Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

And I’m Back…With a Recipe, Too

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Kangkong and bacon salad

It’s been a very busy three or four months since my last post.

I’ve settled in nicely at my current workplace and have managed well through my first five issues with the magazine.  While there was a rather depressing incident involving the misspelling of someone’s name, it’s been a rather fulfilling and satisfying time.

However, that’s also meant that I haven’t had at all that much time with which to update the blog.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve been too busy to cook.  On the contrary, that’s something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

And so, this salad.  This takes inspiration from the horensou-bacon (sauteed spinach with bacon) I love from Tori Ichi, a yakitori joint over at the new wing of the Festival Supermall. The sublime salty, smoky flavour of the bacon goes down a treat with the spinach; just that and a mound of hot rice is just heavenly.

But since spinach isn’t exactly available all the time here, I’ve used kangkong (swamp cabbage / water spinach) to pretty much make the dish at home.  I must say that it is rather savoury and, yes: it also goes well with hot rice.

Easy Warm Kangkong and Bacon Salad

  • 1 bundle kangkong, stems finely chopped and leaves set aside
  • 6 strips fatty bacon (trust me; you do not want to use the lean kind here), diced
  • 1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered and the meat has browned a little. Remove the meat from the pan; set aside.

Saute the onion in the drippings until softened; add the garlic and cook till browned a little around the edges.  Add the chopped kangkong stems and cook till crisp-tender, about five minutes.  Add the bacon and cook an additional three minutes or till the bacon is crisp around the edges.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add the reserved leaves.  Cover and leave to cook for about two minutes, just enough to wilt the leaves.  Add the balsamic vinegar and toss the kangkong and bacon till well-coated.  Remove from the heat and season to taste.

Serves 4.

 (Oh, and by the way: I’m back and blogging…if a trifle sporadically.)

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, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine, Uncategorized

In Which We Have a Black Garlic Ramen…

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Kuro Chashumen

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a serious ramen craving.  Blame it on the weird weather; blame it on the weirder than weird situations I’ve been in over the past four months.  You could also blame, I think, having to deal with somewhat difficult people over the same time period.  But, regardless of whatever reason, I wanted ramen.

The good news is that there is actually a very good ramen-ya just a short walk from where I work now.  The bad news is that the place is packed to the gills with people at lunchtime.  But, in my case, fortune favors the desperate (or the seriously depressed, for that matter): and a need to have dinner before diving into the increasingly worse homeward traffic led me right up to Ramen Kuroda.

Tonkotsu ramen is the specialty in this particular shop, which is to say that noodles are tossed into a bowl of silky, savory, collagen-rich pork broth upon serving.  You know the sort: pork bones and cartilage are cooked down with seasonings to yield a milky-looking broth that is said to do wonders for your skin.  Here, you can have your broth as is (shiro – white), given a shot of fiery tomato-chili miso paste (aka – red), or with an inky-looking splash of roasted garlic tare (something of a heady, savory black garlic confit) as in the case of the kuro ramen and kuro chashumen.

Here, Php 180.00 gets you a bowl of ramen (regardless of variant) with half an ajitama (soy-cooked mollet-style [firmer than soft-boiled but not quite hard-boiled] egg) and a slice of chashu (roast pork belly).  However, PhP 230.00 gets you a chashumen – a bowl of ramen with ajitama and four slices of pork.  Believe me when I say you’re good to go shelling out extra cash for the extra chashu.

What you get is a bowl of firm, chewy noodles – thinner, perhaps, than what other noodle shops sell, but a generous amount cooked al dente, nevertheless – soaking up that rich, porky-tasting soup.  The addition of the black garlic tare in either the kuro ramen or chashumen adds a smoky richness, a somewhat vegetal tang, and a delicate sweetness that tempers and is tempered by the smoothly rich broth.  You would think that a ladleful of the stuff would make the soup far too pungent for comfort, but it doesn’t.  In fact, it’s deliciously subtle – and you needn’t worry about garlic breath if that’s what worries you.

