Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Birthday Letters from Daddy: Ellie is 3!

Big Brother more excited than birthday girl
3 years on, sometimes it still feels like a dream that you are among us. 

Daddy grew up in a family full of boys. I have never understood how it feels to have a little girl in my house. Little girls are pretty, sweet and angelic isn't it? Well, you have proven to be all of that and more.

Unlike your brother, who considers his every action carefully, you are a little daredevil with no care in the world. He spent a best part of 2 years crying in the morning when I send him to school, you protested for hardly 2 weeks, and you barely even look at me when I leave you every morning. So independent, yet so close to Daddy's heart. Whenever I slump at the front door, dejected, you will always appear to give me some hugs, as if you knew I really needed them.


情人United!
If you can turn into a little genie and be so kind to grant Daddy 3 wishes, first, I wish you will be less picky with your food and start eating more fruits and vegetables. The world of food is so amazing, and your Daddy is spending much of his free time telling the world how fascinating food in Bangkok can be. It disheartens me sometimes to see my little girl rejecting almost every green thing on the plate.

Noah joins in!
Secondly, I wish you will be kind to Noah in all situations. I know he's possessive and sensitive and drives us crazy sometimes, but he wouldn't even think of hurting you. Those screams, shrieks, pushes and scratches are totally unnecessary. Your big brother loves you to bits. Remember, he will be the one who will accompany you for the best part of your life, not Daddy.

I am in love with this picture. Credit: Aroimakmak
Last but not least, I hope you will continue to love Mummy with all your heart. Since the day you were born, Mummy has given nothing but her very best for you, 24 hours a day, everyday. I have not seen her make a decision that doesn't have your well-being as the ultimate priority. Love mummy, make life easier for her. That's the least she deserves. 

I shall not use any of those wishes on myself because you are already perfect. The untidy free-spirit hidden under the covers of your flowy dresses. The sweet, considerate darling bursting out of Noah's boyish old outfits. You delight and surprise me at the same time.

I love you Ellie, you complete our family with all of your kiddy witty ways. I hope you stay healthy, happy and free of worry. 

Happy birthday.

Love,
Daddy


Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Nicest Durian Vendor in Thailand!

Today, I am going to talk about the most misunderstood local fruit in Thailand - the durian.


Honestly, growing up eating durians from Malaysia, I was a hater as well, but after many years here, I gradually realised that things are not what we make it out to be. Firstly, we need to accept that local palates are not the same as ours. For example, I wouldn't walk into MK to have their hotpot even if you beg me to, but last I checked, they have 433 branches in Thailand, so who am I to say they don't know their stuff?

Giving another example, 5 years ago, I brought my staff to Singapore for a business trip. He spent some time scrutinizing some pre-packed durians which were sold for 10SGD per pack. He then looked at me with a perplexed face, "Eddie, why do they sell these durians so expensive? They are rotten." This came from a Thai man on his first-ever overseas trip, and ate Thai durians for 31 years.

I gradually understood that the difference (note that I didn't use the word problem) lies in the fact that Thai durians, unlike Malaysian durians which fall from the tree, are harvested way before they are ripe. That's the way Thais like it, unripe durians with a slight crunch, just mildly sweet and doesn't smell pungent (there is only a light smell when you chew). 

However, trust me when I say that Thai durians are sweet and creamy when they are fully-ripe too! Thai durians have been misunderstood, because even for our palates, they are very respectable taste-wise when ripe. The most commonly-found Monthong is sweet and creamy, but less rich and bitter compared to the most popular variants in Malaysia. It does taste a little boring, so if you are looking for a Thai cultivar that tastes closer to what we are used to in Malaysia/Singapore, go for Chanee or Puang Manee. I haven't tasted Kan Yaaw before to give a verdict on it.

All said and done, I must admit I have faced difficulty explaining my preferences to durian vendors in Thailand. Like us, they completely misunderstand our durians as over-ripe to the point of being rotten. I have even been spoken to with an air of disbelief and contempt by durian vendors when I explained the kind of durian I wanted. Why can't we just agree to disagree and get on with life?

That's why I got so inspired to write this piece after meeting the nicest ever durian vendor last week (I featured a taxi driver too here). He didn't understand why I wanted 'over-ripe' durians, but opened durian after durian after durian in search of one that's most suitable for me, telling me not to worry and he's not going to charge for the ones I rejected. 

