Posted in A Girl at Lunch, A Whole Lotta Spice!, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, Uncategorized

In Which One Lunched on Saigon-inspired Dishes…

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Gỏi cuốn

This is the problem with working in the big city at the height of summer: when noon hits, you find yourself reluctant to brave the intense heat outdoors to grab a bite to eat.  Given how hot it is even in the wee small hours of the morning, you’re too flustered to fix yourself a boxed lunch.  And, even if you do manage to brave the heat, you find yourself heading to places closer to the office.  In my case, this means convenience stores – and you can only go so far before you find yourself dumpling-sick and fried-chicken-sated.

But good things come to those brave enough to go a hop, skip, and jump farther.  Thus, it was a serendipitous thing when I found myself trotting over to the food court on the 12th Floor of the nearby GT Tower because that’s where I found Xành Quán Vietnamese Food.

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Grilled Pork Chop and Fried Egg Rice

Xành Quán’s stock in trade is a dish called Cơm tấm or “broken rice”; so called, because it makes use of the grains that are broken in the milling process.  In most Asian countries, raw broken rice is sold at a lower price and is eaten by poorer folk or used as animal fodder, a base for brewing alcoholic beverages, or as a foundation starch for cosmetics.  In Vietnam, particularly in the southern city of Saigon, it is considered a delicacy because of its fluffier, mealier texture and mildly sweet, nutty flavor.

At Xành Quán, you can order broken rice served in the classic Saigon manner (P 150.00) where it is served with slices of sweet grilled pork, a slab of steamed, egg-wrapped Vietnamese meat loaf (chả trứng), and a selection of fresh and pickled vegetables.  Personally, I went with the grilled pork chop and fried egg rice (P 140.00); it is a tasty and filling combination.  The pork is rather thin, but very tender and has a sweet, savory taste heightened by the addition of sesame oil, annato (hence the golden color), and nuoc mam (fish sauce) in the marinade.  The egg adds richness to the dish and is set off beautifully by the crisp, tangy Vietnamese pickles (carrot and daikon radish), along with slices of fresh tomato and cucumber.  It is deeply satisfying, yet the flavors and textures are light enough to make it a meal you can enjoy even on the hottest of summer days.

However, in case your appetite is seriously flagging in the heat but you still want something substantial, you can opt for Xành Quán’s take on the highly-popular gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese summer rolls) which go for P 25.00 a piece.  Here, fresh herbs (mint and Thai basil), bun (rice noodles), small prawns, and slivers of grilled pork are wrapped in translucent rice paper.  The resulting rolls are served with a chili-flecked peanut sauce that adds a fiery sweetness to the bland bun and heightens the fresh, green flavors of the herbs as well as the savor of the meat and prawns.  It is also a fascinating play on textures with crunch coming from the herbs and the al dente noodles, the chewy rice paper, tender meats, and creamy dip.  Not a bad way to nosh up for the day and a refreshing one, as well.

Xành Quán Vietnamese Food: Art and Food Galerie, 12th Floor – GT Tower, Ayala Avenue cor. H.V. dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati.

 

 

 

Posted in Home Cooking, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Well-read Foodie, Uncategorized

In Which One’s Bossam Turned Out Pretty Awesome…

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Pork, soybean paste, ginger, honey…

It all started with a recipe from American Iron Chef Judy Joo featured in an old issue of Where Women Cook Magazine.  The pictures were certainly tempting: a whole slab of roasted pork belly slathered in a rich, thick sauce bundled into an iceberg lettuce leaf with some rice and kimchi.  Mouthwatering would have to be an understatement here.

The dish in question was a roasted pork belly bossam, a modern spin on a traditional Korean specialty.  Bossam (보쌈) is a dish commonly served in autumn, just as families are preparing a fresh batch of kimchi from the year’s vegetable harvest or, as the period is called in Korea, at gimjang time.  It is also a drinking-man’s dish, as it is usually featured as an anju, or one of a set of dishes made to accompany soju or other alcoholic beverages.

In a traditional bossam, a whole slab of pork belly is simmered down with ginger and other spices to remove the gaminess of the meat.  The boiled pork is allowed to cool, then cut into thin slices that could be wrapped with  kimchi and other condiments in a lettuce leaf and eaten like a hand-roll.

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Kimchi, pork belly, and rice with furikake

Judy Joo’s spin on the dish is twice-cooked: the pork boiled till super-tender in a miso and garlic broth, then slathered with a second miso paste – this time with ginger and honey – before roasting.  The end result is a meltingly tender slab of pork with a subtle, nutty taste of soybeans and a hint of spice.

