In Which We Talk About Food for Nights Out – and the Company We Keep…

Croquettes + Cerveza Negra

Croquettes + Cerveza Negra

I have a confession to make.  Many, many moons ago, when I was one-and-twenty, I hung out at Streetlife, a sort of restaurant complex in Makati where you got issued a passport when you got in.  This would give you access to all the restaurants within the area.  At the end of the meal, the cashier would go over the stamps in the passport and tot up your bill; you paid for the cumulative total in one go as opposed to paying up at each individual stall.  The concept was pretty much modelled after the Marché Mövenpick concept that has become so popular in numerous locations across the globe; sadly, the concept didn’t quite fly with local diners and Streetlife folded up barely a couple years later.

But, truth be told, it wasn’t the food that had me in thrall at Streetlife: it was the music.  At the time, I was dating the vocalist of a hip band that did covers of the bands that were de rigeur listening for us denizens of the 1990s: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Blind Lemon, the Lemonheads, Smash Mouth, the Spin Doctors, and the Smashing Pumpkins.  I’d get a call on my trusty ol’ Nokia 100 and zip on over to Streetlife after work (fortunately, the ad agency I was working for at the time was in Salcedo Village and was but a short walk away).  I’d snag the table closest to the stage, pick up a cheeseburger and some cheese fries, grab a peach iced tea from another stall, sit back, relax, and swoon when Mark and his band went onstage.

Fast forward to eighteen years later: I’m still in advertising albeit the agency I work for is in the BGC rather than in Makati.  Mark is married now and is teaching Comparative Literature at a prime university in Merry Olde England.  We still talk online from time to time and he first found it rather funny that, at this point in my life, I’ve started hanging out again – and I’m into the live scene again.  The biggest draw for hanging out after hours is, au naturel, the music (and, sod it all, that’s the story I am sticking to!).  But, where I crash after hours every once so often, the food is just as appealing.

I am, of course, talking about the Boiler Room.

Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan

Yes, that Boiler Room; the Happy Mondays Boiler Room.  The “What are Clem and Ian playing tonight?” Boiler Room.  Or, if you ask Clem and he does give you an answer, the “Hang it all; Midge just pulled another French exit!” Boiler Room.

Owned and operated by the team behind Mario’s Kitchen, the Boiler Room started out in the noughties as Gweilos.  If you were seriously into the band Orange & Lemons, you may have seen them perform live here during their heyday.  I wasn’t into the scene at the time and I was working in Quezon City, so I never really got the chance to hang out there, but I’ve been told that gig nights were always a wonderful, exciting experience for both the band and the fans.

Fast forward to early 2015 and the Boiler became the venue for Dragonfly Collector‘s Happy Monday gigs.  Some nights, he’d do Beatles sets; on others, he’d cover Morissey and The Smiths.  There would be Brit Pop nights, New Wave nights; even retrospective evenings featuring music from O&L and The Camerawalls – all of which (or most of it, anyway), of course, were composed by Clem.  And he would do acoustic versions of songs from his latest album, The World is Your Oyster; always a fun night, really.

And, of course, while listening to one friend or the other (young folksinger Ian Penn always opened up for him) and meeting old and making new friends, food always serves to make the evenings more enjoyable.  In my case, the small bites off the appetiser menu have always been appealing.  An order of Amanda’s croquettes (P 200.00; top photo) features a small, cast-iron pan holding several globes of breadcrumbed and crisply-fried mash flavoured with honey-glazed ham and made peppy with a mix of sharp Cheddar and the smoother queso Manchego.  Each bite is excellent on its own, but becomes even better when dipped in the small dish of richly tomatoey marinara sauce that comes alongside.  A similar dish would be the coxinhas (P 250.00), a Brazilian spin on croquettes made more savoury by the use of chicken, cream cheese, onion, and celery.

Other small plates that go beautifully with a bottle of beer (for preference, a Cerveza Negra; Super Bock stout if feeling indulgent), are the Boiler’s spin on gambas (P 360.00; prawns and button mushrooms cooked in a piquant mix of lemon, garlic, and paprika) or the more veg-friendly ‘shrooms (P 360.00; think gambas sans the prawns).  You could also share some of the dishes with friends as in the case of the tartine with ricotta, pesto, and mushrooms: think of a shortcut pizza where a savoury basil pesto is slathered with fresh ricotta and mushies on baguette slices.

