In Which Fast-food Goes Fusion…

Calidog

Over the past year or so, the foodie site Serious Eats featured Japadog, a Vancouver hot dog cart that specialized in tube steaks inspired by such Japanese dishes as okonomiyaki, teriyaki, and tempura.  A local stall called Hapadog, essentially a Japadog ripoff, opened this year at SM North EDSA’s Sky Garden, but it’s pretty damned far for a southern gal like me.

Then Sumodog, another Japanese-meets-American-fast-food stall opened over at the Galleon along Paseo de Roxas, so I finally got to sample what the folks at SE have been raving about.

The Calidog (P 109.00) shown above is an amalgam of a hot dog and California maki in the sense that a Hungarian sausage is dressed with wasabi-infused Kewpie mayonnaise, diced mangoes, and diced cucumber.  It looks weird, but it’s actually quite good.  The peppery taste of the sausage is balanced by the sweet fruit and the crisp cukes.  The wasabi in the mayo bolsters the pepperiness, and makes it quite an exciting nosh.

Oroshi Dog

If you’ve more of a yen for tempura, then the Oroshi Dog (P 90.00) ought to be your mutt of choice.  Mild-tasting bratwurst is paired with the classic mix of grated radish, soy sauce, and mirin used for dipping tempura.  The sweet taste of the topping works quite well with the savory brat.

Another fave of mine is the Okonomi Dog which features schublig topped with mayo, Otafuku okonomiyaki sauce, stir-fried cabbage, and spring onions.  It really will remind you of those fab Japanese savory pancakes – especially if you opt for rice rather than a bun.  Alas, it was so darned tasty and I was so darned hungry, I forgot to snap a pic.

In Which We Have Tempura-fried Spam…

Tempura-fried Spam

Chalk this one up for the books: tempura-fried Spam.

My brother came to stay for a couple days following his annual spiritual retreat and we were all pondering as to what to have for Saturday lunch.  Consensus among us led to a spicy batch of gulay na lada with steamed okra, pan-fried eggplant slices, and tempura-fried fish sticks on the side.

As it happened, there was a bit of tempura batter left as well as some hot-and-spicy Spam left over from breakfast.  My brother got a notion of dipping the sliced luncheon meat into the leftover batter, deep-fried the lot, et voila: the sort of dish you’d want to eat on those days when the world is too much with you and too soon.

It’s not the healthiest sort of thing, but it tastes pretty damned good and also works on those days when you need to whip up an impromptu meal for a crowd.  Just don’t skimp on the rice for this one…

Incidentally, as with all tempura-fried dishes, serve these babies immediately so they’ll stay good and crunchy.

Tempura-fried Spam

  • 1 can Spam (any variant), sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • pinch of baking powder
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 egg
  • oil for deep-frying

Whisk together the egg and water.  Sift in the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder, whisking well to incorporate all the ingredients into a lumpy batter.

Heat the oil in a deep saucepan or wok.  Dip the Spam slices in the batter and fry till golden brown.  Drain cooked Spam on a plate lined with paper towels.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

In Which Green Chilies are the Main Course…

Gulay na Lada

Siling haba – the skinny green finger chili – is normally used in Filipino cooking to accentuate the flavors of dishes like sinigang, binagoongang baboy, dinuguan, and laing, adding a pleasant bit of heat and an almost floral aroma.  More recently, though, the humble siling haba has been gaining ground as a primary ingredient in its own right in lieu of either bell peppers or imported jalapenos.  Some restaurants have been making a localized version of jalapeno poppers wherein siling haba are split, seeded, stuffed with cheese, rolled in rice paper, and deep fried.  Others take the bigger, longer peppers and stuff these with a pork and shrimp forcemeat before steaming.

At our house, however, our take on this is a throwback to old-school Bicolano cuisine courtesy of Ate Sion who has been working for our family for over three decades.  Her version is reminiscent of Bicol Express, but has a spicier taste and a more rustic look and feel to it.

