Oh Koh Samui!

The glorious tropical island of Koh Samui was the first stop of our trip around the Land of Smiles, and despite being greeted by the stormy rainy at the beginning of the rainy season, we still got to see the natural beauty on this island, and of course sampled a lot of seafood and classic Thai dishes. As I had such a great start on this trip, knowing the eating god was smiling upon me, I could not hold my excitement.

View of the island from Four Seasons Reception

The lusciously green Koh Samui

We were invited to stay at the wonderful Four Seasons Resort, and it is the perfect base for us to explore Koh Samui. All the villas are surrounded by native plant species and coconut trees, which were all preserved during construction. It was so refreshing to be staying in the hills and still get to enjoy the beach and a lovely ocean view.

Our first welcome gift Phuang Malai – beautiful handmade flower garlands

Everywhere you go in Thailand, you can experience both the traditional and modern side of this nation. This unique style of chained Jasmines and Orchids is often used as offerings to the Buddha/monks, elderly as a show of respect, or as an aromatic welcome gift to guests. Such a sweet touch.

Welcome snacks waiting on our dining table – healthy and refreshing

However, the highlight has to be our lovely smiley live-in butler, New, who has received culinary training as a former chef.

New showing me how to prepare Thai style omelette

New busy at the stove

Thai Style Omelette

Thai style omelette is thin, savoury, full of local flavour from the chopped spring onion and little orange dried shrimp, and usually served with rice. This may as well be a Thai invention. Nothing about this dish resembles omelette as we know it. Not included in the picture is actually a little dip made of fish sauce, chopped garlic and green chili which gave the omelette just enough of a nice kick.

We will eventually venture outside for a wider variety of food, but with a villa that looks like this who would ever want to leave?

Main pool

Master bedroom pool

Chill out area

Private beach at sunset

Beautiful sand

Unfortunate for us there was not much sun as the rainy season started (and most of the photos feature grey skies), but that just gave us more time to eat, and we were more than happy to comply. Next post: we drove around Koh Samui in search of food beyond our resort.

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Hong Kong has always been a prominent food destination, not only in Asia, but by world standard. However, some may contest just how great is the culinary offering of our humble city. Earlier this week, I attended the panel discussion organised by WOM Guide on whether Hong Kong is the world’s GREATEST food destination.

WOM Guide Panel Series #2: Hong Kong – The World’s Greatest Food Destination?

On the panel were 2 star chefs Gregoire Michaud and Jeremy Biasiol, who are familiar to those who pay attention to the food scene here. They were joined by restaurateur Paolo Pong, and mediamen Andrew Sun and Nick Walton.

As the guest panelists all chipped in on various reasons why Hong Kong is certainly known for good food in every corner of the city, yet not quite the GREATEST, one thing they kept bringing up was authencity. The fact that this city imports not only ingredients from around the world, but also the chefs who would turn them into dishes on dining tables, means the food scene is not authentically ‘Hong Kong’. Even the dim sum that we are so proud of is not uniquely a Hong Kong cuisine, but rather small snacks served with tea all around Southern China, with its origin from the far far west aka Silk Road.

The Panelists. From left: Paolo Pong, Nick Walton, Andrew Sun, Moderator Fergus Fung, Jeremy Biasiol, Gregoire Michaud

A lack of parental and government’s support to encourage young people develop their passion for food is supposed to be blamed for the few homegrown talents that Hong Kong has today. I can totally imagine Asian parents frowning upon their kids’ dream of pursuing a career in the kitchen as it is not a ‘professional job’ involving punching numbers at a desk under fluorescent lights.

On the talent side, I am glad that someone is stepping in to promote careers in the culinary world to our next generation. To commemorate the gas company’s 150th year in Hong Kong, Towngas Cooking Centre is hosting the Young Master Chef competition for students between the age of 15 to 20 years old to showcase their cooking talents and create their signature dishes. They will be evaluated based on creativity and appearance of the dishes. 24 individuals/teams of two will be selected to go through weekly training by star chefs in Hong Kong this summer.

Towngas Young Master Chef Competition

The winner will be sent to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to receive Western culinary training, while 1st and 2nd runners-up will go to Beijing and stay in Hong Kong respectively to hone their skills in Chinese cooking. This is definitely good news, as mentorship and relationship-building in this industry is just as important as formal training, and this competition can help students get a head start.

On the ingredients side, agriculture in Hong Kong is sadly shrinking. Farmland and villages are being acquired by real estate developers under the blessing of ‘urban planning’ by the government. The controversy sparked by the decision to bulldoze Tsoi Yuen (vegetable garden) Village to make way for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong express railway is still a reminder to all Hong Kongers how vulnerable these communities are.