Chili poppers

Chili poppers

And there are the chili poppers (P 300.00), the Boiler Room’s take on jalapeno poppers.  Unlike the Tex-Mex/MexiCali classic, however, these things are huge.  Green siling haba (banana or finger peppers) are stuffed with two kinds of cheese and bacon, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried till golden.  These also come with a dish of marinara sauce, but this – to me, at least – is virtually unnecessary as the peppers are plenty flavourful albeit a trifle incendiary.  (That said: be sure to have a drink on hand to douse the flames in your throat ASAP.)

If you’re dining solo, any of the appetisers makes for a satisfying meal on its own, but if you’re hankering for something more substantial, the Boiler Room also delivers with a variety of mains.  By far, the chicken Parmesan (P 250.00) is one of the most popular dishes on the menu: a panko-crumbed chicken fillet atop fettucine pasta made gorgeously pungent with a generous amount of proper Parmesan cheese.  Otherwise, if you’re feeling peckish still, the four-cheese pizza (P 450.00) topped with a gooey, highly fragrant blend of mozzarella, Emmenthal, feta, and Cheddar is great for munching on; do not, under any circumstances, turn your nose up at the hot sauce.

This is us; most of  us, anyway.  L-R: Tonet, Clem, me, Ian, Mica, and Minnie.  (Photo credit: Minnie Torres)

This is us; most of us, anyway. L-R: Tonet, Clem, me, Ian, Mica, and Minnie. (Photo credit: Minnie Torres)

While the food, as stated earlier, is very good, it’s the company I’ve missed these past couple or so months.  While each of us has had their own responsibilities to deal with and I’ve been ill of late, Clem and Ian are still on the road and won’t be back till mid-December.  I miss Monday nights at the Boiler Room.  I miss the music.  Sod it all: I miss my friends.

Note:  Dragonfly Collector and Ian Penn are currently down south for the Mindanao legs of The World is Your Oyster – Philippine TourFor Halloween weekend, catch the boys at the following locations:

  • Friday, 30 October 2015 – Karumata, Cagayan de Oro
  • Saturday, 31 October 2015 – Bar Around the Corner (BATC), Iligan City

The tour is brought to you by Lilystars Records and is sponsored in part by Gist, Jam 88.3, Pinoytuner, Radio Republic, Panay News, Dr. Martens – Philippines, and 57 Studios Manila.  For more information regarding the tour, check out the official website at http://www.dragonflycollector.com or follow the official Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ilcollettore.

In Which the Shawarma Bros Take Centre Stage…

What's cookin', good lookin'?

What’s cookin’, good lookin’?

I confess: this blog has been radio silent for what has been a relatively long time.  Work deadlines, one’s book, a bit of personal fretting, a lot of ill health, certainly more ill will from one source or another – these have all taken their toll and then some.  To the extent, alas, that I was housebound for the better part of a week; chronic fatigue syndrome and creative burnout can and will do that to you.  Believe me when I say that the results have not been pretty.

There have been a few pockets of happiness, though.  Solo walks around the BGC with naught but my iPod camera for company, snapping shots of things that tickle my fancy and inspire fresh verses.  Reading updates from the friends who are still on the road, the fun they’re having between gigs; the things they’ve seen, done, and experienced.  Meeting up with friends old and new over cups of very good coffee and plates of nice sandwiches and pastries.  (Those croissants at Toby’s Estate, those flat whites…!)  Cooking or baking for family and friends whenever I have energy to spare.  And, of course, trying new restaurants on my own.

One particular place that stands out is Shawarma Bros.

Get in line!

Get in line!

Shawarma Bros started out as a food truck plying its trade in key points of the Greater Manila Area and doing the rounds of several popular gourmet markets and foodie events.  Now, though, they have a spot at the Boni Stopover in the BGC, a place rapidly gaining popularity due to the number of restaurants located within.

The interiors are rather manly, really; definitely speaks to the bros amongst us.  An urban aesthetic, rather street with simulated pedestrian lanes, bare pipes overhead, rather Spartan interiors: but there is a fun sort of vibe running through the place, giving it a relaxed ambience that encourages diners eating in to chill out and enjoy their food as opposed to just bolting it down and fleeing the premises ASAP.

It’s semi-self-service here with the Bros: you mosey up to the counter and place an order.  The staff will give you a nifty thingamajig like the one at the top of this post; wait for it to light up and buzz; go pick up your order along with napkins and cutlery, and let the good times roll.

Come and get it!

Come and get it!

The thing about Shawarma Bros is that they kind of go beyond the Middle Eastern wrap from which they took their name.  Aside from classic shawarma plates featuring grilled beef, chicken, or lamb, they also pander to local tastes by offering generously-portioned rice plates which feature one’s protein of choice paired with a tangy salad and some zesty and flavourful biryani rice.  In a rather unusual twist, they also offer – get this! – burritos where pita bread is rolled around biryani, your protein of choice, and some veg.