This is gulay na lada.  In the Bicolano dialect, the word lada refers to chilies of all sorts from the fiery siling labuyo (bird’s-eye chili) to the milder siling haba.  Gulay na lada, however, refers specifically to siling haba that have been chopped coarsely and stewed in coconut milk with fatty pork and the dark green leaves of the chili plant.  Thus, unlike Bicol Express which is essentially a three-note dish (sweet, spicy, and meaty), gulay na lada has a more complex taste to it.  The sweetness of the coconut milk is made nuttier by the warm heat and fruity flavor of the chilies.  The slightly bitter chili leaves add a strangely rich, vegetal taste that goes well with the savory pork.

It’s like laing, only lighter as the chili and leaves don’t have the starchy heaviness of taro in both root and leaf.  That said, it makes for a perfect rustic weekend lunch when paired with rice, steamed okra, and fried eggplant slices.

In Which Instant Milk Tea Grabs the Spotlight…

Meito Royal Milk Tea

Royal Milk Tea is a Japanese kissaten (coffee shop) specialty that involves brewing loose-leaf tea directly into hot milk.  The resulting infusion is then strained before serving and sweetened with either honey or white sugar.  In Japan, the delicate-tasting tea has made its way as a flavor for Pocky sticks, chocolates, and even cheesecakes.

Given that brewing the tea is a rather fiddly task, Japanese manufacturer Meito came up with an instant version of this particular treat.

A morning cuppa joy...

I found this particular product over at Saizen (P 85.00 for a bag with four packets) and its pretty good.

According to the packet directions, you just add the contents of each packet to a cup of hot water, stir, and enjoy.  It’s nice on its own, but I prefer to personalize my drink by using half the amount of water, and replacing the remaining half with warm milk.  A scant teaspoon of honey plus a sprinkling of cinnamon and nutmeg turns this particular cup into instant chai.   If you really want to amp up the decadence, top your cup with a billowy cloud of whipped cream.

Interestingly, it also works as an iced bevvie if made double strength (use two packets rather than one).  In a tall glass, dissolve the instant milk tea with about a couple tablespoons of hot water.  Add a tablespoon of honey, a sprinkling of spice, and top up with half-cold water and half-cold milk.  A scoop of vanilla ice cream on top is optional, but makes this drink oh-so-nice.

In Which the Veggie Option Was Actually Quite Tasty…

Spinach, Artichoke, and Mushroom Sandwich with Mozzarella on Rye

I usually side with Anthony Bourdain and Nigella Lawson when it comes to vegetarians and vegetarian cookery.  Most people who try to impose vegetarianism on others are annoying prats who are into the whole veg lifestyle for all the wrong reasons.  Now, I would understand if one turns vegetarian for ethical, religious, or medical reasons.  But to become a veggie just because they think it’s cool or that it’ll turn them from lumpen, flabby chubbies into models who wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of Sports Illustrated is just plain wrong.  Plus, I don’t buy PeTA’s Meat is Murder schlock: eating meat isn’t murder!  Hiking up the prices of basic commodities to the point that one out of every five Filipino families goes hungry is murder!

But anti-vegetarian rants notwithstanding, I actually do like vegetables and some vegetarian dishes are actually quite comforting and satisfying.  Root-veg croquettes, eggplant lasagne, torta con patatas, and pinakbet are among my favorites along with this breakfast sandwich I recently discovered at Starbucks: spinach, artichoke, mushrooms, and mozzarella on a rye bun.

Hot chocolate and a sandwich for lunch!

It looks rather small, but it’s actually a good hefty sarnie that makes a good breakfast and an even better lunch when served with a bag of chips and a tumbler of hot chocolate.  (Marshmallows are optional, but are oh-so-welcome!)

The mushrooms are the primary reason why you won’t miss the meat in this particular sandwich.  The butter-sauteed mushies taste rich and meaty and work beautifully with the mild-tasting mozzarella.  The spinach is obviously wilted here, but it still has a bit of a crunch and the artichoke hearts taste gorgeously nutty.

Truth be told, after a fairly bad experience after trying to go vegan, I doubt if I’ll ever go veggie on a permanent basis.  Nevertheless, occasional all-veg lunches like these are delicious and are certainly worth it every once in a while.