Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Brassica: Wah Lau Eh, my favourite Doughnuts in Bangkok

It’s that time of the year again, where a new favourite of mine is added to the small list of eateries with the “Wah Lau Eh!” Stamp of Approval.

Wah Lau Eh!

In April, I was supposed to meet a couple of friends at Pridi for a chat, only to find it closed on a day it was supposed to open. We then changed our location to One Once for Onion (thanks to Jackie!), firstly because it was close to Pridi, but also because Brassica just moved there after a long hiatus.

It started a fattening journey for my family, as Brassica doughnuts became our go-to snack
whenever we passed by the area, partly to enjoy, but also to taste different flavours and understand its consistency. I even brought the harshest critic I know (you know who you are) and talked to the only Polish friends in the city, who all gave Brassica their thumbs up👍.

However, I will be very honest. Cong and I didn’t get off to a great start. In fact, it couldn’t have been worse. I will use this opportunity to air all our dirty laundry.

Cong graduated from CIA Singapore in 2015, and after 1.5 years cooking in Singapore, at 2 iterations of Bird Bird (permanently closed) under Bjorn Shen, moved to head the kitchen at Prelude (permanently closed) in Bangkok in 2017. Let’s just say that my first (and only) impression of the food at Prelude was a pretty bad one, based on the experience my family had at their Sunday Brunch.

Brassica Yenakart in 2019

Subsequently, Cong left Prelude to open Brassica in Yenakart, championing his brand of fried chicken and…… doughnuts. Even then, I wasn’t too impressed with the fried chicken, but that was also the time I saw tremendous potential in his doughnuts. They weren’t perfect, but just needed some tweaks to reach another level.

In my recent conversation with Cong, he too admitted that the customer response gave him clear indication to focus on his doughnuts, resulting in this mature and complete version of Brassica Doughnuts at One Once for Onion - made even more perfect by the café’s excellent coffee.

Finally, to the doughnuts. I like it that they are fluffy, not greasy and more importantly, do not stick to my teeth. His custard-based fillings are rich, smooth, not too sweet and incredibly generous. If you are dining in, don’t miss the brown butter ice cream doughnut, which cannot be delivered, and please ask for their monthly specials too!

As I look back at my journey with Cong, I guess it’s fair for me to describe him as the ‘least-likely’ candidate to be offered this sticker (not that the sticker means anything at all). However, he is also an example of a young man who accepts honest criticism, is willing to focus on his strengths and perfect his craft. That, in itself, deserves my respect.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

To boost or not to boost?

Is the multi-year Covid cycle coming to an end?

It does look more and more like it, doesn't it? 

Many European countries have opened up completely. It still boggles my mind to see stadiums full of spectators without masks every weekend, but I guess that shows how we're trending.

In Singapore and Thailand, more than ever, people I know are contracting, then recovering from Covid. At this rate, most of us will be vaccinated/boosted/Covid-recovered/all-of-the-above in the next few months, which could allow most nations to declare Covid endemic.

In the first year of the pandemic, people were dying from Covid in the hundred of thousands, I lost (mostly unvaccinated) friends and colleagues from the virus. It was impossible for me to accept a colleague passing away because he went to work. On the other hand, I had colleagues who did not know anything about vaccines and rejected them. At that time, the reason for vaccination was clear - to prevent serious life-threatening symptoms, and set an example for my colleagues to accept the concept of vaccination. We couldn't bear to lose anymore of them.

Now, we are almost two and a half years down from the start of the pandemic. The world has lost millions of lives. Covid-vaccination is no longer a foreign concept. In fact, most of us are staring down another deep blackhole - boosters.

Before you start thinking that I am anti-vaccination, let me clarify that I have just gotten my booster 2 days ago. What prompted me to write this is the fact that the decision to take the booster was one of the most difficult and unnerving ones I've made in a while.

I can list down a whole host of good reasons to get boosted:

  1. I already paid for it long ago (yes, it was a warzone to secure vaccinations in Thailand, be thankful if you got yours without a fight), and it wasn't easy to get it.

  2. I have to be fair to my colleagues, who have mostly gone for their boosters, even though many were anti-vaccination in the beginning.

  3. I need it to be able to travel (in fact, countries like Singapore give a validity period for vaccinations, and Malaysia requires different number of quarantine days depending on how many jabs you have, etc. etc.)

  4. For protection, for health, for my family.
But why am I not convinced?

I want it to be solely because of 4., but why do I feel like I did it even more because of a combination of 1-3?

I hate this feeling.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Turning 40: A Milestone Birthday Letter to Myself in Groundhog Year 2021

And just like that, (in case you are interested), I am 40.

I will be easy for me to say, "Time flies," or, "Where did the time go?" But damn, it wasn't easy to get here.

I also have to admit that more than half my life is already behind me, like it or not.

Life before 40 was my youth, a period most would consider the 'best part' of their lives.

So what lies ahead, nothing but down?

I had my first child when I was 31, around the same time as when my Dad had me. Looking back, my more impactful memories of him started when he stepped into his 40s. 