For those with very hearty appetites, however, the Bros also offer their Big Bro rice plates.  Aside from the aforementioned rice plate, you also get a saucerful of beef keema – and if that isn’t hefty enough for you, I don’t know what is.

Lamb Steak Rice Plate

Lamb Steak Rice Plate

For this particular lunch, I decided to go full-on MidEastern and opted for the lamb steak Big Bro rice plate (P 279.00; with a single-serve iced tea).  Here, the lamb is plated up in bite-sized chunks alongside the rice and salad.  Very tender to the bite, the lamb is also properly seasoned and you can detect the flavour of cumin and – was that a touch of cinnamon? – garlic.  The gaminess that puts off most people from eating lamb is quite toned down and the tangy tomato, cucumber, and onion salad adds a sharp, tart contrast to the meat.

Beef Keema

Beef Keema

The keema is also tasty.  Think of a Bolognese sauce that can pretty much stand on its own without pasta and, like the lamb, flavoured with the spices of the Middle East.  When eaten with spoonfuls of the biryani, it gains a nutty savour.

Tomato cheese and garlic yogurt sauces

Tomato cheese and garlic yogurt sauces

Upon ordering, the staff will also ask you what sauces you’d prefer.  Their hot sauce is pretty damned incendiary; perfect for chileheads.  But, for more tender-tongued specimens like yours truly, the tomato cheese with its nacho-like flavours and the bright-tasting garlic yogurt will suffice.

All in all, Shawarma Bros will definitely leave you well-stuffed and absolutely satisfied with your meal.

Shawarma Bros: 2nd Floor – Boni Stopover, 31st St. cor. 2nd Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

In Which the Blogger Goes All Blueberry for a Job Well Done…

Blueberries everywhere!

Blueberries everywhere!

It has been, to be honest, a rough two and a half months.  I’ve been busy at work: there have been advertorials and ads to write, scripts to draft, ads to be presented to the screening committee of the Ad Standards Council in the hope these could pass muster for either production or release.  There’s A Jar of Starlight (of course!); the two-pronged process of putting the manuscript together and, subsequently, taking it to the National Library in Manila to get it copyrighted.  The person whom I consider my best friend is away and won’t be back for another couple of months; that said, I haven’t seen the usual Boiler Room crowd since the 15th of last month nor have I met up with any of my other friends for ages.  I hardly ever get to talk to my family; I leave early in the day and arrive rather late in the evening.  The traffic and the weird, unseasonal weather have worn me out and, on weekends, all I really want to do is stay in bed and do absolutely nothing.

But, sometimes, I do manage to catch a break.  There have been good points; a silver lining, as it were, behind the grey grimness that currently characterises life in general in this part of the world.  A copyright gets filed; ads are approved for either production or release without a reproach from the powers that be.  Pictures are posted from a friend’s travels; not quite a postcard or a letter, but proof enough of life and music and a fun time had by all and sundry.  Recipes are tried and tested; the end results enjoyed enthusiastically, even greedily.  And, for this blogger, these small wonders are enough for a small celebration.

Blueberry latte

Blueberry latte

A recent trip to Caffe Bene served as that celebration.  I was craving for something sweet but not too heavy on either the belly or the palate.  For some strange (or not) reason, I didn’t seem to want either coffee or tea; I was, nevertheless, hankering for something with plenty of dairy.  In which case, something with blueberries would do…only, as you will see, I think I rather overdid it.

First up: a blueberry latte.  The drink’s name is a actually a literal throwback to the real meaning of the word “latte” which is simply Italian for “milk.”  Here, a tart, somewhat coarse-textured blueberry compote is whizzed into a mix of full-fat milk and runny plain yogurt.  The resulting beverage is a pleasantly lavender-coloured one with a grainy layer of compote at the bottom you need to stir before taking a sip.  The latte is tart, creamy, yet quite refreshing.  It isn’t as thick as it could have been if the richer Greek yogurt had been used, but it was quite pleasant to sip.  Be sure to ask for a spoon with which to scrape up the last of the compote when you get to the end.

