In Which One Learns Oodles About Noodles…

Invitation Letter For GLobal Activity

This arrived in my inbox…

The Philippines is not necessarily known as noodle territory, given that rice remains the staple starch for much of the nation’s citizens.  But this does not mean that Filipinos aren’t a noodle-noshing race; on the contrary, Filipino cuisine features several dishes wherein noodles – from chewy mung-bean sotanghon to wheat-flour Canton cooked either al dente or soft – serve as the base (the canvas, if you want to take an artistic metaphor) for a number of savoury preparations.  From sotanghon guisado (mung-bean vermicelli stir-fried with shredded chicken and vegetables) to classic pancit Canton (wheat-based egg noodles cooked with a bit of stock and an assortment of meat and vegetables), noodle dishes are an integral part of every Filipino family’s celebration menu.

However, throughout the passage of time, tastes change and, with them, so does the country’s food culture.  Filipino households are just as likely to prepare Western pasta dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese or macaroni and cheese on birthdays in place of (or in addition to) pancit.  But, despite the influx of foreign dishes into local menus, pancit is still one of the undisputed kings of the celebration banquet – and is just the thing to use as a key ingredient for many exciting meals.

Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation, one of the oldest noodle-making companies in the country, recently held Oodles About Noodles, an event where the versatility of pancit Canton was presented and how such an Oriental ingredient can actually be used in lieu of Western pasta for a variety of dishes that can liven up family meals.

Excellent Noodles from traditional pancit to Western pasta

Excellent Noodles from traditional pancit to Western pasta

As one of the oldest and most prominent noodle brands in the country, Jeverps’ Excellent has long been a staple of many kitchens throughout the Greater Manila Area and throughout much of Luzon.  While its primary stock in trade is traditional noodles (pancit Canton, pancit bihon [beehoon; rice stick noodles], and fresh miki [fat, udon-like egg noodles), it has also made a foray into instant noodles (both soup noodles and instant pancit) and Western noodles such as spaghetti and macaroni.  Widely available in local markets and groceries, housewives, home cooks, and even institutional caterers have long been singing the praises of its products.

Good noodles should stay firm and bouncy after blanching

Good noodles should stay firm and bouncy after blanching

The end-product of years of continuous research and innovation, Excellent noodles – specifically Excellent Pancit Canton – are not only enjoyed in the Philippines but are now being exported for use overseas, particularly in North America, Australia, and the Middle East.  It was easy to see why after we were shown comparative samples of Excellent pancit and that of a leading brand.  In their raw state, Excellent noodles already smell delicious: the aroma of a just-opened pack of pancit Canton is similar to that of hot toast or corn chips (nachos) just taken out of a deep-fryer.  The colour was also a deeper, richer yellow than the competitor: evidence that a good number of fresh eggs went into the making of the noodles

Cooked, the noodles continued to show their quality.  Blanched at five minutes, the noodles were toothsome – al dente, to be exact – whilst the point of comparison still had a raw core that rendered the noodles tough and unpalatable.  Shown above are noodles cooked for about 8 – 10 minutes: the sample on the left is the competitor’s and it was beginning to look like a tangled mass.  The Excellent sample on the right had noodles that remained separate and had attained the chewy, ‘bouncy’ texture that many diners prefer.  Even when overcooked, Excellent noodles retained their structural integrity even as the competitor’s had more or less turned into a gluey mush.

But, as they say, the proof of the pudding isn’t just in the cooking; rather, it’s in the eating.  That said, the chefs from host institution Global Culinary and Hospitality Academy pulled out the stops and presented an excellent array of fusion noodle dishes.

Chef Garie Quiambao works his magic at the cooktop

Chef Garie Quiambao works his magic at the cooktop

The actual demonstration was handled by Chef Garie Quiambao, one of Global Academy’s chef-instructors.  Meanwhile, in the side kitchen preparing dishes for participants to try was another chef instructor, Brando Santos, together with a team of student chefs.  Needless to say that the aromas wafting from both kitchens made our mouths water and our eyes widen with anticipation for what we were going to sample.

Vongole with Excellent Pancit Canton

Vongole with Excellent Pancit Canton

One of the reasons for the event was to show both home cooks and culinary professionals that pancit Cantonpancit Bihon, and other traditional Filipino noodles could be used in lieu of their Oriental and Western equivalents in a number of preparations from classic Italian pastas to homespun Japanese ramen and udon to noodle braises worthy of an old-school Chinese lauriat.  All four of the recipes demonstrated were interesting and quite easy to do either at home or in an institutional kitchens.  Of course, some dishes were better received by the audience than others.

