In Which a British Favourite Becomes a Bit More Portable than Usual…

Iced Caramel Macchiato + Fish and Chips Wrap

No, I haven’t gone all English and twee and posh on you all of a sudden, dear readers.  It’s just that I find Starbucks’ most recent menu offerings are a throwback to all that is deliciously British: namely sausage rolls and this particularly savory treat: the fish and chips wrap.

Now the thing about classic fish and chips is that it quite literally is a movable feast.  While you can dine in at some chip shops in the UK, the bulk of orders are usually take-away ones that are totally noshable whilst on the go.  You know the sort: the battered fish fillet (usually cod or haddock) is cushioned by some chunkily-cut fried spuds in a cone of newspaper – a rather iconic image, really – and sprinkled with some malt vinegar or plain ol’ salt and pepper.  No frills, no fancy sauces, no embellishments whatsoever – and they’re perfect that way.

Wait: mayonnaise – with my fish and chips?!?

With that said, the Starbucks version of this classic dish may be seen as a regular head-scratcher because it wraps the battered fillet and peppery potato wedges in an edible wrapper – a flour tortilla – and dresses the lot with a dill-infused dressing made with mayo and diced hard-boiled eggs.

Now, I take issue with the flavors added by the dressing and the tortilla: the sort of curried, wheaten taste it has.  It’s not bad, really; in fact, it’s quite tasty.  However, the vibe it gives off is not about fish and chips at all!  Instead, it gives the impression of yet another British dish: kedgeree.  Kedgeree is essentially a dish made by sauteeing flaked fish with some onions and cooking it in a curry-based sauce.  Rice and sliced hard-boiled eggs are added to make it a rather substantial breakfast dish.  The vivid yellow dish is mildly spicy, creamy, and hearty – which is pretty much how I’d describe the fish-and-chips wrap.  Plus, I found it a tad too stodgy: I pretty much thought there wasn’t any fish in there – until, of course, I was nearing the end-third of the wrap.

Now, maybe the folks over at Starbucks ought to rename this as a Kedgeree Wrap.  But since most Filipinos aren’t clued in with regard to British cuisine, alas, the name Fish-and-Chips Wrap remains.

In Which a Food Court Stall Brings In Interesting Korean Flavors…

Chicken-kas (chicken katsu) from Korean House

Considering how Korean culture has something of a cult following here in the Philippines, most people still haven’t really been able to enjoy Korean cuisine.  For one thing, proper Hansik (the technical term for Korean food) tends to be pricey – up to the point that the average Juan dela Cruz can’t really afford it.  For another, less expensive purveyors of Korean food tend to skimp on the quality of their offerings.  And finally, many less expensive stalls that do pay attention to the quality and authenticity of their food tend to cater exclusively to SoKor expatriates (and, aye, there are many of them) living in the Philippines – hence, alas, menus that are strictly in Hanggul.

Fortunately, if one should be so patient and so intrepid as to actually keep a lookout for reasonable alternatives, a good proper Korean meal may be had in the heart of Makati: namely through Korean House.

Korean House is a small stall at the Galleon Food Avenue along Paseo de Roxas where it’s hemmed in between one selling garlic-infused viands served sizzling-hot on cast-iron plates and another stall selling standard-issue rice meals.  Its aesthetic is totally minimalist: pure white walls and counters, its signage pretty much multi-colored line-art.  Its menu is presented as a set of pictures printed in full color on tarp with their names and prices.  And, speaking of the prices, it comes as a shock to many people that you can actually get an excellent meal for about P 100.00 (around US$ 2.28 at today’s rate) or even less.

One of my favorite Korean House meals is the chicken-kas with rice.  Essentially a Korean version (dak kaesu) of the Japanese dish torikatsu (breaded and deep-fried chicken cutlets), the deep-fried chicken is perfectly crunchy on the outside and tenderly meaty within.  Instead of the Bulldog sauce used on its Nihonjin counterpart, the cutlet gets ladled over with a moreish brown sauce – more like proper chicken gravy – made with chicken broth, a bit of tinned pineapple, mushrooms, buttery-tasting garlic cloves, and takuan (sweet-pickled daikon radish).  A drizzle of mayonnaise finishes it off as it’s served with rice and a cold cucumber and corn salad.  Paired with the sauce, the already-tasty fowl gets even better and carries off lashings of rice.  The sweet flavors of the salad along with its crunchy texture make the meal more interesting.

Korean House also does a tonkatsu version – the donkas (donkaesu) with rice – but I don’t find it as appealing.

Seafood pancake (Pa Jeon) with rice

If your budget is a bit on the tight side, the savory pancake meals may appeal to you.  Seafood pancakes (pa jeon) go for P 60.00 each; P 70.00 if you throw in a cup of rice.

As far as pa jeon are concerned, I can’t help but compare KH’s to those of Kaya, one of my regular Korean go-to points.  Where Kaya’s pancakes were rather thinnish, the ones at KH were thicker.  Plus, Kaya’s pa jeon has more in the way of toppings (chopped leeks and squid).  But for sixty bucks, who am I to complain?  Besides, KH’s dipping sauce – a tasty mix of soy, sesame oil and seeds, a bit of garlic, and a hint of chili – wins hands down.

