Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cagayan de Oro’s Ensaymada-Pastel Hybrid

Don’t let appearances fool you. This is not any ordinary ensaimada. This is a fusion of ensaimada and pastel. This was served as our afternoon snack in a seminar in Mallberry Suites Hotel, Cagayan de Oro City.

A quick backgrounder: Ensaymada is a light and airy pastry that originates from Majorca, Spain. Margarine has replaced the original reduced pork lard (saim) as ingredient, and is topped with shaved Edam cheese, butter and sugar. Pastel, on the other hand, is yema-filled buns. Yema is a sweet made from milk and egg yolks.

And so we have this hybrid—ensaimada filled with buttery yema. The saltiness of the grated cheese played nicely with the sweet filling. Apparently this was not made in-house. Any idea what establishment this came from?

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tagaytay’s Josephine’s Restaurant for Fried Tawilis

For many, Tagaytay City is known for two things: one, because of its cooler climate it is an accessible retreat from the capital’s sweltering heat. Two hours is all you need by car from Manila, barring heavy traffic. Two, it provides a breathtaking view of Taal Lake, the third largest lake in the Philippines, and the similarly named volcano in the middle of the lake. For me, Tagaytay City, Josephine’s Restaurant to be precise, is where I tasted my first tawilis—freshwater sardines found only in Taal Lake—which I remember as buttery, clean. I wanted to recreate this experience, so when I was assigned to the city I took some time off to go to Josephine’s. What was presented to me, pictured here, was not as I remembered (perhaps what I ate years ago was char-grilled/inihaw na tawilis), but it acquits itself on its own. The fish is crunchy, thus it can be eaten whole, bones, head and all, although I left out the tail. Best dipped in vinegar, the fish tasted sweetish—I thought this was because of the dip. Upon checking the latter turned out pungent. Another food memory comes to mind--eating dried fish in the comfort of home many years ago when I was still living in Dagupan City, but that would be for another post.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

General Santos City’s Jam’s Restaurant for Sinaing na Tuna (Slow Cooked Tuna)

Sometimes food doesn’t have to look pretty to taste great. Take sinaing na ulo ng tuna—slow cooked tuna fish heads--for example. In one of our trips to General Santos City, the southernmost port city of the country and touted as its tuna capital, this was one of the food served by our host. I ignored it at first in favor of lechon (whole roasted pig) and tuna ceviche. It looked brown and undistinguished. Big mistake! Fans of fish heads, you know what I mean—the umami goodness of fat, cartilage, and connective tissue, balanced by the zing from finger chilies, best served on top of mounds of rice. At that moment I was in food heaven.

While I was atoning for my omission, my colleague Jojo Javier described to me how the dish is cooked. Lay the tuna heads flat atop pork fat in a clay pot and boil for six to eight hours. Mix in onions, dried kamias (bilimbi, a souring agent), fish sauce, vinegar, water, ginger, pepper, and salt. Enjoy!

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Legazpi City’s First Colonial Grill for Bird's Eye Chili / Sili Ice cream

I love food, and I’m quite adventurous when it comes to sampling anything new—as I always say: I’ll try anything once. So when I heard about First Colonial Grill’s siling labuyo (bird’s eye chili) ice cream, I knew I have to add it to my bucket list.

Last year, work found me in Legazpi City, the capital city of the region of Bicol, located at the southeastern corner of the main island of Luzon. When I freed up a few hours of alone time in the afternoon, I immediately boarded a jeep to the restaurant, located along Rizal Avenue, beside Bicol University in the Old Albay District.

The waiter handed me my order: three scoops of pink ice cream garnished with green and red siling labuyo. I first tasted coconut, and a few seconds later a small wave of tiny chili bombs exploded in my mouth. Eating chili ice cream is quite the experience, but for comfort I’d rather have good ole cookies and cream.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Boracay's Real Coffee and Tea Cafe for Calamansi Muffins

Eating certain food triggers fond scenes of things past. Strawberries remind me of the wild varieties we used to pick on our way to school during our brief stay in Irian Jaya (now West Papua), Indonesia. Yesterday my office-mate brought back from her travel what appeared to be ordinary muffins, but tasted unmistakably of calamansi (citrofortunella microcarpa, also known as calamondin or acid orange). That instant I was transported to Boracay's Real Coffee and Tea cafe, a small unpretentious dining spot tucked in a corner of Station 1, a few steps away from the madding crowd.

Calamansi muffin is the cafe's signature offering. It's quite tart, so I pair it with tea. The last time I was there, I chanced upon the owner, American Nadine Rosaia, who was quite the charmer--very warm, and she was wearing pink sparkly shoes. She said she has been serving coffee for 15 years, back in the day when Boracay was less harried. That day, December 27 of last year, marked the cafe's anniversary, and she still remembers pouring drinks to her first three customers. She let us (me and a couple who were engaged) in on the ingredients of her special coffee brew, saying she sources her ingredients from all over the world.

I can't wait to return.

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Bicol's Pinangat

I’m back! Today I’ll blog about pinangat, one of Bicol’s signature dishes.

Whenever I travel to Bicol, I look forward to its cuisine, heavy with coconut and siling labuyo (capsicum annuum), the small but potent indigenous chili. Bicol, about 8 to 12 hours bus drive from Manila, is one of the 17 regions of the Philippines, located at the southeastern corner of the main island of Luzon. Last month I asked one of my colleagues to bring something back from Naga City, located in the heart of Bicol, as I’m desk-bound for the most part of March and April.

A few days later my pasalubong, four frozen pinangat individually wrapped in banana leaves, arrived in a clear, plastic packet. After a few seconds in the microwave my dinner was ready. It was not as spicy as I wanted, but I still enjoyed the buttery mix of gabi (taro), coconut milk and pork, best paired with hot steaming rice. It was towards the end that I sensed a mild raking in my throat, but I was already too happy to notice.

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