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

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Restaurant Hopping, Uncategorized

In Which There are Two Takes on Fast-Food Chicken…

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The chicken from Family Mart

Fried chicken is considered the go-to meal for many urban Filipinos.  For one thing, its one of the easiest things to find: there are variations on the theme of batter-coated/deep-fried fowl everywhere from the humblest carinderia to the convenience store on the corner, from the mall food court to the swank-and-swish restaurants along the high streets.  For another, most people love chicken.  One more reason: most fried chicken plates are within the range of even some of the tightest budgets.

But while it is easy to get a meal of fried chicken and rice in the Greater Manila Area, it’s also fairly easy to get a bad fried chicken meal.  You either get undercooked or overcooked chicken; the skin is limp rather than crisp; the chicken can also be under-seasoned or overly salty; and portions can also be quite scanty.  Fortunately, there are places where you can get hefty bang for your buck while also pleasing your tastebuds and belly.

The Japanese kombini [convenience store] chain Family Mart has substantially portioned chicken meals where you can opt for one or two pieces as shown above (PhP 135.00 for two pieces with rice and gravy).  The chicken is quite succulent in parts; drumsticks and thighs are all properly juicy.  Breasts and wings, however, have this tendency to be somewhat dry and stringy; dark meat is definitely the option here but these parts are quite popular and sell out quickly.  Nevertheless, it makes for a satisfying meal and the gravy tastes of butter and mushrooms – and that’s never a bad thing.

Also Recommended: the two-piece fried chicken meal at MiniStop.  At P 108.00 for a two-piece serve with enormous pieces of chicken, this is one of the more satisfying options.  The skin is a trifle salty, but this makes it perfect with rice.  The meat – almost always dark because drumsticks and thighs are always on display in the countertop warmers) – is juicy and properly seasoned; the skin is as crunchy as potato crisps and, despite the salinity, is definitely moreish.

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Crunchy Garlic Chicken with Seoul Fried Rice

Korean-American import Bon Chon, on the other hand, gives diners three options with regard to the flavors of their chicken and another three options as to which parts they want.

Personally, the choice boils down to the crunchy garlic drumstick-and-thigh rice box combo (PhP 155.00).  Unlike the other available variants where much of the flavor is concentrated in the crunchy glazed skin, the crunchy garlic tastes garlicky and savory from the first bite to the last.  I guess it helps that there are flecks of toasted garlic scattered all over each pieces.  Portions are ample and an extra PhP 20.00 lets you upgrade your plain white rice to the beefier Seoul Fried Rice which has bits of bulgogi, spring onions, omelet strips, and sesame seeds.  An extra order of kimchi coleslaw is recommended.

Also RecommendedKFC in the Colonel’s original recipe; because, face it, who says no to KFC?!

 

Posted in Restaurant Hopping, Sweets for the Sweet, The Joy of Snacks, Uncategorized

In Which There are Churros at La Maripili…

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Churros con choco?  Si!

I go on record as saying something to the effect about churros being my nibble of choice during times of stress and sheer and utter frustration.  I also remember saying something about how hard it was, at the time, to grab churros in the BGC where I was working at the time.

Things have changed since that post: I now work in Makati (again) and, while there are no churrerias within my immediate vicinity, I am grateful that I can get a cruller-fix on weekends at La Maripili Churreria at the Alabang Town Center.

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Saunter up to the counter and place your order…

La Maripili is located at the Corporate Center, the newest building in the ATC grounds, and is a little difficult to find at first.  But, trust me: it’s worth looking for.

First impressions: a clean space reminiscent of Spanish interiors just after the turn of the last century or of Southern/Caribbean plantation interiors; plenty of wood and wicker, some bits and bobs of wrought iron; and mirrors on the walls.  A refreshing place where one can relax, really.  You can opt to hop onto a bar stool or sit at more conventional tables.

But I am, of course, not here for the decor: I’m here for the churros!

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Yes, this is a SMALL serve

A small serve of churros sets you back P 60.00 and you throw in an additional P 110.00 for a cup of smoky-dark hot chocolate.

Mind you, though: these aren’t the skinny sticks you’d get at most lower-market establishments.  For scale, look below:

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Yep. they’re pretty damn big

These crullers are as long as an average-sized glossy magazine is wide.  Again: you get six of these beasties to a serve and they’re the perfect size for sharing.  However, for hardened churro-holics like myself, these are just the right size to enjoy for a solo breakfast on a lazy Saturday morning.

These come in a paper cone and are lightly sprinkled with granulated white sugar; every order is freshly-fried so these come to you all crispy-hot and golden.

Sans chocolate, these are nifty on their own: there is an eggy, buttery savor to each bite that you crunch through.  But if you dip these into the chocolate, every bite becomes divinely decadent and you are torn between scarfing down the lot before they get soggy or leisurely crunching through the lot one by one.

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It’s like an exquisitely posh take on a hotdog

Flavored churros (P 60.00 per piece) are also on the menu at this particular churreria and diners are spoilt for choice between sweet and savory options.

