Feasting on Duck by a Country Road


In a small shack by the roadside…

“Are you folks going out today?” I yawned to my dad on the morning of Black Saturday. See, we’re the sort of family that stays home during Holy Week: no trips to the beach, active participation during the religious services of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, bantering with each other over the points made by the Dominican friars during the annual broadcast of The Seven Last Words live from the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, and I do my Easter baking on Black Saturday. So, we’re pretty much city-bound (and local community-bound) during Paschaltide.

So it came as a surprise when my father said, “How about duck in Laguna for lunch?”


Poached and fried till golden…beak and all

Duck is a meat that rarely makes an appearance on most Filipino tables unless you live in Pateros in the northern part of Manila or in the town of Victoria in the southern province of Laguna. For both places, ducks and duck eggs are both a source of nourishment and a long-standing source of income. Balut, that infamous duck embryo delicacy foisted on unsuspecting foreign tourists and squeamish Fil-Am kids, has long been Pateros’ claim to fame; in Victoria, there are roadside stalls that sell live or dressed ducks, as well as balutpenoy (hard-boiled duck eggs), as well as both salt-cured and fresh duck eggs. In the case of the latter, it’s all part of the “One Town, One Product” (OTOP) initiative of the Department of Trade and Industry which encourages self-reliance in rural areas by encouraging MSMEs.

At long-time duck farmer Leo Dator’s humorously named Ang Tindahan ng Itlog ni Kuya (aka Mr Duck), duck lovers can indulge in a menu where duck meat and eggs are everywhere. Seriously: you can get a meal that’s ducky in every way from soup to dessert. Other than that, one can also get organically farmed ducks, duck eggs (fresh and preserved), and other niceties such as those au courant salted-egg potato crisps (made with their own eggs, natch), locally-made noodles, and other snacks native to Laguna province.

The speciality of the house, however, is kinulob na itik. Similar to Indonesian bebek goreng (crisply fried duck), the organically raised duck is first poached to take some of the gaminess off, and then deep-fried till crisp on the outside, tender and savoury within. Richer and more flavourful than the fast-food fried chicken so many Filipinos are fond of (and, really: I can’t see why), a single order is good enough for a group of four – with leftovers, to boot.


Sinampalukang Itik – look at all those chilies!

Another must-try dish is the sinampalukang itik or duck cooked sinigang-style in a sour tamarind broth with finely chopped shallots and plenty of fresh finger chilies. It’s quite a change from the usual sinigang: meatier, more robust, somewhat fiery because of the chilies chucked into the pot. It’s a dish that seriously demands to be eaten with plenty of rice – and the rice here is excellent. It may be plain, but it’s deliciously fragrant and the grains are moreishly chewy; it is certainly the perfect foil for the fatty goodness of the duck.

One does NOT say no to this sort of leche flan

There’s halo-halo on the menu for afters, but I would recommend you go out with the same thing you came in with and have a ducky end to the meal with the leche flanThe local take on this sweet favourite comes out denser, heavier, and creamier than the pale yellow examples you get in other parts of the country. Here, as duck yolks are used, the custard is a deeper orange hue and the resulting dish has a chewy, gooey texture that is seriously appealing even to the finickiest of diners. (But, if even this puts you off, you’ve no business eating.)

The tindahan is actually split into two parts: the main restaurant which is a roofed structure open on all sides with tables for dining on, a counter for ordering from, and a kitchen where the magic happens. The other part is the store which sells all things ducky (yes, including live Long Island Pekin ducks – fat and rather charming-tempered ones, really. You’d want to keep one as a pet, but you’d also consider cooking the creature come Christmas this year, so…)

Duck-egg Challah, anyone?

I ended up buying a clutch of fresh duck eggs and a whole kinulob to take away. Duck eggs are an amazing addition to one’s baking arsenal, if I do say so myself. They impart a richer flavour to eggy breads like classic Jewish challah, for one thing. I’ve yet to see what duck eggs can do in cakes or biscuits, but I’ve seen recipes for duck egg pavlovas (whites in the pav, yolks in the custard to pour over it) and as we’re at the start of mango season in these parts…

Oh, and remember that I bought a whole duck for take away: we had that bird for Black Saturday dinner and, yes, there were leftovers. Those definitely didn’t go to waste, of course, because…

Duck curry, yes.

…I went and chucked the lot into a tasty duck curry for Easter Sunday dinner. 🙂

In Which a Seasonal Beverage Was a Serious Disappointment…

Sad and definitely not worth it

Sad and definitely not worth it

You, dear reader, are looking at what has got to be one of the most depressing Christmas beverages ever produced by a chain of coffee bars.

