In Which Breakfast is a Singaporean Treat – but NOT in Singapore…

No, I am most definitely NOT in Singapore!

No, I am most definitely NOT in Singapore!

Right after I posted the picture above on Facebook, someone actually freaked out and sent me a PM sort-of-screeching, “When did you move to Singapore?!?”  The truth, dear Midge in the Kitchen readers is that I haven’t moved to Singapore; I just moved to a new office in another part of the Philippine NCR that just looks and feels like it isn’t part of the Philippines.  This, folks, is the Bonifacio Global City, or BGC.  It’s in Taguig, a southern suburb of Manila, and it’s pretty much a place that looks considerably more progressive and cosmopolitan than the rest of the Philippine capital.  It’s home to numerous multinational corporations, BPOs, and creative enclaves – including the wee but thriving ad agency I now have the privilege of being a part of.

The BGC is also where some of the best restaurants in town are along with numerous local and international resto chains, so you have Starbuckses and KFCs on one end and swank new establishments such as Niner Ichi Nana and Wrong Ramen on the other – and all within walking or shuttle distance of each other.  And, down at the corner of Rizal Drive and 31st Street is one of my favourite local kopi tiamsToastBox.

Nasi Goreng

Nasi Goreng

ToastBox, the cafe partner of Singaporean bakery chain BreadTalk, was one of my favourite restaurants during the time I was still working in Quezon City and the only branch they had was at the TriNoMa.  Later on, when I worked in Makati, the only time I could get a ToastBox fix – usually rose-infused bandung and malty Horlicks toast – was on weekends when I could head over to the branch at the Alabang Town Center – and that, alas, was a rare treat.  Luckily, the ToastBox here at the BGC is just a short walk away from my office, so I can grab a nice Singapore/KL-inspired meal every once so often.  Case in point: this morning’s breakfast.

Those of you who live in the Philippines can sympathise with me on the fact that the traffic situation in our neck of the woods is at its utmost worst since the days of the first Aquino administration in the late 1980s/early 1990s.  And, alas, the Philippine government is being utterly tuned-out and stupid by telling the people “Oh, be patient; it’ll pass.”  But, meh, what do you expect from politicians who were only voted in because of their famous surnames or the “heroic” feats of their forebears?  As a result, people have had to leave home extra-early and get home extra-late just to be able to avoid the CAR-maggedon in the city as well as the frequent breakdowns of both the MRT system and the PNR commuter trains.  In my case, I had to leave southern suburbia at 6:30 this morning (trust me: I was groggy throughout the bus ride) and got into the BGC at 8 – a trifle early for work – indeed, the office was still closed when I got there – but early enough to grab a table at ToastBox for breakfast – and, oh!  What a breakfast!

This morning’s nosh was a nice platter of nasi goreng and all its nifty sides.  What I got was a highly flavourful platter of just-fried rice spruced up with caramel-sweet shallots, finely-chopped birds-eye chilies (siling labuyo), kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), tamarind, and sambal belacan (fermented shrimp paste/bagoong).  The spiced rice was tossed with crunchy strips of fresh cabbage and chunks of ayam goreng or curried chicken breast.  The rice itself was delicious: every spoonful was perfectly seasoned and punctuated with the fiery kick of the chilies or a salty punch from the bits of sambal belacan scattered throughout the dish.  The sweet crunch of the cabbage provided a nice balance, but I am of the opinion that the chicken was totally unnecessary: it was quite dry, wasn’t properly seasoned, and pretty much lowered the full awesomeness of the nasi.  The fried dried anchovies (ikan bilis) added a bitter-salty crunch while cucumber slices brought in a welcome, fruity sweetness that was somewhat melon-y.  There was an additional dollop of sambal belacan, but I felt that was also a bit much.

Hot Horlicks!

Hot Horlicks!