Such nice people!


The nicest durian vendor in Bangkok and maybe Thailand!

It got to the point that I asked him politely to stop, and purchased the ripest one of the lot. The durian was not perfect of course, but for me it was the tastiest sweetest durian I had ever eaten.

Oh, if you have never seen a Thai durian vendor break a durian apart, it is quite a sight (watch video below).




Disclaimer: I was tempted to do a thorough research on Thai durians online before writing this, but decided not to, and share what I personally feel about durians in Thailand through my years of personal experience. If there are any inaccuracies, let me know in the comments!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Guss Damn Good: Ice Cream that makes me go Wah Lau Eh!

It's been way too long since I gave out my "Wah Lau Eh!" sticker to any establishment (since Paris Mikki last year), not because there were no good restaurants popping up. In fact, the dining scene here is so exciting that the heralded Michelin Guide has chosen to feature Bangkok this year. That said, the volatility of the industry has made it increasingly difficult for me to be sure that the eatery I root for not only produces food I love, but also stay true to their spirit in the long term.


After brief meeting on a rainy evening over some coffee with Rarin, co-founder of Guss Damn Good, I felt proud to have finally found the next fitting owner to my little sticker. It's quite incredible actually, how the concept behind Guss Damn Good resonated with me. Rarin and her partner found their love for ice cream during an unprecedented snowy winter in Boston, spending large amounts of time chilling out in various ice cream parlours, eager to find out why customers were digging into these mountains of ice in spite of the freezing weather. They finally understood that in Boston, ice cream was not only a dessert, but an emotion, a memory. Ice cream brought people to a happy place, it actually reminded them of summer.

Following the revelation, the spirit of Guss Damn Good was born, Guss, a combination of the words 'gut feeling' and 'focus', and Damn Good, an outburst of exclamation when someone eats something delicious. Even their hashtag #feelingcrafted brings through a combination of emotion (feeling) and a description of their expertise (Rarin describes their craft ice-cream as more than home-made ice-cream, as every ingredient is meticuously sourced and every element made from scratch). Their spirit isn't dissimilar to my own, as I only endorse food that wows me enough to exclaim "Wah Lau Eh!", which can literally mean "this is so damn good!"

I tried the Maine Rocky Coast, which tasted like pop corn with salted caramel, on their cocoa cone.

You might wonder why the names of their flavours are so peculiar. And where are usual suspects like strawberry cheesecake and cookies and cream? Every one of Guss Damn Good's flavour was (and will be) inspired by a story. No story, no inspiration. No inspiration, no flavour. And THAT, my friends, is why their flavours sound (and even taste) so polarising. Some are so extreme that you either love it or you hate it.

Make no mistake, they do not hold back on their flavours. The caramel in Bonfire (inspired by the moment after skiing/snowboarding, when people gather around the bonfire to warm themselves and toast marshmallows in the cold) is burnt to the edge of bitterness. Bow Tie In The Bar has enough liquor in one scoop to make me dizzy for a few minutes. I especially love the story behind one of their coffee ice-creams, when their trials have resulted in the right taste and texture but not the colour, and decided to go with it and call it "Why can't coffee be white?" It's one of the nicest coffee ice-creams I have tasted, though it doesn't look anything like one.

Their take-home packaging is on-point.
Now to the important question, does a scoop taste better, or the take-home cup?

I was a little surprised when Rarin said that quality is more consistent in her take-home cups. As if she could see the question marks appearing above my head, she further clarified that due to the frequent opening and closing of the freezer door, there is a chance that the scooped ice-cream can degrade slightly with too much exposure to the environment. On the other hand, the take-home cups will almost always be kept at the same conditions without exposure. The key is PATIENCE, as we need to wait for the take-home cups to be kept under room temperature for 2 minutes before it reaches optimum texture/softness.

Rarin with my Stamp of Approval at her permanent stall at Ei8ht Thong Lor outside Foodland.
They also scoop permanently at Sala Daeng Soi 1, below Bangkok Screening Room.

So good job Rarin. I am sure with your team's dedication and and the passion you share with your partner to stick to your unique concept, the only way for Guss Damn Good is up.