When I decided to cook the dish recently, I realized that I would do well to grab a tub of doenjang or Korean soybean paste (Korean miso, if you will).  Doenjang has a coarser texture than the more common white and red Japanese soybean pastes with nubbins of crushed soybean that impart an almost peanutty nuance.  Here, it is used to season the pork in two ways: first as the base of the simmering solution, then as part of the marinade rubbed onto the meat before the second phase of cooking.

One thing I had to change was the cut of meat.  I still used pork belly, but – as seen here – I had to use pork belly ribs as these were what I had on hand at the time.  Also, I didn’t bother roasting: we found that grilling the pork on a smoking-hot grill pan with some dark sesame oil works just fine.

The result: very tender pork that falls apart as you prod it with a fork with a subtly sweet and nutty taste and aroma that goes very well with spicy kimchi and just-cooked rice.

Grilled Pork Belly Bossam

  • 1-1/2 kilos pork belly ribs
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

For the broth:

  • 2 tablespoons doenjang
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 inch of ginger, sliced but unpeeled
  • 1 onion, cut into eighths

For the grill rub:

  • 2 tablespoons doenjang
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon kochujang or sriracha hot sauce

Place the pork and the broth ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn down the heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  Allow the pork and broth to cool completely.  Remove the pork and reserve the broth for other dishes.

Combine all the ingredients for the rub and smear generously over the pork.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight to improve the flavor.

Heat the sesame oil in a grill pan over medium heat.  Add the marinated pork and cook for about 10 minutes, turning at the halfway mark.  Serve with rice and kimchi.

Serves 6.

Posted in A Whole Lotta Spice!, Drinkables, Liquid Refreshment, Midge on the Road, The Flavors of Asia, The Pinoy Food Route, Uncategorized

In Which a Drink at the Airport was Refreshingly Gingery…

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Ooh, that looks interesting…

The weather continues blisteringly hot and the heat index has been hitting record highs of late – devastatingly record highs, if I may add, alas.

It’s times like these when I wish that Cebu would send over one of their best refreshment chains up north to us in Manila.  Seriously, I’d do anything to have a Tubo Cane Juice kiosk somewhere within walking distance right now!

As its name suggests, TCJ’s stock in trade is sugarcane juice (Tag.: katas ng tubo).  Sugarcane stalks are run through a mechanized press that crushes the sweet juice out of the hard, fibrous sticks.  This liquid is a pale amber in color, surprisingly mild with regard to its sweetness considering what is produced when it gets reduced by heat into the familiar crystalline granules we use for cooking, baking, and sweetening our morning cup of caffeine.  Each cup is pressed to order, thus ensuring the pristine quality of the end product.  Poured over crushed ice as is, sugarcane juice is a delicious, revivifying drink with which to cool down.

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Ginger-Mansi

But TCJ isn’t content with slaking the southern crowd’s thirst with plain sugarcane juice; oh, no, sir!  To add value in terms of both taste and nutritional value, TCJ blends freshly-pressed cane juice with equally-fresh, equally just-squeezed juices to create a delicious line of refreshments.  While I could have opted for a right-in-season mango infusion or sipped a superfood mix featuring milky-white and tangy guyabano (soursop), I needed something to soothe a throat that was threatening to ache along with a serious dose of Vitamin C.  For that, I had to order the Ginger-Mansi.

Here, fresh root ginger is run through the same crush-and-extract procedure as the sugarcane.  The resulting ginger presse is sharply aromatic, hinting at just how potent and pungent it will be if sampled straight.  This is mixed with fresh cane juice and a good squeeze of fresh kalamansi lime, poured over ice (a large will set you back P 90.00 – not a bad deal as Manila juice bars tend to be a bit more expensive), and handed to you with a typically cheerful Cebuano smile by the staff at the counter.

To describe it is to say that it is, pretty much, a still [non-carbonated] version of  ginger ale: bright and spicy, just fiery enough to wake up your tastebuds, just sweet enough to stave off the burn.  The citrus tang of the lime cuts through and each sip is a soothing, harmonious blend.

Now, there are sugarcane juice kiosks here in Manila.  However, these are few, tend to be far between, and rarely feature other flavors.  Which begs this question from me: when does Manila get a TCJ franchise…or do I have to take another trip to the Queen City of the South for a sugarcane and ginger fix?

