Milk Tea: A Personal Power-up

Milk tea: it’s been my personal jet fuel since I got out of college. More than hot chocolate, more than even coffee, it’s the stuff that has kept me company during serious writing assignments and grueling concept development sessions.

Most PR practitioners, advertising mavens, and journalists prefer to drink coffee to stay on their feet for the long haul. However, as I learned personally, too much coffee + too much stress = a nervous breakdown. That said, tea has proven to be a gentler but nevertheless effective stimulant.

It is one thing to brew tea, to let it steep in hot water until it yields a beautiful, fragrant cup. Unfortunately, given the reckless, ruthless, rushabout nature of the field I’m in, even the simple act of dropping a tea bag in hot water and waiting for it to brew properly takes precious minutes.

So, while the accompanying rituals aren’t exactly as satisfying as doing it the regular way, I’m glad that there are both instant and ready-to-drink milk teas on the market. There’s Lipton Milk Tea, of course (in Vanilla, please!), as well as my favorite Mine Shine. Then there’s the little can shown above: Pokka Milk Tea. This one is obviously an Earl Grey-based drink; you can just smell the bergamot almost as soon as you open the can! (Oh, and the floral pattern on the can? Pretty!)

What’s your personal jet fuel, that drink that keeps you company in the busiest situations?

The Biscuits…They’re PINK!

I apologize for the shoddy lighting in this particular shot, but the biscotti shown above are actually pink. That’s right; these biscuits with the rosy hue are my Bacche di Bosco – forest berry – biscotti.

It actually began as an experiment when I found some strawberry flavoring in the kitchen along with a bag of mixed winter fruits, specifically a blend of dried blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raisins, and currants.

The first results were good, but I felt that the strawberry flavor was more than a little muted. I thought about using more strawberry flavoring, but worried that too much of it would alter the texture of the biscotti. What actually helped in the end was a packet of strawberry-flavored instant oatmeal! The instant oatmeal replaced the plain oats I normally use for my biscotti and it really gave the cookies a wonderful flavor and aroma.

The cookie isn’t very sweet despite the fact that the strawberry oatmeal is pre-sweetened and the mild sweetness makes for a lovely contrast with the sharp flavors of the mixed berries. Plus, the crispness goes well with the chewy fruit.

Indeed, it was one of my more successful experiments this past month. 😉

A Not-so-Sizzling Steak

Looks intriguing, doesn’t it? If you look at it very closely, you’ll see that this menu item’s name is “Salad Hamburg”. It’s essentially a hamburger patty cooked on a griddle and topped with tomatoes, shredded cabbage, and Japanese mayonnaise. I was at Sizzling Pepper Steak at the TriNoMa when I saw this particular dish and, while I was intrigued by it, I opted for something simpler.
This is the Demiglace Hamburg, a beef patty that the diner cooks on a griddle. A gravy boat of beefy demiglace comes along for the ride, together with sesame-infused moyashi (mung bean sprouts), buttered carrots, and green beans.

It’s a passable dish: the beef is properly minced and is a balanced mix of fat and lean. However, I will reserve judgement till I try out the competition; in which case, a trip to Pepper Lunch will soon be necessary.

Instant Comfort: A Bowl of Embellished Noodle Soup

The weather here in Manila has been particularly ornery of late. One moment, it’s sunny and blisteringly hot; the next, it’s cold and the rain outside falls in torrents. Given the schizoid nature of the weather, it’s not surprising that most people have been having a hard time recovering from the flu and others – myself included, alas! 😦 – have been catching dreadful colds. Plus, the fluctuating temperatures tend to cause some considerable lowering of one’s spirits, leading to a general feeling of malaise.

Times like these call for serious comfort foods.

I agree with what the iconic local film director Peque Gallaga said in his essay Samo-samo in the Kitchen:

Food wasn’t going to solve the problem or make it go away, but it certainly was going to help put me in a frame of mind to see things with a little more philosophy and courage.

Direk Peque’s idea of comfort food involves a massive plate of old-school bacon and sunny-side up eggs with garlic fried rice. While I can certainly identify with how such cholesterol-laden goodness can be beneficial to one’s psyche, I tend to veer away from anything fried whenever I’m ill. Indeed, my go-to meal in times of illness and/or personal crisis involves boiling – specifically: boiling up a packet of instant noodles.

The idea is to actually make something special out of something as mundane as a packet of instant noodles. In my case, I boiled up the contents of a packet of Nong Shim Neoguri Udon (the mild sort; much as my nasal passages were stopped up, I doubted if my throat could stand anything more incendiary!), chopped up some leftover Korean-style barbecued chicken, and threw in a handful of frozen mixed vegetables. Most people usually whisk an egg into their pots of instant noodle soup, but I prefer to poach the egg whole till the whites are cooked just right and the yolk is still semi-molten within. Mm-hmm… Samo-samo ala southern suburbia.

Combined with the al dente noodles, the sweetish chicken, the veg, and the sub-molten egg, the spicy broth gives me a feeling of well-being and comfort. I swear: whenever I eat this, things start to look much better – not matter how bleak they may seem.

Incidentally… Direk Peque’s essay is one of the interesting food-related mini-memoirs compiled in the 2003 anthology Comfort Food edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio and published by Anvil. If you’re the sort who grew up with foodies like I did, this book is for you,

A Local Take on a Beijing Classic

Despite outward appearances, this is not a plate of spaghetti Bolognese. It’s actually a local take on zha jiang mien, one of the most popular specialties of Northern China.

Chowking, the largest Chinese fast food chain in my neck of the woods, calls this dish spicy pork and mushroom noodles. The name alone is already a dead giveaway as to what’s in the sauce.

Real zha jiang mien is, traditionally, a winter dish and consists of ground pork and bits of tofu sauteed with chives and garlic; in Beijing and much of Northern China, no oil is used in this part of the process. Huáng jiàng (yellow soy bean paste) is used to flavor the dish and give the sauce its characteristic color and thickness. A bit of chili pepper may be used to give the dish additional heat, but this is optional in most cases, as is the additional of minced shiitake mushroom.

While Chowking’s version isn’t exactly authentic, you have to admit that it does have its charms. One would think that there would be tomatoes in the sauce because of the color but there aren’t any. At the same time, one would also think that the sauce would be sweet (as is, alas, the case with locally-flogged spaghetti) but there’s only the faintest hint of sweetness and even this is tempered by a good mix of spicy and savory flavors. The squiggly egg noodles used for the dish hold up quite well to the heavy texture of the sauce and had a bit of bite to them.

A set meal (or Value King as Chowking flogs it) consists of a plate of noodles and a regular-sized drink; it’ll only set you back P 49.00 (just a little over US$ 1.00). While these are good on their own, I like pairing a plate of these noodles with some crisp-fried tofu in a soy-vinegar dressing topped with grated ginger, minced onion, some chili, and chives.

Next time I find myself in Binondo, I’ll try the soy bean “handiwork” noodles over at Dong Bei near Ongpin St. Rumor has it that they’re the closest you can get to the Beijing original.