In Which a Classic Meat Dish Gets a Couple of Unconventional Twists…

Seafood kare-kare and bagoong with hot rice

Seafood kare-kare and bagoong with hot rice

Kare-kare, a slow-cooked stew featuring oxtail or pork leg braised till tender in a rich peanut sauce, has long been a mainstay of weekend dinner tables and the groaning boards typical of the local fiesta scene.  As stated, it’s usually made with hearty oxtail or fat pork legs both cooked until the meat is so tender that it falls apart when you prod it with a fork.  However, many home cooks, restaurateurs, and institutional caterers have put their own spin on classic kare-kare, using unconventional ingredients to either make the most of seasonal produce or use up leftovers to prevent wasting food.

Seafood kare-kare is one such variation on the theme.  Here, fresh squid or cuttlefish, mussels, and chunks of fish – usually chunks of fresh tuna belly or blue marlin – are simmered in the peanut sauce.  The addition of finely-cut slivers of ginger keeps the dish from getting too odiferous for diners and, by serving it with bagoong alamang [fermented shrimp paste], the briny condiment brings out the sweetness of the aquatic ingredients.  It is also considerably healthier than the beefy or porky original, so it goes over well with dieters.

On the other hand, some cooks use leftover lechong kawali [deep-fried pork belly with crunchy, crackling skin] or crispy pata [deep-fried pork knuckle] as their protein of choice.  The end-result is a shortcut version called crispy kare-kare which is, nevertheless, quite a treat as the bits and bobs of pork are fried to a crunchy golden-brown and provide a contrast to the sauce-softened vegetables.  It is not the most diet-friendly dish, but it goes down a treat.

Both of my favourite variations of kare-kare are sold at our regular lunch provider, Tezman Convenience Store over on the Upper West Side of the BGC.  The seafood version (P 60.00 per bowl) is loaded with good things: while the mussels are few and far in between, the generous chunks of marlin and squid make up for it.  The crispy version (P 55.00 per bowl), on the other hand is an excellent go-to dish for lunch as it is crunchy, flavourful, and highly satisfying.

Tezman Convenience Store:  Ground Floor – Kensington Place, 1st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

In Which a Vegetable Extravaganza Graces the Dinner Table…

A fresh and colourful mise-en-place

A fresh and colourful mise-en-place

Lo Han Chai - also known as luohan zhai or, more poetically, Buddha’s Delight – is a dish that my family frequently enjoys whenever we go out for lunch at one Chinese restaurant or another.  While we enjoy it invariably as a side to a meaty main like three-cups chicken or char siu (asado) pork, vegetarians can actually order it as a main in its own right.

As its name suggests, it was originally prepared for religious celebrations within Buddhist monasteries and lay communities.  It is most commonly eaten on the eve and the first day of the Chinese Lunar Year as a way of purifying the body and preparing the self to receive the blessings of the new year.

In its most basic form, it is a selection of various fresh and preserved vegetables stir-fried then braised in a mixture of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sugar; indeed, it is easy to surmise that classic chop suey takes much of its substance and technique from this dish.  Lo han chai can be made with any number of vegetables, but the traditional mix includes Savoy cabbage (Chinese cabbage / wombok), cubes of deep-fried tofu, bamboo shoots, wood-ear fungi (tengang daga), carrots, and black mushrooms – either the ovoid straw mushrooms or the meatier-tasting shiitake.  Nevertheless, the only thing that probably limits the home cook is one’s imagination and the availability of produce at one’s greengrocer’s.

Yes, that is a HECK of a LOT of veg...

Yes, that is a HECK of a LOT of veg…

Truth be told, the recipe for lo han chai varies from cook to cook.  Strict vegetarian households will obviously not choose to use meat broths or oyster sauce.  More omnivorous folks will gladly welcome the addition of either or both to add an extra dimension of flavour to the dish; there are even those who choose to throw in prawns or scallops to make the dish more interesting.  Some, like myself, swap the Savoy cabbage for fresh, local greens such as pechay (a Filipino vegetable whose closest point of comparison would have to be Swiss chard) which has a sweet, mild flavour, and a crunchy texture.  Some chuck the tofu in fresh, while I prefer to use the restaurant method of deep-frying the tofu first to firm up the texture.  And there are those who use stinky tofu to enhance the dish; honestly, you have to draw the line somewhere and my line gets drawn here.  (Stinky tofu in my lo han chai?! [Shudders])

