In Which a Local Tea Brewer Offers an Alternative to Overly Sweet Bottled Drinks…

Skinny tea to help you squeeze into skinny jeans?!

Skinny tea to help you squeeze into skinny jeans?!

I’ve been a fan of the Schlurp Tea Artistry team ever since they first came out with the Schlurp Your Tea series of bottled milk teas a couple of years ago.  These were the first bottled milk teas in the Philippine market that actually tasted like tea as opposed to just sweetened milk with about a bare smidgen of poor quality black tea.  Their tea jellies at the bottom of every bottle were none too shabby, either: not too sweet and just astringent enough to add contrast.

These days, the folks at Schlurp now offer a series of bottled iced teas that are a wholesome and delicious alternative to the sugary faux iced teas being flogged by many softdrink companies.  The new line features Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon black teas brewed and flavoured with a touch of fruit juice: golden lime, guava, and lychee, as a matter of fact.  These err more on the puckeringly tart side, but I find this more delicious and certainly more refreshing than commercial tea drinks since they are more natural and don’t give you a bad case of oversugared throat afterwards.

Of course, I take their claims that their tea will help me squeeze better into my skinny jeans with a grain of salt, but the tea is certainly top-notch and worth the extra penny.

In Which an Oriental Boxed Lunch Features a Wealth of Flavours and Textures…

Chinese cold cuts - o-bento style!

Chinese cold cuts – o-bento style!

The o-bento, the multi-compartment Japanese boxed lunch, has long been a popular choice for many people as it features a delicious variety of treats to satisfy even the pickiest eaters.  For most diners, it is the menu item that delivers the most in terms of both value and variety: a box full of good things that you can choose to share with a friend or enjoy on your lonesome, savouring varying tastes and textures in a single meal.

One of the most interesting o-bento I’ve had in recent years is actually from a Chinese restaurant – Mr. Choi Kitchen - rather than Japanese and it is not referred to as a bento box.  Instead, it’s listed on the menu as the assorted cold cuts rice topping.

Yes, the name is something of a misnomer because the assorted bits and pieces are tucked into compartments apart from the rice, but you have to admit that it does look good and is actually a tasty thing to have when you’re feeling absolutely peckish and not in the mood for a hot meal.

The primary proteins here are pork asado (char siu) and soy chicken, both of which were nice, tender, deliciously flavourful.  The sweetness of the pork and the saltiness of the chicken are balanced by the sides that come with the dish: braised tofu with bok choy and a tart, lemony selection of mixed pickles (carrot, jicama, and cucumber) topped with a sliced century egg.  Paired with the hot rice, it made an absolutely satisfying lunch for one and you just have to love the sharp contrasts: hot and cold, sour and sweet, salty and bland, crisp and soft.  It is a lunch box I will happily chow down on again and again.

In Which One Has a Rather Swank Burger and Crisps…

Care to join me in a burger and crisps?

Care to join me in a burger and crisps?

If kurobuta is supposed to be the Rolls-Royce of pork, its equivalent in the beef side of the equation is something that has long been contested by various quarters over the passage of time.  When I was very young back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the only good beef had to be US Prime.  Later on, upmarket Japanese restaurants began serving Kobe beef – the kind that came from thoroughly pampered steers who had beer in their diets and enjoyed regular massages.  Kobe beef eventually gave way to what is currently perceived as the beef on top: wagyu beef.

The name itself literally translates as “Japanese beef” (wa [Japan] gyu [beef]), so Kobe beef itself is, essentially, wagyu.  If you want to get really technical about it, wagyu should come from a specific breed of cattle developed by Japanese agriculturists.  Honestly, though, I’d rather not quibble about that.  But it should be noted at this point that there is locally-farmed wagyu beef here in the Philippines as Japanese cattle are being reared at the foot of Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon and sold in Makati at a quaint little Japanese-style butcher’s shop called Kitayama Meat Shop.

IMG_20140721_124553

Bronzed on the outside, red and rare within

However, while I’ve seen the Kitayama Meat Shop along Pasong Tamo in Makati, I’ve never actually been there.  I have, nevertheless, sampled their wagyu beef – specifically at the recently-opened Malcolm’s Burgers at the Laza Food Plaza.

If the name sounds familiar to Manila foodies, it’s a part of the same group that runs Malcolm’s, one of the more popular bespoke steak houses in Makati’s Salcedo Village.  This arm of the chain, however, doesn’t serve steaks; but, as its name so obviously suggests, specializes in burgers, sausage sarnies, and the sides that go with them.

Seeing how I was peckish, I decided to give the mushroom burger (P 120.00 each; add P 15.00 for a side order of potato chips) a try.  The burger comes smothered with sauteed mushrooms and a tangy horseradish mayo which, surprisingly, does not distract from the proper beefy tang of the patty which is cooked to a nice medium-rare: burnished outside, red within.   I wish the patty had been thicker, but at P 120.00, why complain?  Besides, the mushrooms also added some serious, meaty heft to the sandwich.