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Kae-dama, o-negai shimasu!

By the way, the amount of broth also warrants an extra order of noodles (kae-dama); don’t fight it, go with it, and enjoy it.

Ramen Kuroda: 3rd Floor – RCBC Plaza, Salcedo Village, Ayala Avenue cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine

In Which a Yoshoku Plate Delivers Some Serious Southern Barbecue…

Osaka BBQ Ribs
Osaka BBQ Ribs

Yoshoku is the collective term used in Japan for western dishes that are given a distinctive local twist.   The most popular examples of this particular culinary style are kare raisu (rice topped with a curry gravy that is much milder than any South Asian original), omuraisu (tomato rice wrapped in a thin egg omelet), and beef hash or beef stew.  The term further extends to American dishes that the Japanese have made their own.

One delectable example I encountered recently are the Osaka BBQ Ribs over at Tokyo Bubble Tea.  Now, while it’s rather unusual to get a square meat at what is, essentially, a teashop, it’s one of my go-to places for lush, proper lunches that are more than satisfying.

TBT’s spin on a Southern classic really delivers in terms of taste, texture, and quality.  A section of pork belly ribs are marinated in a sweet mix of tangy barbecue sauce, a hint of honey, toasted sesame seeds, and soy.  After being grilled to perfection, more sauce is drizzled over and extra sesame sprinkled on top.

So soft, so tender, you can shred it with a spoon!
So soft, so tender, you can shred it with a spoon!

The end result is a section of ribs that fall apart almost as soon as you start prodding it gently with a spoon.  Each bite is delightful: a proper balance of lean meat and unctuous fat, all beautifully flavored by the sauce with a smoky hit from its time on the grill.

The corn slaw  and grilled veg that come with it are an excellent textural counterpoint and the sharpness of the grilled tomatoes are a nice way to offset the sweetness of the pork.  My tip: skip the mashed potatoes and go with the garlic rice for some extra-flavorful oomph in your meal.

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine

In Which We Talk About Kaki-Age

Kaki-age from Kenji Tei
Kaki-age from Kenji Tei

Kaki-age is a variation on the standard tempura recipe that involves shredding a number of vegetables, mostly root veg, and tossing them into a very cold, lightly seasoned batter that fries up into a shaggy-looking fritter that, if done right, is crisp all the way through.

The name is something of a misnomer because the literal translation of kaki-age is “fried oyster” (kaki = oyster; age = cooked in hot oil / fried), but I have never encountered actual oysters featured in the dish.  (I have heard about the corn and oyster kaki-age over at Ooma at the Megamall, but I’ve hadn’t had the opportunity to go there and taste for myself.)  As stated previously, it’s predominantly made with vegetables.  In the Philippines, this is usually a combination of carrots, sweet white onions, potato or sweet potato, and kabocha pumpkin.  In the case of restaurants like Kenji Tei and Teriyaki Boy, bits and bobs of prawn, squid, and crab are sometimes added to add a savory and slightly fishy twist to something whose basic flavor is essentially sweet and earthy.  There have also been spicy versions wherein the brilliantly colored and aromatically incendiary shichimi togarashi was added to the batter for a touch of heat and zing.

The average serving of kaki-age comes to the table with the standard-issue dish of tentsuyu into which one dips the fritters.  My favorite way of eating them, however, is the way it’s served at Kenji Tei: a wedge of fresh lemon comes alongside your tempura, squeeze it over the fritters evenly, and then you dip it into the tentsuyu.  This gives the sweet, earthy kaki-age a fresh, citrusy overtone that goes beautifully with the ginger and radish in the sauce.  It’s the sort of dish that calls to mind summer lunches alone and you haven’t got a care in the world.  🙂

 

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine

In Which There is Lunch for the Weary Shopper…

Orange juice for staying perky...
Orange juice for staying perky…

This is what happens when the Christmas rush kicks in: you find yourself scrambling from one mall to another trying to find appropriate presents (or, if you’re like me, the appropriate ingredients for whatever it is you’re planning to give away as presents), you hop aboard public transport, get stuck in two hours of standstill traffic, scramble like a madwoman from store to store, hoist several bulky packages on your person, get stuck in an additional two hours of traffic, manage to get home, and slump to the floor in exhaustion.