Luckily some villages are standing up to it to protect their heritage and also community farming.

Ma Shi Po Village

Located in Fanling in Northeastern New Territories, Ma Shi Po is one of the few surviving farming villages in Hong Kong. As it falls within the Northeast New Territories New Development Areas (an infrastructure project for private housing development), Ma Shi Po is also facing an imminent end. Developers have been abusing loopholes in the law to acquire land from indigenous owners and evict tenant farmers, displacing many families and destroying many farms in the process.

To promote awareness of farming lifestyle and to protect the village from its tragic fate, Mapopo (meaning baby horse, but also a play on the original name of the village) Community Farm was born in Summer 2010. By growing organic seasonal produce and composting kitchen waste, MCF is attempting to promote respect for the land, develop sustainable farming and rebuild the food supply chain in Hong Kong.

Growing beans and melons @ Mapopo Community Farm

Villages are no longer just the forgotten backyard of the city, but its own vegetable garden supplying food to its own people. The farming process is completely transparent, and with integrity. And it is also a way to support the livelihood of farmers, whose families have spent generations building the community here.

Mrs Tse who enjoys growing root vegetables and herbs. Also loves making her own wine

Mr Au, born and bred in Ma Shi Po Village

Hongkongers living in the city learning how to plough and grow crops at Mapopo

To show your love and care, and to support this community, you can visit Mapopo’s farmers’ market every Wednesday and Sunday (2:00-6:00pm). Also feel free to contact me for a list of stockist that carries fresh produce from Mapopo.

Organic Winter Melon

A lot of people may question how ‘clean’/organic the local produce can be, especially in Hong Kong where blue sky is a rare occasion worth celebrating, and half the time you cannot see across the harbour from Central because Tsim Sha Tsui would be clouded in smog.

The boys behind IHM believe in ‘from-farm-to-table’ and the benefits of eating premium, sustainable clean food, and therefore started the quest to bring the best organic fruits and vegetables from farms in New Territories and China to Posto Pubblico, its first restaurant. It has now opened this up to all Hong Kong foodies who care about what they eat, and Homegrown Foods was born.

What’s more, your veggie box is delivered straight to your doorstep. Now you really have no excuse to say no. Pick only what’s in season, fresh and local, instead of flying something ‘organic’ from 1,000 miles away. The ingredients you can work with may be more limited than you are used to, but that is just how our ancestors have been cooking and eating for centuries before the advent of commercial farming post Industrial Revolution.

Sauteed asparague & soft-boiled egg on homemade mushroom pate

‘Agriculture’ is not only the cultivation of crops, but also the preservation of humanity, ethics and traditional wisdom. May Mapopo and Ma Shi Po, and other farming villages under threat be preserved, and our children will not lose the opportunity to connect with the land that feeds us.

Buy local, eat organic.

Mapopo Community Farm
Add: Ma Shi Po Village, Fanling, New Territories, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 9761 6123 / +852 6121 8961 

Homegrown Foods
Farm Add: 54B Tai Lung Tsuen, Sheung Shui, New Territories, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2671 2771
Email: info@homegrownfoods.com.hk

Some photos coutesy of Mapopo Community Farm

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In Transit – Before the Thailand Trip Began…

For those of you following me on Twitter, you would know my temporary absence on the blogsphere was for a very good reason. I have spent almost 2 weeks in the Amazing Thailand hopping from the South to the North in search of the best food we could find. And, as promise, I will share the highlights from this trip with you.

Ba Mee Pad Yang

The eating started well before we even step foot on Thai soil. As we were hanging out in the Bangkok Airways lounge for our domestic transfer in the Bangkok Airport (yes in an airline lounge), I stumbled upon this little dish which is widely available on the streets in Bangkok.

Ba Mee (บะหมี่ ) is long, chewy egg noodle, fried (pad ผัด) to al dente, and Thai people feed on this as a standalone meal for lunch. This version was served with duck not dissimilar to Chinese barbeque pork. The tender duck was perfectly complemented by the texture of the eggy noodles (thought to be of Chinese origin). Even though this was ‘airline food’, it was still seasoned with sugar, ground chili pepper, pickled peppers and fish sauce. Certainly a fast and easy dish for the travellers on^the-go, but what I did not expect was the sophisticated and complex taste.

If this was the quality of food I can find in the airport, I knew I have come to the right country for culinary travel. And my journey hasn’t even officially begun yet.

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On Top of Pizza

I am a certified Italophile when it comes to food, and pizza is definitely near the top of my list. It fills empty stomachs, lifts the spirits and occasionally mends the broken hearts.