PS. If you miss the smooth creamy ice cream baos at the closed Little Bao Bangkok, it might interest you to know that the ice cream was made by Guss Damn Good. You know where to go now if you get that craving.



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Follow the Chef: Gary Butler, the chef you must follow, literally

To say that my Follow the Chef series has been exciting (at least to me) thus far is an understatement. My previous 2 chefs had brands they created with their bare hands stripped from their grasp, and eventually found their own ways to survive in the business. My third chef though, is in a completely different category, and I shall start off with how he looks (finally, a picture of the featured chef!).

Presenting Gary, The Roaming Cook
Thanks to Martin, I recently got to know The Roaming Cook, Gary Butler. He's a die-hard Arsenal fan from the UK, and is not supposed to become friends with a hardcore Spurs fan like me, but there are too many things we have in common for a BITTER football rivalry to tear us apart.

Gary is not a trained chef, nor has he ever worked in a restaurant. He has a natural flair for cooking, and finds himself in the kitchen during all his free time. He shared with me that he lived a couple of years in his fiancee's house in the UK and started cooking for the family. Soon, he found himself cooking for his fiancee's parents' friends, then the entire street, which developed to even cooking for small events and dinner parties. His repertoire ranged from Italian, British to even exotic cuisines like Thai and Lebanese. Forget Curtis Stone, Martin is the true take-home chef.


Have a look at his website/instagram account and it will be clear where his cooking inclinations lie. He's just this Brit who's crazy about Asian food. I've been on 3 food expeditions with him, and not once has he suggested a Western restaurant. In fact, the older the place, the better for him. I can totally imagine him crouching gleefully near a low table in Hanoi digging into some Vietnamese rolls after rejecting a proposal to dine at a posh French restaurant in town. Hunting for original, local, Asian food is in his DNA.

What started off as a recipe website teaching his fans how to cook proper Asian food has also evolved into a platform with posts and videos on the authentic Asian fare he encounters during his extensive travels (increasingly in Thailand).

Gary doing what he does best, taking pictures of authentic Asian cuisine
Gary is a chef you must follow, and by that, I don't mean just Instagram or Facebook. He's uber familiar with the traditional eats in Bangkok old town (a place where I try to avoid as much as I can). If you need some advice, he is more than willing to help, and if he likes you enough, I am sure you will be invited to follow him around as he does his own food exploration.

Gary's ultimate goal is to have his own little eatery in Bangkok, serving a couple of delicious Thai dishes cooked from scratch with some yummy local coffee. As another self-taught home cook, I wish him all the best, as his success will mean hope for like-minded food-noobs like myself.

Make it happen, Gary! You already have your ambassador right here (provided I like the food)!


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


"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.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

2017 Half-term Report: Same same but different

Gosh, it's already the end of June, I thought 2017 had just started, and I guess it's fair to say that it seems to be nearing its end!

Wow, this year has been such a whirl for me. No, don't get me wrong, my life is still the same. Same country, same company, same job, same family (duh!), same blog, same Thai Government and same economy going through the same extended lull.

It doesn't sound very exciting at all, but it is. This year is the year I decided that sitting back hoping for things to change around me to happen is no longer good enough. Change comes from within. It's simply because everything is still the same, that I can concentrate on bringing positive change to my life.

I have the same 2 beautiful kids and the ever-lovely wife, but the kids are growing. My daughter is already in a nursery and will start her first school term in August (more dates with the wife finally!). They are slipping through my fingers and Daddy's expenditure will inevitably be ramped up significantly as this happens. Time to work harder without sacrificing precious family time. More little special family occasions, staycations, trips and nicer pictures will hopefully create priceless memories for us to cherish.


Work-wise, pro-active is the key word. Active diversification of our product lines and the commitment to provide the best service to our customers will hopefully mean an up-turn to our stagnating business. The poor economy is no longer going to be a convenient reason to explain a year with little or no breakthrough. Even if we can't beat the trends, we are not going down without a fight. In fact, we are in the process of finalizing a move to a brand new operating facility and creating the most exciting online marketing plan this industry has ever seen. Stay tuned.



