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)


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 near to impressing me sufficiently, one of 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.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

If the Stranger can Cook: 台湾肉燥饭 Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl

Let me clarify that this is not a recipe post.

I cooked Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl for the first time just now because I managed to get my hands on some beautiful organic pork from Raitong Organic Farm via Sloane's Bangkok and decided to present this dish as a photo journal, sharing some tips along the way with some the pictures I took with my new camera.



Let me first say that this is a pretty simple dish, but to make it great requires some good pork and a few more steps that make it less straightforward.

Tip 1: Fried shallots, use as much as you feel comfortable with. This is the ultimate X-factor to the dish.

Tip 2: Blanch the pork first to rid it of its impurities and possible bad smell

Tip 3: No need to dice. Simply cut into strips and they will disintegrate during the braising process.

Tip 4: Add the shallots BEFORE the braising process, you wouldn't even know they exist after that.

You could add eggs in, and eat over some steaming hot rice!

That's it! Excellent ingredients, a lot of love and some clever tips later, you have a dish that you can never get enough of.

If you are still interested in a more detailed recipe, here's where I got my inspiration from:




Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Parenting Poem: When Parents don't need to Parent

May Day, 1st of May
Office closed, schools not so
You ask me why? I don't know
So off to school the children go

For the 1st time in 5 years
Even when no help is here
My wife and I have half a day
To celebrate the 1st of May

What to do? Where to go?
Not too used to this, ya know
So let's start the easy way
Spend the morn eating away



But there's still a problem, you see
Four hours more, not only three
Oh well, let's watch movie
Guardians of the Galaxy

***************spoileralert ***************

This Peter Quill
Just can't chill
Lost 2 daddies in a day for real
Though what I feel is mighty good
The high screen time of Baby Groot

What great time, passed in a flash
Like the the good ole days, starting afresh
We could eat junk
Watch a bad movie
What's most crucial, the company




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Follow the Chef: Chef Poupée @ Bad Burger Bangkok

Anyone who remembers the On Nut Market, yes the rowdy one right opposite Tesco Lotus On Nut connected to On Nut BTS station will not forget a stall called Burgers and Bangers popping out of nowhere to sell gourmet burgers (that cost 4 times as much as any other meal sold by its neighbours) like hotcakes.



Much has changed since the the abrupt closure of On Nut market, but thankfully Chef Poupée is still finding her way to get her burgers into our tummies. During the Songkran break, I braved the waters, getting really really drenched in the process, and managed to catch up with her at her new baby, Bad Burger to discuss what ensued after being forced to leave On Nut.


Bad Burger, nice and comfy

My first impression of Chef Poupée was her incredible command of English, especially for someone who did not attend international schools nor went abroad for studies. Her cooking background was even more eye-opening. She honed her skills at Tables, Le Beaulieu and L'Atelier Joël Robuchon before deciding to share her talents with the mass market at an unlikely night market, with the most accessible dishes you can think of, the burger and the sausage.


Some familiar bad asses will watch you wash down burgers with craft beer.

According to Chef Poupée, she promptly started a new Burgers and Bangers at a permanent location in Asoke with a team of partners after the closure of On Nut Market, which built on the momentum of its predecessor. However, some board decisions stifled her freedom to make products that she wanted to present to her regulars. It soon became impossible for her to continue. Unfortunately, the partners decided to keep the name after her departure, so she had to accept the decision and start from scratch again with a new name. So, the birth of Bad Burger, this time with the full support of her immediate family, including her mum and brother.


The stars at Bad Burger, burgers and ribs.

In our short chat, something about Chef Poupée shone through, that is her passion for cooking, and the need for her to give what she thinks is the best to a large audience. She could have sold anything with her experience in the best kitchens in the country, but she still chose burgers after numerous obstacles threatened to end her run in the food business.

With her departure from Burgers and Bangers, she has moved away from sausages into BBQ ribs, which are sous vide for 24 hours (a disciple of the finest French chefs after all) before finishing off on the grill. I personally find the ribs refreshingly good, and also recommend her rib burger if you are not into beef.

In terms of the burgers, there's nothing much for me to say, but to tell all lovers of the original Burgers and Bangers that the founder is now showing off her skills at Bad Burger, and for all who have not tried her burgers before, give it a go and you will not be disappointed.