My spin on the dish is quite easy to do and shows off the fresh flavours and textures of the different vegetables I used.  I should warn you at this point, however, that cooking lo han chai at home is fairly labour-intensive: you have all that chopping and dicing to do on top of the stir-frying and braising.  (Believe me, a moment’s inattention led to a nasty, self-inflicted cut when I first cooked this!)  But believe me when I say the effort is most definitely worth it: even hardened non-veg eaters and picky kids will enjoy it.  :D

Serve it on top of steamed rice or, as shown here, on top of blanched noodles

Serve it on top of steamed rice or, as shown here, on top of blanched noodles

Lo Han Chai

For the stir-fry:

  • 1 carrot, peeled and sliced into half-moons
  • 3 blocks firm tofu (momengoshi), deep-fried till golden and diced
  • 2 bunches pechay or bok choy or 1 bunch Swiss chard, stems diced and leaves sliced into strips
  • 1 medium (approximately 300 grams) can shiitake or button mushrooms, drained and liquid reserved
  • approximately 100 grams fresh oyster mushrooms, cut into strips
  • 1 pack dried wood-ear fungi (tengang daga), soaked
  • approximately 100 – 150 grams fresh baby corn, sliced on the bias
  • 1 head of broccoli, broken into florets and the stem peeled, trimmed, and julienned
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 6 – 10 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed, peeled, and minced
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube (optional if you’re making this all-vegetarian)

For the braising sauce:

  • Reserved mushroom liquid with enough water to make 2 cups total liquid
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce or vegetarian substitute thereof

Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Set aside.

Put a wok over medium heat.  Once it heats up, add the oil.  When the oil sizzles, add the sliced onion and the white part of the spring onions; cook till softened.  Add the garlic and cook until the garlic has browned a little at the edges.  Add the carrot slices, julienned broccoli stem, and the pechay stems; stir-fry for about two minutes.  Drain the wood-ear fungi and cut into thin strips.  Add these along with the shiitake and oyster mushrooms; stir fry for two minutes more.  If using the bouillon cube, add it at this point and toss with the vegetables until it has more or less dissolved.  Add the baby corn and broccoli and stir-fry for three minutes.  Pour in the braising sauce and stir the dish well to coat all the vegetables.  Cook until the sauce is bubbling and slightly thickened.  Toss in the pechay leaves and the tofu; mix well and cook an additional two to three minutes.

Remove from heat and move to a serving platter.  If desired, as shown above, pour the cooked vegetables over blanched noodles.  Scatter the green spring onions over to garnish.

Serves 8 as a side dish; serves 4 as a vegetarian main.

In Which Convenience Store Pasta Plates are Surprisingly Good…

Yes, your eyes aren't deceiving you...

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you…

Under most circumstances, meals bought at a convenience store, while satisfying and budget-friendly, tend to be lacking in terms of both variety and flavour.  In the Philippines, however, given the emphasis that food has to taste good no matter how cheap it is, it is to the credit of the research-and-development teams at 7-Eleven that this particular chain is able to offer a number of options from small but filling snacks to full-scale meals featuring that typical trifecta of starch, protein, and veg.

The 7-Fresh line of light meals is a clear example of this.  The line started about a year ago with a selection of single-portion salads; today, the line now includes a series of pasta plates featuring both cream-based and tomato-based sauces on different forms of pasta.  At P 79.00 (US$ 1.76) per plate, these are surprisingly hefty and event tasty.

Bacon and Eggs on Fettucine

Bacon and Eggs on Fettucine

The bacon and egg on fettucine is one of my personal favourites amongst the varieties I’ve tried.  You get a steam-cooked egg, a few slices of bacon, and a cheese and leek infused cream sauce.  Not bad for a carbonara wannabe, it’s actually nice and the noodles have a toothsome texture.  One tip, though: order this for takeaway as opposed to noshing it on the premises, crisp up the bacon in a pan or an oven toaster (whichever’s more convenient), and you have a smoky-tasting meal with a bit of a crunch.

Grilled Chicken Pesto

Grilled Chicken Pasta

The grilled chicken pasta, on the other hand, is as bland as plain rice and the chicken, is, alas, dry.  I recommend skipping it and opting instead for another plate of bacon and eggs or giving the other variants which feature tomatoes and sausage a shot.

