What goes into making the perfect burger? Thailand's Taiki Tsubota has the answer

Lee Khang Yi
Could this be the perfect burger from Buns Meat & Cheese by Homeburg? — Pictures by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 — Fed up with how the buns get soggy as you are working your way through a burger? Hate it when your burger is too large for your mouth? Thailand's Taiki Rattanapong Tsubota has the solution to your burger "problems."

Taiki first made the headlines in Bangkok for his perfectionist burgers back in 2018. Today, he is a cult legend among burger aficionados there; a pop-up once saw a 1,000 person waitlist for his burgers!

Fresh from a six month pop-up, Buns Meat & Cheese by Homeburg will have a permanent home at The Commons in Bangkok by year end. It'll be a collaboration with the Pitmaster who specialises in wood-fired, smoked American and Australian BBQ.

The inaugural Taste of Tiffin pop-up that featured Buns Meat & Cheese by Homeburg's Taiki Rattanapong Tsubota wouldn't have happened without myBurgerLab's Renyi Chin.

Expect burgers and sandwiches; Taiki reassures that "the craziness and the science behind it will still be the same."

Recently, Malaysians got a taste of Taiki's burgers at the inaugural Taste of Tiffin pop-up held at MoMo's Kuala Lumpur. The burgers, available via pre-order, were snapped up within 30 minutes!

As the burgers are made meticulously in batches of four which takes about an hour, only 100 burgers per day were available for the two-day event.

Taiki served his Prototype #1 burger with a juicy beef patty topped with sliced pickles and double American cheese, sprinkled with fried shallots brought in specially from Bangkok, and lightly brushed with lemon syrup.

myBurgerLab prepared the beef patties according to Taiki's requirements.

It was sandwiched between soft, fragrant Japanese milk buns and accompanied with jalapeno paste and Homeburg's special sauce.

Taiki's partner for the event, myBurgerLab, was also on hand to help out.

It was purely by chance the first overseas pop-up for Taiki happened in Kuala Lumpur. About a month before the event, myBurgerLab co-founder Renyi Chin's office neighbour, Inside Scoop co-founder Lim Shiew Li, received a cold call enquiring if she knew anyone who could help host Taiki.

Precision in knowing each flip of the burger is timed.

Turns out a group of Kuching guys who had tasted Taiki's burgers in Bangkok wanted to bring the pop-up to Kuching and KL.

"It was serendipity," said Renyi who then flew to Bangkok to see how Taiki worked in order to plan the event's logistics.

Sadly, the pop-up at Kuching didn't materialise as they couldn't find an appropriate partner.

Taiki will cook the patties in a batch of four to ensure each one is cooked perfectly.

For the event, Renyi roped in others to help out. "I am for the spirit of collaboration so it was only natural to get Tiffin to be the sponsor and they got Momo's Kuala Lumpur to be the event sponsor while Marcus (of Universal Bakehouse) came in as the bun guy. That's what food is all about... bringing people together."

Interestingly, Taiki's foray into cooking started from a homesick craving for Pad Thai. During a five-month work and travel stint in the US, he was craving Pad Thai but didn't want to pay US$15 (RM62) for the fried noodles.

Once the patty is ready, the cheese is bathed in hot oil to melt it.

His solution was simple: Learn to cook via YouTube. He had also picked up a knife for the first time during his stint as a line cook at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Washington State.

After work came his half-month burger odyssey, travelling to taste burgers from Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles to Oakland.

He savoured Oregon's Killer Burger, where they served burgers with peanut butter instead of cheese! In California, he visited Plan Check which is famous for their innovative ketchup leather that concentrates the flavours intensely.

Taiki will gently remove any excess oil from the patties after the oil bath.
The Japanese milk buns are toasted and slathered with Homeburg's special sauce with a dollop of jalapeno paste.

Later, he went back to Bangkok and continued eating at up to 50 burger joints while researching molecular gastronomy books and YouTube videos.

For the event, Taiki ensured each burger was precisely cooked, by checking their internal temperature.

Each patty would be cooked on the griddle and flipped, as he timed it. To keep them juicy, Taiki undercooks the patties, leaving them to finish cooking with residual heat.

Taste Taiki's burgers and you will find a burger where every element works well together, from the light, crispy fried shallots to the lemon syrup that undercuts greasiness.

Fried shallots brought in from Bangkok give it a nice crunch and lots of flavour.

He explained, "The usual burger will have beef as the main character. If you bite into it, you taste the beef first. Mine is different.

"When you bite into it, it's harmonious and rounded. You get a little bit of that going in your mouth."

Taiki emphasises depth and balance of flavours. Like how a little salt balances out a sweet dessert.

Each element of the burger is thought out carefully. Like the buns, he uses. Taiki realised Thais prefer rice to bread. Moreover, they didn't like crusty breads but preferred softer ones.

The burger is cut into half with a sharp knife to ensure it's the right size to enjoy.

So he decided to use Japanese milk bread. Usually sold in a loaf and cut into slices, he asked a baker to change its shape to a bun, which worked for his burgers. Even the size of the buns are important.

Taiki explained that when the whole burger is too big, you tend to squeeze it in your hands to fit your mouth. That releases all the juices from the patty, which makes the buns soggy. His solution is cutting the buns into half.

Even how it is toasted makes a difference. Taiki will toast it longer, forming a thicker crust that absorbs the juices so you won't get a bun that falls apart.

Of course, one must take a picture of the burger before enjoying it.

In the future, Taiki will be making a 360-degree turn as his next project will be char siew! "This time round, it will not be detail orientated but a cheaper alternative," he said of his unusual choice.

Knowing Taiki, it won't be just any ordinary char siew. He is already toying with the idea of using American smoking techniques. Definitely something to keep an eye out for.

Buns Meat & Cheese by Homeburg (https://www.facebook.com/bunmeatandcheesebkk/) was hosted by Tiffin together with myBurgerLab (https://myburgerlab.com/) at MoMo's Kuala Lumpur. Follow Tiffin on their website http://tiffin.my or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/tiffinevent/ and Instagram http://instagram.com/tiffinevent/ for more events.

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