One would think that the proper drink to go with such a repast would be a hot kopi c (coffee cut with tinned milk) or teh tarik (aerated milk tea), but I wanted something different.  For this morning, to both stave off the chill of the stormy day and to wake me up, I had the hot Horlicks which came to the table in a handled Ball jar.  The rich, malty flavour brought back memories of the crunchy Horlicks tablet-sweets my brother and I ate as kids and it provided a good energy boost to help me face my day – despite, alas, the traffic that plagues me before and after the work is done.  But, hey: at least the food was good.  Besides, it was like having breakfast in Singapore – without actually leaving the country.  ;)

ToastBox @ BGC: Ground Floor – Bonifacio One Technology Tower, Rizal Drive cor. 31st Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

In Which a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Gets an Upgrade…

A wee beastie of a toastie

A wee beastie of a toastie

Grilled cheese sandwiches (also known as cheese toasties) are a classic comfort food whether eaten on their own or together with a bowl of creamy tomato soup.  The basic formula is just that – incredibly basic: slices of cheese, often supermarket processed cheese food, slipped between two slices of squishy white bread, pressed flat, and fried in butter till brown and crisp on both sides.  It is a feast for the famished, comfort for the down at heart, and a treat for those seeking simple but scrumptious sustenance.

The grilled cheese sarnie has become popular fare of late at many local gastropubs and taverns where a two-sandwich platter can easily set you back a whopping P 250.00 – a price which, really, seems to be a tad much most of the time.  I would understand the price if what I got in my sarnie was a posh mix of imported European cheeses or artisanal North American and Australian provender.  But, alas: most of the time, these fancy sandwiches taste like they were made with Kraft or Bega slices from the supermarket dairy case!

Fortunately, there is a more reasonably priced alternative for those of us who crave for grilled cheese but are far from the comfort of our home kitchens: 7-Eleven’s three-cheese toasted sandwich.  Part of the recently-introduced Crisp Bite line of toasted sandwiches, the three-cheese features three cheeses from Danish dairy company Emborg: specifically Cheddar, Havarti, and rosemary-speckled cream cheese.

You can have the counter staff pop your sarnie into a jaffle maker/sandwich press and wait four minutes to get your nosh on, but I’d rather buy mine for takeaway because…

Have panini grill, will travel

Have panini grill, will travel

…there’s a panini press in the pantry of my new workplace!  That way, I can get my sarnies nice and hot whenever I want ‘em.

The sandwich doesn’t look like much when you take it out of the packet: pappy white bread filled with cheese and slicked thickly with butter on one side.  But chuck it into the grill, clamp it shut, and leave it alone for about four minutes tops – et voila!

Nice and golden

Nice and golden

You get a crisp-crusted, not-too-salty sandwich that tastes absolutely rich and delightful: you get the sweet, nutty smoothness of the Havarti against the sharpness of the Cheddar.  The creamy and herby nuances of the cream cheese bring them all together into a satisfying whole.  Oh, and have I mentioned how gorgeously oozy the cheese gets?

So good...

So good…

Best of all, these are just a measly P 35.00 apiece (P 59.00 if you get a drink to wash it down with).  It’s the perfect snack or breakfast sarnie to put a smile on your face.  ;)

In Which a Light, Healthy Option Just Isn’t Worth It…

Veg, anyone?

Veg, anyone?

This is what happens when the deadlines pile up one on top of another: you get all sulky, temperamental, even waspish.  You find yourself run ragged by rushing from one end to another.  Your appetite falls into a slump and your energy levels begin to dip down into alarming lows.  Such a situation is not good at all!

Times like these are not for comfort food; there will be time enough and plenty of opportunities to indulge yourself when all this is over.  Instead, you should fortify yourself with healthy stuff: fresh fruit and veg, plenty of whole grains and pulses.  These are times for big, satisfying chopped salads.  However, if you find that you can’t even bolt out of the building to grab a quick bite, Starbucks has a jim-dandy alternative for you: veggie sticks with a blue cheese dressing.

This is a clear plastic cup packed to the gills with chunky strips of carrot, jicama [singkamas], celery, and cucumber with a wee tub of blue cheese dressing.  It’s portable, noshable, and the dressing packs some serious punch.  However, at P 110.00, I would have been better off toting a packed lunch from home.  I mean, really: if I buy veg in bulk, cut it up, store it in the fridge, and get a bottle of store-bought blue cheese dressing, it’ll practically be the same thing!  But that, thank goodness, is now in the past, because…

You can walk, you can breathe easier...

