Sticky Date Pudding: Warm, Sweet, and Comforting

Sticky pudding!

When I first saw the sticky date pudding listed on the Persia Grill menu, I had to rack my brains and backtrack: was sticky date pudding an actual Persian specialty? I’ve been reading Marsha Mehran’s novels featuring the indefatigable Aminpour girls and seriously doubt if the dessert was ever mentioned in their pages.

Reading through much of the material available either in books or online, I figured that sticky date puddings are a British or Aussie dessert.  They’re quite popular when the weather begins to turn chilly and the winds starts to blow and all for a good reason: times like these, you need something hot and stodgy to keep you warm and perky throughout the season.

Studded with chopped dates, this treat oozes sweetness

At Persia Grill, you can have your sticky pudding with caramel sauce or a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The day I went over, the wind blew chill and fierce, so ice cream was most certainly out of the question.

Unlike classic date puddings which are steamed in either pudding basins or individually-portioned ramekins, the pudding at PG was baked in a rectangular pan and served in buttery squares chock-filled with chunked dates.  Appearance-wise, this causes them to look a little less appealing than those brown domes featured in many Brit cookbooks and cookery magazines.

As the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, I was pleasantly surprised – and then some.  The buttery cake was not so sweet and was dense enough to stand up to the equally unctuous caramel sauce.  The dates added a crunchy-chewy twist to the texture and were like pockets of honeyed sweetness in the cake. Temp-wise, both cake and sauce were served hot.

All gone!

I ought to be ashamed of myself for admitting that I did not stop till the pudding was all gone, going so far as to swipe over the dish with a finger for the last dribbles of syrup and cake crumbs.  But try it for yourself and see if you don’t do the exact same thing.  😉

Food for Functions: Big Flavors in a Tiny Glass

Mango Panna Cotta

I’m not really that big a fan of entremets – those bite-sized, two-spoonful-sized desserts served in tiny glasses.  See, I’m the sort of person who loves huge, lush, even lavish sweet treats at the end of a meal.  Anything petite-sized is a niminy-piminy excuse for a dessert and just doesn’t do the course – and the meal itself – justice.

That said, I was ready to make a few disparaging remarks about the tiny mango panna cottas served at a recent training session at work.  It would have been fairly easy to say something really cutting about these miniature glasses filled halfway with a blancmange-like custard topped with mango chunks suspended in a golden syrup.

But it’s a good thing I held my tongue: these were just plain luscious!  The perfectly ripe mangoes were cooked in what appears to be a blend of sugar and more pureed and sieved mangoes.  The blancmange below was not the solid, milky-looking gelatin that makes so many other panna cottas so uninteresting.  This was more of a light creme caramel (leche flan): just solid enough to hold its shape but made with so much cream that it practically melts in your mouth, slides down your throat, and leaves a flavorful memory of pure, sweet cream.  And, despite the minuscule portion, it was actually a rather satisfying dessert.

My one regret about this dessert?  I forgot to ask the organizers who their caterer was!  😦

Vigan Empanada: The Taste of the North in Makati

Deep-fried = Fabulous

I have this longstanding love affair with Vigan-style empanadas.  Admittedly, they’re not the healthiest snacks in the world: rice flour pancakes enclosing a filling made with shredded green papaya, garlicky pork sausages with the casings removed, and a whole egg.  These are then folded over, sealed, and deep-fried till the outsides are as crunchy as nachos and the insides are gloriously fragrant and steamy.  Certainly not what the more diet-conscious among us would consider healthy eating!

Left to right: Ilocano rice vinegar, shredded green papaya, unskinned Vigan longganiza

Still, there is just something that is so good, so nurturing, so comforting about these deep-fried turnovers that makes them a worthwhile occasional indulgence.

A few years ago, I would get my Vigan empanada fix from a stall called Taco Iloco over at Market! Market! or from the branch at the Glorietta food court.  Unfortunately, these stalls closed down a couple years ago and the only place you could get a decent empanada in this part of the country was at a stall at the Mall of Asia – all the way in Pasay!  Now, while I’m absolutely food mad, I’m not crazy enough to go hightailing all the way to Pasay just for an empanada!

Drain off the excess oil and you're good to go.

Which is why a shopping jaunt to the renovated Cash and Carry Mall led to the discovery of Mac’s D’original Vigan Empanada and Okoy stall on the ground floor.  It’s actually a branch of the stall over at the Mall of Asia and, as done over there, the empanadas are prepared while one waits.

Refrigerated chunks of rice flour dough are rolled out to order and filled with a scrumptious combination of fresh green papaya, ground black pepper, unskinned chunks of garlicky pork sausage, a touch of vinegar, and an egg yolk (the whites are reserved for binding the dough) and deep fried till golden.  The dough used here isn’t the blinding orange kind used by other empanada stalls, but it is nacho-crisp and certainly moreish.


So greasy, but too good!

The stall also sells okoy (huge rice-flour fritters studded with tiny shrimp and beansprouts), chicharong laman (pork crackling; actually, more like deep-fried bacon rinds), and Vigan’s popular longganiza (the same sausages used for the empanadas).  But it’s the empanadas that keep me coming back.  I’ve told my cousins in California about this stall – and they’ve been telling me to shut up and bring them there the next time they’re in the country.  😉

Mac’s D’original Vigan Empanada and Okoy: Ground Floor – Cash and Carry Mall, Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue cor. South Super Highway, Fillmore, Makati

Because Even Hard-Core Foodies Make Mistakes

Don’t be deceived…

Char kway teow is one of the dishes I crave for from time to time because it’s so good but it’s so damned hard to find anywhere in this part of the world.  There’s just something so comforting about this dish: it’s savory and flavorful, soft noodles contrasting with crunchy beansprouts, everything all gorgeously umami.