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


"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.


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2016: Sunrise at Phu Chi Fa (ภูชี้ฟ้า), Chiang Rai

It's been a peculiar winter in Bangkok.

The chill came for a week early December and some unexpected heavy showers took over thereafter (it really isn't supposed to rain during winter even if it isn't cool). Just when we thought the Bangkok winter has become a pipe dream, I saw FB posts from friends of low temperatures hitting again at the end of January 2017 for a couple of days. This morning, the temperature was as low as 20degC again, and expected to remain cold for the week. It's already mid-February, I guess we're going to have a wintry Valentine's in Bangkok this year.

It's a little late, I know, but my blog is not complete until I make a new annual entry to this Thailand Winter Getaway series (you can always use it for future winters right?). I spent winter way up in Chiang Rai again this time, and instead of chasing the sun at Doi Phatang again, we explored the more popular Phu Chi Fa, hoping to catch an even better view.

Before I give my verdict on the view, I have a few pointers for all of you planning the hike up Phu Chi Fa.

Had to do a lot of cropping to get a picture of myself with the view

1. Be prepared for companions

A lot of them. Prior to seeing the sea of clouds (that is if weather permits), brace yourself for a sea of people first, like maybe more than a thousand of them.

Taking a proper picture of the view will be a challenge.
So I tried taking a picture to my right.
And then to my left

Fret not, such is the wonder of nature, God makes sure that the scale of natural beauty is so huge that no human wall can stop anyone who made the effort from having a chance to admire what they worked hard for.


2. Cover your head

As your visit will likely be in the winter months between November and February, the wee hours of the morning will be extremely cold. It was early December during my visit, and the temperature was already below 10degC as we began our journey.

Beautiful sunrise over a sea of clouds
Unlike last year's comforts of sunrise-viewing at Doi Phatang, which was the home-ground of our guest-house, Phu Chifa threw us a curve ball. We had to park our minivan mid-journey and continue our ascent at the back of a pick-up truck, in the open pitch-dark gusty cold, winding up hilly tracks for no less than 20 minutes. At such temperatures, 50% of your body heat is dissipated from your head, so get your head covered (I didn't) unless you want a really uncomfortable ride.


3. Know that you can get to the top, and enjoy the process

I have stopped proper exercise since Noah arrived (that's more than 5 years ago). The trek up is not considered long, but a little steep at certain points. I certainly felt tired more than once and wondered whether it was necessary to go all the way up. Anyway, I would just like to tell you that you can do it. Since you made it all the way here, just suck it in and push yourself to the top. Phu Chi Fa has its way to make sure you remember your conquest.

Our group photo, we did it, 1,628m above sea level!

So, is Phu Chi Fa worth the trouble?

I would say yes, if you have not been there before. Even though the sun is the same (duh!), you can enjoy a more extensive view of the surroundings at Phu Chi Fa compared to other spots like Doi Phatang.

Captivating view on the descent too, but just look at the number of people.

You might even find yourself falling in love with one of the many kids jostling for your attention along the way.




Monday, February 6, 2017

Kuching Food Recommendations from the Kuching Boy, feat. lava sweet potato balls

In case you didn't know, I come from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, a province in East Malaysia (on Borneo Island). I've never mentioned this much because I am a little confused myself regarding my heritage. My dad hails from Sarikei, my mum from Sibu and I was born in Singapore, thus it's both a little peculiar yet also accurate that all of us now call Kuching home.

I've also never spent an extended period of my life in Kuching bar the months waiting for University to start. That said, I do have a strong feeling for this endearing little city and I am extremely impressed with its rapid development especially over the last 5 years. At this rate, within a decade, I am sure Kuching will become one of the most comfortable places to live within our region.

Despite this growth, the core of food in Kuching has not changed one bit. The food I longed to eat when I was a little boy is still what the locals eat today, everyday. Most of these delicacies are found in the increasingly-modern coffeeshops, with a focus in simple, hearty flavours. I am not familiar enough to give you details on where to eat what, but through this post, I hope to show you what you should look for if you manage to drop by.

