Saturday, September 15, 2018

Birthday Letters from Daddy: Ellie is 4!

Dear Ellie,

This year's birthday letter will be a little different.

It's different because in previous years I have always been celebrating growth, looking forward to change.

This year, I just want to celebrate your presence and appreciate the norm.


Always with something unexpected brewing in the little brain of yours.

So what if you are still whining when you are 4?

So what if you still show your feisty ruthless streak when you are having a bad moment?

So what if you keep grabbing onto me in the pool as if I am your only chance of survival when you are already wearing a life jacket?

So what if you always outwit me when converse?

I will hold you now, because I know very very soon, you will not want me embracing you anymore.

Daddy just wants you to know how blessed I feel simply by being in your presence.

Just stay around Ellie.

The little princess.

Happy Birthday.

Love,
Daddy

Monday, September 3, 2018

Stranger in Bangkok's 2nd adventure at Jok's Kitchen (จก โต๊ะเดียว), 7 years on

Jok's kitchen (click here for my review in May 2011) is such a special place.

It's hard to book: started with only 1 table in the beginning and still only serves a maximum of 4 tables per meal (the same as 2011). If you thought Gaggan was tough, this was tougher, and is still as tough on most weekends.

Our tables, the only 2 tables of the night, specially on Monday night as it would be impossible to secure a weekend.

It's hard to find: Most of my friends who visited for the first time struggled to locate it. I am not ready to tell you exactly where it is, because turning around in circles and waddling through the same damp dark alley makes the whole experience all the more unforgettable.

This is the biggest clue I am willing to give you.
It's interesting how now we are bringing 2 little kids to this dodgy alley with us.

It's a pure Omakase experience: You eat what Jok cooks. He buys the stuff that catches his eyes the same day/day before and the most you can do is to state your preference on the cooking style, though I don't even recommend you control what he does. Giving him complete freedom to wave his wand over the food completes the experience.

I didn't plan to revisit Jok's Kitchen. It was out of my mind for years. Thanks to Retty Thailand, who never fails to dig out the most obscure of dining locations for the local foodie community, I had to chance to go back (this time with my family, we have multiplied in numbers) without lifting a finger.

So, the food:

First starter, fried gingko nuts. Salty, sweet, succulent. Best with beer.

One of my favourites, who knew pairing pickled mustard green with fresh chilli padi would be such a delight?
The Jok's Kitchen staple, shrimp dumpling with an insane about of fried garlic, still just as good.
Deep-fried cod with fish sauce. Evokes childhood memories, a couple of my companions said. Must be good!
My favourite dish 7 years ago and still is, large shrimp just scalded with salt, only 1 per shrimp per head.
Thai curry crab, only peeled pincers served. You will leave with your hands clean.
The only vegetable dish, I didn't eat enough of it to give a verdict.
Another staple, claypot yellow noodle with gooseweb, with equal ratio of coriander to noodle!
Still the similar fried rice to 7 years ago, but this time served in a peculiar way, with lotus paste salapaos.
The ultimate dish of the night, grouper and plum soup. Top quality fish in a fruity savoury broth, 10/10.
Deep-fried yam dessert that many regulars love. It was just ok for me.

If you are wondering whether Jok's Kitchen has remained consistent for 7 years, wonder no more. In my years of eating in Bangkok, Jok's Kitchen is clearly one of the most demanding in terms of ingredient selection and most stringent in terms of rules for their guests. There is just 1 cook, 7 more years of practice will only have strengthened his skills further.

Not every dish was a win for me, but I have grown to appreciate Jok's Kitchen as it is, and my 2nd visit gave me arguably more satisfaction than my first. Don't miss it if you ever get offered the chance to visit!

PS. This meal cost us 1,000THB per head for food and hot tea.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sloane's Masterclass at Jamie's Italian: Learning from the Master

Given the frequency of me cooking at home and the glut of cooking schools in Bangkok (even Le Cordon Bleu has a campus here), one might think I am a serial attendee of  cooking classes. In all honesty, I am just someone who loves reading recipe books and watches nothing online except for football and food-related videos. Attending classes isn't really my thing.

Doing something serious here.

Half a pig prepared for the butchering demonstration.

However, my obsession with obtaining the best ingredients is real, which led me to Sloane's a few years ago, not so much for their sausages, but for their fresh pork. Therefore, when the possibility of attending a Sloane's Masterclass at Jamie's Italian popped, I pounced. A combination of meeting Joe Sloane strutting his stuff himself, at Jamie's Italian (Jamie Oliver is the single most important person who convinced me that cooking can be very simple), felt like something tailor-made for me.

Oh, how wrong was I. My ineptitude in sausage stuffing and linking brought me back down to earth. After cooking for 7 years at home churning out more than a thousand meals for the family, I am clearly still at the very beginning of my learning curve.

Joe Sloane showing his finesse. I will always remember, saw for bone, knife for meat.
The ultimate master butcher in Thailand.
The hands-on experience, as demoralising as it was, was something I would not exchange anything for. Without it, the class will be reduced to a demonstration by the master. I might take home some perfect sausages and bacon, but they will not be the imperfect ones I made myself from scratch. I wouldn't have been able to tell my kids, "These sausages were made by Daddy at Jamie's Italian!"

My bacon, which needs another week before it's ready, can't wait to eat the final product.