In Which Cold Rice and Tinned Fish are Transformed Into a Hearty Meal…

It's a burger with a difference...

It’s a burger with a difference…

Love food, hate waste is the mantra on the lips of many people whether they’re foodies or just sensible hausfrauen trying to keep precious food resources from being callously tossed into the garbage bin.  In these days when the price of edible groceries is up by a whopping 30%, every morsel counts.

Rice is one of those precious edibles in this part of the world, what with typhoons ruining fields full of crops before they’re ready to harvest.  Resourceful Filipino households have always had a way with leftover rice, transforming it into a savoury side simply by frying it with garlic or tossing in scraps of meat and veg for Chinese-style fried rice.  Both are good ways of using up cold rice, but it can get monotonous at times.

That said, today’s recipe takes a cue from the Japanese in the sense that cold rice is wadded up into patties and grilled till crisp on the outside and warmed up within to make yaki-musubi.

These yaki-musubi, however, have a bit of a difference: deep in the heart of each rice patty is a bit of tinned fish – in this case, tuna sisig – to give it more flavour.  The cooked patties are smothered in a rich, spicy curry gravy made with Japanese curry roux and onions.  You can use any other tinned fish of your choice; you can even use canned meats such as cubed luncheon meat or corned beef hash.  Whichever you choose, you can serve up your leftovers as a fresh new dish your family can enjoy.

Curry musubi and coleslaw

Curry musubi and coleslaw

Yaki-Musubi Curry

For the musubi:

  • 3 cups cold cooked rice
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 small tin tuna or milkfish (bangussisig or pink salmon, drained well
  • 2 tablespoons oil for frying

For the curry

  • 1 cube Japanese curry roux
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped

To make the musubi, mix together the rice, egg, and tinned fish.  Chill for 30 minutes to an hour.  Form into four patties.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a pan over medium heat.  Fry the patties until browned and crisp on both sides; set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Add the curry and cook while stirring till thickened.

Transfer the patties to a serving dish and pour over the curry.  Serve immediately with a salad.

Serves 2.

In Which We Talk About the Recipes We Share With Others…

Pesto cream linguine with fresh cauliflower

Pesto cream linguine with fresh cauliflower

For dinner last night, I decided to fix an enormous bowl of pesto cream linguine - one of my signature dishes.  It’s one of those things that’s an absolute doddle to make, if I may steal a line from the divine Nigella Lawson.  You just saute minced onion and garlic in some of the oil from a pack of store-bought pesto, throw in whatever veg or proteins you fancy, add the pesto and a bouillon cube for flavour; let it bubble, throw in the cream, bring to a simmer, then toss in the pasta.  An easy-peasy effort if there ever was one.

This simple recipe is one of many that I’ve shared through this blog or among friends both off- and on-line.  Other recipes I’ve passed on to willing cooks or bakers include my totally moreish rum butter cakes in all their iterations, toffee bars, Chinese roast pork, and goodness knows what else.

In this day and age when information can be shared conveniently with the global community, it is easy to share recipes, to get feedback for them, and to see where they can be tweaked for improvement.  Not too long ago, however, sharing recipes was actually a no-no for many home cooks.

It is something that is almost anecdotal but applies to cooks throughout a broad cultural spectrum: people spend the better part of their lives perfecting certain recipes and building up a culinary repertoire of their most sumptuous specialties.  Because of the labour, the effort expended on the development of these dishes, many cooks opted not to share the recipe with others, guarding those lists of ingredients and procedures jealously and zealously for a lifetime.  Indeed, in many cases, some of the greatest dishes ever created in the history of gastronomy are gone forever – never to be tasted by future generations – only because their creators took the secret of cooking them to the grave.

One case is particularly personal: my maternal grandmother was known to bake a magnificent torta .  This rich, eggy cake made with lard, not butter, was a great family favourite among her children and a treat they all looked forward to.  Unfortunately, as with all those cooks of old, my grandmother guarded the recipe with her life and did not share it with anyone – least of all her five daughters for various reasons only she herself knew.  She did, however, write it down; possibly, the old girl meant to pass it on to someone before she departed this life.  However, when my grandmother died in early 1998, it is galling to know that nobody got the torta recipe.  This is not because she chose to hold it back in the end, but because of the petty quarrels among her children (an extremely long, convoluted, issue-ridden thing that annoys me to no end), no one’s gone back to her house to retrieve it!