1. Sarawak Laksa

With all due respect to other laksas, which I also enjoy to different extents, Sarawak Laksa is definitely the best. I believe the only reason it's not more widely found is because of the difficulty to obtain the authentic laksa paste. It also takes a lot of good ingredients to make a broth robust enough to present the laksa at its best, so a good bowl of Sarawak laksa is not necessarily easy to find even in Kuching.




2. Kolo Mee

A Kuching staple, the ultimate everyday food of the local. Kolo Mee focuses on clean flavours and the curly, springy noodles, usually paired with minced pork and charsiew. However, Kolo Mee condiments can come in numerous iterations, with blanched seafood being my favourite after the original.



3. Kampua Mee

More popular in a small town in Sarawak called Sibu, Kampua is a staple of the Foochows. A meal does not get simpler than a plate of Kampua, which always comes with just a serving of al-dente noodles (thicker than the standard kolo mee) tossed in lard and shallot oil plus a few wafer-thin pieces of blanched pork.



4. Teh C Peng Special

There's nothing uncommon about iced tea with evaporated milk, until it fell into the hands of the innovative coffeeshop owners in Kuching. Not only did they make iced tea "special" again, they made it look great (with some managing up to 5 colour layers in a single glass) and made it a signature drink of the city.

A photo posted by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on


5. Mongolian BBQ

The influx of Chinese in Kuching created a new Chinese food culture. My pick has to go to the Mongolian BBQ stands which only open from evening onwards. The lamb skewers and racks of ribs are to die for.



6. Omakase-style tzechar stalls

Omakase or "up-to-the-chef" dining is in-trend at the moment, especially among the upper class. Did anyone realize that this kind of dining might already have been around in Kuching coffee shops since a long time ago? I know of at least 3 such locations in Kuching and do give it a go if you are adventurous enough!



7. Lava sweet potato balls

For a guy who has random emails frequently from people all over the world asking for restaurant recommendations in Bangkok, I did not expect to be surprised by anything my hometown can offer, until this.

Ordinary-looking Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls

Bite in and voila, oozy lava custard

I've always been a fan of sweet potato balls in Thailand, though I wonder why they are not as commonly found here as they should. Molten lava buns are also something I frequently order during our dim sum fixes. Putting these 2 together should be common sense, but why did it feel so new and interesting when I chomped into these crispy balls? Perhaps common sense is not that common anymore.

So there you go, my lengthy but by-no-means exhaustive amateur guide to food in Kuching. If it's your first time in Kuching and you managed to try all or most of the above, give yourself a pat on your back. It's a job well done.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Birthday Letters from Daddy: Noah turns 5

Dear Noah,

I remembered when you were still an infant (or was it before you were born), my Auntie (your grand-auntie) Elfy told me that her son Jodan (your uncle) taught her way more than she can ever teach him.

I think I am slowly starting to understand what she was trying to say. You are my first-born, my first baby, first infant, first toddler and will soon be my first teenage, then first adult child. You will always be throwing at me curve balls I have never caught before, no matter how many years of parenting experience I would have accumulated.


In no time, you will be learning from your school, your friends, your bosses, your seniors and less and less from me, while because of you, I will still be learning how to be a better father every single day.

I used to think that the parent's love is unconditional, that I am willing to die for my children if situation calls for it. Even though that is true, I also realise that my love for you is maybe not that unconditional after all. I find myself being nasty to you for the little tantrums you throw, for the minor disobediences that are inevitable in a growing child increasingly mesmerised by the world around him.

2 nights ago, I got impatient with you for dragging your feet when I wanted to brush your teeth to prepare for bed. You climbed onto the dining table with pen and paper when it's way past bedtime. I got frustrated and gave you a strict ultimatum. You quickly came with the piece of paper with "Noah loves Eddie" written on it.

That's all you wanted to do?

Even when I started to evolve into the angry Dad when you didn't follow my orders.

This is the kind of love lesson you are giving me every single day.



Happy birthday Noah. You are 5 now, and will start to realise Daddy is no perfect know-it-all. But Daddy hopes you will understand that Daddy has a job to do, that is to tell you what is right and what is wrong, so that you grow up a righteous discerning young man who is a blessing to everyone around you.

Even though we will have our differences, we are family at the end of the day and I will be behind you all the way.

Never forget that.


Loving you more everyday,
Daddy
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