Tubo Cane Juice – Departures Lounge, Mactan Cebu International Airport, Pusok, Cebu

Posted in PotPourri, Uncategorized

In Which We Celebrate Eleven Years of Midge in the Kitchen

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Tea for one; don’t mind if I do

How time flies.  When I first began writing this blog in 2005, I’d recently joined the IT sector as a technical writer in a knowledge management group.  Eleven years hence, I’ve thrown in the towel with regard to both IT and advertising and currently work as a communications specialist for a corporate governance advocacy – something of a very far cry from shilling herbal supplements or updating techie training manuals.

Writing about food – preparing and cooking it, trying new things, eating with friends and family – is something that has come to have a curative sort of quality for me.  Considering all the stress I go through every working day, cooking and baking calm me better than more conventional ways of meditating or unwinding.  Kneading dough or pressing shortbread mixture into a baking tin serves to relax my nerves and strengthen my arms and hands better than most yoga routines.  Chopping vegetables for one dish or another is a great way to burn off any excess anger.  (Least of all because I fancy one enemy or another falling to my knife; oh dear…)  Waiting for a slow-cooked stew to cook or bread to rise continues to teach me patience.  Sampling new flavors and textures is, in and of itself, a bit of a vacation from the ordinary for me as it helps me get a sense of different nations and cultures through the food they eat.

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Chocolate Cherry, anyone?

Over the eleven years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve met new people, made new friends, had my heart broken more than once.

I’ve fed people, fought with people, mourned the loss of friends and relatives who went on ahead to the great Feast in the sky.  Most recently, I lost a very dear friend and her son to a fire that burned down their home; I am still coping but it’s very hard.  When I think of the smile on that little boy’s face when I gave him a large, just-baked peanut butter cookie from a batch baked for my brother and other priests of our acquaintance, it breaks my heart all over again and I wonder where is the fairness in this world, where is the justice.  It doesn’t seem right that a mother and her child who had such a great appetite for life were taken so early in their days.  But that is life and those of us left behind have to muddle right along.

I’ll be honest: along with another recent heartbreak, it’s going to take a lot more than food, fun, and anything in between to get back into sync – but I’m trying.

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So, I propose a toast…and a bite of something tasty…

It’s been an amazingly delicious journey and I know it can only get better from here on out.

To everyone who’s followed this blog for the food and the adventures: thank you very much and I hope you’ll stick around for even more culinary shenanigans both in and out of the kitchen.

Salut!

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Midge on the Road, The Pinoy Food Route, Uncategorized

In Which We Ate Quite Well in Cebu…

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Now, here’s brunch!

Here’s the assignment: fly in, fly out on the same day for an Institute event in the Visayas.  You won’t have time to tour ’round as this is all work (and you will be shlepping equipment – laptop, DSLR camera, recorder, tarps in a carrying sling – for much of the day; you will be interviewing senior members of the Cebu business community; and you are the [sort-of] official photographer so you’ll be on your feet much of the time).  You shan’t have that much time to sample local delicacies, but – at the very least – you will be fed well.

Thus was the scenario from last week when the Institute of Corporate Directors for whom I work as a marketing/communications specialist flew over to Cebu for an event honoring two new fellows for the Institute.  Fly out of Manila at the crack of dawn; fly back to Manila in the early evening (air traffic permitting).  And don’t worry about going hungry as the City Sports Club in Cebu caters quite well.

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Club Sub Sandwich with potato wedges

The City Sports Club is a gem of a facility: excellent sporting facilities, a refreshing-looking pool that made us want to jump in, ample conference and banqueting facilities for the locals and for those from outside Cebu.  The downstairs resto-bar, Bistro 88, does good eats with more than substantial portions.

A good brunch option if you’re feeling peckish from the drive from the airport is the amply-portioned Club Sub Sandwich.  Here, a  crisp-crusted mini-baguette is grilled and filled to the gills with ham, bacon, salami, and crisp mesclun leaves.  The sarnie is simply dressed with mayonnaise and ballpark-style mustard and a dish of fat, chunky potato edges is served on the side.

While the flavors are typical of many sandwiches, the heft is what sets this wee beastie apart.  One sarnie easily feeds two ravenous people (seriously) and keeps them stoked for a morning’s worth of setting up, running around with cameras or clipboards, and interviewing local brass.

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Chicken Cacciatore with Parsley Rice

The City Sports Club’s function food is also pretty good.  In this case, the meal began with a mild spin on traditional pork sinigang – not bland, so you could mistake it for nilaga; but just tart enough to let you know that tamarind leaves and not pulp were used as the souring agent.  It’s the sort of thing that helped whet the appetite for a neat spin on chicken cacciatore.