You can walk, you can breathe easier…

…I moved to a new office in the Bonifacio Global City on September first.  ;)  Here’s to a fresh start!

In Which the Blogger FINALLY Gets Her Hands on the Elusive Adriano Zumbo Tim Tams…

Toothsome, sugary, and totally moreish!

Toothsome, sugary, and totally moreish!

This is the packet that sent shrieks of excited delight echoing throughout the bullpen at work one afternoon when one of the girls from Sales opened it and shared it with the rest of us lesser beings.

High school classmates who now live Down Under have tortured me by posting pictures of the limited edition Adriano Zumbo Tim Tams on Facebook.  I’ve been all, “Girls, anyone coming home to the Philippines any time soon?  Hey, I’ll chip in for the TimTams – just gimme some!”  Alas, no one’s flying in earlier than Christmas, so I pretty much reduced myself to a regular sulky snit over these elusive snacks.

So you can just imagine how totally blissed out I was to get an Adriano Zumbo TimTam: specifically, the au courant salted caramel variant.  It was a particularly toothsome bit: not too sweet, the milk chocolate coating of a slightly better quality than that of the standard Tim Tam biccie and also a bit thicker; the caramel rich, buttery, with that pop of salt towards the end.  Yum.

We’re all trying to find a way to order more of these treats; heck, we’re all craving the chocolate brownie and raspberry-white choc versions, too.  Until then, we’ll make do with what we can put our grubby little paws on – but, hey: regular Tim Tams are nothing to sneer at and are amazing enough treats on their own.   So, anyone up for a Tim Tam Slam? ;)

In Which Wee Bites of Chocolate Hold a Seriously Nutty Punch…

Hazelnutffle...

Hazelnutffle…

It is said that big things come in small packages.  It’s an adage that applies to Nutffles, wee nibbles of chocolate that hold a whole nut in the centre and are covered by chopped nuts on the outside.  I found these at Rustan’s Supermarket a few weeks ago whilst on a regular grocery run.  I was actually hunting down a quick, nutty snack – honey-roasted and sesame-covered macadamia nuts, to be exact – when I found a whole stand of these by the nuts-and-dried fruit aisle.

In substance and appearance, these will remind you of Ferrero Rocher, those gold foil-wrapped bonbons stuffed with gianduia and a whole hazelnut: whole nuts tucked into a thick, Belgian chocolate centre, cased in a thin cocoa wafer, dipped in milk chocolate and rolled in chopped nuts.  But given how these are made with chocolate ganache rather than gianduia, there is less of a Nutella-esque taste and more of a rich, chocolate flavour with hints of caramel – and it’s a taste that goes well with the nicely roasted nuts.

There are three variants currently available at Rustan’s: the hazelnut one shown here, the roasted almond, and the red velvet which features an almond in red-tinted white chocolate ganache and coated with a tangy white-choc coating reminiscent of cream cheese frosting.  They go for P 20.00 for individual truffles, but there are also packs of three if you have a serious craving and boxed assortments for those inclined to share.

In Which One Makes the Most of a MASSIVE Loaf of Bread…

That is a HUGE loaf of bread!

That is a HUGE loaf of bread!

Following the feast of St. Anthony of Padua in June, my family received what had to be the biggest loaf of bread I’d seen in ages: easily twice as wide as my forearm and just a wee bit shorter.  It had a rather dark, bitter-tasting crust that was scattered over with toasted sesame seeds; the inside was more spongy than fluffy, evidence that this was a hard-dough loaf (similar in stodgy substance to sweet breads such as monay, pan de limon, putok buns and the turtle-shaped pinagong buns of Quezon province).

It was the perfect bread for sandwiches – and, oh!  Such sandwiches!

Grilled cheese goes big!

Grilled cheese goes big!