This is from Starbucks‘ 2015 Holiday Menu: an Italian Pannettone Frappucino.  In essence, it is supposed to be a liquefied, drinkable, coffee-infused version of pannettone: that sweet, golden yeast bread studded with fruit and nuts that graces the Yuletide table in that part of the world.  The reality, however, is absolutely horrid.

Either in Frappucino or latte form, it just doesn’t work.  The first sip carries a disturbingly yeasty aftertaste; quite palatable, to be honest.  However, as you sip further down the drink and the taste of fruit and nut kick in, the aftertaste becomes strangely salty for some reason and unpleasant.  Definitely not an experience I am keen on repeating.

I ordered this drink fancying that it would be close enough in flavour to the much-missed gingerbread latte; sadly not.  If you’re collecting stickers for a planner from Starbucks, skip this and go for the toffee nut latte – which is probably the most palatable seasonal drink currently on the menu.

In Which There are Stories Behind This Year’s Happy Christmas…

Cookies in progress

Cookies in progress

Christmas has always been my busy season.  As a longtime advertising/PR practitioner, Christmas is when those last-minute client projects are bandied about at the agency just when people are already in a Holiday frame of mind and are ready to go on vacation.  As a member of a Church ministry dedicated to the beautification of the sanctuary, it’s the time of year when the ministry elders are busy arranging the greenery for Advent and the magnificent floral arrangements for Christmas proper.  Finally, as a food blogger and home baker, things get super hectic this time of year because of all the baking I do – cakes, cookies, Madeleines, and loaves of bread – for family and friends.

This Christmas, the Christmas of the year when my life took several serious, hairpin-curve turns, was a hell of a lot crazier than most.  I was helping out with a client event that ran from the 19th to the 23rd: wine promotion, wine sampling, wine sales.  That said, I was on my feet on an average of twelve hours a day, packing wine bottles into gift bags, spieling about how fantastic the wine was (it is, by the way) and what shoppers could get with every purchase, coordinating with the team on site or via mobile, and worrying if the talent we’d drafted to do the acoustic entertainment for the event was on his way over.  (He always showed up; he’s a professional, after all.  And he and a fellow artist delivered over 110% with each and every performance.)

Needless to say that I was tired – still tired, as a matter of fact, while I’m writing this post – and my energy was all but gone.  But Christmas is a holiday – a holy day – that demands commitment on the part of those who have so much to give: you give it all you’ve got or you don’t give at all, you mean, sodding beast.  I had Sunday off, so I spent the time at home baking.

Please note that I’ve been baking every weekend for the past several weeks: peanut butter and Toblerone chip cookies and candy-bar blondies for my godmothers and my mother’s best friends, as well as brownies for my department mates and our head-of-agency.  And then I remembered how I promised a friend a loaf of bread for Christmas – and that was where things got hairy.

Yes, I DID roast hazelnuts this year

Yes, I DID roast hazelnuts this year

How do you renew a friendship that ended rather acrimoniously when you were only twenty and didn’t know any better; when you were so hurt and licked your wounds bitterly?  When you swore upon everything holy that, if you never saw each other again, it would be perfect because it would make all the hurt go away?  Believe it or not, it’s a bloody hell of a lot easier than you think.

You talk online: tentatively at first, because you don’t know what frame of mind you’re both in.  Then, when some level of comfort in company is achieved, your conversations run for hours.  Minds are opened again, souls talk to each other; ideas are bandied back and forth and back again.  And you find yourself saying that you make an amazing pane al cioccolato – that magnificently rustic Italian chocolate yeast bread, with hazelnuts, even! – and, oops, you’ve committed yourself into baking for the long haul.


Just out of the oven

And so it went: a batch of cocoa-infused oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies was dolloped onto cookie sheets, baked till the edges were crisp and the middles chewy and melty.  More chocolate chopped, hazelnuts roasted over medium heat and chopped; kneaded into dough and left to rise overnight.

And, when the cookies were carefully bundled into tubs for one’s boss and my sister’s delivery room team at the hospital where she works, loaves were just as carefully moulded by hand, left to prove, and baked.  And wrapped with care.

People ask: “Why spend all that effort on something that will take hours to prepare and but minutes to scarf down?  For that matter, why bother baking for people who – in our opinion – don’t care at all that much for you?”  It would be so easy to give in to the negativity and give up, but I scrapped ‘surrender’ from my mental vocabulary when I finished therapy.  You never give up; your efforts do matter – and the satisfaction you get is all that matters.  Who cares what the Negative Nellies say?