Online, please be prepared folks, to see more and more of me. 2016 proved to be my least-prolific blogging year. but it's also the year that I started to see wider horizons for myself on this social media wave. I have started to create content for multiple platforms (will create a page to list them out soon) and plan to capitalise on this positive momentum. Therefore, you probably can't run away from the Stranger in Bangkok, be it here or somewhere else you least expected.



So there you go, thanks for bearing with me as I felt necessary to give a simple update of my boring life. Life might be the same, but embracing and creating change is actually a mindset. Having an idea in your head is great, but ultimately it's a big fat zero if you do nothing about it. Think, create, execute.

One of my favourite recent pictures.

I firmly believe that every good action will bring about a positive effect sooner or later, so rock on guys, let's fight the fight together, and may the rest of 2017 be an even better one for you.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Singapore Food in Bangkok: The Ultimate List

It's been 2 years since I started my "Singapore Food in Bangkok" series, and I believe it has helped dwellers in Bangkok satisfy their Singapore food cravings to no end. Honestly, it's a challenge making Singapore food sexy in Bangkok. No matter how authentic the food is, the really great restaurants I know serving Singapore food have all had to overcome a lot of obstacles in the last couple of years to get to where they are now.

Therefore, I feel it's appropriate for me, someone who spent 28 years in Singapore then 7 more in Bangkok, to consolidate all these worthy places in 1 post, for the convenience of everyone interested.

1. Chuan Kitchen

Chuan Kitchen's story is one of trials and tribulation. It even had to close before being taken over by a local family, but now, wow, it's bigger and better than it has ever been.



Stranger in Bangkok's thoughts:

This is one of the success stories of Singapore food. It's located far away from the city, near IMPACT Muang Thong Thani, and is patronized mostly by Thai families. Its mix of Singapore food, affordable and high-quality dimsum, chinese-style sharing dishes and now, good coffee from a designated barista corner ensures everyone in the family gets a good meal, oh, and a good photo too. It's run by a Thai family as we speak, but I can confirm that the food remains the same, if not better.

Stranger in Bangkok's favourites at Chuan Kitchen:

- Bak Kut Teh, soup and dry (Malaysia herbal style)
- Hokkien Mee
- Laksa (Katong style)


2. 8 on Eleven

Owned by the same group that runs Ping's group of restaurants, Tatsumi and Champion's Sports Bar, their excellent Singapore food is currently served at 8 on Eleven, a new restaurant/club concept on Sukhumvit Soi 11, extremely close to where Champions Sports Bar used to be.


A post shared by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on


Stranger in Bangkok's thoughts:

It might be a peculiar place to eat Singapore food when you enter the restaurant, but remember that the kitchen is the same one that churned out the popular Singapore food buffet at Champion's Sports Bar, as well as frequently caters for major National Day Events for the Singapore-Thai Chamber of Commerce, Singapore Club of Thailand and Singapore Embassy. Nothing much can go wrong if the food can pass the taste buds of the Singaporean community here.

Stranger in Bangkok's favourites at 8 on Eleven:

- Hokkien Mee
- Curry Puff
- Chicken Curry


3. Sambalacha

Sambalacha completely embodies the spirit of true-blue Peranakan, Uncle William Pang, who is the owner, marketer, chef and face of the restaurant. He opened the restaurant wanting to keep the recipes of his mum alive, and boy has he done that. His sambal is an ultimate x-factor and he knows it. It's an absolute masterstroke that he makes use of this sambal to enhance almost every single one of his dishes.

A post shared by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on


Stranger in Bangkok's thoughts:

I love it that he has random specials, especially on weekends. You can even order special dishes from him, cooked specially for you. You just need to speak to him to know what's possible and what's not.

Stranger in Bangkok's favourites at Sambalacha:

- Laksa (Nyonya Curry style)
- Beef Rendang
- Anything that goes with that Sambal (even the cucumber)


4. Hawker Chan 

Forget the Michelin star, I haven't even eaten it before in Singapore, so I will simply judge Hawker Chan Thailand on its own merits, without any expectations.

The "world-famous" Michelin star soy sauce chicken 

The meats were all pretty impressive and substantial, that include the famous soy sauce chicken and pork roasts. The noodles were just ok, but can be elevated with their decent sambal, and the serving portion was really good. I almost could not finish the food on my plate.