Fortunately, in between rushing to and fro, one can fuel up and rest those flagging feet and spirits for a while.  In this case, I was off to my old standby: Tokyo Cafe.

Namban chicken set
Namban chicken set

TC offers a selection of set meal menus that feature a bowl of soup, a small salad, a saucer of pickles, hiyayakko-doufu (cold tofu salad), rice, and a main course.  Throwing in P 60.00 gets you a drink and you can opt for iced or hot coffee or an iced orange juice.  Shown here is the Namban chicken set which features torikatsu (breaded chicken fillets) and ebi furai (deep-fried breaded prawns).  Seriously, it may not be at the top of the class given that the breading was heavy and the soup tepid at best, but it was enough to add a bit of spring back into my step and get my Holiday shopping done.

 

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, The Wonders of Japanese Cuisine

In Which Ramen is the Star of a Celebratory Dinner…

Fish is a great way to start the meal...
Fish is a great way to start the meal…

When my sister turned 24 on Saturday, we were actually in a dither as to where to have her celebratory dinner.  We’d ordered in Chinese food for lunch earlier in the day, but a serious Nihonophile like my sister deserved a proper Japanese meal.  Fortunately, my brother called up just a little after lunch to tell us that we were going to have dinner that evening at Kenji Tei.

Kenji Tei has to be one of the more underrated ramen houses in the Greater Manila Area, seeing how people would more likely go to Japanese franchises like Hokkaido Ramen Santouka or Ramen Yushoken or to more popular dives such as Ukkokei or Mitsuyado Sei-Men.  But the food is good: amazingly simple yet delicious and quite decently priced.

We started the meal with the sashimi platter and a plate of spicy salmon maki.  The platter features a nice mix of fresh and cooked treats: maguro tuna and slices of raw salmon, silvery-rosy bits of fresh mackerel, crab sticks cut on the bias and sweet tamago-yaki (rolled omelet), and sweet raw sea urchins that crunch when you bite but melt into briny-sweet richness in your mouth.  The salmon maki will appeal to fans of another Japanese restaurant’s tempura tuna sashimi tartare as it features a crunchy-tender mound of raw salmon chunks and tempura crumbs bound in a mayo-dressing made heady with fiery wasabi on top of chunky, well-filled uramaki. Seriously, if I had my way, all I’d eat would be the salmon maki – but the ramen…  Oh, yes, the ramen…

Chashu miso ramen
Chashu miso ramen

We each opted for a regular sized bowl of our ramen of choice – and the regular size is actually big enough to be shared by two particularly hungry diners!

My bowl of choice was the chashu miso ramen (P 268.00 for the regular size).  This was a fairly large, deep bowl filled with semi-hard wheat noodles in a rich, nutty miso broth with a bit of a smoky nuance added by toasted sesame seeds.  Along with generous bits of pork mince, scallions, and spinach, this dish actually takes its name from the three thick slabs of beautifully-cooked chashu pork that are floated on top of the dish along with half a medium-boiled egg.

You would do well to order an extra couple slices of the chashu pork as it really melts in the mouth and has a rich, almost ham-like smokiness to it.  You would also have to order an extra bowl of noodles (P 40.00 per bowl) to help sop up the generous broth.

It was definitely a meal that really made my sister’s birthday – and one I would definitely enjoy again one of these days.

Kenji Tei Ramen House: Ground Floor (Cinemas Area) – Alabang Town Center, Alabang-Zapote Road, Muntinlupa City