Feasting on Duck by a Country Road

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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?”

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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 Drink at the Airport was Refreshingly Gingery…

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Ooh, that looks interesting…

The weather continues blisteringly hot and the heat index has been hitting record highs of late – devastatingly record highs, if I may add, alas.

It’s times like these when I wish that Cebu would send over one of their best refreshment chains up north to us in Manila.  Seriously, I’d do anything to have a Tubo Cane Juice kiosk somewhere within walking distance right now!

As its name suggests, TCJ’s stock in trade is sugarcane juice (Tag.: katas ng tubo).  Sugarcane stalks are run through a mechanized press that crushes the sweet juice out of the hard, fibrous sticks.  This liquid is a pale amber in color, surprisingly mild with regard to its sweetness considering what is produced when it gets reduced by heat into the familiar crystalline granules we use for cooking, baking, and sweetening our morning cup of caffeine.  Each cup is pressed to order, thus ensuring the pristine quality of the end product.  Poured over crushed ice as is, sugarcane juice is a delicious, revivifying drink with which to cool down.

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Ginger-Mansi

But TCJ isn’t content with slaking the southern crowd’s thirst with plain sugarcane juice; oh, no, sir!  To add value in terms of both taste and nutritional value, TCJ blends freshly-pressed cane juice with equally-fresh, equally just-squeezed juices to create a delicious line of refreshments.  While I could have opted for a right-in-season mango infusion or sipped a superfood mix featuring milky-white and tangy guyabano (soursop), I needed something to soothe a throat that was threatening to ache along with a serious dose of Vitamin C.  For that, I had to order the Ginger-Mansi.

Here, fresh root ginger is run through the same crush-and-extract procedure as the sugarcane.  The resulting ginger presse is sharply aromatic, hinting at just how potent and pungent it will be if sampled straight.  This is mixed with fresh cane juice and a good squeeze of fresh kalamansi lime, poured over ice (a large will set you back P 90.00 – not a bad deal as Manila juice bars tend to be a bit more expensive), and handed to you with a typically cheerful Cebuano smile by the staff at the counter.

To describe it is to say that it is, pretty much, a still [non-carbonated] version of  ginger ale: bright and spicy, just fiery enough to wake up your tastebuds, just sweet enough to stave off the burn.  The citrus tang of the lime cuts through and each sip is a soothing, harmonious blend.

Now, there are sugarcane juice kiosks here in Manila.  However, these are few, tend to be far between, and rarely feature other flavors.  Which begs this question from me: when does Manila get a TCJ franchise…or do I have to take another trip to the Queen City of the South for a sugarcane and ginger fix?

Tubo Cane Juice – Departures Lounge, Mactan Cebu International Airport, Pusok, Cebu

In Which We Ate Quite Well in Cebu…

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Now, here’s brunch!

Here’s the assignment: fly in, fly out on the same day for an Institute event in the Visayas.  You won’t have time to tour ’round as this is all work (and you will be shlepping equipment – laptop, DSLR camera, recorder, tarps in a carrying sling – for much of the day; you will be interviewing senior members of the Cebu business community; and you are the [sort-of] official photographer so you’ll be on your feet much of the time).  You shan’t have that much time to sample local delicacies, but – at the very least – you will be fed well.

Thus was the scenario from last week when the Institute of Corporate Directors for whom I work as a marketing/communications specialist flew over to Cebu for an event honoring two new fellows for the Institute.  Fly out of Manila at the crack of dawn; fly back to Manila in the early evening (air traffic permitting).  And don’t worry about going hungry as the City Sports Club in Cebu caters quite well.

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Club Sub Sandwich with potato wedges

The City Sports Club is a gem of a facility: excellent sporting facilities, a refreshing-looking pool that made us want to jump in, ample conference and banqueting facilities for the locals and for those from outside Cebu.  The downstairs resto-bar, Bistro 88, does good eats with more than substantial portions.

A good brunch option if you’re feeling peckish from the drive from the airport is the amply-portioned Club Sub Sandwich.  Here, a  crisp-crusted mini-baguette is grilled and filled to the gills with ham, bacon, salami, and crisp mesclun leaves.  The sarnie is simply dressed with mayonnaise and ballpark-style mustard and a dish of fat, chunky potato edges is served on the side.

While the flavors are typical of many sandwiches, the heft is what sets this wee beastie apart.  One sarnie easily feeds two ravenous people (seriously) and keeps them stoked for a morning’s worth of setting up, running around with cameras or clipboards, and interviewing local brass.