I would hereby like to thank the folks from Sloane's and Jamie's Italian for organising a fantastic masterclass which I loved and hated to equal measure. Please push on and organise more classes to bless more foodies like me in the future. I am already looking forward to the next one.





Monday, July 16, 2018

Time, the essence of taste and life - 时间的味道

In my journey to obtain a deeper understanding of food, something I didn't used to value kept ringing in my head - time.

Time is in everything.

In marination, fermentation, ageing, curing, brining, freezing, braising, proofing and everything else you can think of. Even thawing frozen meat/fish is best achieved slowly over a day or two in the lower warmer echelons of the fridge.

The meal is ruined if you don't wait for the ingredient to warm up to room temperature before cooking, and precious cuts of meat will be completely wasted if you don't give it time to rest after grilling/roasting.

Fruits develop the right flavour given time to ripen naturally, animals/fish too, if given the luxury to take their own time according to what nature designed for them.

A good meal, in other words, is often the taste of time. Patience is therefore, the true test of one's dedication to achieving the best.

Delicious, unforgettable beef bourguignon, courtesy of @carolparismikki.

Take this pot of beef bourguignon for example, it had been on the stove for 2 full days before I had my 10 minutes of enjoyment devouring it. If the cook or the guest did not have enough patience, the entire dinner experience would have been completely different.

Isn't life the same?

Isn't life the gentle simmer that can be more effectively-understood only after one has gathered experience and maturity through the accumulation of time?

Time is the essence of everything.

To build up a company from nothing to a reliable entity in the marketplace.

To foster a strong relationship with people.

To have sufficient practice to master a skill.

To nurture your little ones into responsible adults.

To win hearts and prove your credibility.

And of course, to cook delicious pot of beef bourguignon to make friends and family really really happy.

*********************************

在我找寻美食真谛的旅途里,通过视频,书籍,文章,跟厨师的交谈当中,有两个字一再被重复:时间。

时间有味道吗?尝得到吗?

时间彻底融入了食物的一切,从焖、炬、烤、腌制、发酵、冷冻, 都少不了对时间的掌控。连达到解冻最好的效果,都要通过在冰箱里低温长时间才能取得。耐心,也成为了烹饪最重要的品德。


就拿这碗简简单单的台湾肉燥饭来说吧,如果不是在炉灶上足足两天,采用最好的有机猪肉 (也就是说猪只有自由活动的空间和适当的时间来自然成长),这碗饭也达不到我想要的滋味。

人生不也一样吗?难道人生不是通过长时间累积的经验跟智慧,才能好像红葡萄酒一样越老越香醇吗?

时间穿透了生命的一切、是万事欠缺的东风。

把一间公司从一无所有培养成在商场上可靠的品牌。

把孩子教育成对社会负责任的一份子。

把婚姻,朋友,家庭、各种人际关系经营好。

把一个求生技能掌握得得心应手。

让自己赢得漂亮的诚信与口碑。

这样样都急不得,不能缺少耐心与时间的酝酿。

时间有味道吗?

有。

那就要看你有没有用心去品尝了。

Friday, July 6, 2018

Stranger in Bangkok: Phase 2

Many people like to ask me, "What do you do in Bangkok?" followed by, "What company do you work for?"

I usually do not know what to say, because I know the answer will not be an interesting one. Even though I work in the agricultural industry, one that is relevant to more than half the population in Thailand, to most, it's still considered a low-profile "niche" market.

The conversation gets even more awkward when I reluctantly tell them my company name.

So there you go.

I moved permanently to Bangkok mid-2010. It took us 8 years, to start from zero, to finally move into our own premises. Consider this a major milestone in our journey, but this is one decision that came with a story of its own.

The owner of the group of companies I work for has never visited our branch in Thailand before. The only time I saw him in my first 6 years, was at my wedding, where he shook my hand and offered his blessings. Otherwise, no matter how I encouraged him to come, his reply would be, "You young people need to fight the fight."

As I go through all the paper in my office in preparation for the move, in my bid to save every piece of reusable paper or clip, I recalled all the things I did to build this up. I had to do every damn thing, cos there was just me. All the late nights. The lonely evenings I spoke with the neighborhood dog. The systems I set up to make sure I did everything necessary. The talking to passers by to help me unload thousands of boxes of goods, which had to be done regardless of weather or time. The betrayals. The helplessness. All precious precious memories, good or bad. I realized my survival instinct forced me to block out the process to focus on achieving acceptable results, resulting in me forgetting much of the journey. I wonder whether that's a good thing. Or maybe I am just getting old. #workinginthailand #strangerinbangkok
A post shared by Eddie Yii (@strangerinbangkok) on


Fast forward to September 2016. A special training event organised by our principle brought me back to my head office in Bintulu, Sarawak. As usual, big boss shook my hand. This time, he spoke, "It's time to find our own place."

He had finally given me an instruction! My one and only royal edict. I sprung into action.

It took nearly 2 years, and here we are.

In our own place. Bigger, better, and more importantly, gives us a sense of belonging and a platform to propel us into greater heights. Whether that happens though, is an unknown.

What I know is, behind this sense of achievement, is the fact that we have never been tighter in cash, and never been more in debt.

Stranger in Bangkok: Phase 2, starts, now.



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.


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