Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2018: Eat and Drink in Udon Thani

Udon Thani is one of the 4 major cities in the Isaan (Northeastern Thailand), with impressive city development as well as an increasingly-vibrant food scene. Though it's an almost 600km drive from Bangkok (and 55km away from the Laos border), an internal flight will only take an hour from the capital.

In previous years, I've recommended Ayuthaya, Khao Yai, Chiang Rai and LopBuri as viable winter getaway destinations in Thailand, this year's going to be something different, as the foodie in me takes over to recommend Udon Thani as THE place (listen up, Michelin) for food lovers to visit during the cool winter months.

1. Samuay and Sons: MUST-VISIT for foodies!

The bustling kitchen at Samuay and Sons
In recent years, numerous local chefs have taken it upon themselves to demonstrate the depth and diversity of Thai food culture. In the realms of Isaan, Chef Num of Samuay and Sons, I dare say, might be the best in the craft, sparing no detail in his attempt to share the 'knowledge of the earth' to his diners.

[First Impressions] @samuay_n_sons This was a meal that got me thinking. As I went through the tasting menu, I pondered, whether my parents, or even my wife, would truly enjoy the food. Chef Num is a passionate man with a mission to preserve the food wisdom buried deep in the heartlands of Isaan. He forages, works with farmers and local ceramic artists, digs into North-Eastern Thai cultures and presents dishes with deep roots, sprinkled with his modern techniques and creativity. Food-wise, if there is one word I can find to describe it, it's "earthy". Chef Num does not hold back. Any dish could easily be put together using 30 different herbs and spices, and the Larb Nuea was so spicy my Thai companions emptied their glasses in a hurry. Personally, I enjoyed it very much, especially the seafood curry mousse and the Plaa Yawn dish. I do wonder how the dishes can be balanced (authenticity vs mainstream) more to suit a wider audience, but for Thai traditional cooking wisdom to continue (and even possibly thrive), we need chefs like Num, to persevere and not waver. Susu! #strangerinudon #samuayandsons #isaancuisine #thaiwisdom #authentic #thaicuisine #thaifood #strangerfirstimpression
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2. Beyond Cafe: Great vibe, good ambience, decent desserts.

Helmed by Chef Ning, winning challenger on Iron Chef Thailand, we naturally had high hopes for  Beyond Cafe.

Huge place.

One of the many different sections of the cafe.

It proved to be one of the largest cafes we've seen in Thailand, and one with great ambiance. The 2 desserts we ordered were acceptable but unspectacular. Definitely a place worth checking out!

3. Dose Espresso/ Dose Factory: Probably the best coffee in Udon Thani.

Recommended by friends in the food industry, these 2 establishments completely won us over with their excellent coffee.

Look out for this when you are looking for Dose Espresso.

Dose Espresso is a typical small cafe serving mainly drinks with simple snacks and desserts. Dose Factory, on the other hand, is a more substantial project, providing a full food menu that impressed us tremendously. I dare say Dose Factory will be a commercial success even in Bangkok.

Dose Factory's extravagant front door.

Warehouse-style restaurant, reminds me of Jam Factory in Bangkok.

One of the 2 inventive but delicious pastas we ordered, the spicy carbonara, which had a large dose of paprika.

Tacos, which made my companion David very happy indeed!

4. Le Bonheur: Unexpected hidden sanctuary.

It took us a while to find Le Bonheur, which is technically a European-style cottage in a little soi, surrounded by low-cost houses.

The signs are not exactly obvious.

Definitely has the hidden-garden-by-the-Koi-pond feel.

Le Bonheur is a French pastry shop. Swiping through immaculate pictures on an iPad, the chef's mum painstakingly went through the entire menu in detail before leaving us to make our decisions.

The desserts we ordered arrived equally picturesque.