There could be many reasons for this, including the possibility of me being too young to understand/remember much when I was a little kid under 10 years old. I, however, choose to believe that it was because the most influential part of his life probably started after 40. A lot of that period remained crystal clear in my mind, including major highs and devastating lows both in his health and career, culminating in an inspirational turnaround when he was 50 when he started a new company back in Kuching which has sustained the family for the last 20 years.

With that in mind, I am convinced that I might not have seen my best years yet, but man, this Covid and the never-ending Groundhog Years are really not helping, though there's never a good reason to give up.

Dad, if you are reading this, I want to tell you that your little son is sorry that he has not been able to perform his duties to take care of you properly. This situation is really a test of our discipline and patience. Go easy on the cigarettes and diet coke, rest more, take some walks and always wear a mask. Please stay safe, stay healthy with Mum, take good care of each other. We all love you very much and we will meet soon.

To my peers and people who call me their brother (including my own of course), whenever life is too hard and seemingly impossible to fight another day, never forget that there are people we love who are always watching. 

Our parents are watching with concern,

Our kids are watching us as their role model,

Our spouses are watching with all the love in the world we do not deserve,

Let's make them proud.

Happy 40 to me. 

Happy post-40 years to all of us.

To many (better) years ahead!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2020: Koh Kret - small island near Bangkok with a bit of everything

Yeah I know. It's already September 2021. I'm almost a year late.

We can't travel anyway. What does it matter whether such information comes in January or September? I contemplated whether to write this at all, but decided to because my kids look too cute in the pictures =D. Also, winter's coming soon!

This will be a family photo album.

Anyway, during my first 11 years, I've never even really heard of Koh Kret, and I went there for the first time in September 2020 only because I was involved in coming up with an article about it (so if you would like a comprehensive Koh Kret Guide, please see here).

Personally, I feel that Koh Kret has a certain charm that you will usually expect to get further away from Bangkok. It's only an hour's drive + a minute's ferry ride away from most places in Bangkok, yet possesses the old-time energy of rural towns, with a good mix of its own character (eg. pottery, Mon culture) and modern vibes (eg. craft beer brewery, hip new cafe at old rice mill etc.). I love it that most of the stalls are run by folks who have lived on the island for generations, and that there are cool riverside views almost everywhere you go.

Literally a 1-minute ferry ride.

What made this trip special was that it was completely random. I woke up one Sunday morning not expecting the cool weather to visit Bangkok again (having arrived and disappeared a few times over in the past weeks), and was determined to do something completely spontaneous with the family.

So off we went, with no plans and no expectations, just a day together walking half the island, snapping and eating along the way, in comfy cool weather. 

And island of nostalgia.

It was a first for the kids to visit a 'leaning tower'.

"Leaning Tower" of Koh Kret, Wat Paramaiyikawat.

A first for us to take an old-school family portrait.

Only took us a few minutes to get this precious memory.

A first for them to make their own pottery.

It was also a first for them to follow some free-range chicken and walk accidentally into a stranger's backyard, only to be greeted unexpectedly with warmth by the friendly villager, all on this 3kmx3km island on the Chao Phraya River.

They really had a great time.

I watched a video a few days ago on the current state of Koh Kret following this current Covid wave. As expected, it's not anything like before, when local tourists fill it every weekend. It's a little saddening but we also know that Bangkokians will flock back again once the situation allows. Hang in there, Koh Kret!

This picture makes me think of mooncakes.


Monday, August 2, 2021

Bangkok Life Hacks: International Fund Transfer from Thailand to Singapore via Bangkok Bank Mobile Banking. Fast, Convenient, Low Fees.

I don’t think anyone expected the pandemic situation to last for years when it first broke loose around Chinese New Year in 2020, but it has. In fact, the general situation is getting from bad to worse in most countries. I bet many of you are like me, stuck in Thailand for the longest time yet without traveling home and from what I see in many forums, practical things like transferring money in Thailand back to Singapore are increasingly becoming an issue.

I believe many of us might be familiar with some usual suspects like DeeMoney who can do the job, but while they are established and can help with larger amounts, signing up for a new account requires us to physically verify our identity at an agent location (which is risky in the current climate in Thailand), and the money will reach the payee in at least 1-3 working days.

Enter Bangkok Bank, which since end April 2021, has successfully unveiled the linkage of Thailand's PromptPay and Singapore's PayNow real-time retail payment systems. This means that, if you have a Bangkok Bank account and are using their mobile app, you can do an immediate cross-border fund transfer simply with a Singapore phone number linked to the payee’s Paynow account. The daily transfer limit (also single transaction limit) is currently set as 1000SGD, and there’s a fixed transaction fee of 150THB

If you are worried about the exchange rate, it will be based on Bangkok Bank’s real-time T/T selling rate, which you can check here.

At the time of writing, the selling rate of SGD on powerhouse Money Exchange Service Superrich is 24.55 for amounts less than 1000SGD, so it’s extremely close and competitive.

So if you want to see the full instructions, you can either refer to
this page, or watch the short video below (in Thai with English captions). Just know that if you want to pay a friend in Singapore for helping you to buy something, give your parents/sibling/children their monthly allowance, or even transfer them a birthday/CNY blessing, it’s really as simple as paying for your delivery meal now.

PS. Using the same gateway, you can also transfer money from Singapore to Thailand with the same daily limits.

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.

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