Which is why I had high hopes for Red Dot‘s char kway teow.  Red Dot is the newest stall at Glorietta IV’s Food Choices and specializes in Singaporean / Malay cuisine.  Aside from the usual suspects – namely the Hainanese chicken rice and the crispy pork over rice – they do have my favorite peninsular noodle dish and it’s what I ordered.


It was, I regret to say, a mistake – and a serious one at that!

I expected the dish to have the soy-salty flavors, the somewhat meaty undertone I encountered in previous encounters with these noodles.  Instead, I got the overwhelming fire of chili in each and every bite.  Every single forkful – even the smallest nibbles – felt like fire was running down my esophagus and I feared that my tonsils would be reduced to smoldering embers by the end of the meal.  It was that gruesome an experience.

Thank goodness for beef broth

This is going to sound seriously uncharitable coming from me, but the best part of this meal was actually the aniseed-infused beef broth with chives that came as a side dish.  It was rich and flavorful and managed to temper the heat of the noodle dish as best as it could – but not, alas, by much.

I would return to Red Dot for its Hainanese chicken rice and the crispy pork, but I’m definitely crossing it off my list the next time I crave char kway teow.

Paris Delice: Food as a Trigger of Memory

Le p'tit-dejeuner

I’ve written time and again about the very first time I tasted a pain au chocolat in the French pilgrimage town of Lourdes over twenty years ago.  But, really: such memories linger and become increasingly difficult to replicate over the course of time.  Every single pain au chocolat I’ve eaten since the Spring of 1984 has been compared to that very first buttery, chocolatey bun – and while a few have come close, it hasn’t ever been the same.

But I’m a lucky sort of duck when it comes to food and breakfast last Friday just had to be the luckiest break of all.

Such burnished beauty! How it overflows with good chocolate!

Paris Delice is right on the corner of Juno St. and Makati Ave.  It’s a small shop and tucked so discreetly away between a garish Jollibee branch and a pharmacy selling generic medicines that it would be so easy to ignore if not for the bold black-and-white signage where the letter A is a stylized rendition of the Eiffel Tower.


Black, white, and crimson indoors

The black-and-white aesthetic predominates the shop’s interiors: pristine white walls and black furniture.  A splash of burgundy in the form of the chair / booth padding warms up what could easily become a too-cold, rather austere area.

Framed photographs of various iconic French places and things decorate the walls: monochrome prints of the Arc du Triomphe and the Tour d’Eiffel are joined by full-color snapshots of croissants, baguettes, escargots aux fruits, and other masterpieces of the baker’s art.

Come to the counter

The shop’s refrigerator case and counter display are also scrumptious to look at.  Large photos of tempting sandwiches and meal sets illustrate the menu boards over the counter.  The top shelf of the refrigerator case is filled with clear plastic cups of chilled yogurt topped with a variety of pureed fruits, helpings of chocolate mousse just waiting for a billowy dollop of whipped cream, and fresh juices.  The lower shelves hold beautifully fresh salads – combinations of fruit, veg, and such add-ons as hard-boiled eggs, bacon, prosciutto, assorted cheeses, and olives.  Beside the fridge case is a small table that holds a receptacle for holding soup pots as they serve fresh, cooked-on-site soups at lunch time.

The counter display holds the usual offerings sold by French (or, in most cases, French-style) pastry shops: croissants, pain au chocolat, baguettes, and quiches.  But this shop also has the distinction of selling pastries like a croissant aux abricots (buttery croissant dough folded over a tangy-sweet apricot filling), triangle aux amandes (a pastry filled with real marzipan as opposed to the usual sprinkling of flaked almonds seen in local almond croissants), and a torsade au chocolat (a twisted pastry that seems like a chocolate-stuffed cross between a pain au chocolat and an eclair).

I ordered the Breakfast Delice set which consists of one’s choice of bread (croissant, pain au chocolat, or a baguette with butter and jam) and a hot drink.  My breakfast consisted of a just-hot-enough pain au chocolat and a cappuccino and I was more than satisfied with the choice.

The coffee was rich, full-bodied, and full-flavored.  The foam on top was the fluffy cloud typical of the drink and it didn’t subside even after a good sprinkling of sugar.  (Rule of thumb: when adding sugar to a cappuccino, you’re not supposed to stir.  Just let the sugar sink through the foam to add an appealing bit of sweetness with each sip.)

The pain au chocolat, on the other hand, made me want to cry for sheer joy.  Eating this gorgeously burnished pastry made me feel like I was seven-and-a-half again and my maternal grandparents were with me, alive and well and ready to head for another trip.  The crust had the right crunch; the crumb within not too soft nor too buttery.  It was rich, but not so rich as to make one stop eating it after a few bites.  It had a double-barrel of chocolate – rich, dark, sumptuous chocolate – within; its bittersweet taste had a hint of nutty smokiness that balanced the smooth flavor of the bread.

Quiche Lorraine

I also ordered the quiche Lorraine, a classic French dish that is all-too-often done badly by many shops.  This one, however, had a perfectly fluffy, eggy interior that bore the classic tastes of minced onion and really good bacon that I have missed for so long.  I’ve tried baking this at home, but it always seems to fall flat; it’s definitely a dish best left to the hands of experts.  🙂

According to Chef Leah and Carlos Barrica, Paris Delice’s corporate treasurer, the shop is still in its soft opening phase so a number of offerings aren’t available as yet.  But I can’t help but admire them and their French partners for bringing the real taste of real French fast food with its emphasis on speed, freshness, and quality to the Philippines.  Bonne chance, mes amies; I have no doubts that you and your little shop are gearing up for success.  🙂

Paris Delice: 1 Juno St. cor. Makati Ave., Makati.