Thank goodness, then, that home cooks nowadays have more sense and willingly pass the recipe on for dishes that are sure to please families and friends to those who are keen on working in the kitchen to produce, if not culinary wonders, dishes that are guaranteed to be enjoyed by appreciative diners.  In that way, we are no longer in danger of losing recipes and thereby losing part of our culinary heritage.

I have not, of course, given up on getting my hands on my grandmother’s torta recipe.  I’ll be able to make it, eventually – either from her notes or I’ll find a reasonable facsimile thereof and make that particular dessert my own.  In the meantime, let me share with you one of my own recipes: this is a rather complicated bit of cookery – one for grand family feasts or, as we call it at home, Sunday dinner.  It features pata tim, that classic Chinese braised pork leg, but has the added virtue of being served on a bed of noodles.  Goodness knows it isn’t traditional; but it is stonkingly good – and I am proud to say that the recipe is mine to share.

So, what recipes did your grandmothers leave to you – or has your family lost certain treats because someone didn’t leave the recipe behind?

Pata Canton

Pata Canton

Pata Canton

  • 1 kilo sliced pork leg with the skin on (sometimes sold as ‘pata chops’) water
  • 1 tablespoon rock salt
  • 2/3 cup dark soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup shaoxing wine or rum
  • 1 medium can button mushrooms, drained and the liquid reserved
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into half-moons
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, cracked and peeled
  • 1 Chinese chorizo (lap cheong), sliced into thin strips
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 star anise, broken into segments
  • 2 bay leaves (laurel)
  • 1/8 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup rendered lard or cooking oil
  • 1 pork bouillon cube
  • 2 small bundles (or 1 large) pechay (Swiss chard) or bok choy, washed and divided
  • 400g pack pancit Canton (wheat stick noodles, available at Oriental groceries)

Place the pork, salt, and enough water to cover the meat in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Pressure-cook until somewhat tender (meat will soften more thoroughly as it braises), about ten to fifteen minutes. Remove the meat from the pressure cooker, reserving the cooking liquid [pork stock].

Pour the lard or cooking oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. Once it sizzles, add the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic and cook until the cloves have browned, then add the star anise and peppercorns; stir-fry until fragrant. Add the Chinese chorizo and cook for two minutes. Throw in the meat and carrots and stir-fry for about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the bouillon cube, brown sugar, reserved mushroom liquid, soy sauce, shaoxing wine or rum, and 1-1/4 cups of the reserved pork stock. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for 45 minutes.

When the meat has simmered for 20 minutes, add the mushrooms and bay leaves. Toss in the pechay during the last five minutes of cooking. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Blanch the pancit Canton in boiling water for five minutes. Drain well. Place half the noodles on a serving platter. Top with the cooked pata, vegetables, Chinese chorizo, and some of the sauce. Serve the remaining noodles and sauce on the side in separate dishes Serve whilst still hot.

Serves 12.

In Which the Blogger Opts for a Veggie Supper…

Carrot Cooler

Carrot Cooler

I have never really been keen on going all veg after a rather traumatic incident back when I was in uni that had surprising repercussions on my health.  At the same time, being vegetarian in this country used to mean that your food cost an arm and a leg more than what omnivores would eat – not a very practical lifestyle choice if you take your finances into consideration.

This does not mean, however, that I don’t like vegetables.  As a matter of fact, I love my green and leafies, my squashes and roots, all those gourds and pods.  Heck. we used to grow fresh veg in our garden when I was a kid – and goodness knows how much I enjoyed the salads and sautes prepared with homegrown produce.  And, once in a while, when I feel like I’ve over-porked or have beefed-out or burned out on chicken, an all-veg meal is always a nice change.

After a month in the Bonifacio Global City, my weekday eating habits have changed.  I’ve eschewed the bad habit of skipping lunch and running along on two cups of coffee.  Instead, I have a sensible noon meal and a sustaining snack in the afternoon.  I am not sure if it’s because I’m in good company, but I have a much better appetite now; I guess conviviality and sheer friendliness unmarred by corporate politicking make a good aperitif.  But, I digress…

The only downside is that the neighbourhood grocery where we often buy our lunches features a highly meat-centric menu.  Even the packed meals offered by nearby convenience stores are all heavy on the protein and carbs.  Fortunately, just a block or so away, Juicesabel offers a healthy, veg-friendly alternative that is delicious, satisfying, and surprisingly pocket-friendly.