The first dish to come out of the kitchen was the Vongole with Excellent Pancit Canton.  This was pretty much a riff on the simple classic aglio olio which is a simple emulsion of garlic-infused olive oil with fresh herbs and peperoncini (dried chili flakes).  Here, blanched pancit Canton was tossed into a simple sauce made by sauteeing plenty of minced garlic in olive oil.  Clams – vongole/halaan – were thrown in and heated up until the shells popped open (if the shells don’t open, chuck those out!).  The clams were taken out and a splash of broth and a touch of dry white wine were added to the sauce.  To finish, the sauce was mounted with a bit of butter for some enrichment, the noodles tossed in with the shellfish, and sprinkled over with parsley and peperoncini.

If you blindfolded a diner and fed him this, he wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from a dish of classic clam linguine.  The bright, fresh flavours of the clams and the peppery character of the sauce worked surprisingly well with the noodles which complemented the other tastes with a hint of nutty sweetness.

Excellent Pancit Canton Carbonara

Excellent Pancit Canton Carbonara

The second dish was a riff on the classic fettucine carbonara or, well, how carbonara is typically prepared here in the Philippines.  What is known here as carbonara is actually a variation on fettucine Alfredo in the sense that the white sauce is made with fresh cream instead of the egg yolks vital to classic carbonara.  Nevertheless, this version also has bacon (rather than pancetta) to give it a typical salty-smoky savour.

In this fusion context, alas, the pancit Canton did not fare so well with participants.  Because pancit Canton is made with eggs, the cooked noodles have a rather eggy flavour that usually gets drowned out when cooked with soy-based sauces as with a traditional platter of Canton.  Here, the egginess didn’t quite gel with the rich, creamy sauce.  I don’t say this too often, but I found this dish a little too rich for my palate.  Apparently, many participants shared the opinion.

Excellent Pancit Canton with Tuyo Flakes in Tomato Sauce

Excellent Pancit Canton with Tuyo Flakes in Tomato Sauce

More successful was the fusion spin on another Italian classic: spaghetti puttanesca.  A traditional puttanesca features a spicy tomato sauce given salty zip by the addition of anchovies and capers.  Here, the anchovies were replaced by tuyo flakes – dried, salted fish (usually the small freshwater tawilis) flaked, filleted, and marinated with chili and black pepper in olive oil – which gave a similar flavour with an added fillip of heat.

This was quite a successful combo: the eggy richness of the noodles was tempered by the sweet-tart tomato sauce and the flecks of salt-fish added a pleasing contrast against the starchy noodles.  This was, hands-down, my favourite dish from the demo and one I’d happily cook at home.

Excellent Pancit Canton with Braised Pork Humba, Bok Choy, and Quail Eggs

Excellent Pancit Canton with Braised Pork Humba, Bok Choy, and Quail Eggs

The grand finale of the demonstration was the Excellent Pancit Canton with Braised Pork Humba with Bok Choy and Quail Eggs.  Humba is a dish that hails from the Visayas, particularly in my maternal grandmother’s home province of Leyte.  It is, essentially, what you get when you combine the soy and vinegar flavours of Filipino adobo with the sweet and unctuous qualities of pata tim (Chinese braised pork leg): a whole pork leg cooked with banana blossoms in soy sauce and vinegar until meltingly tender.

In this case, the cooked pork is ladled atop a bed of noodles and garnished with blanched bok choy, hard-boiled quail eggs, carrot ribbons, and garlic peanuts.  It is a fascinating dish: rich yet with a pleasant sharpness, soft noodles and tender pork against crisp carrots and crunchy peanuts.  It is the sort of dish that is perfect for either family dinners or large-scale feasts.

It was interesting to see such an old-school staple transformed into dishes worthy of either an Italian osteria or a banquet of Continental delights.  Thanks to the folks at Jeverps and Global Academy, I will never look at pancit the same way again or take it for granted.  Its versatility and excellence make it a vital ingredient for both home and restaurant kitchens.

NOTE:  I was formally invited to this event by Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation.  Incidentally, the new Excellent Hong Kong-Style Pancit Canton will be available in leading supermarkets and public markets in November of this year.

In Which There is a Nutty Bit of Panocha

Peanut brittle with a rustic look and feel

Peanut brittle with a rustic look and feel

Unless you’re allergic to peanuts, you’ve probably snacked on peanut brittle at one point or another in your life.  Personally, I’m not that big a fan of the stuff: I find it tooth-achingly sweet – almost hideously so – and there aren’t enough peanuts to keep me interested.  Unless, of course, we’re talking about panocha – that is a totally different story all together!

Panocha takes its name from a confection made with toasted wheat flour and piloncillo (cones of dark brown sugar) eaten during Lent in the Hispanic communities of the Southwestern United States.  However, as with many things imported to the Philippines during the time of the galleon trade route from Acapulco, Mexico, the dessert evolved at the hands of local cooks.  Its present form is that of a dark brown disc of muscovado sugar candy whose surface is studded to the hilt with roasted peanuts with their skins on.