KH also does kimchi pancakes (kimchi-jeon; P 50.00 each) for vegetarians or hard-core chili fiends out for some face-slappingly hot food.

Here’s the bibimbap…

And finally, we have Korean House’s version of bibimbap (P100.00).  The thing about the bibimbap is that it’s served hot in a metal bowl – something that most food-court Korean joints don’t do as they serve theirs in plastic.  For some odd reason, it seems to make even the most mediocre components of the dish taste better.

The KH bibimbap features a healthy mix of beef shreds, shredded carrot and cabbage, blanched beansprouts, sliced cucumber and zucchini, and an egg fried over-easy (the yolk was, happily enough, still good and runny) on top of hot rice.  Sesame seeds are sprinkled over and a generous dollop of kochujang – the incendiary Korean red-pepper ketchup – finishes this one off – and, boy, does it make this thing hot!  It’s all good, though: the veg is all fresh, the rice cooked to the right temperature and texture, the beef adding a sweet/savory counterpoint to the spicy sauce.

KH also sells mandu – Korean dumplings, rather like gyoza or siu mai – and three kinds of kimbap (maki-style rice rolls).  All meals come with the soup of the day (the spicy one with leeks is worth watching out for) and the side of the day (sampled so far: kimchi, cucumber salad, and potato salad).

Korean House – Galleon Food Avenue, Ground Floor – BA Lepanto Bldg., Paseo de Roxas, Salcedo Village, Makati

In Which the Blogger Tries Her Hand at Making Yeast Doughnuts…

It all started whilst I was browsing through the pages of Delicious-UK…

The thing about doughnuts at my house is that we tend to prefer the homemade ones to the store-bought kind.  Sure, we eat store-bought doughnuts, but we have long known that making these fried cakes at home makes them more satisfying, even tastier than any sinker the shops can produce.

As I’ve written before in this blog, cake doughnuts have been my family’s all-time favorite, mainly because they call to mind the ones we used to make from a Hungry Jack mix a long time ago.  But now, a recent kitchen project has led to yeast-raised doughnuts becoming the new family fave.

The recipe I used for this particular treat actually comes from the September 2011 issue of Delicious-UK where it was actually the cover story: a luscious layout featuring jam doughnuts scattered on a lavender background, glistening with granulated sugar, and stuffed to the gills with raspberry jam.  This image pretty much set fire to my brain and had me wondering: what would taste better – Nutella or a thick vanilla custard?  However, I know my limits and actually filling the finished doughnuts would probably yield an inedible mess, seeing how I’ve never made them before.  Plus, it would have been seriously messy given the heatwave we were under last week.  And, anyway, my family actually prefers their sinkers plain with just a generous sprinkling of sugar.

And so…

How many of these can you eat?

The original recipe calls for 200 grams of strong bread flour which, alas, I didn’t have on hand.  I used all-purpose flour, instead, and I had to use just slightly more of it to get a proper dough as opposed to a sloppy mess.  It ended up all right, nevertheless.

Instead of forming the dough into balls, I took a cue from Nigella Lawson’s recipe for bagels and just formed the dough into short strips which I, then, looped around my fingers to form rings.  Of course, in doing so, there won’t be any munchkins – doughnut holes – as would have been the result if I’d just rolled the dough onto a surface and used a cutter to stamp the cakes out.  Trust me when I say that looping the dough is a faster and easier way to get the job done.

These are definitely comforting little snacks: crisp on the surface, bready and stodgy within, and utterly moreish.  Be sure to serve these with hot chocolate for dipping and sipping.  😉

Yeast-raised Doughnuts

  • 350 grams all-purpose flour
  • 50 grams (1/2 stick) cold salted butter, diced
  • 1 7-gram packet fast-acting yeast
  • 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 100mL milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • oil for deep frying

Sift together the flour, cinnamon, and sugar in a large mixing bowl; rub in the diced butter in with your fingertips until the mixture takes on the texture of coarse cornmeal, all powdery and sandy.  Stir in the sugar and the yeast.  Make a well in the center.

Heat the milk for about 45 seconds on HIGH in the microwave.  Whisk in the egg and vanilla extract.  Pour the resulting mixture into the well in the dry ingredients.  Mix rapidly to make a soft dough.

Dust a clean work surface with cornstarch and knead the dough for around 8 – 10 minutes.  Place in a bowl and cover with a clean dishcloth.  Leave to rise in a warm, draft-free area for an hour or until doubled in bulk.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and evenly divide into 16 parts.  Roll each part of dough into a short sausage between your palms, then loop around your index and middle fingers to form rings.  Place the finished rings well apart from each other on a baking sheet.  Cover and leave to prove for an additional 45 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Drop the doughnuts in, three at a time, and cook till golden-brown all over.  Allow to cool on a plate lined with absorbent paper.  If desired, toss the finished doughnuts with a mixture of 1/4 cup granulated white sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon.