The savoury bitter crust and the sweetish inner crumb went perfectly with mild Cheddar for a massive grilled cheese sarnie that barely fit on my plate until I cut it in half.

Cooked in butter till golden, this sandwich was given a bit of Italian flair by the addition of basil, oregano, and rosemary to the sliced cheese within.  Frying the sandwich in butter tempered the bitterness of the crust and made it crunchier.  The sweet crumb was just perfect with the saltiness of the cheese and the fresh flavour of the herbs.

It was just the right thing to eat with an ice-cold soda on a sweltering Saturday afternoon.

Curried chicken foldover for breakfast

Curried chicken foldover for breakfast

(Just so we’re clear, the picture above shows just how huge individual slices of the loaf were.  Huge, eh?)

Another time, there was some chicken curry left over from dinner.  I just shredded the meat off the bones, whisked it and some leftover coconut gravy into a bit of mayonnaise with some pickle relish and pimenton dulce,  lumped on a few slices of cheese, let the whole thing come together for a few minutes in a toaster-oven – et voila!  I had a curried chicken foldover that went magnificently with my morning latte.  :D

I recently found out which bakery actually sells these glorious giant loaves.  Needless to say, one of them will be making its way into the family breadbox soon.  :D

 

In Which We Talk About a Classic Street Snack: Fish Balls…

Fish balls are a nocturnal treat on the commute home...

Fish balls are a nocturnal treat on the commute home…

I apologize for the rather dark and fuzzy way the picture looks, but this is because the street food carts here in Manila are only out and about after dark.  Street food here in the Philippines has become more than just a way of satisfying one’s hunger on the road; it’s become an intrinsic part of urban culture in this part of the world.

Street food carts offer everything from quick snacks for those on the go, bar chow for the drinking crowd, pick-up meals for those too tired (or lazy) to cook dinner, to the sort of soups and savoury porridges that serve as hangover cures for the seriously smashed.  Really, the carts have something for everyone.

Fish balls - the name is also spelled as ‘fishballs’, a compound word – are, arguably, the most popular treats.  Back when I was a kid, mothers used to go crazy whenever their kids bought these deep-fried, odoriferous treats, seeing how the sanitary standards weren’t at all that high.  But anyone who grew up in the Philippines between the 1970s and the early noughties (right up to the present day, as a matter of fact), has gobbled scads upon scads of these fishy bites with a relish.  For one thing, they’re cheap; for another, they taste good.  Most of all, though, eating them despite maternal prohibition was a form of acceptable rebellion; a right of passage, so to speak.

The name is something of a misnomer because these don’t fry up into puffy spheres but, instead, fry into flattish discs; think oden, only deep-fried in a wok rather than boiled up in a cauldron.  To correct a number of Westerners who presumed quite erroneously that these are fish gonads, these are actually made of minced cod or pollock.  Some urban legend spouters claim that fish balls are made with shark meat, but no one’s actually had any solid proof to support such a claim.  These are deep-fried till either floppy and toothsome or brown and crunchy and diners get to spear these treats out of the wok with a bamboo skewer.  You then dip the skewered fish balls into your choice of sauce from a set of jars sitting on a shelf on one side of the cart: sinamak vinegar (vinegar infused with onions, garlic, peppercorns, and green chilies), a cornstarch-thickened sweet sauce, and a soy-based hot sauce that gets its fire from plenty of siling labuyo (bird’s-eye chili).

At the fish ball cart that plies its trade near the market that marks the entrance to the village where I live, you can get eight fish balls for the niminy-piminy price of  P 5.00 (about US$ 0.11) or, as above, a stick of sixteen pieces for P 10.00 (US$ 0.23).  Also available are the bigger, more spherical squid balls made with either real squid or – more commonly – cuttlefish puree and little brown logs called orlian or kikiam (a more highly seasoned fish paste pressed like forcemeat into a soy-flour dough skin) which go for P 1.00 per piece; the former goes well with the sweet sauce while the latter tastes best with the soy-and-chili blend.

For me, though, the real pleasure remains with the fish balls – the undisputed king of street food in my book.