In Which a Hip Spin on Chai is Sweetly Refreshing…

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Tea?  Yes, please.

I’m a chai fangirl: there is just something so soothing about this classic Indian beverage.  Maybe it’s because it involves milky tea which I love; or maybe it’s the combination of spices in each teashop’s chai masala that does the trick.  Maybe it’s both, but regardless thereof, chai is one of my favourite drinks but it is so hard to come by in this part of the world.

Many coffee bar chains have it – CBTL’s version is deliciously reminiscent of spice cake batter – but most versions are best when served hot.  Until recently, I had yet to taste a decent iced version of chai.  Well, at least until I ordered the one at Sweetea’s.

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Sweet, milky, frothy, and cold

Sweetea’s by da.u.de is the brainchild of Filipina tea master Renee Sebastian.  The governing impetus behind the original teashop and its food hall spin-off involves educating local palates that there is more to tea than the dinky wee bags sold in supermarkets and grocery stores.  Sweetea’s, in particular, offers a delicious range of iced teas at fairly reasonable prices – a touch higher than more commercial franchises, but definitely of a higher calibre and exceptional quality.

Sweetea’s streetside masala chai (Php 190.00 for regular; Php 220.00 for large) is my go-to drink.  Made with da.u.de’s Icy Spicy herb-and-spice tea blend, it makes for a very compelling sipper.  You get a nostril-tickling hint of black pepper that is absent from many commercial chai blends and one that puts this version on the proper side of authentic.  There is also a faintly floral-fruity hint of orange zest, but this one tastes properly of cardamom (green and black) which gives it a very pleasant spicy-nutty flavour.  Blended with the proper proportions of milk and brewed tea and not too sweet, this tea holds perfectly well as the melting ice does little to dilute its lovely flavour.  Definitely something I’d order again.

Sweetea’s by da.u.de: The Food Hall @ SM Megamall Fashion Hall, SM Megamall, EDSA, Mandaluyong

In Which a Vegetarian Lunch is Filled with Mexican Flavors…

Mexican flavors...without the meat.

Mexican flavors…without the meat.

Under ordinary circumstances, we usually think of Mexican cuisine as a fairly carnivorous one: fajitas con carne come to mind and so do unctuously rich and savory pork carnitas.  We think of tacos loaded with beef mince cooked down with chilies and such spices as cumin and plenty of black pepper or burritos loaded with everything from carne asada to strips of char-grilled chicken to savory chorizos of varying levels of heat and intensity.  Vegetables are probably the last thing people have in mind when they think of Mexican food…and then one encounters the food over at FaBurrito.

The restaurant’s name is a double-edged pun of sorts: a play on favorito – the Spanish rendition of the word “favorite” – and the hopeful premise that you’d have a “fab burrito” over at their shop.  And it should be noted that you’ll probably feel fab by the end of your meal because:

  1. All the food is made to order and nothing is microwaved;
  2. All the ingredients used are fresh and organic [and locally sourced, most probably] and nutty-tasting, chewy brown rice is used in the bowls and burritos rather than polished white;
  3. They actually let diners know in the ordering phase how many calories each dish has;
  4. 10% of all proceeds help fund the FabFoundation which runs a school/shelter for homeless children; and
  5. The food is amazingly flavorful (considering that the average Juan dela Cruz’s notion of healthy eating involves flavorless, nutritionally balanced provender).
Veg chips for the win

Veg chips for the win

When I trotted over to FaBurrito from across the street, I wasn’t sure what I even wanted to eat.  All I know was that I was hungry, but didn’t quite want anything with meat.  Fortunately, I checked out the menu and noticed the fajita mushroom burrito (P 210.00 for a regular sized burrito; same price for the rice bowl and salad options).  It was a happy choice.

While not as massive as my favorite burritos from Cantina Deliciosa (which, come to think of it, I haven’t been to in a long time), you get a substantial flour tortilla-wrapped cylinder loaded with strips of shiitake mushroom soaked in a rather spirited marinade (you’ll see why in a bit) before being pan-grilled, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet onions, chewy kernels of brown rice cooked with cilantro for a herbaceous zing, and nutty black bean frijoles.

The earthy flavor of the mushrooms was amplified by the tang of fresh lime and the peppiness of green chilies in the marinade; a bit of char yielded in the grill pan also gave it a tasty hint of smoke.  I am not a fan of brown rice, but it worked very well here as the nutty sweetness of it was a good complement to the zingy grilled mushrooms.  All in all, quite a delicious and satisfying thing to have for lunch as it fills you up rather than out.

Add P 125.00 and you can opt to have one of their veg-friendly soups or a basket of veg chips (those herb-flecked nachos you see above with a fresh-tasting dish of pico de gallo salsa) and your choice of iced tea.  I say: go for the lemongrass as it is just sweet enough and is most refreshing; the right thing to drink, I daresay, for these horrendously hot summer days.

FaBurrito: Ground Floor – Tower II, The Columns, Ayala Ave. cor. Sen. Gil Puyat Ave., Makati

In Which One’s Tea Break Involves an Ensaymada

Tea, ensaymada, and chill...

Tea, ensaymada, and chill…

At this time of year, the weather is getting a little colder (just a little; we’re currently in the throes of the El Nino) so there are those of us who start craving for something heftier when mid-afternoon rolls around and it’s time for tea.  This means crisps and soda are no longer de rigeur, but it isn’t cold enough just yet for stodgier fare like kakanin (rice cakes) or bowls of champorado (chocolate rice porridge) and congee.  No: this time of year calls for things that fall in between: sandwiches, perhaps; cupcakes and biscuits/cookies; and, of course, ensaymada.

Inspired by the Mallorcan ensaimada (soft eggy dough dipped into melted lard [saim] or butter before being coiled and baked), this rich yeast bread is usually slathered on top with butter and sprinkled with sugar and/or grated cheese after baking.  That, of course, goes for the regular version of ensaymada.  Believe me when I say it can get pretty fancy.

The ensaymada espesyal varies depending on which bakeshop you go to.  If you get one from Eurobake in Malolos, Bulacan, you get a version that’s more buttery than the regular kind and has sliced salted duck eggs on top to cut some of the sweetness with a salty contrast.  Some of the larger bakeshop chains in urban areas offer ensaymadas that are filled with ham; more bespoke ones tout buns filled with gobbets of rich, dark Belgian chocolate or slathered with sweetly golden dulce de leche.

I prefer my ensaymada more on the savoury side rather than sweet, so my go-to bun is the one from Pan de Manila.  Golden with butter and egg yolks, this roll has but a bare scattering of sugar on top and a regular snowdrift of shredded sharp Cheddar.  While this is gloriously decadent on its own, it gains further glory by being popped into a toaster oven for three minutes for the outside to crisp up, the cheese toasty in spots and melting in others.

Rather than coffee, though, this is better eaten with a bottle of cold milk tea for a bit of afternoon bliss; a slight pocket in which to relax towards the end of a busy day.

 

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?  😉