“I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delirium that my pizza might actually love me, in return. I am having a relationship with this pizza, almost an affair.” (Eat Pray Love)

If I can find a good slice, I would not mind going out to buy some bigger jeans to accommodate the inevitable. However, this city has faced a painful lack of good pizza. Well, until now.

Pizzeria Pubblico – baby sister in the Posto Pubblico/Linguini Fini family

Purists may pour scorn on anything less than an authentic Neapolitan pie, but what’s not to love about a New York style pizza? It is large, wide, thin and foldable, known for its hand-tossed crust which I love when it is charred perfectly. Therefore when the IHM boys (behind old favourites Posto Pubblico and Linguini Fini) decided to bring some New York pies to Hong Kong, I could not wait to try out what’s on offer at this new pizzeria.

Trinacria @ Pizzeria Pubblico

Plain Pie @ Pizzeria Pubblico

The menu here is very simple but focused, with pizza being the highlight. There are 5 types of pizza available all day long, and extra toppings can be added to customise for any palette. For carnivores, there are meaty ingredients such as homemade pepperoni and sausages. Organic vegetables such as eggplants and mushrooms from Homegrown Foods, as well as mozzarella ‘made-fresh-daily-in-house’ can also be added to the toppings. There is also a range of subs made with fresh artisanal bread baked daily in house with fillings including Posto Pubblico’s famous veal meatballs.

Pizzeria Pubblico Menu – white chalk on blackboard

Pizza crusts are made fresh from scratch, stretched and thrown on site for customers and passers-by to watch through the window fronted shop.

Kneading and stretching pie crust

Pizzeria Pubblico pies are then shovelled into the electric deck oven to achieve a crispy bite that still has a chew.

Inside the deck ovens – where the magic happens

As per pizza-master-in-residence Vinny’s recommendation, I picked the Brooklyn Special for my first slice. Loved the vegetarian combination of fried eggplant, roasted peppers and garlic, and Posto’s own mozzarella. The tomato sauce was tangy but sweet, and the crust was cripsy yet chewy, with perfect char on the bottom.

A slice of Brooklyn Special & (non-alcoholic) root beer

Special mention of the non-alcoholic root beer by Steaz which was actually made from green tea. Refreshing on a hot Sunday afternoon and perfect companion to the pies.

Pubblico with chili – a twist on Margherita

Seeing there is still room in my stomach, I went for a second slice. Pubblico is actually an updated version of Margherita, with olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, tomato sauce, mozzarella and ricotta cheeses plus chili. I finally arrived in pizza heaven.

If you think pizza is all you will find here then be in for a pleasant dolce surprise. Save your stomach for the best cannoli in town! Citrusy pistacchio cream and ricotta cheese dotted with chocolate chips is piped into the deep-fried tube-shaped shell at the counter as you order so the shell stays crispy and fresh.

Cannoli siciliani

You can get the pizza either by the slice or by the pie (in all of its 18-inch of cheesy glory) at this casual yet fun pizza joint for friends and family to stop by for a quick bite. I know I will spend numerous summer evenings here.

Pizzeria Pubblico
Add: G/F, Tsun Wing Lane, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2530 2779

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Real Food Shopping in the Land of Smiles

After an amazing trip around Thailand, it seems unfair to keep the never-ending culinary pleasures all to myself.

From the lovely green tropical island of Koh Samui in the South, to Bangkok, the heart of the country in every sense of the word, and Chiang Mai which was once capital of the Lanna Kingdom in the North, every inch of Thailand is covered with food.

(Warning: if you are hungry or allergic to vibrant colours, please stay away from the following images)

Roadside distraction in Koh Samui

One can easily understand Thai people’s obsession about food, and the vast diversity within the Thai cuisine itself. There is an abundant supply of top quality fresh ingredients on every street corner, giving flavour to the simplest dishes.

Mangoes galore at Mae Varee, Thonglor, Bangkok (Ok Rong/Nam Dok Mai varieties)

As one would expect, fruit is widely available in shops, roadside shacks, and even from the back of make-shift lorries.

Coconut on the go, Sukhumvit, Bangkok

One would rarely find frozen pizza shoved in the microwave or any other processed food in a Thai home kitchen. Wet market is always within easy reach, and therefore no excuse to settle for anything less than real food.

The egg lady @ Sunday Night Market, Tha Phae Gate, Chiang Mai

Fresh lotus seed pods, Sunday Night Market, Chiang Mai

Fresh produce at local market, Chiang Mai

Nothing can replace the sheer joy you feel walking around a living and working market. The smell, the colours, the noise and all the activities simply inspire one to think of the many ways you can serve the fresh produce straight from the local farms on a plate. The Thais are so lucky to be truly buying and eating local.

