Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Midge on the Road, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Well-read Foodie

On Food and Words: 12 Years of Midge in the Kitchen

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From the time I made pumpkin buns

It’s been five months since I last posted in this blog. This is not to say that I’ve scrapped it entirely; indeed, my current line of work has made me even more enthusiastic about food, cooking, and dining out.

It has been, to be perfectly honest, a roller-coaster year.  There have been some serious downs and equally serious ups: triumph and tragedy all on a single plate.  My paternal grandmother, the last of my grandparents, died at the end of November. Paired-off friends broke up, single friends found partners, and – alas – I found myself estranged from the person whom I still consider one of my very best friends.  Too many words said and left unsaid, again. But I’ve made new friends, met lots of new people, gone to numerous places, and eaten my fill of amazing dishes cooked by some of the best chefs.

Manchego con Tempranillo y Frutas from Tapas Night 2017

I’ve learned a great deal about food over this past year thanks to interviews I’ve done for work and also because of a number of chance meetings that came about because I love traipsing through the city for new gastronomic treats.  I daresay there is still so much for me to learn.

In the meantime, bear with me.  I’ve hardly had time to write for the blog, but if you follow me on Instagram, I daresay the photos and the tempting descriptions of my latest culinary projects and restaurant jaunts will be worth the visit.

Twelve years of food writing; still here, still hungry, still writing.

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which One Encounters the Halal Guys…

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Don’t judge me; I was hungry

Long time readers know this about me: if there’s a new place to nosh, I’m on it; I’m there.  More so if it’s a franchise of some foreign place I’ve only read about, say, on Serious Eats, Food 52, BuzzFeed, or Lucky Peach.  In this case, I had to head for the Halal Guys to see what all the hubbub was about.

The Halal Guys started out as a dinky wee food cart in Manhattan in 1990 when its founders ran a hot dog cart on the southeast corner of 53rd St. and Sixth Avenue.  Having been raised in the Middle Eastern / Mediterranean tradition of big, substantial meals, they figured that the lunch crowd probably found hot dogs unsatisfying for a midday meal.  They ended up serving grilled chicken over rice with Mid-eastern sauces; the rest, as they say, is history.

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Falafels

I decided to start the meal with a classic: falafels.  Php 99.00 gets you a four-piece serve that, if you’re peckish, can stand in as a light meal.  These are hefty chickpea nuggets that are absolutely moreish: properly seasoned with just the right hint of earthy cumin to go with the nutty lentils that make up the mash.  A splodge of white sauce – their spin on classic tzatziki – adds a tangy, garlicky touch.

Most people who have reviewed HG in this part of the world complained that the falafels they got were cold and stodgy.  I think I was one of the lucky few who got a batch fresh out of the fryer as mine were hot, crisp on the outside, and creamy-chunky within.

I followed this up with a regular gyro platter (Php 299.00) – and found that I’d probably bitten off more than I could chew, so to speak, as the portion was massive.  Here, gyro meat is shaved off the chunk revolving on a kitchen spit and scattered on top of a tasty, orange-hued rice pilaf along with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced pita.

I confess: I was disappointed.  I wasn’t sure what meat had been used in the gyro; I mean, I wasn’t sure if it was lamb, beef, veal, or a combination thereof.  While it was grilled nicely with a proper char that crisped the outside, the texture reminded me of commercial lunch meats or cold cuts.  Also, one could only have one sauce on top; you’d have to pay extra for an additional dollop – not cool in light of the fact that the original HG carts let you have extra sauce for free.  Still, the rice and fresh veg were very good and just needed sauce to make it a meat-free meal.

I am not going to let this misstep stop me from going back, though.  I am seriously intrigued by the chicken on fries and the basbousa (semolina and almond cake) on the dessert menu.  Likewise, maybe I’ll just opt for chicken or falafel on my platter next time.