Everything you need to eat is in the bag...everything you need to know is ON it

Everything you need to eat is in the bag…everything you need to know is ON it

The brainchild of a pair of athletic vegetarians who believe that healthy eating – and, by extension, healthy living – doesn’t have to be too pricey for people to do.  That in mind, Juicesabel features an array of raw, cold-pressed juices, lunch specials, sandwiches, wraps, and even desserts made fresh all the time with locally-sourced ingredients and are all priced most reasonably.

The shop itself is a tiny little spot along Kalayaan Ave. at the juncture that serves as the border between Makati and Taguig.  (Walk just a few steps away, and you’ll find yourself entering the BGC via 31st Street near Net Plaza)  Inside, you’ll be greeted by a tiny bar outfitted with two stools in a narrow space.  It’s kind of tight, so dining in isn’t exactly an option – indeed, many patrons would rather call in for delivery or pop in for takeaway – but it’s a neat little spot and the vertical garden on one wall adds a certain charm.

There is a glass-fronted fridge on the left when you come in and you can see what juices are available.  Juices are made fresh and some may not be available owing to the seasonality of the fruit or vegetables included in the mix.  (Now that is what I call going locavore!)  The juice menu is a three level thing: novice juices feature rather conventional-sounding fruit and veg blends – palate-friendly for those used to sweet, commercial juice mixes, but are nevertheless healthy and delicious.  The advanced selection gets a bit hairy, what with the addition of stronger-tasting ingredients such as spinach and ampalaya (bitter melon) as well as pure chlorophyll for extra nutrition.  Looking at the pro section of the menu, I have to admit that it wasn’t for the faint of heart; reading the list of ingredients for juices named Veggie Galore and the Vegcredible Hulk made me think of chopped salads.

I’m not quite ready for the advanced and pro selections, as yet.  (I still prefer to crunch on my salads as opposed to drinking them.)  But the two juices I sampled from the novice menu were excellent.  The Carrot Cooler shown above is a mix of carrots, apples, ginger, and pineapple.  It was a vitamin bomb that took much of its flavour and sweetness from the pineapple – you do get a zingy hint of ginger towards the end – and it was pretty much what sustained me on that awful evening last Wednesday when I had to trek from BGC down to Shaw Blvd. (a 6km walk) to grab a bus along with many other stranded commuters.  It kept me hydrated and boosted my energy levels sans caffeine.

Last night, I grabbed another bottle – Aloha Bliss, this time – to sip throughout the two-hour traffic jam on the way home.  This one was a mix of papaya, pineapple, apple, and cucumber and tasted primarily of papaya.  True to its name, I daresay it helped stave off the peevishness as I was totally relaxed on the bus home.

Incidentally, regardless of level, all juices come in 350 mL bottles – a third more than other local juicers’ – and cost P 150.00 (US$ 3.34) per bottle.  You could also ask about the juice cleanses which come in one-day, two-day, and three-day packages featuring a selection of juices and teas to help you detox.

Up with the veg burger!

Up with the veg burger!

Since I knew I was in for another long-haul commute, I also ordered Juicesabel’s vegan burger (P 80.00 = US$ 1.78) to take away.  This wee monster of a sarnie features a tofu patty that tastes surprisingly meaty and had some serious, almost beefy heft to it even without animal protein.  The patty is tucked into a dairy-free bun with a nutty sweetness to it, layered with fresh Romaine, onions, ripe tomato, and alfalfa sprouts.  Zesty condiments were drizzled in for extra oomph – et voila: a cruelty-free burger that puts your local fast-food flogger’s wares to shame.  Paired with the refreshing juice, it made a satisfying supper on the run – and one that I wouldn’t mind having again.

Juicesabel All Vegan Cafe3800 Kalayaan Avenue, Barangay Pinagkaisahan, Makati.  For inquiries or deliveries, call 0906-32DETOX (33869).

