In Which the Blogger Posts from Iloilo – Part Two…

At the Central Philippine University

Iloilo City is a fascinating place that mixes the old and the new, Spanish Colonial architecture with mid-20th Century Modern American, a laid-back island vibe with stiff-upper-lipped emphasis on academic and intellectual excellence.

The food is equally fascinating, being a delicious mix of influences taken from the Spaniards, the Chinese, other Filipino ethnic groups, and even a bit from the Yanks and the Portuguese.

A case in point is pancit molo, the local take on dumplings in a clear broth.  Molo was born here in Iloilo, taking its name from the city’s Molo district.  This was, essentially, the creation of Chinese merchants who came to trade with the locals and ended up staying for good.

Spot-on PROPER pancit Molo

The version I had here in Iloilo seriously makes all other versions I’ve ever had of it pale in comparison.

Unlike the pancit Molo I grew up with which had a two-note broth made savory with chicken and a hint of ginger, this version had a broth with layers of flavor – a notion made possible by the long, slow simmering of chicken stock with shrimp heads, ginger, and spring onions.  Plus, this version isn’t just about broth and dumplings; it’s made more interesting by scraps of shredded chicken and bits of shrimp as well as chives.

The pancit Molo of my Manila childhood had grainy-textured chicken-mince dumplings wrapped in thin, papery pastry wrappers that would flutter like gossamer bits of gauze in the broth.  Not the ones in the Iloilo version: these hefty, chunky wee beasties were wrapped in a thicker dough – much like the one used for har gau (prawn dumplings).  They were gloriously meaty and full-flavored.

The broth and dumplings made a perfectly warming and satisfying snack on a rainy afternoon.

Crunchy and Classic Sisig from the Bauhinia

Equally delightful (and, to be honest about it, sub-lethally delicious) is the sisig served in this part of the country.  The Bauhinia, a local chain specializing in Filipino cuisine, serves up four versions of this sizzling offal dish: crunchy (topped with chunks of chicharon [pork crackling]), classic (just nice, sticky-textured, and nicely seasoned pork offal), hot (with extra siling labuyo [bird’s-eye chili] thrown in for fire), and – get this! – deadly.  

The deadly version is so named because, apart from the pork cheeks, ears, and bits of minced tail that are the hallmarks of the dish, it is made creamier and more unctuous by the addition of pork brain.  If that doesn’t send your cholesterol levels soaring, nothing will! :p

Fortunately, none of us at the table were in the mood for killer cuisine, so we just stuck with the classic and the crunchy.  Both, I am pleased to report, were good: properly seasoned pork with hints of soy and garlic, the green and red chilies adding floral and fruity nuances along with the heat.

Iced Tea from the Bauhinia

While beer may have been everyone else’s choice for washing the sisig down, I went for the Bauhinia’s rather frou-frou take on iced tea – a magnificent concoction sweetened with cherry syrup and served with orange slices and a Maraschino cherry.  😀

In Which the Blogger Posts from Iloilo – Part One…

The Lin-Ay of Iloilo atop the new City Hall

Maayong buntag – good day – from the heart of Iloilo City on the island of Panay in the Visayas!

I am currently here for the GLOBALPACK International Packaging Conference and Exhibition and am impressed by the beauty of the island, the relaxed mindset of its people, and the lilting dialect of the Ilonggo people which seems to caress the ear and puts newcomers at ease.

And, of course, there’s the food.

A steaming bowl of La Paz-style Batchoy is the perfect food for rainy weather

Batchoy, a rich, savory noodle soup, is one of the specialties of Iloilo City.  It involves noodles cooked in pork broth and topped with scallions and strips of poached offal.  In Manila, it is seriously embellished with chicharon (pork crackling) and a raw egg cracked into the broth where it gets poached – unless the diner prefers to whisk it into threads that weave into every bite of noodle.

The version at Sarabia Manor is a much simpler one but is amazingly soulful, hearty, and delicious.  Fresh egg noodles are poached till just a little softer than al dente in a rich stock made with pork bones and fat, onions, garlic, and salt.  Once ladled into bowls, it is simply topped with minced scallions, toasted garlic, slivers of poached beef, and strips of poached beef liver.

The flavors are amazing: the broth is wonderfully porky but without the off-putting gaminess that characterizes many pork-based soups; it goes smoothly down one’s throat.  The eggy noodles are perfect with the soft beef and the liver has just the right bitterness and none of the ferrous tang.  It is solid proof that really good, authentic batchoy doesn’t need embellishments to be a treat for the senses.

And one other thing…

Pandesal + batchoy = BLISS

…be sure to sop up the broth with some locally-baked pan de sal; it’s really tasty.  😀

In Which One’s Drink Does More Good than ANY Shrink…

It actually tells you what you can do – as opposed to moping…

Sipping a tumbler of milk tea is presently the hip thing to do here in the Philippines, but it can be quite the expensive habit for many urbanites with regard to both the price and the time spent waiting in line to order and waiting in line again for one’s drink.  There are, of course, bottled alternatives available in many local supermarkets and convenience stores.  Unfortunately, these are either too small (C2‘s Milky Tea), too sweet (Uni-President’s milk tea – the one usually found at 7-11s), or stunningly expensive (Kirin Afternoon Milk Tea).

And now, there’s a new kid on the supermarket milk tea block: Schlurp – or, more precisely, Schlurp Your Tea.