This Italian classic featured chicken breast and thigh fillets rather than bone-in pieces, but these were tender and coated with a savory tomato sauce.  The chicken was a good match for the parsley flecked rice that came with it.  The vegetables, I must say, were standard-issue banquet food.

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Watermelon Shake

While sodas and iced tea were offered to slake intense summer thirsts, one would do well to grab a watermelon shake (or, for that matter, any other smoothie made with fresh in-season fruit) to cool down on a hot day.

City Sports Club: Cardinal Rosales Ave., Cebu City 6000, Cebu

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Midge on the Road, Restaurant Hopping, The Pinoy Food Route

In Which Lunch was a Taste of Western Visayan Comfort…

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Inasal na Liempo at Batchoy

The cuisine of Iloilo in the Visayas Region is known to be robust, full-flavored, and deeply satisfying.  The last time I was there a few years ago, the locals fed us with rich molo and batchoy soups made with stocks rich with schmaltz (chicken fat) and pork bones, deliciously porky little sausages served with fried eggs for a suitably magnificent breakfast, Spanish-inspired stews that stick to one’s ribs in the best manner possible, fine grilled fowl marinated in kalamansi lime and annato (achuete) oil [inasal], and fabulously rich desserts straight out of a Spanish-run convent.

I’ve not had time to return to Iloilo, though I was recently on the neighboring island of Cebu (more about that in another post), but Ilonggo and Bacolonon (from the nearby city of Bacolod) food can be found in various places here in Manila for a reasonable price.  Fortunately for this hungry urban warrior, the nearest place is just a short walk away at Inasal Joe.

Hee

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“Hey, I’m about to eat pork and rice!” (from Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen)

Here, P 99.00 gets you the Liempo Inasal (pork belly marinated and grilled inasal-style) with rice sprinkled over with toasted garlic and a small portion of achara (pickled green papaya).

While it may look like a rather meager portion to most eaters, the amount of meat here is actually sizable.  Plus, it was tender enough to slice through with the edge of a spoon.  It was nicely seasoned: tangy and salty and smoky all at once, playing up the natural sweet savor of the pork.  I also liked the fact that the fatty edges were good, crisp, and charred just right.  Eaten with the garlicky rice and the sweet-sour pickles, it definitely made for a good meal.

But, wait: there’s more!

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Batchoy: I know you want it…

If you add P 25.00 to your meal, you get a small bowl of batchoy: that rich noodle soup cooked in an incredibly soulful pork broth and made sinful with pork cracklings, fatback bits, and diced pork heart and liver.

Inasal Joe’s small bowl of batchoy is actually deceptive: don’t let the size of the bowl fool you as it’s filled to the brim with noodles and good stuff and that rich broth.  Definitely good value for an extra twenty-five bucks and it makes a hearty meal so much more satisfying.

Inasal Joe: 3rd Floor – RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati

Posted in Midge on the Road, Restaurant Hopping, The Pinoy Food Route

In Which a Good Breakfast Gets a Trip Off to a Good Start…

He's a teapot.
He’s a teapot.

I rarely travel.  This, in and of itself, is somewhat ironic because I traveled extensively as a child.  Fortunately, the situation somewhat rectified itself when I headed to the Queen City of the South, Cebu, for a fly-in/fly-out business trip.

Now, if there is anything I’ve learned from traveling in the past, is that it is never a good idea to travel on an empty stomach regardless of whether it’s a short- or long-haul flight.  Fortunately, travelers these days are spoilt for choice when it comes to light and substantial eats at the NAIA Terminal III.  And so: breakfast…

Breakfast Delight with Hungarian Sausage
Breakfast Delight with Hungarian Sausage

Chaikofi offers some fairly substantial breakfast options under its Breakfast Delights menu.  Each tray is perfect for one hearty eater or two light appetites as it comes with a fried egg, one’s choice of additional protein, a substantial glob of ready-to-spread butter, and four slices of whole-grain toast.

I chose the Breakfast Delight with Hungarian Sausage (P 185.00) and it was a rather satisfying choice.  The sausage was properly smoky and fried just right: crisp skin and succulent innards that were more meat than filler.  The toast could have used another few minutes in the panini press, but these were warm and nutty tasting; there was enough butter to generously slather on every slice.

Caffeine is, of course, a must when traveling for work.  (Otherwise, you’d be cranky and sleepy from being roused out of bed at 3 AM!)  Chaikofi’s caffe mocha is just strong, sweet, and creamy enough to suit and has nice cocoa notes in the taste.

Feed before you fly
Feed before you fly

Chaikofi Xpresso: Level 3 – NAIA Terminal III, Pasay City