 

In Which One Learns Oodles About Noodles…

Invitation Letter For GLobal Activity

This arrived in my inbox…

The Philippines is not necessarily known as noodle territory, given that rice remains the staple starch for much of the nation’s citizens.  But this does not mean that Filipinos aren’t a noodle-noshing race; on the contrary, Filipino cuisine features several dishes wherein noodles – from chewy mung-bean sotanghon to wheat-flour Canton cooked either al dente or soft – serve as the base (the canvas, if you want to take an artistic metaphor) for a number of savoury preparations.  From sotanghon guisado (mung-bean vermicelli stir-fried with shredded chicken and vegetables) to classic pancit Canton (wheat-based egg noodles cooked with a bit of stock and an assortment of meat and vegetables), noodle dishes are an integral part of every Filipino family’s celebration menu.

However, throughout the passage of time, tastes change and, with them, so does the country’s food culture.  Filipino households are just as likely to prepare Western pasta dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese or macaroni and cheese on birthdays in place of (or in addition to) pancit.  But, despite the influx of foreign dishes into local menus, pancit is still one of the undisputed kings of the celebration banquet – and is just the thing to use as a key ingredient for many exciting meals.

Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation, one of the oldest noodle-making companies in the country, recently held Oodles About Noodles, an event where the versatility of pancit Canton was presented and how such an Oriental ingredient can actually be used in lieu of Western pasta for a variety of dishes that can liven up family meals.

Excellent Noodles from traditional pancit to Western pasta

Excellent Noodles from traditional pancit to Western pasta

As one of the oldest and most prominent noodle brands in the country, Jeverps’ Excellent has long been a staple of many kitchens throughout the Greater Manila Area and throughout much of Luzon.  While its primary stock in trade is traditional noodles (pancit Canton, pancit bihon [beehoon; rice stick noodles], and fresh miki [fat, udon-like egg noodles), it has also made a foray into instant noodles (both soup noodles and instant pancit) and Western noodles such as spaghetti and macaroni.  Widely available in local markets and groceries, housewives, home cooks, and even institutional caterers have long been singing the praises of its products.

Good noodles should stay firm and bouncy after blanching

Good noodles should stay firm and bouncy after blanching

The end-product of years of continuous research and innovation, Excellent noodles – specifically Excellent Pancit Canton – are not only enjoyed in the Philippines but are now being exported for use overseas, particularly in North America, Australia, and the Middle East.  It was easy to see why after we were shown comparative samples of Excellent pancit and that of a leading brand.  In their raw state, Excellent noodles already smell delicious: the aroma of a just-opened pack of pancit Canton is similar to that of hot toast or corn chips (nachos) just taken out of a deep-fryer.  The colour was also a deeper, richer yellow than the competitor: evidence that a good number of fresh eggs went into the making of the noodles

Cooked, the noodles continued to show their quality.  Blanched at five minutes, the noodles were toothsome – al dente, to be exact – whilst the point of comparison still had a raw core that rendered the noodles tough and unpalatable.  Shown above are noodles cooked for about 8 – 10 minutes: the sample on the left is the competitor’s and it was beginning to look like a tangled mass.  The Excellent sample on the right had noodles that remained separate and had attained the chewy, ‘bouncy’ texture that many diners prefer.  Even when overcooked, Excellent noodles retained their structural integrity even as the competitor’s had more or less turned into a gluey mush.

But, as they say, the proof of the pudding isn’t just in the cooking; rather, it’s in the eating.  That said, the chefs from host institution Global Culinary and Hospitality Academy pulled out the stops and presented an excellent array of fusion noodle dishes.

Chef Garie Quiambao works his magic at the cooktop

Chef Garie Quiambao works his magic at the cooktop

The actual demonstration was handled by Chef Garie Quiambao, one of Global Academy’s chef-instructors.  Meanwhile, in the side kitchen preparing dishes for participants to try was another chef instructor, Brando Santos, together with a team of student chefs.  Needless to say that the aromas wafting from both kitchens made our mouths water and our eyes widen with anticipation for what we were going to sample.

Vongole with Excellent Pancit Canton

Vongole with Excellent Pancit Canton

One of the reasons for the event was to show both home cooks and culinary professionals that pancit Cantonpancit Bihon, and other traditional Filipino noodles could be used in lieu of their Oriental and Western equivalents in a number of preparations from classic Italian pastas to homespun Japanese ramen and udon to noodle braises worthy of an old-school Chinese lauriat.  All four of the recipes demonstrated were interesting and quite easy to do either at home or in an institutional kitchens.  Of course, some dishes were better received by the audience than others.

