Posted in A Girl at Lunch, Holiday Cuisine, Home Baking, Home Cooking, Restaurant Hopping, The Flavors of Asia, The Pinoy Food Route, This is a Catholic's Blog - DEAL WITH IT, Uncategorized

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. 🙂

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, 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, 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, Midge on the Road, The Pinoy Food Route, Uncategorized

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