangkok, the ones here had a dark green colour given by Chiukak หญ้า ชิวคัก 鼠壳草,and an intense dark brown bean paste that'd been cooked for hours with pepper and shallots. It's like biting into the best Ang Ku Kueh skin with a surprisingly-delicious savoury spicy 'vegan sambal'.

From the corner of my eye, I found a friendly old lady observing us from a few steps away. An assuring thumbs up brought the most confident smile I'd seen from someone her age. Turned out she is the sister of Mae Nongnuch (who has passed away) and had been cooking with her since the start of the business.

That swagger. She knows her stuff is good.

So if you happen to be in Hua Hin and only have time for dessert at 1 shop, this is where I highly recommend, as I have personally experienced not only their taste, but the heart they pour out for every customer. Search "Raan Michay" on Google Maps and you are laughing.

A cool painting of Mae NongNuch.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

New Normal 3D2N Family Road Trip to Amphawa

Just when I thought I wouldn't do a 3D2N family itinerary post about our first post-Covid 'new normal' road trip to Amphawa, my wife came up with a comprehensive video of our experience on TheKawayiis channel, so, voila~! Enjoy and do leave comments in the thread if you have any queries or suggestions and I am sure we will reply you promptly there.

Personally, I will drop some tips and tricks here, and hopefully they will help you make your trip a better one, should you decide to embark on one yourself.

1. Walk the market on Sunday, unless Monday is also a holiday

Amphawa Floating Market is a b*tch on Saturday. There are so many people, even if everyone is wearing a mask, it's impossible to get any semblance of distancing. Also, you get the rowdy feel but lose the spirit of a leisurely shopping trip.

So, walk Amphawa Floating Market on Sunday if you can afford the time. By mid-afternoon, Bangkokians will be hurrying back to start work on Monday, freeing up the market for you. Just note that shops start closing early on Sunday for the same reason, so don't leave it too late.

2. Be ON TIME for the Mae Klong Railway Market

This world-famous train market had been touted as purely a tourist activity. After visiting, I kinda disagree. True, when borders were open, it's filled to the brim with tourists everyday, but in truth, Mae Klong Railway Market is very local. Visiting in the morning allows you to see a full view of a bustling local wet market patronized by residents living in the vicinity, and you get to enjoy the unique feeling of shopping right in the centre of paved railway tracks.

Now, to my point. Check the latest train schedule and don't be late. Trains are PUNCTUAL. If you only want to see the train passing over market produce, and arrive on the dot, you could be out of there within 10 minutes.

3. Salt Pans

The provinces of Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram are famous for their high-quality salt, so take a stop to enjoy the salt pans, and maybe buy some Fleur de Sel back. They are even exported to Europe, but please don't ask me how to choose the right one, just taste and follow your tongue I guess.

4. Mackerel, Coconut, Pomelo, Nostalgic Drinks

What to eat? I have given you the key words. Amphawa and its surroundings is paradise for lovers of the mentioned. Restaurants cook mackerel in so many ways they can keep you interested for days, and coconuts are so sweet you will lose interest in coconuts back home. Desserts and drinks made from coconut/palm sugar are also the bomb.

So here you go, I hope a combination of my notes and the video would give you a better idea of how you should plan your next trip to Amphawa.

Till next time.

PS. And 1 last tip: FIREFLIES!

Monday, June 15, 2020

First Family Outing Post-Covid

Note: Post-Covid is too much to claim, but just let me use it to commemorate the moment.

3 months.

It's been that long since #theKawayiis went out for a proper dinner together. It's been cooking and deliveries ever since we celebrated the wifey's birthday at Mia mid-March.

Come to think of it, we've actually been adjusting to the new situation in pretty well. We'd often struggled to make decisions regarding the next meal, but we've never talked about a burning desire to dine out again.

Last night, after making reservations and ensuring the family could sit together at the same table, we embarked on the exciting adventure to eat out again.

1. Entering Emquartier

It was nice to walk into the mall without little infra-red thermometers shooting at our foreheads. The mall is equipped with thermal imaging cameras to enable a hassle-free experience. Once we passed that, we were given cute stickers which were our passports for the rest of the journey.

The Entrance

Thai Chana check-in QR Code 

Cute thermometer sticker indicating we were all-clear

Note on Thai Chana:
Only 1 of us was required to check-in, and Thai Chana is NOT AN APPLICATION. You do not need to download anything, but it does give away your location and I believe it's tagged to your phone number.

2. Going to the restaurant

Everything was normal except there were signs reminding us to keep a 2-step distance away from the next person on the escalator.

Signs at every escalator

3. Entering the restaurant

Wanting reliable comfort food, our choice of dinner was Roast. As expected, one of us was required to check-in via Thai Chana as well.


Yes, it's true!

5. Food-ordering and dining

To minimize contact, Roast has decided to put their menu online (sorry, no more take-home newsletter-style menu). The menu has also shrunk a fair bit, though this change also gives them the freedom to make changes to it as-and-when they desire

New Online Menu

"I really miss eating in restaurants," he said.

"The bacon is so crispy!" she said.

6. Leaving

You should know the drill by now. We were required to check out via Thai Chana at both Roast and Emquartier.

Hope this step-by-step description will be of help to you as you ponder whether to bring your family out for dinner in the 'new normal'.

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