The first dish to come out of the kitchen was the Vongole with Excellent Pancit Canton.  This was pretty much a riff on the simple classic aglio olio which is a simple emulsion of garlic-infused olive oil with fresh herbs and peperoncini (dried chili flakes).  Here, blanched pancit Canton was tossed into a simple sauce made by sauteeing plenty of minced garlic in olive oil.  Clams – vongole/halaan – were thrown in and heated up until the shells popped open (if the shells don’t open, chuck those out!).  The clams were taken out and a splash of broth and a touch of dry white wine were added to the sauce.  To finish, the sauce was mounted with a bit of butter for some enrichment, the noodles tossed in with the shellfish, and sprinkled over with parsley and peperoncini.

If you blindfolded a diner and fed him this, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from a dish of classic clam linguine.  The bright, fresh flavours of the clams and the peppery character of the sauce worked surprisingly well with the noodles which complemented the other tastes with a hint of nutty sweetness.

Excellent Pancit Canton Carbonara

Excellent Pancit Canton Carbonara

The second dish was a riff on the classic fettucine carbonara - or, well, how carbonara is typically prepared here in the Philippines.  What is known here as carbonara is actually a variation on fettucine Alfredo in the sense that the white sauce is made with fresh cream instead of the egg yolks vital to classic carbonara.  Nevertheless, this version also has bacon (rather than pancetta) to give it a typical salty-smoky savour.

In this fusion context, alas, the pancit Canton did not fare so well with participants.  Because pancit Canton is made with eggs, the cooked noodles have a rather eggy flavour that usually gets drowned out when cooked with soy-based sauces as with a traditional platter of Canton.  Here, the egginess didn’t quite gel with the rich, creamy sauce.  I don’t say this too often, but I found this dish a little too rich for my palate.  Apparently, many participants shared the opinion.

Excellent Pancit Canton with Tuyo Flakes in Tomato Sauce

Excellent Pancit Canton with Tuyo Flakes in Tomato Sauce

More successful was the fusion spin on another Italian classic: spaghetti puttanesca.  A traditional puttanesca features a spicy tomato sauce given salty zip by the addition of anchovies and capers.  Here, the anchovies were replaced by tuyo flakes – dried, salted fish (usually the small freshwater tawilis) flaked, filleted, and marinated with chili and black pepper in olive oil – which gave a similar flavour with an added fillip of heat.

This was quite a successful combo: the eggy richness of the noodles was tempered by the sweet-tart tomato sauce and the flecks of salt-fish added a pleasing contrast against the starchy noodles.  This was, hands-down, my favourite dish from the demo and one I’d happily cook at home.

Excellent Pancit Canton with Braised Pork Humba, Bok Choy, and Quail Eggs

Excellent Pancit Canton with Braised Pork Humba, Bok Choy, and Quail Eggs

The grand finale of the demonstration was the Excellent Pancit Canton with Braised Pork Humba with Bok Choy and Quail Eggs.  Humba is a dish that hails from the Visayas, particularly in my maternal grandmother’s home province of Leyte.  It is, essentially, what you get when you combine the soy and vinegar flavours of Filipino adobo with the sweet and unctuous qualities of pata tim (Chinese braised pork leg): a whole pork leg cooked with banana blossoms in soy sauce and vinegar until meltingly tender.

In this case, the cooked pork is ladled atop a bed of noodles and garnished with blanched bok choy, hard-boiled quail eggs, carrot ribbons, and garlic peanuts.  It is a fascinating dish: rich yet with a pleasant sharpness, soft noodles and tender pork against crisp carrots and crunchy peanuts.  It is the sort of dish that is perfect for either family dinners or large-scale feasts.

It was interesting to see such an old-school staple transformed into dishes worthy of either an Italian osteria or a banquet of Continental delights.  Thanks to the folks at Jeverps and Global Academy, I will never look at pancit the same way again or take it for granted.  Its versatility and excellence make it a vital ingredient for both home and restaurant kitchens.

NOTE:  I was formally invited to this event by Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation.  Incidentally, the new Excellent Hong Kong-Style Pancit Canton will be available in leading supermarkets and public markets in November of this year.