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Chicken Cacciatore with Parsley Rice

The City Sports Club’s function food is also pretty good.  In this case, the meal began with a mild spin on traditional pork sinigang – not bland, so you could mistake it for nilaga; but just tart enough to let you know that tamarind leaves and not pulp were used as the souring agent.  It’s the sort of thing that helped whet the appetite for a neat spin on chicken cacciatore.

This Italian classic featured chicken breast and thigh fillets rather than bone-in pieces, but these were tender and coated with a savory tomato sauce.  The chicken was a good match for the parsley flecked rice that came with it.  The vegetables, I must say, were standard-issue banquet food.

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Watermelon Shake

While sodas and iced tea were offered to slake intense summer thirsts, one would do well to grab a watermelon shake (or, for that matter, any other smoothie made with fresh in-season fruit) to cool down on a hot day.

City Sports Club: Cardinal Rosales Ave., Cebu City 6000, Cebu

 

In Which Lunch was a Taste of Western Visayan Comfort…

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Inasal na Liempo at Batchoy

The cuisine of Iloilo in the Visayas Region is known to be robust, full-flavored, and deeply satisfying.  The last time I was there a few years ago, the locals fed us with rich molo and batchoy soups made with stocks rich with schmaltz (chicken fat) and pork bones, deliciously porky little sausages served with fried eggs for a suitably magnificent breakfast, Spanish-inspired stews that stick to one’s ribs in the best manner possible, fine grilled fowl marinated in kalamansi lime and annato (achuete) oil [inasal], and fabulously rich desserts straight out of a Spanish-run convent.

I’ve not had time to return to Iloilo, though I was recently on the neighboring island of Cebu (more about that in another post), but Ilonggo and Bacolonon (from the nearby city of Bacolod) food can be found in various places here in Manila for a reasonable price.  Fortunately for this hungry urban warrior, the nearest place is just a short walk away at Inasal Joe.

Hee

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“Hey, I’m about to eat pork and rice!” (from Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen)

Here, P 99.00 gets you the Liempo Inasal (pork belly marinated and grilled inasal-style) with rice sprinkled over with toasted garlic and a small portion of achara (pickled green papaya).

While it may look like a rather meager portion to most eaters, the amount of meat here is actually sizable.  Plus, it was tender enough to slice through with the edge of a spoon.  It was nicely seasoned: tangy and salty and smoky all at once, playing up the natural sweet savor of the pork.  I also liked the fact that the fatty edges were good, crisp, and charred just right.  Eaten with the garlicky rice and the sweet-sour pickles, it definitely made for a good meal.

But, wait: there’s more!

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Batchoy: I know you want it…

If you add P 25.00 to your meal, you get a small bowl of batchoy: that rich noodle soup cooked in an incredibly soulful pork broth and made sinful with pork cracklings, fatback bits, and diced pork heart and liver.

Inasal Joe’s small bowl of batchoy is actually deceptive: don’t let the size of the bowl fool you as it’s filled to the brim with noodles and good stuff and that rich broth.  Definitely good value for an extra twenty-five bucks and it makes a hearty meal so much more satisfying.

Inasal Joe: 3rd Floor – RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati

In Which a Good Breakfast Gets a Trip Off to a Good Start…

He's a teapot.

He’s a teapot.

I rarely travel.  This, in and of itself, is somewhat ironic because I traveled extensively as a child.  Fortunately, the situation somewhat rectified itself when I headed to the Queen City of the South, Cebu, for a fly-in/fly-out business trip.

Now, if there is anything I’ve learned from traveling in the past, is that it is never a good idea to travel on an empty stomach regardless of whether it’s a short- or long-haul flight.  Fortunately, travelers these days are spoilt for choice when it comes to light and substantial eats at the NAIA Terminal III.  And so: breakfast…

Breakfast Delight with Hungarian Sausage

Breakfast Delight with Hungarian Sausage

Chaikofi offers some fairly substantial breakfast options under its Breakfast Delights menu.  Each tray is perfect for one hearty eater or two light appetites as it comes with a fried egg, one’s choice of additional protein, a substantial glob of ready-to-spread butter, and four slices of whole-grain toast.

I chose the Breakfast Delight with Hungarian Sausage (P 185.00) and it was a rather satisfying choice.  The sausage was properly smoky and fried just right: crisp skin and succulent innards that were more meat than filler.  The toast could have used another few minutes in the panini press, but these were warm and nutty tasting; there was enough butter to generously slather on every slice.

Caffeine is, of course, a must when traveling for work.  (Otherwise, you’d be cranky and sleepy from being roused out of bed at 3 AM!)  Chaikofi’s caffe mocha is just strong, sweet, and creamy enough to suit and has nice cocoa notes in the taste.

Feed before you fly

Feed before you fly

Chaikofi Xpresso: Level 3 – NAIA Terminal III, Pasay City