Tea and cake. Coffee and cookies. Cocoa and buttered bread. Imagine numerous combinations thereof and you pretty much have the average Filipino office worker’s mid-morning or mid-afternoon nosh.
Since, modesty aside, the word average never really applies to me, I make an effort to keep my snacks interesting, fun, and – above all – delicious. If in the process I get to eat something unusual, so much more the better.
What’s shown above is a recent discovery made possible by the presence of a proper French-style (if not authentic French) boulangerie and several delicatessens / gourmet marts within the area I work in. This nosh-set consists of green tea and pecan madeleines from Delifrance and a hot mug of xing ren cha or Chinese almond tea.
The madeleines are not as delicate or as buttery as the regular all-butter or blueberry-studded ones sold at Delifrance. In fact, these are somewhat thicker, stodgier, and are certainly more satisfying. If the regular madeleines are perfect for summer snacking because they’re quite light, these are more appropriate for the chilly, rainy weather that’s finally arrived in this part of the world.
Flavor- and fragrance-wise, these little cakes are also quite good. The aroma is somewhat grassy, a bit flowery, but still overpowered somewhat by the scent of rich creamery butter. Butter is still the first thing you taste when you take a bite, but it is soon rounded out by the subtle but nevertheless penetrating bitter-almond profile of the green tea. This nuttiness is made even more pronounced by the fact that each little cake is packed with crisp chunks of roughly-chopped pecan.
Traditionally, xing ren cha is prepared in the same way as Mexican / Spanish horchata: almonds and rice are soaked for a couple of hours in cold water, then the almonds are soaked in hot water for an additional fifteen minutes to help slip off the skins. The soaked nuts and grains are then ground to powder and added to boiling water to make a nourishing drink. Ground dried yams, hazelnuts, lily bulbs, and a host of other fruits and nuts may be added to improve the flavor and amp up the nutritional value.
Of course, I’m not masochistic enough to do all that faffing about to make xing ren cha, so mine is actually made with a sachet of GreenMax almond tea and hazelnut (available at The Market along Leviste St. in Salcedo Village; P 250.00 for a sack of 15 packets). Combined with hot water, the fragrant almond tea powder turns into a thin, creamy yet grainy drink that is mildly sweet and reminiscent of annin doufu or almond jelly. You can add extra sugar, but I prefer to sweeten this with just a dab of honey. In my book, it may not be to everyone’s taste but I find it rather soothing and comforting.
I nibble on my cakes, sip my tea, and go over my work. Outside, the rain falls like a gossamer curtain over the city and brings soothing relief to a land parched by a long, dreadful summer.