Yes, it does matter.  It matters to the boss with high standards who appreciates your work at the office and how you go the extra mile to help out; a boss who has been a gruff and kind mentor.  It matters to the young nurses who can’t be with their families this season because they’re on duty, helping bring new lives into this world.  It matters to one young artist who has come to Manila for the first time and wasn’t expecting anything save for his talent fee and the fare home.  It matters to a lady, a dear family friend, who had to have hip-replacement surgery just before the Holidays to alleviate the excruciating pain.

It matters to a friend who had been chalked up as lost for good because of a silly, childish infatuation – but has grown up as both man and artist and now dispenses the most sane, solid, sensible advice to a writer who continues to struggle in accepting both herself and her abilities.  More so because he was in a dither over breakfast and – hey, look here! – finds a loaf of bread that comes in handy.

The things we do, the effort we expend doing them…it all matters.  People may not appreciate it, but Someone up there – the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas – does.  And His approval is all that truly matters.

Happy Christmas, everyone.  🙂


In Which There are Pick-Me-Ups Against Holiday Stress…

Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding

Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding

There are big events to handle at the office, gifts to buy and gifts to bake, people to coordinate with, meet-ups to schedule or cancel depending on the situation.  The last few days before the Holidays are a mad, mad time – especially for those of us in the advertising industry.  There are numerous events to handle for clients: end-of-year sales runs/mini-concerts, ads to place before the country shuts down for two weeks of Yuletide cheer, last-minute arrangements and contract renewals.  Believe me when I say that it would be so very easy to buckle under the pressure and burn out.

Thank goodness, therefore, for both coffee and tea breaks.  Sometimes, all you need is a wee cuppa tea or joe to stiffen up your spine for just a little longer; other times, only something massive, iced, and calorific will do.  For that, Serenitea is a good stand-by.  The mango jasmine milk tea with its rather floral flavour is one such sipper.  The blossomy notes of the jasmine black tea are played up beautifully by the addition of lightly sweetened mango compote.  Add generous dollops of custard pudding and you, dear reader, are all set for a slurp-filled break.

Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner

Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner

If you’re hankering for something more substantial with a slightly savoury edge, Hollys Coffee offers its sea-salt mocha.  You get a distinctively chocolatey drink made with good espresso and a shot of Belgian chocolate ganachecreamy-rich, duskily bittersweet, and so moreish.  The sprinkle of sea salt makes the flavours of both chocolate and coffee pop.  Order it hot to enjoy the full benefit of its invigorating smoothness.

So, what do you readers sip or nosh on to stave off the stress?  😉

In Which the Blogger Enjoys Her First Mooncake of the Year…

One very early mooncake

One very early mooncake

The traditional Mid-Autumn or Mooncake Festival falls on 08th September this year and it is one of my favourite pseudo-holidays as it gives me an opportunity to enjoy one of my favourite sweets: mooncakes.

Known in Chinese as yuè bĭngthe standard-issue mooncake features a sweet, rich, thick, almost fudge-like filling usually made with lotus seed paste (lían róng), red mung bean [adzuki] paste (dòu shā) or mixed nuts (wǔ rén) encased in a chewy pastry that bakes to a rather bronzed sheen.  Of course, seeing how the crust on a standard-issue mooncake is loaded with lard and brushed with beaten eggs before baking, they can be very calorific.

Health consciousness on the part of the people of Hong Kong in the late 1990s led to the development of a new crust for mooncakes: one that was not as fattening as the original but would be every bit as delectable.  The new crusts were made with glutinous rice dough – similar to Japanese mochi – that were pressed into traditional moulds, filled with classic fillings or more outre ones such as chocolate ganache or durian paste, and frozen till firm.  These are known today as snowskin mooncakes.

It's rather pretty and you can see the flecks of rose in there if you peer at it closely

It’s rather pretty and you can see the flecks of rose in there if you peer at it closely

For this season, local Oriental bakery Eng Bee Tin (of the famed custard hopia) is offering lotus-filled snowskin mooncakes with rose petals as a treat.

Each of these snowskin beauties (P 160.00 apiece / US$ 3.68) is prettily speckled with faintly pink bits of dried rose.  But these confections are anything but dainty, seeing how these are loaded with lusciously thick and creamy lotus paste and hold a fairly large salted duck egg yolk in the centre.

I wasn't kidding about the size of the yolk within

I wasn’t kidding about the size of the yolk within

While best served cold, these are just as delicious when served at room temperature.  The taste of the rose petals is very subtle and does not distract the eater from the delightful lotus and salted duck egg at the heart of the cake.  There is none of the toasty character of traditional baked mooncakes, but this kind of cake is just as wonderful and has the added virtue of not sitting so heavily in your belly afterwards.  Definitely worth buying again in my book.  😀

As with traditional mooncakes, these are great for sharing with friends in the spirit of camaraderie and the hope of bringing sweetness into an increasingly disconcerting and embittered world.