Here, oversized churro tubes are either pierced at the ends and piped through with creamy custards for sweet options (rumor has it that the classic crema Catalana and chocolate and chili mousse are quite popular) or split on one side and filled with either smoky-salty jamon Serrano or slices of paprika-spiced chorizo; the latter is finished off with a drizzle of honey.

The latter is a rather posh spin on a hotdog: a nifty little sandwich (or, to put it in context, bocadito) that is portable and easily noshable.  The sausage is said to be in-house and is excellent: just the right amount of paprika, deliciously porky, and has an even ratio of fat to lean.  The honey adds a light sweetness that offsets the spice and works beautifully against the eggy taste of the churro.  While putting a sausage into a cruller sounds ridiculous, I suggest you try it at least once – and you’ll find yourself craving for one.  Oh, and if you’re hankering for more substantial savory fare, La Maripili also has savory toast and sandwich options to choose from.

And, if you’re still craving for something sweet, this shop also has a selection of chocolate-covered churros (P 40 for classic dark or white chocolate; P 60 for fruit-infused white chocolate) you will be glad to sink your teeth into.

All things considered, La Maripili is definitely a place I’d be happy to return to…and I’ll be more than happy to head on back.

La Maripili Churreria: Ground Floor – Corporate Center, Alabang Town Center, Alabang, Muntinlupa

Posted in A Girl at Lunch, A Whole Lotta Spice!, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, Uncategorized

In Which One Lunched on Saigon-inspired Dishes…

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Gỏi cuốn

This is the problem with working in the big city at the height of summer: when noon hits, you find yourself reluctant to brave the intense heat outdoors to grab a bite to eat.  Given how hot it is even in the wee small hours of the morning, you’re too flustered to fix yourself a boxed lunch.  And, even if you do manage to brave the heat, you find yourself heading to places closer to the office.  In my case, this means convenience stores – and you can only go so far before you find yourself dumpling-sick and fried-chicken-sated.

But good things come to those brave enough to go a hop, skip, and jump farther.  Thus, it was a serendipitous thing when I found myself trotting over to the food court on the 12th Floor of the nearby GT Tower because that’s where I found Xành Quán Vietnamese Food.

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Grilled Pork Chop and Fried Egg Rice

Xành Quán’s stock in trade is a dish called Cơm tấm or “broken rice”; so called, because it makes use of the grains that are broken in the milling process.  In most Asian countries, raw broken rice is sold at a lower price and is eaten by poorer folk or used as animal fodder, a base for brewing alcoholic beverages, or as a foundation starch for cosmetics.  In Vietnam, particularly in the southern city of Saigon, it is considered a delicacy because of its fluffier, mealier texture and mildly sweet, nutty flavor.

At Xành Quán, you can order broken rice served in the classic Saigon manner (P 150.00) where it is served with slices of sweet grilled pork, a slab of steamed, egg-wrapped Vietnamese meat loaf (chả trứng), and a selection of fresh and pickled vegetables.  Personally, I went with the grilled pork chop and fried egg rice (P 140.00); it is a tasty and filling combination.  The pork is rather thin, but very tender and has a sweet, savory taste heightened by the addition of sesame oil, annato (hence the golden color), and nuoc mam (fish sauce) in the marinade.  The egg adds richness to the dish and is set off beautifully by the crisp, tangy Vietnamese pickles (carrot and daikon radish), along with slices of fresh tomato and cucumber.  It is deeply satisfying, yet the flavors and textures are light enough to make it a meal you can enjoy even on the hottest of summer days.

However, in case your appetite is seriously flagging in the heat but you still want something substantial, you can opt for Xành Quán’s take on the highly-popular gỏi cuốn (Vietnamese summer rolls) which go for P 25.00 a piece.  Here, fresh herbs (mint and Thai basil), bun (rice noodles), small prawns, and slivers of grilled pork are wrapped in translucent rice paper.  The resulting rolls are served with a chili-flecked peanut sauce that adds a fiery sweetness to the bland bun and heightens the fresh, green flavors of the herbs as well as the savor of the meat and prawns.  It is also a fascinating play on textures with crunch coming from the herbs and the al dente noodles, the chewy rice paper, tender meats, and creamy dip.  Not a bad way to nosh up for the day and a refreshing one, as well.

Xành Quán Vietnamese Food: Art and Food Galerie, 12th Floor – GT Tower, Ayala Avenue cor. H.V. dela Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati.

 

 

 

Posted in Home Cooking, The Flavors of Asia, The Grocery Shop-a-holic, The Well-read Foodie, Uncategorized

In Which One’s Bossam Turned Out Pretty Awesome…

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Pork, soybean paste, ginger, honey…

It all started with a recipe from American Iron Chef Judy Joo featured in an old issue of Where Women Cook Magazine.  The pictures were certainly tempting: a whole slab of roasted pork belly slathered in a rich, thick sauce bundled into an iceberg lettuce leaf with some rice and kimchi.  Mouthwatering would have to be an understatement here.