What a beauty.
Green tea soft cookie.
Taste-wise, I can only say I've had better soft cookies and French pastry in Thailand, but considering they are in Udon Thani, the whole Le Bonheur package is extremely commendable. This is probably my pick-of-the-bunch to spend your afternoon-tea hours in the city.

So there you go, my simple eat-and-drink guide in Udon, summarized for you after a deliberate 2D1N food trip during winter 2018. As always, I will continue to update this guide if I find more spots during subsequent visits.

Till next winter!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Bun Meat and Cheese by Homeburg: #thekawayiis Experiment

Update September 2019:

Bun Meat and Cheese's pop-up store at 72 Courtyard has concluded. Taiki and his team are now looking for a new permanent space and will probably spend the next few months appearing sporadically on short individual events. Follow their IG for more updates and I will give you more coverage here once the new permanent location is up!


Everyone has their own favourite burger.

Some like the messy, greasy decadence, some like it dripping with melted cheese, some like the presence of vegetables to make the burger feel healthy.

Then comes Taiki, the young man absolutely obsessed with burgers, whose claim to fame was his determination to engineer a burger to his own perfection, to the point he could only make up to 4 a night, resulting in a queue that could drag for months.

Taiki and me.
Just over a week ago, Taiki finally opened his burger stand, simply called Bun Meat and Cheese, aiming to satisfy more burger fans by making 100 burgers accessible 6 days a week (except Monday).

Due to the marketing momentum Homeburg has built over the last year, expectations are high. I have thus brought my family, my 7 and 4 year-old included, down to 72 Courtyard last Saturday (likely the busiest day of the week) to 'test the system'.

Look out for this sign, right outside Beam club, on the 2nd floor of 72 Courtyard.

We arrived on the dot, at 4.59pm (actually a minute before they officially open), to find ourselves with queue numbers 45 to 47 (!!). So, the first step is to get a number (1 for each burger) and be told when to be back to place your order. We were told to return at 6pm.

My daughter enjoying the interesting journey to the burger.
The sun was setting, and the open area on the 2nd floor of 72 Courtyard would inevitably become more comfortable soon, but at a couple of weeks before Songkran, the searing temperature in the late afternoon was just too much for us to wait for an hour. We spent the next hour having some drinks at the nearby Mellow Thong Lor.

Still finding it interesting.
So we grabbed our seats near the burger joint at 6pm sharp, and were summoned to make our orders slightly before 6.10pm.

Patiently waiting.
At 6.28pm (18 minutes after ordering), our 3 burgers were ready. Please note that for ease of consumption, your burgers will be cut into half, and vegetables are on free-flow at the side of the counter, should you require any.

Vegetables, available as a self-service option.

Taiki dissecting our burger.

I shall not go into the specifics of the burger, you can easily find out through many online sources if you are interested. After trying 2 variants at Bun Meat and Cheese, I feel that for the first-timer, a good choice will be to go straight for the Homeburg Prototype #1 (380THB), as the bacon, gherkins and jalapeno will give more taste dimension to every bite.

The Homeburg Prototype #1.
Execution-wise, I feel that it falls slightly short of what I had at Homeburg (maybe 85%).

But wait, making 4 burgers a night (with a possible monthly turnover of 0 baht) through pure passion is a completely different animal to running a burger stand selling 100 burgers (potentially turning over more than a million baht/month) on a nightly basis.

No one said it would be exactly the same. Producing the same quality will be infinitely more challenging.

What I love about Taiki is his single-minded focus to perfectly-engineer 1 product, therefore I have no doubt he will be attempting to improve everyday, or die trying.

Our burger exercise ended at around 7pm (took us 2 hours on a Saturday evening), with my 7-year-old son nearly finishing his entire burger. My wife and I both agree that Bun Meat and Cheese already provides one of the best burger-eating experiences in the city, despite having room to further improve.

If I can do it on a Saturday evening in the middle of the hottest-ever summer in Bangkok, with kids in tow, it's time for you to make the burger trip.

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