Makes 16.

In Which One Isn’t Sure if This is Tapa or Salpicao

Is it tapa or is it salpicao?

Tapa (also referred to in some Philippine provinces as pindang) is one of those classic Filipino breakfast meats enjoyed by just about everyone save for those poor unfortunate souls who have gone vegetarian in the name of vanity.

The name has nothing to do with tapas, those savory Spanish bites served with one’s alcohol of choice during the course of a bar crawl, though these strips of smoke-cure beef sirloin may be served as an accompaniment to drinks.  As a verb, however, tapa is sometimes conjugated as tinapa – and the method is pretty much used to preserve everything from beef to venison (the famed tapang usa) to wild boar (tapang baboy-ramo) and even small mackerel (galunggong) and milkfish (the famous tinapang bangus).  As part of tapsilog literally: tapa, sinangag (garlic rice) at itlog (a fried egg) – with a light drizzle of spiced vinegar, beef tapa becomes one of the best ways with which to fortify one’s self for a hectic day.

Normally, tapa is prepared by being pounded with either a wooden or stainless-steel meat mallet to tenderize it prior to shallow-frying.  The resulting meat dish is, thus, a dry one barely moistened by the oil used to fry it.  However, not all tapa-lovers like their beef dry-fried.  In some homes and restaurants – The Tea Republic is one of them – prefer to braise the smoked meat in a mixture of soy sauce and minced garlic.  In cooking tapa in this manner, the end result is a batch of tender beef strips that have soaked up the savory marinade which, by the end of the process, has reduced into a rich, syrupy sauce.

Beef – the uncured sort – prepared in this manner is referred to as salpicado or salpicao.  Prepared in this manner, the resulting dish is braised in a soy-based sauce and sprinkled generously with toasted garlic before serving.  With that in mind, it makes some diners scratch their heads as they look at their plates: did I order tapa or did I order the salpicao?  Nevertheless, they end up enjoying the meal, anyway.  For one thing, the toasted garlic sets off the smoky-salty taste of the beef and keeps the soy reduction from becoming too heavy on the palate.  For another, the beef becomes softer, more toothsome than it would usually be if simply pan-fried.

Just a tip, though: skip the garlic rice if you’re having tapa cooked in the salpicado manner.  Stick to plain rice and your breath won’t be so bad at the end of the meal.  😉

In Which a Classic Drink Gets a Highly-versatile Instant Version…

The things you can do with instant ginger tea…

Salabat is a traditional infusion of crushed fresh ginger-root and brown sugar (preferably the dark brown muscovado) in hot water.  It is the preferred nostrum of professional singers, show-choir members (and believe me: Glee-style chorales have turned choral singing into a contact sport here in the Philippines), orators, priests, and pastors for soothing throats parched by too many in the way of vocal exertions.  In the colder months, it is the classic partner to sweet dishes served in churchyard kiosks during the nine days of the Misa de Gallo that precede the celebration of Christmas.  It also doubles as an effective digestif after a particularly large meal made up of rich viands and luxurious desserts.

As it’s both spot-on useful and quite tasty with its sweet-spicy flavors, people wish that they could have salabat more often.  Unfortunately, the conventional way of preparing the drink tends to involve more steps than the average (read: lazy) urban warrior could find himself/herself faffing about with.  You have to peel and crush about a thumb’s length of ginger, boil water, steep the ginger in it, and you have to measure out brown sugar to your taste.  It’s definitely not cool for those people who have grown to depend on anything instant.  (And, aye: I shudder at the thought.)

For these people, there are now a number of instant salabat powders available in the coffee-and-tea aisles of local supermarkets.  Ludy’s, the peanut butter company, does a mightily spicy one.  Another company, Ginga, sells their brew in tea bags, unsweetened and infused with cinnamon.  But my favorite is Javier Instant Salabat – and with good reason.

The thing about Javier’s is that it is produced by a community initiative from the town of the same name in my maternal grandmother’s home province of Leyte.  In doing so, it provides livelihood for the residents and utilizes ginger and sugar grown in that part of the country in a sustainable manner.  Quite a commendable thing for them to do, really.

Plus, aside from tasting good with the right sweet-spicy balance that soothes the mind, throat, sinuses, and stomach, it can also be used to add pep to a number of beverages:

  • Add a teaspoon of the salabat powder to prepared iced tea to give it spicy sharpness;
  • A teaspoon added to freshly-made kalamansi juice or lemonade keeps colds at bay;
  • As shown above, add a tablespoon to a mango yogurt smoothie (or lassi) for an amazing breakfast sipper that keeps you alert and awake sans the caffeine;
  • You can also swap a couple tablespoons of the sugar in your gingerbread or lebkuchen recipes with some salabat powder; and
  • Try rolling spiced shortbread biscuits in a bit of salabat powder to make them truly special.

Javier’s Instant Salabat is currently available at all Andok’s Lechon Manok stalls and, while I’m not sure, some supermarkets in the Makati and Alabang CBDs have begun to stock it on their shelves, as well.