Munching with the Moomins in Bangkok

Kids don't have to be pestered to "finish" their food at the Finnish theme restaurant Moomin Cafe that's just opened at Siam Center. The tidy, wood-finished eatery isn't exactly the big blue "house" seen in the children's storybooks of Tove Jansson, but it's abloom with her Moomins - the plump, white hippo-like trolls that beg to have their pictures taken.

Already a hit in Japan, the Moomin Cafe arrived in Bangkok two weeks ago and has been crowded ever since thanks to the selfie-intensive concept. The photogenic characters from the books - Moomin and his Moominpappa and Moominmamma, oddball tyke Little My, carefree Snufkin and the daydreaming Snork Maiden - are stuffed dolls here, some enormous in size. Wait staff carry them from table to table so they can pose with the patrons.

Blame the Moonmin mania on Kornchanok Treevittayanuruk, a Chulalongkorn University student who was introduced to their colourful fairytale world by her Russian violin teacher.

The original book, "The Moomins and the Great Flood", was released in 1945 in Sweden and Finland, but the published series gained a global audience when it spawned several television series, the most popular coming in the 1990s. The creatures conceived and drawn by Tove Janssson have their own theme park in Finland and, of course, Japan is planning one of its own.

"The stories are inventive and realistic," says Kornchanok. "The author's father was a sculptor and her mother was an illustrator, and the characters were all inspired by her family members. None of them is perfect - they all have their own quirks.

"I fell in love with the Moomins not because they're cute but because of the fantastic, enchanting tales."

Aided by the fact her own family runs the firm Luscinia, which makes stuffed dolls, Kornchanok won a license from Hong Kong's Medialink Animation International to produce Moomins stuffed toys here. Still, it wasn't enough to fulfil her ambitions.

"I visited the Moomin cafes in Japan and Hong Kong and thought it would be interesting to bring the concept to Thailand," she says. "Moomins are beloved in Japan, and since a lot of Thais have been there, they know about all these round-snouted trolls and spread the word through the social media."

The 200-square-metre Siam Center outlet resembles the Moomin abode from the animated series and it's full of whimsy. The chairs vary in style and no two serving plates are identical. The staff wears red-and-white striped aprons like Moominmamma's.

Up to 70 people can lounge on the sofas in Moominpappa's workroom or grab a chair in the living room and small garden corner.

"We wanted it to feel like home, not a restaurant where everything is neat and the food comes on matching plates. No one's home is that idyllic!" Kornchanok laughs.

"We paid particular attention to replicating the cartoon characters - full characters, not just the heads. We had to send the licensing company our conceptualisations so they could be sure the characters looked exactly right."

Such restrictions didn't apply to the menu, though, so the local cafe is free to cater to Thai tastes. It includes soup, salad, appetisers, rice and noodles, pasta and main dishes - and also a cup of latte with a Moomin figure engraved in the foam and a pancake dressed with Little My.

Kornchanok's mother Chatchada took a six-month course in European cuisine and desserts at Suan Dusit University and recruited one of the instructors to help her set up the menu.

"There's no frozen food here," Chatchada says. "Everything is fresh-cooked in the kitchen by 13 chefs. At the moment there are about 20 savoury dishes and 12 desserts, but more will come later.

"This isn't a place that's just for Moomin fans or for taking pictures - we make sure the food tastes great, because we want our customers coming back for more."

Sniff's Secret Salad (Bt260) is popular, a spicy mix of pomelo and smoked duck breast, as are Moomin Tonkatsu Curry Rice (with a deep-fried pork cutlet, Bt240), Soft Shell Crab Curry Rice (Bt220), Moomin Deep-fried Chicken Wings (Bt160), and Moomin Family Cheese Bites (deep-fried cheese wontons, Bt190).

The main dishes are served from 10am to 2pm and 5 to 9pm, warm desserts from 2pm on, and baked goods and drinks all day.

Well worth trying is Moominmamma's Pancake (Bt295), a stack of them, in fact, bearing the image of Little My and served with vanilla ice cream and fresh ripe mango and strawberry. Mango Cream Cheese Crepe (also Bt295) is thin and crispy and stuffed with mango, cream cheese and blueberry sauce.

Beat the summer heat with an iced drink like Little My in Love (bubble-gum iced milk, Bt150), Sniff Pop (passion-fruit soda, Bt85) or Moomin Pop (blue soda, Bt85).

Collectible items adorned with the loveable characters are also on sale.

MEET A MOOMIN

The Moomin Cafe is on the fourth floor of Siam Center and open daily from 10 to 10.

Advanced reservations are not accepted - you just show up and hope for a table or a short wait.

Find out more on the "MoominCafeThailand" Facebook page.

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