Lemon blueberry tart

Lemon blueberry tart

I opted for a lemon-blueberry tart to go with it.  It’s a dinky wee bit of pastry: a short, crumbly, and sugary crust topped with dollops of sweetened lemon-infused cream cheese with a lump of chewy blueberry jam smack in the centre.  Like the latte, this dessert isn’t very rich and the creaminess of the tangy cheese topping was balanced by the shortbread-like crust.  There is, as shown above, a thin disc of white chocolate underneath; a rather superfluous and – to me, at least – unnecessary touch.  It was pretty good, all things considered though.

With every sip and nibble, I could look back on things that have happened and think: something good came out of it all, thank goodness.

 

In Which a Post-Birthday Feast Smacked of Singaporean Flavours…

Chicken Curry Noodles

Chicken Curry Noodles

I did not get to celebrate my birthday properly this year.  Far from it, as a matter of fact.  This was one of those birthdays: the kind when nothing seems to go right and you find yourself bluer than the sky at dusk.  And, alas, it did not help that I got yelled at.  (Long story.)  So I rode out the storm for the better part of a week following my birthday – then went and took my parents out to Wee Nam Kee for a rather belated celebratory lunch.

Wee Nam Kee is a Singaporean franchise that has been thriving in the Philippine restaurant scene for the better part of the last five years.  It’s primary stock-in-trade is Hainanese chicken rice or rice cooked in savoury chicken broth and served with one’s choice of either white chicken (steamed chicken rubbed down with a peppy blend of sesame oil and grated ginger) or roast chicken marinated in soy sauce with star anise, ginger, and rice wine.

Soy-roasted chicken

Soy-roasted chicken

The chicken is tender, flavourful, with a crisp skin with the classic burnished look of soy-roasted chicken.  The chicken is set on top of a bed of thinly sliced cucumber which serves as a delicate, crisp-textured foil to balance the richness of the poultry.  A small (quarter) portion, as shown above, handily feeds two.

The soy-roasted chicken is also featured in the chicken curry noodles shown at the top of this post.  A part of Wee Nam Kee’s Laksa Festival specials, this features a portion of sliced fowl atop that classic combination of noodles in a thick coconut broth flavoured with laksa leaf, ginger, and chilies.  You will be given the choice between steamed chicken and the roast, of course.  I say: go with the roast as it adds smoky nuance to a Nonya favourite.

Tofu Roasted Pork with Black Beans

Tofu Roasted Pork with Black Beans

Wee Nam Kee also does a number of non-poultry dishes, of which the tofu roasted pork with black beans will appeal to anyone who either loves the classic combination of pork and tofu (as in the local tokwa’t baboy) or classic Oriental braises.  Here, deep-fried pork with a deliciously crisp crackling skin is braised with fried tofu (taupok) in a rich, dark sauce made with fermented black beans.  You get a little of the sweetness of the pork balancing the earthiness of the fried tofu, all coated with the sauce.  My only complaint here is that the sauce was a touch on the salty side; still that’s what the rice is for…

Mixed Vegetables

Mixed Vegetables

The only real flaw in the meal was the dish of mixed vegetables; there was nothing, really, to set it apart from other renditions of the dish.  Better, indeed, to opt for the steamed greens with either garlic or oyster sauce if you’re craving for veg.

Single serve of classic chicken rice

Single serve of classic chicken rice

All in all, it was a most enjoyable meal and it somewhat made up for a rather harrowing birthday.  Now for other things to celebrate…

Wee Nam Kee: Ground Floor,

Released Today: A Jar of Starlight: A Compilation of Verses and Visions

A long-fretted-over debut...

A long-fretted-over debut…

Now out today, 07 October 2015: my debut ebook A Jar of Starlight: A Compilation of Verses and Visions. This is a folio made up of 70 poems written between 2009 and early 2015, as well as numerous photographs taken during provincial trips and urban jaunts. Cover artwork is by Weena Alba-Contreras who – thank God! – took me seriously when all other artists gave me the brush off.

For now, I am making this available to local readers in the Philippines for P 150.00 a copy; please send me a PM via my official Facebook page or send me an email via midge.manlapig@gmail.com for deposit details. Please note that ebook file (PDF) will be sent upon receipt of scanned deposit slips or screenshots of online fund transfers. I will be posting an advisory for international readers once the relevant download accounts are up on Scribd and Booktango.

Compiling the poems and pictures for this book was a cathartic experience for me, following a number of rejection notices; life-changing events; and lessons learned about both the local and international publishing industries, life, love, and everything in between. I was, likewise, able to connect, disconnect, or reconnect with a number of people who became instrumental in this book’s creation.

It is my hope that this little volume of poetry can touch you and others; perhaps it may also inspire you to go outside your comfort zone and do something that will mean more than any mere material accomplishment.

Bash on, lovelies!