The dish in question was a roasted pork belly bossam, a modern spin on a traditional Korean specialty.  Bossam (보쌈) is a dish commonly served in autumn, just as families are preparing a fresh batch of kimchi from the year’s vegetable harvest or, as the period is called in Korea, at gimjang time.  It is also a drinking-man’s dish, as it is usually featured as an anju, or one of a set of dishes made to accompany soju or other alcoholic beverages.

In a traditional bossam, a whole slab of pork belly is simmered down with ginger and other spices to remove the gaminess of the meat.  The boiled pork is allowed to cool, then cut into thin slices that could be wrapped with  kimchi and other condiments in a lettuce leaf and eaten like a hand-roll.

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Kimchi, pork belly, and rice with furikake

Judy Joo’s spin on the dish is twice-cooked: the pork boiled till super-tender in a miso and garlic broth, then slathered with a second miso paste – this time with ginger and honey – before roasting.  The end result is a meltingly tender slab of pork with a subtle, nutty taste of soybeans and a hint of spice.

When I decided to cook the dish recently, I realized that I would do well to grab a tub of doenjang or Korean soybean paste (Korean miso, if you will).  Doenjang has a coarser texture than the more common white and red Japanese soybean pastes with nubbins of crushed soybean that impart an almost peanutty nuance.  Here, it is used to season the pork in two ways: first as the base of the simmering solution, then as part of the marinade rubbed onto the meat before the second phase of cooking.

One thing I had to change was the cut of meat.  I still used pork belly, but – as seen here – I had to use pork belly ribs as these were what I had on hand at the time.  Also, I didn’t bother roasting: we found that grilling the pork on a smoking-hot grill pan with some dark sesame oil works just fine.

The result: very tender pork that falls apart as you prod it with a fork with a subtly sweet and nutty taste and aroma that goes very well with spicy kimchi and just-cooked rice.

Grilled Pork Belly Bossam

  • 1-1/2 kilos pork belly ribs
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

For the broth:

  • 2 tablespoons doenjang
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 inch of ginger, sliced but unpeeled
  • 1 onion, cut into eighths

For the grill rub:

  • 2 tablespoons doenjang
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon kochujang or sriracha hot sauce

Place the pork and the broth ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn down the heat and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  Allow the pork and broth to cool completely.  Remove the pork and reserve the broth for other dishes.

Combine all the ingredients for the rub and smear generously over the pork.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight to improve the flavor.

Heat the sesame oil in a grill pan over medium heat.  Add the marinated pork and cook for about 10 minutes, turning at the halfway mark.  Serve with rice and kimchi.

Serves 6.

Posted in A Whole Lotta Spice!, Drinkables, Liquid Refreshment, Midge on the Road, The Flavors of Asia, The Pinoy Food Route, Uncategorized

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

Posted in PotPourri, Uncategorized

In Which We Celebrate Eleven Years of Midge in the Kitchen

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Tea for one; don’t mind if I do

How time flies.  When I first began writing this blog in 2005, I’d recently joined the IT sector as a technical writer in a knowledge management group.  Eleven years hence, I’ve thrown in the towel with regard to both IT and advertising and currently work as a communications specialist for a corporate governance advocacy – something of a very far cry from shilling herbal supplements or updating techie training manuals.

Writing about food – preparing and cooking it, trying new things, eating with friends and family – is something that has come to have a curative sort of quality for me.  Considering all the stress I go through every working day, cooking and baking calm me better than more conventional ways of meditating or unwinding.  Kneading dough or pressing shortbread mixture into a baking tin serves to relax my nerves and strengthen my arms and hands better than most yoga routines.  Chopping vegetables for one dish or another is a great way to burn off any excess anger.  (Least of all because I fancy one enemy or another falling to my knife; oh dear…)  Waiting for a slow-cooked stew to cook or bread to rise continues to teach me patience.  Sampling new flavors and textures is, in and of itself, a bit of a vacation from the ordinary for me as it helps me get a sense of different nations and cultures through the food they eat.

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Chocolate Cherry, anyone?

Over the eleven years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve met new people, made new friends, had my heart broken more than once.

I’ve fed people, fought with people, mourned the loss of friends and relatives who went on ahead to the great Feast in the sky.  Most recently, I lost a very dear friend and her son to a fire that burned down their home; I am still coping but it’s very hard.  When I think of the smile on that little boy’s face when I gave him a large, just-baked peanut butter cookie from a batch baked for my brother and other priests of our acquaintance, it breaks my heart all over again and I wonder where is the fairness in this world, where is the justice.  It doesn’t seem right that a mother and her child who had such a great appetite for life were taken so early in their days.  But that is life and those of us left behind have to muddle right along.

I’ll be honest: along with another recent heartbreak, it’s going to take a lot more than food, fun, and anything in between to get back into sync – but I’m trying.

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So, I propose a toast…and a bite of something tasty…

It’s been an amazingly delicious journey and I know it can only get better from here on out.

To everyone who’s followed this blog for the food and the adventures: thank you very much and I hope you’ll stick around for even more culinary shenanigans both in and out of the kitchen.

Salut!