Unlike peanut brittle which is pretty much a saccharine affair with all the white sugar used in it, the flavour of panocha has a slightly fruity character due to the molasses used.  As the peanuts are kept whole, it is a much crunchier, more crumbly snack.  Wedges of the stuff broken off from a disc bought at the local market or sweet-maker make a perfect snack to crunch on with a mug of creamy, unsweetened coffee.

In Which the Blogger Turns Another Year Older…

Cake and ice cream for a happy birthday

Cake and ice cream for a happy birthday

 

On this day last year, I was recovering from a dreadful case of the flu that had kept me indoors for the better part of a week.  As a result, when my 37th birthday rolled around, I was wobbly on my feet and more than a little washed out.  It wasn’t exactly the happiest of birthdays, more so because I was seriously contemplating quitting my job at the time.

Fast forward to a year later: I’ve been at my current job for nearly a month and am loving every second of it.  While my legs ache from the ruinous daily commute which seems to get worse as the year draws to a close (and the Moron of Malacanang keeps blaming people left and right for the idiocies of his own ), I actually feel a whole lot better than I did a month ago when I was close to a nervous breakdown at a job where I felt belittled and taken for granted.  I can smile more sincerely and I can laugh loudly and delightedly.

My days are busier, but I don’t find the work cumbersome or frustrating.  My creativity is given wings where I am and I have been more productive, churning out advertorials, print ads, and whole campaigns. The people I work with have an openness to them, a rather blunt-faced honesty, and a wickedly fun sense of humour.  It is, to be honest, quite a change from long hours spent with people who are both relentlessly pushy and freakishly paranoid, the sort of people who will tell you not to trust anyone, people who will be friends with you when you’re facing each other but will happily assassinate your person the second you turn your back.

Me and some of my colleagues before we sat down to lunch earlier today

Me and some of my colleagues before we sat down to lunch earlier today

I don’t know, of course, what the future brings.  No matter how many times I gaze at the lines in my palms or shuffle and read my now extremely well-worn Rider-Waite Tarot deck, I know I won’t get all the answers.  But I will take life a day at a time and savour each experience to the full – and take big, appreciative bites of what the world has to offer me.

 

In Which Toasted Siopao Takes Centre Stage…

A swirly, savoury bun

A swirly, savoury bun

Siopao – the local spin on char siu bao (steamed yeast buns filled with sauced-up roast pork) – has long been a favourite breakfast or afternoon snack of many Filipinos.  There is just something satisfying about those fat white yeast buns that make them perfectly satisfying.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that every bun steamed in the shops gets sold within the day; people aren’t that ravenous, after all.  But the leftovers eventually became one bakery’s stock-in-trade and have won fans throughout the big island of Luzon.  The bakery in question is Bicol’s 3N Bakery and the product: toasted siopao.

Toasted siopao is what you get when you pop pre-steamed buns into the oven, baking them until the crust gets crisp and golden on the surface and the filling inside totally stodgy and delicious.  These are about a little smaller than my palm and are filled with a savoury ground pork stuffing and a quarter of hard-boiled egg.  Cheap, filling, and surprisingly delicious, these buns became a hit in their native province of Bicol and have become popular snacks as 3N expanded its reach in big cities, including the Greater Manila Area.  Needless to say, this is one “love food, hate waste” exercise that has paid off bigtime.  🙂

 

In Which Mallow Puffs Bring a Bite of Sweet Nostalgia…

Puffs in the box

Puffs in the box

When I was a kid, one of the niftiest treats we could snack on at recess came in a yellow rectangular box with the words Choco Mallows printed on top alongside a picture of a semi-opened foil-wrapped marshmallow puff covered with chocolate.  These were small, sandy shortbread biscuits topped with marshmallows and coated with compound chocolate.  Perhaps not the finest of confections, but these were ace and kids like me looked forward to noshing on them.  Some would tear into the mallow wholesale; others would eat the marshmallow first and save the biscuit for later.  And some, like me, would carefully – oh so carefully – tweak off the biscuit, eat that up, and slowly savour the marshmallow bit.

I understand that many of my friends from overseas also grew up with similar confections.  Those in the United States have Mallomars; Floyd and the Missus in the UK grew up with marshmallow teacakes, specifically Tunnocks’ Teacakes.  The Antipodean is a sucker for Wagon Wheels which, while similar, has the added cachet of a smidgen of jam between mallow and biscuit.  I can see the appeal: it isn’t too sweet, its light, and it goes well with a glass of milk or, as we grow older, milky coffee or tea.

I pretty much thought that I’d weaned myself off Choco Mallows, but then I saw these Jack & Jill Mallow Puffs – and then, all bets were off.

Mine...all mine!

Mine…all mine!

Unlike the original which came as half a dozen in a box, these hefty marshmallow confections just come two to a box because they are considerably bigger – say, two puffs wide more or less.  These are also less sweet, a more subtly flavoured version of a classic treat – so much better, then, for dipping into one’s afternoon coffee or tea.  While I wouldn’t make a habit out of these, I wouldn’t mind buying them again, more for the nostalgia than anything else.