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'.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Taking stock at the midway point of 2020

It's a weird time.

How are you guys doing?

Getting used to the "new normal" that's being rolled out after your MCO (Movement Control Order), CB (Circuit Breaker), Lockdown or whatever it's called?

I personally can't believe it's already June.

I mean, what really happened since the turn of the year? I remember clearly going to Perth with my family for Chinese New Year (thank God that happened), but that was in January.

Almost 5 months have transpired since.

Work-wise, I can only say we've been lucky (so far) in Thailand. Official numbers don't look too bad, and companies like mine have not been ordered to shut. Then again, much of our emphasis has been to work in a different way, to change our mentality to expect a possible order to close tomorrow.

If we can close a deal today, we do it.

If we have time to make 1 more phone call to remind a customer to pay what's due, we do it, because we might not have the chance to make that call tomorrow.

At home, my awesome wife and kids have stayed home for the best part of 2 months, with no complaints whatsoever.

School has moved online, and I can see the sheer amount of effort put in by the teachers to have made it happen in such a short time.

I realised it's a draining exercise trying to put meals punctually on the table all day everyday, but if everyone can, I have to find a way to make it work.

I have also seen the unexpected demise of some of my favourite restaurants. Jamie Oliver Kitchen (formerly Jamie's Italian), Karmakamet Diner to name a couple. Amazing destinations lost, but the memories there, never forgotten.

As I type away during lunchtime in the office, I know I will go home after work to my family waiting for me with a big smile on their faces, to children who have (mostly-happily) bonded with each other 24hours-a-day, to a fearless lady who stands beside me in all situations.

I know my parents are trying to stay at home as much as possible back in Kuching, keeping safe and healthy, waiting for the day their children and grand-children can visit again.

I know my wife's family is taking care of her grandmother with all their heart, and that she's trying to get well soon as she looks forward to us walking through the door again.

I also know all my friends are working as hard as me in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So is this, what they call, the "new normal"?

When has "trying our best" become a "new normal"?

Why has spending your best time with your closest ones become a "new normal"?

Is putting the most effort to support each other, a "new normal"?

If it is. I kinda like this new normal.

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?

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