Nice and crunchy!

Nice and crunchy!

Malcolm’s has a number of nifty side dishes ranging from Buffalo wings to onion rings and standard-issue French fries.  Right now, though, if you throw in an additional P 15.00, the fry-cooks at Malcolm’s will throw in potato chips {crisps} on the side.  They’re more like  the thin-cut chips you get from a supermarket pouch, but they’re freshly cooked and are fried till bronzed over and absolutely crispy.  They’re very lightly seasoned, so the little tub of tomato ketchup works like a charm here.

It’s a trifle pricey compared to your standard-issue fast-food cow in a bun, but the quality is good and having a burger here is like giving yourself a nice little indulgence.

In Which the Blogger Enjoys Her First Mooncake of the Year…

One very early mooncake

One very early mooncake

The traditional Mid-Autumn or Mooncake Festival falls on 08th September this year and it is one of my favourite pseudo-holidays as it gives me an opportunity to enjoy one of my favourite sweets: mooncakes.

Known in Chinese as yuè bĭngthe standard-issue mooncake features a sweet, rich, thick, almost fudge-like filling usually made with lotus seed paste (lían róng), red mung bean [adzuki] paste (dòu shā) or mixed nuts (wǔ rén) encased in a chewy pastry that bakes to a rather bronzed sheen.  Of course, seeing how the crust on a standard-issue mooncake is loaded with lard and brushed with beaten eggs before baking, they can be very calorific.

Health consciousness on the part of the people of Hong Kong in the late 1990s led to the development of a new crust for mooncakes: one that was not as fattening as the original but would be every bit as delectable.  The new crusts were made with glutinous rice dough – similar to Japanese mochi – that were pressed into traditional moulds, filled with classic fillings or more outre ones such as chocolate ganache or durian paste, and frozen till firm.  These are known today as snowskin mooncakes.

It's rather pretty and you can see the flecks of rose in there if you peer at it closely

It’s rather pretty and you can see the flecks of rose in there if you peer at it closely

For this season, local Oriental bakery Eng Bee Tin (of the famed custard hopia) is offering lotus-filled snowskin mooncakes with rose petals as a treat.

Each of these snowskin beauties (P 160.00 apiece / US$ 3.68) is prettily speckled with faintly pink bits of dried rose.  But these confections are anything but dainty, seeing how these are loaded with lusciously thick and creamy lotus paste and hold a fairly large salted duck egg yolk in the centre.

I wasn't kidding about the size of the yolk within

I wasn’t kidding about the size of the yolk within

While best served cold, these are just as delicious when served at room temperature.  The taste of the rose petals is very subtle and does not distract the eater from the delightful lotus and salted duck egg at the heart of the cake.  There is none of the toasty character of traditional baked mooncakes, but this kind of cake is just as wonderful and has the added virtue of not sitting so heavily in your belly afterwards.  Definitely worth buying again in my book.  :D

As with traditional mooncakes, these are great for sharing with friends in the spirit of camaraderie and the hope of bringing sweetness into an increasingly disconcerting and embittered world.

In Which Herbs and Seafood Make Lunch a Simple, Satisfying Treat…

Prawns AND anchovies?  Yes, please!

Prawns AND anchovies? Yes, please!

The Green Tomato chain has been known these past few years as a mainstay of some of Makati’s swankier food courts and has consistently produced crowd-pleasing pizza and pasta dishes.  While it isn’t really one of my favourites (and because, modesty aside, I do cook some pretty delish pasta platters myself), some of its offerings are utterly delicious and are worth coming back for.

I am of the opinion that any of the shrimp pastas on the menu are worth your while.  The prawns, as shown above, are nice and fat and quite flavourful despite (or probably because of) being prepared so simply by sauteeing.    The shrimp and feta spaghetti with its luscious salsa pomodoro and salty-tart chunks of feta is totally ace and the sun-dried tomato and shrimp salsa penne is quite nice.  But my favourite dish at Green Tomato has a sauce that only features five ingredients: prawns, salt-anchovies, garlic, parsley, and olive oil.

The Anchovy Shrimp Spaghetti (P 160.00 for a regular-sized bowl) falls into the aglio e olio (garlic and oil) category of the pasta menu.  While it’s rather misleadingly simple with  regard to its composition, the flavours are absolutely fresh and delightful.  It is has a rather salty-sweet taste, the briny anchovies working well with fat, crisp-tender prawns.  The parsley offsets the pungent garlic; on the other hand, the nutty taste of the garlic brings out the fresh, green flavour of the herb.  The fruity olive oil binds everything together nicely with the al dente pasta.  Be sure to wipe the bowl clean with the block of foccacia that comes with it.

Green Tomato @ Laza Food Plaza: 2nd Floor – Zuellig Building, corner of Paseo de Roxas and Makati Avenue, Makati