The Halal Guys @ SM Fashion Hall: 5th Floor – SM Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, Ortigas Centre, Mandaluyong

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping

In Which a Bad Bird was Actually Pretty Damn Good…

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Bad Bird’s Dirty Rice Plate

I daresay I’m pretty lucky to be working with people who love food as much as – or possibly even more than – I do.  It usually results in plans to head out of the office on a Friday evening to grab dinner and [occasionally] a few drinks.  In doing so, we find ourselves trying new restaurants or discovering new dishes and treats from old favourites.  There are many ways of enjoying a Friday night out, – some better, some worse – but, really: this is the one I’m sticking to.

One particular Friday night outing found us snaffling up an Uber ride to Century City Mall where the Hole in the Wall food hall features an amazing selection of cuisines to tempt even the pickiest tastebuds.  Once there, we made a beeline towards Bad Bird.

This ain't the Colonel's fried chicken, y'all.
This ain’t the Colonel’s fried chicken, y’all.

Bad Bird’s piece de resistance is its umami fried chicken: chicken that is steeped in a flavourful marinade before being rolled in seasoned flour and panko.  These deep-fried beauties are gorgeously crunchy on the outside (yes, the skin crackles loudly whenever you take a bite), deliciously succulent within, and – sans exaggeration – have a definitely moreish flavour.

The chicken comes in three levels of spiciness: normal which has a rather miso and nori sort of flavour profile, spicy which has the somewhat citrus and capsicum heat of shichimi togarashi, and the totally worrying chemical.  I don’t have the gall to sample the chemical level which I hear really sends zings up and down one’s esophagus, so I just stuck with the spicy and was not disappointed.

Considering that I got a breast portion (you know very well I’m more of a dark meat sort of person), I found it very good: juicy and not at all dry, the meat having soaked up the pleasantly piquant marinade to the smallest fibres.  Hefty and just this side of fiery, it was a delicious way to kick-start the weekend.

Dirty rice and kimchi for the win
Dirty rice and kimchi for the win

And it isn’t just the chicken that wins prizes at Bad Bird as the sides are anything but shabby.  The stall adds an Asian twist to a classic from the American Deep South: their chicken and waffles plate (Php 320.00) plates up the umami fowl with sweet potato waffles slathered with nutty-tasting miso butter and a generous drizzle of real maple syrup.  Definitely a go-to dish for people who crave for something sweet but not so sweet as to be considered dessert.

Savoury-cravers like myself, on the other hand, would do well to grab the dirty rice plate (Php 350.00).  Here, the chicken is accompanied by a generous bowl of fried rice made absolutely flavourful and divine by the addition of bacon, chicken liver (!), and katsuoboshi shavings that give it a distinctive surf-and-turf vibe (well, coop and coast to be more accurate.)  The plate is rounded off with an equally generous portion of house-made kimchi.  The tang and almost fruity taste of the chili-pickled cabbage is just the thing to cut through the rich flavours of the chicken and rice.  Definitely something to return to some other weekend.

Bad Bird: Hole in the Wall Food Hall, 4th Floor – Century City Mall, Poblacion, Makati

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia

In Which a Yankee Classic Gets a Korean Upgrade…

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Yankee lunch – Korean-style

hotdog and fries would have to be a classic combination for many of us.  There is just something about a sausage-in-a-bun paired with deep-fried spuds that seems to satisfy some sort of primal craving we have.

The standard version of this is good enough for most, but for those of us who want something more substantial – and certainly more spectacular – Bon Chon has something that’s right up our alley.

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Bacon-Kimchi Ko-dog

Bon Chon’s Ko-dog is a game-changer in the sense that it’s a chicken sausage rather than one made with beef.  It makes for a lighter yet equally savoury flavour and a firm texture.

But what really sets it apart is that, like the bulk of Bon Chon’s fish and fowl menu, the spiral-cut ‘dog is dunked in batter and fried till incredibly crunchy before being drizzled over with bulgogi sauce and topped with your choice of either cheese sauce and crushed shoestring potatoes or crumbled bacon and finely shredded kimchi.

I say: go for the latter as it calls to mind budae jjigae, the anything-goes Korean stew that features sausages and Spam cooked with noodles in a kimchi-laced broth.  It’s all spicy and sweet and crunchy; definitely moreish in my book.

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Bibimfries

I suggest you also pay a little extra to further embellish your meal with the glorious bowl of carbo-loaded fun that is Bon Chon’s Bibimfries.