Here’s what you get inside the bottle…

The thing about Schlurp is that its brightly-hued labels in either yellow (Earl Gray) or orange (Assam) are quick to grab the attention of even the most inattentive shoppers.

The Earl Gray variant was particularly striking for a long-time depressive such as myself because it had the admonition Get Happy stamped on one side of the label.  This is due to the fact that bergamot oil, the ingredient that gives Earl Gray its citrusy aroma and slightly floral taste, has long been used in both aromatherapy and homeopathy as an antidepressant – and, speaking from experience, it actually works to help yank a person out of a blue funk or to relieve anxiety attacks. (Why do you suppose tea was given to all those hysterical ladies in English period dramas?  It’s the bergamot!)

Aside from telling drinkers to get happy, the label also lists a number of things you can do to stave away the blues.  Frankly speaking – and as weird as it sounds, the label actually gave me more practical advice than any shrink ever did!

But antidepressant qualities aside, you’re probably wondering by now how it was…

What a happy wee bottle!

Taste-wise, you can seriously taste the tea in a bottle of Schlurp: the quintessential citrusy flavor of Earl Gray is nicely balanced by the creaminess of the drink.  The tea itself goes down smoothly and the tea jellies actually taste better than the ones used for the hojicha frappucino being flogged over at Starbucks as they don’t have that somewhat puckering astringency that puts some people off.

Each 500mL bottle will set you back P 59.00 – which is pretty much the price of the lower-market teashops.  Unfortunately, you’re going to have to either wait till your local 7-11 has it in stock (whenever it is on the shelves, some greedy pigs tend to buy every bottle in sight to stock up) or hike over to the Chinese groceries in Greenhills to get your Schlurp on.

In Which Cleaning Out the Fridge Results in a Couple of Tasty Meals…

This was where the corned beef hash from breakfast went…

I’ve pretty much inherited the way my mom gets all annoyed and antsy whenever the fridge seems to be full to the bursting – not with fresh food but with leftovers – wee bits and pieces of food stored in every nook and cranny of the refrigerator, pretty much occupying space that would better be put to use for fresh fruit, cartons of milk, or the sort of breads and cheeses my parents have become fond of.

Over the weekend, I pretty much took stock of the stuff in the fridge and had to sigh over the lot.  Not so much out of dismay, but in these frugal times, one pretty much has to believe in the statement of wasting not and wanting not.  There was so much potential in there; so many viable ingredients that could be put to good use.  Cases in point:

  • Take-away French fries  These can be utterly vile when reheated, but they’re wonderful when chopped up and used for Spanish-style torta de patatas or for adding to dishes like menudo or Japanese-style curry.  Here’s a neat trick to turn tinned milkfish sisig into a meal: saute a finely chopped red onion in the oil from the tin till softened, add the diced fries and cook for a couple of minutes before adding the sisig, then cook for a couple of minutes and serve over rice;
  • Take-away chicken nuggets  Chop these up and add to stir-fries or to add meaty goodness to instant ramen or ramyeun;
  • Leftover corned beef hash  Stir leftover hash into tinned mushroom soup with some cream and use as a sauce for baked pasta as shown above;
  • Leftover roasts  Chop these up fine and add to stir-fries or mix into ready-made mashed potatoes to form a base for croquettes.  If, like me, your family has roots in either the Visayas or in Pampanga, leftover roast pork (and even deep-fried pork belly [lechong kawali] can be stewed down with sweetish liver sauce, vinegar, peppercorns, and bay leaves for a classic paksiw na litson.
Fireball Curry

The following recipe is the end-result of cleaning out the fridge last Sunday.  If you love spicy food, this one’s right up your alley.  Incidentally, if you’re somewhat tender-tongued, be sure that you get a Japanese curry roux of the lowest possible heat.  Otherwise, turn up the heat!

Fireball Curry

  • 2 Buffalo chicken wings, deboned, meat and skin shredded
  • 1 cup leftover French fries, diced
  • 1 small red onion or 1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cube Japanese curry roux
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2 cups cooked rice

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Once it sizzles, add the onion and cook till softened.  Add the chicken and potatoes and cook for a couple of minutes.  Pour in the water and bring to a boil.  Add the curry roux and stir till it dissolves.  Lower the heat and cook for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally, till the curry thickens.  Divide the rice between two bowls.  Ladle the curry over the rice and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

In Which Tuna Gets a Fusion Makeover…

Tuna-Pepper Crepe

I’ve long been a fan of Teriyaki Boy’s tuna treats – from the plain ol’ maguro zushi to such creations as the cumbersomely named tuna tempura sashimi tartare which features raw tuna tossed with tempura crumbs and wasabi mayo.

And now there’s another fusion treat on the menu: the just-as-awkwardly named tuna-peppa kureppu – or, to put it in regular speech, the tuna-pepper crepe.  This savory concoction has sushi rice and tuna tataki (tuna loin seared just on the outside and totally rare within) rolled inside a plain flour crepe.  What saves this from becoming a rather off-looking (and tasting) dish is that the tuna loin is rolled in fresh, coarsely-ground black pepper before being wrapped in rice and the crepe.  The spicy fish is offset by the addition of diced jicama (singkamas) which adds crunch and sweetness, and some tempura crumbs tossed with wasabi mayo, a bit of fiery shichimi togarashi, and finely chopped spring onions.

It tastes great and can actually serve as a nice bit of lunch for one or a fab appetizer for two – or more.  But, when something tastes this good, would you really be open about sharing?  😉