Makua – Thai eggplants in various shapes and sizes

As the availability of local produce heavily influences Thai cuisine, you will find that dishes often incorporate coconut milk/cream in the Southern/Central parts of the country, where coconuts can be found in abundance, while the Northern dishes usually comes in clear broth or with a sharper taste due to the generous amount of spices and herbs used.

Galangal (kha) commonly used in many soups and curry pastes

All the roots you will need, big and small

To add the distinctively Thai flavour to fresh ingredients, you will also find various types of spices, herbs, sauces and pastes in the market. The heady aroma just adds to the experience of getting utterly lost in this foodie maze.

Shrimps in various dried forms, and the infamous but oh-so-delicious shrimp paste

Green, red, Namya, sour curry pastes

And lastly, the heart of all Asian cuisine, rice. Served with any dish and it always tastes great.

All kinds of rice – white, brown, red, black, plain, sticky…

We are blessed in most parts of Asia to have great wet markets, and with all this fun who wants to go back to grocery shopping in characterless supermarkets? Even better, there is a surge of farmers markets around town recently, and I am especially excited for Island East Markets that’s launching this Autumn by my dear friends Vince and Janice.

Learn from the best eaters in this part of the world. Support your farmers. Buy local, eat organic.

P.S. Please don’t get too jealous for the posts to follow, mostly on what I have eaten/cooked around the Amazing Thailand. Stay tuned.

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Sawadika – Greetings from Thailand

Apologies for the lack of updates, but when you are travelling around the Land of Smiles (and probably more appropriately, the Land of Food), all the culinary distractions makes it hard for one to sit down and write. There is food wherever there is space between buildings, on street corners, and also in larger establishments and luscious garden settings. But the good news is that I will document my amazing journey from the South to the North as soon as I get back home.

Koh Samui – Bangkok – Chiang Mai

Can’t wait to share with you all. In the mean time, follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page to get on-the-go updates of my journey of food and fun.

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Magical Macaron

Macarons are magical. Feather light, sweet and pretty (who can say no to those lovely pastel colours?), they are full of endless possibilities. Commonly filled with ganache, buttercream or jam sandwiched between the little meringue-based chewy discs of pastries made of egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar and almond powder, they melt in your mouth and melt your heart.

The many flavours of Macarons by Laduree

Macaron is characterised by its smooth, domed top, ruffled circumference (referred to as the “foot”), and flat base. It is mildly moist and easily melts in the mouth. A really good Macaron has a crunchy shell, and great sensation that you get from the combination of flavours such as olive oil and vanilla.

Sweets fit for a queen

After completing Diplôme de Pâtisserie at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Paris last year, my dear friend Anne has picked this particular pastry to specialise in. Many of us have had the pleasure to sample her amazing talent, but she has decided to share her Macaron with a wider audience via her new venture Jouer Patisserie.

The very talented pastry chef Anne with her Mini Baba au Rhum

Earlier this month, Anne catered for an event at the hip jewellery/accessories shop The9thMuse, which was opened by my lovely friends Charlotte and Jing. I was excited to check out the leather goods by Halo, and even more excited as the world finally has a chance to taste Anne’s Macarons and Mini Baba au Rhum.

The lovely Macarons. From top: Ispahan & ginger; Kaya & salt; Caramelised fig & vanilla

The Macarons were a great hit with all the fashionistas and foodies present. They were about 1/4 smaller than the usual fare you will find at patisseries around town, but the shells were of a perfect crunchiness, and so light and moist that I could easily finish half a dozen in a row. The unique flavours were clearly influenced by Anne’s Asian roots and her French culinary training.

My favourite flavour of the evening: Kaya & salt

The flavours Anne chose for her public debut were: Osmanthus & ginger; Kaya & salt; Ispahan & ginger; Caramlised fig & vanilla. My favourite was actually the Kaya & salt (the little green ones) as I loved the savoury-sweet combination. Oh so buttery. All the other flavours were also really good, though the ginger in the yellow Osmanthus Macaron didn’t come out as strong as the Ispahan version.

Mini Baba au Rhum

Anne also brought along some Mini Baba au Rhum, a rich, light currant or raisin studded yeast cake soaked in a rum or kirsch syrup. It’s said to have been invented in the 1600s by Polish King Lesczyinski. The cake itself was rather plain but coupled with the (very very) strong rum shot in the glass it gave a real kick. Not for the faint-hearted.

Macaron + Mini Baba au Rum

Jouer Patisserie
Tel: +852 9688 0647
Email: anne@jouer.hk

Add: 12/F, Unit 1204, One Lyndhurst Tower, No.1 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2537 7598

Note: If you really must save Macarons for another day, you can store them in plastic in the fridge. But it’s best to just eat them, and get some more for another day.

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