Stranger in Bangkok's thoughts:

For the price (100/110THB), location (Terminal 21, Asoke BTS/Sukhumvit MRT, right by the food court), generous serving size and comfort, Hawker Chan is definitely a legitimate choice for a taste of home, especially when you do not have to queue.


Honorable Mention: Boon Tong Kee

A post shared by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on

This household name for chicken rice in Singapore is already an established chain restaurant in Thailand. It has a ridiculously-huge menu and you could go 10 meals with no dish repetition without even touching their chicken rice.

Go for their chicken rice I say, because so far, it is the only dish that is convincing from their menu. It's as authentic as it gets, with the soy sauce and all, though the chilli sauce is a little too sweet. If you have a Singapore Hainanese Chicken Rice craving, Boon Tong Kee could be your best bet.

So here's my list after 2 years of tasting and research. I would not say it is a conclusive list, so please let me know in the comments if I missed out on any gems!



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Follow the Chef: David Okamoto, The David of David's no longer at David's

I love to blog about food, but it is hard for me to write unless I am extremely compelled to. That said, I have to admit that a few eateries have gotten very very close to impressing me sufficiently, one of which is David's Bakery. I love their soft-baked cookies to bits, especially the ones with runny centres and the maple bacon cookie, but I stopped short of writing a full review because I can't get over the fact that at the end of every session at David's, I just fall into an uncontrollable sugar high, and I don't know whether that's a good thing.

And this is also why I feel the need to write this piece when David approached me. Yes, the David of David's Bakery. Oh, just so you know, since the end of February 2017, David left David's. Yes, David's not at David's anymore, so before I confuse you further with my language, let us turn our eyes back at David Okamoto, as this is about him, and not about David's (I really have to stop this!).

David Okamoto was born in Japan (his mum's Japanese, while his Dad's American) but grew up in Hawaii, which, in his own words, is a food paradise, where you can find any kind of food you want on the island. Having been blessed with a natural flair for baking since young, this interesting varied food culture in Hawaii, plus his short stints at Kimuraya Bakery and Restaurant Kona made David an inventive and fearless baker.

However, his first job out of college was not in the food industry. He joined Rolex, who thankfully sent him to Thailand for work, and the rest, as they often say it, is history. Like myself, he fell in love with Thailand and decided to stay for good. He started off with a shaved-ice dessert bar named Snow Factory in 2011, which was probably a little too early for a premium Kakigori to take off in Thailand, considering how After You made a success out of theirs only in the last couple of years. His first venture had to end in 2012, but through the experience, he noticed his brownies selling out everyday and confirmed that baked goods would be his next step.

Through a trial and error process exhausting nearly 100 iterations of his soft-baked cookie recipe, David unleashed David's Bakery in 2014 and quickly achieved success, as his cookies are simply excellent. Personally, David's cookies are the only ones I have eaten that can be on par with the world-famous Ben's Cookies from the UK. They are awfully sweet though, and David agrees with me on this. His hands are somewhat tied, as locals really love their desserts and drinks ridiculously-sweet.

David's cookies not only taste but look world class. Photo Credit: David Okamoto
Without delving into the reasons as to why David left, it's time to look forward. Being on his own now, he has even more freedom to create and conquer. He's happily married in Nakhon Panom to a beautiful Thai lady, and is in the process of setting up his own factory, which in itself sounds like an extremely exciting project. He plans to create a completely different cookie plus an entire array of other goodies (brownies, dough, sauces etc.)  for mass production for the regional B2B market. That is to say, though David will be back doing what he does best in no time, it does not seem like it will be very straightforward for us to identify his products anytime soon.

I always feel that if you focus on what you do with unwavering passion, it is impossible to keep you down for long. David is certainly on his way back up with a vengeance, as he's sticking to what he does best. For the moment, if you would like to know what he's up to, do follow his new IG account where he plans to not only post his updates but also share cooking tips and recipes (great for home-cooks like myself).



I will also make it a point to keep you guys updated on his latest milestones on this very space. Since we are on milestones, I would like to congratulate David for his promotion from chef/baker to Daddy! Welcome to the club! Enjoy the ride man, life will never be the same again.

PS. David's Bakery remains one of my favourite bakeries in Bangkok and do get your hands on their soft-baked cookies if you want to know what I am talking about. Hopefully they remain the same after David's departure.

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


"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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...