This dish takes the concept of bibimbap and turns it on its head.  Thick-cut, skin-on spuds are deep-fried before getting doused with ranch and cheese sauces and scattered all over with crispy fried-chicken-skin crumbs and shredded kimchi.  Not something for everyday, but it works as an indulgence with an Oriental spin.

 

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

In Which the Blogger Comes Back…

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Butter Corn Ramen

I’ve been busy.

That’s the only excuse I can give my dear readers: I’ve been busy.  Very much so, as a matter of fact.  So much, in fact, that I totally didn’t post anything in September, birthday post included.  I think I needed time to get back in sync, find myself, and start over.  The bulk of 2016 from February to mid-August had to be one of the most traumatic times – if not the most traumatic time – in my life.  Suffice it to say that I am breathing easier now…plus, a surprise opportunity pretty much hauled me out of freelancing and right into a field I’ve always hankered to get into: lifestyle journalism.

But, now: for some food – and serious comfort food at that: ramen, specifically.

A recent grocery shopping trip led me to River Park, the most recent addition to the currently expanding Festival Supermall in Alabang.  There are a number of interesting new restaurants, but the one I specifically wanted to try was Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi.

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Fill up my bowl, o-negai shimasu!

 A branch of a Tokyo-based chain, Bangaichi’s local franchise is held by the same group that runs the Vietnamese chain Pho Hoa.  Keeping this in mind, one should not be surprised that the back of the large menu card offers Vietnamese dishes.  But, while I’ve become a phobun cha, and banh mi fan, I’m not here for Indochinese flavours: I’m here for the ramen!

And a rather large and satisfying bowl of ramen, as a matter of fact.  Bangaichi’s butter corn shoyu ramen (Php 340.00) is loaded up with al dente wheat noodles in a rich, slightly porky, wonderfully umami soy-based broth.  A knob of butter melting in the hot soup adds a subtle richness that goes beautifully with bright yellow sweetcorn kernels, slivers of slightly tart menma (salt-pickled bamboo shoots), and fresh-tasting wakame seaweed.  The bowl also comes with two generous slices of chashu pork: prettily charred around the edges with the char adding a welcome and somewhat nutty bitterness to the sweet, fatty meat.

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Soup’s all gone; now for the good stuff…

Call me silly, but my way of eating ramen involves sipping down all the broth before getting down to the noodles et les accoutrements.  Once the broth is gone, I sprinkle in some shichimi togarashi for a fiery accent and grind in toasted sesame for some nutty oomph.  Toss everything together, and I am a happy camper.

How does this compare to the Sapporo Corn Ramen at, say, Shinjuku Ramen?  Not bad, really; while it does not have the almost electric funk of the Shinjuku version (which has a touch of garlic to throw things for a loop), Bangaichi’s corn ramen holds its own very well and definitely is something to come back for on a rainy afternoon.

Ashikawa Ramen Bangaichi – River Park, Festival Supermall, Alabang, Muntinlupa

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia

In Which One Encounters the Nicest Bánh Mì

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Take a bite…  It’s all right…

Bánh mì is actually something of an ambiguous culinary term.  In Vietnamese, it just means “bread” – as in any kind of bread, but most likely the baguette-like buns introduced by the French when they held sway in Indochina.  However, thanks to the Vietnamese diaspora scattered throughout the world, a bánh mì is known to be a small baguette sandwich loaded with everything from rustic liver pate to bits and bobs of unique Vietnamese charcuterie even to such oddities as chicken and pork floss.

I’ve had bánh mì in a number of local Vietnamese restaurants but, by far, the most authentic – and possibly the tastiest – has to be the Traditional bánh mì from Bon Banhmi.

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As you can see, it’s loaded.

This sandwich stand started out with a single shop in San Antonio Village, the heart of Makati’s foodie hipster zone.  It has since branched out and has outlets throughout the Makati area.  The one closest to me is actually on the twelfth floor of the GT Tower along Ayala Avenue but it offers virtually everything from the original – including a real Vietnamese sandwich mistress running the stall.

Whatever sarnie you choose, though, you can expect it to be good; excellent as a matter of fact.  Craving beef?  They have one with grilled beef.  Pork?  Take your pick: roasted with crackling skin on, meatballs, or barbecued.  Chicken fans can have one filled with shreds of chicken floss and veg-heads can have a baguette loaded with crisp greens, crunchy fresh cukes, pickles, and cilantro sprigs.

But take it from me: what you want – and what you will eventually crave for – is the traditional.  This is Bon Banhmi’s version of the bánh mì dac biet or bánh mì huynh hoa: a baguette stuffed with three kinds of Vietnamese ham or sausage plus pickles, salad greens, and dressing.  The meaty triumvirate featured here has cha lua (pork headcheese), cha gio heo (a pork sausage similar to Italian salami or mortadella), and cha thu (red-rinded pork shank ham); and this is aside from the generous schmear of Vietnamese liver pate and a rich, creamy homemade mayonnaise that tastes absolutely lush and buttery.  A scoop of daikon and carrot pickles helps cut the porky richness while fresh cucumber and cilantro add crunch and zing.

It really is one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat: the bread is crispy from start to finish, keeping its crusty integrity despite the creamy pate and mayo as well as the juices from the pickles and the spicy dressing.  Every bite melds together into a refreshingly savory whole and the chef doesn’t skimp on any of the ingredients.  Truth be told, it isn’t a bad deal for P 99.00 for a medium or, better yet, P 119.00 for the large.  (Get the large; you won’t regret it.)

Grab an iced coffee and settle down for a meal that wouldn’t be out of place in the streets of Saigon.

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, A Whole Lotta Spice!, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which Kebab Factory Gives Mediterranean Classics a Quirky Twist…

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Why is my flatbread on a spike?

I am of the opinion that authenticity is something to consider with regard to dining at establishments specializing in the cuisine of specific countries or regions.  For this reason, Japanese restaurants always seem to have a traditional aesthetic and Mexican taquerias always look like a mercado de la puebla in Oaxaca or Acapulco.

Following this unspoken, unwritten rule, many restaurants specializing in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian food look like the inside of a Persian harem with elaborately decorated lanterns, reproductions of Moghul Period art, and the requisite decorative hookah in the corner.  So it comes as a surprise that The Kebab Factory looks absolutely modern – and pretty much looks like a standard-issue present-day cafeteria because the food is prepared at a steam table at one end of the restaurant and is served on dinky melamine plates.

But don’t let that keep you from enjoying the wealth of flavors this joint offers.  In fact, a hint of quirkiness makes your meal more interesting.  Case in point is the starter shown above: baba ganoush with flatbread is presented in a somewhat unusual manner.  Instead of dishing up this tasty eggplant dip in a bowl or a small soup plate, this creamy melange of roasted eggplant, yogurt, and garlic is served in a highball glass with a drizzle of olive oil, a dusting of tart sumac with a hint of chili, and a whole green olive plunged into the center of the dip.  Additional chopped olives are also mixed into the dip, the zingy tart taste balancing the smooth, creamy, smoky bitterness.  Even the flatbread is presented differently: layered onto a paper spike – the kind you usually see in professional kitchens (for finished orders) or editorial offices (for finished assignments).  Crisp around the edges and chewy in the middle, these wedges are the perfect size for scooping up the baba ganoush.

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Kebab Trio Ultimate Plate (L-R: lamb, chicken, beef)

TKF also has platters to share under the heading Ultimate Plates.  One nifty choice is the Kebab Trio which has a three-kebab assortment on top of a bright yellow biryani with crisp coriander-seed pappadums and grilled tomatoes on the side.

I daresay that no extenders seem to have been used in the kebabs as these were meaty all the way through with the cumin-spiced lamb becoming a personal favorite.  The well-seasoned beef comes a close second, but the chicken – while perfectly spiced and flavorful – was on the dry side.  The mildly spiced rice works a treat with the meats, complementing rather than overpowering the flavors.

That said, what The Kebab Factory lacks in aesthetics, it certainly more than makes up for in flavor and savor.

The Kebab Factory: Ground Floor – SM Jazz Mall, Nicanor Garcia cor. Jupiter Sts., Bel-Air, Makati