Monday, August 15, 2016

Baloy Bakeshop's Ensaymada - A delectable Cavite find!

The ensaymada has long been a Pinoy panaderia (bakery) staple.  If you spell it with an "i" as in "ensaimada", you would be referring to its close cousin -- the "ensaimada de Mallorca" which is a popular sweet bread in Spain.  
You can find ensaymadas in high end bakeshops, with a topping of crumbled Edam cheese or you 
can buy them from your neighbourhood panaderia where it is smoothed over with sugar and Star margarine.  
I like my ensaymada with a bit of crust and a chewy and not too soft  texture -- the proof of the ensaymada for me is the "pull" when I  bite into its golden, buttery interior.

On the recent Food and History Tour of Cavite conducted by Food Holidays, one of the "shopping" stops was Baloy's Bakeshop, a popular and well loved panaderia in Cavite City.  It's located along 
the Manila Cavite Road, right after you pass the welcome arch.  Drive slowly or you may just miss 
its unassuming facade.

When I was growing up, left over menudo or any other stew from the night before was frequently heated up for breakfast.  The sauce was perfect for sopping up with pan de sal.  Baloy Bakeshop's eskaparate (glass showcase) of menudo, caldereta and corned beef filled pan de sal brought back 
all those fond breakfast memories. 

Our tour guide, Caviteño historian Ige Ramos told us that Baloy's started out as a carinderia.  
From this modest beginning,  the family was able to send the children to school -- they are now 
all grown and have successful careers of their own.  
The carinderia has been expanded to catering services but a small eatery inside the bakery 
continues to serve snacks to loyal suki (patrons).

Ige brought us to Baloy's Bakeshop so we could sample it's singular specialty -- its ensaymadas.
Packed in unique octagon shaped boxes (reminding me of a hat or milliner's box) the ensaymadas 
are apparently the house bestsellers. 

We were fortunate to meet Mr. Tony Baloy -- chef,  master baker and proprietor.  
Mr. Baloy proudly calls himself a former OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) --   he worked for
more than twenty years as Chef on board a Royal Caribbean Cruise ship.  
Mr. Baloy said that the octagon shaped box is his homage to the ensaimada de Mallorca which 
he  had tried on one of his shore excursions.  The Spanish ensaimadas come in similar packaging.  
One major difference is that these blue and white boxes have Mr. Baloy's smiling face on the cover, 
a nice way to personalise and authenticate his product. 

Of course I bought a box of Baloy's ensaymadas!  And I wasted no time in having it for breakfast 
the very next day.  Just by looking at it, I knew I would like it.  It had a thin, well browned crust, 
old fashioned grated cheddar cheese,  and just a light dusting  of sugar.  It also had that perfect brioche shape,  with a "topknot" right in the centre.  

Baloy's ensaymada is hands down, one of the best I have ever eaten! See how it pulls apart easily? 
It's well packed and a bit dense and is buttery and chewy.  My idea of a perfect ensaymada. 
Aside from the classic ensaymada that you see above,  it comes with fillings like ube, Bavarian 
creme and an irresistibly caramel-ly dulce de leche. 

It was such an honour to meet Mr. Baloy himself -- hardworking, humble and so hospitable during our short visit to his bakeshop.  I look forward to tasting those ensaymadas again. They are definitely worth the hour's drive from my house to Cavite City!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A new meaning to KKK - Kasaysayan at Kainan sa Kavite. Highlights of Food Holidays' #eatyourhistory Cavite Tour

Fifty years ago ... I can't even believe that I'm actually starting this post with those words ...
but yes, fifty years ago when I was a child (let me qualify that),  my family and I would
go to Cavite every summer.
We would drive all the way from Malabon, Rizal where we lived,  through Las Piñas (the
Coastal Road and Cavitex were still very much in the future),  past the salt flats and the
roadside  talaba (oyster) vendors until we reached the "in" summer destination of the 50s and
the 60s,  Lido Beach Resort.
Unfortunately, Manila Bay became more and more polluted until finally, we had to stop going
to Lido Beach.  We also somehow stopped going to Cavite.  And much later on,  the roads became
too congested that there was just no reason to venture this way.
So when I received an e-mail from Clang Garcia of Food Holidays telling me about their upcoming Cavite Culinary and History Tour, I signed up for Jay and myself -- it would be a chance for me to visit Cavite again and see what I had missed out on all these years.

The tour started off from Manila Bay Walk, bright and early on a Saturday morning.
Food Holidays owns and runs #jeepneytours where you get to ride on a colourful air-conditioned jeepney-on- steroids,  it's big enough for 20 people --  such a fun and eye catching way to travel around in.

This is Clang Garcia orienting us on what we could expect from today's tour.  Clang is the owner of Food Holidays, creator of #jeepneytours and  a hardworking and passionate advocate of Philippine tourism.   Can I also add how charming and pretty she is?  

Our guide for today's tour was Ige Ramos -- proud son of Cavite, historian, academician and proponent of local culinary traditions.  He proved to be a most informative and entertaining guide, peppering historical and cultural facts with interesting anecdotes and behind-the-scenes tidbits. 

Clang's sub-title for this tour was "One Day Culinary Tour, 400 Years of History".  So of course I expected to taste Cavite's gastronomic delights as we traipsed around her historical sites.  First stop was  a filling breakfast at Malen's in Noveleta where the salty creamy quesillo, a soft white cheese made from buffalo milk was my favourite. 

A true mark of a native son is knowing practically everybody and anybody -- Ige had an all access pass to take us behind the scenes of Cavite's food landmarks  This is the pre-war oven of Dizon's Bakery in Cavite City that still bakes their famous bonete and salakot buns.

At yet another stop, we learned how the famous Bibingka Samala is made -- from coconut to gata to the bibingka itself.

I was so happy to see that the Cavite City Public Market was part of the itinerary.  The local 
palengke is a colourful, lively and sometimes frenetic way to fully immerse yourself in a new place.  
Saturday is market day at the Mercado del Ciudad de Cavite and thus the perfect time to visit.  

At the palengke, Ige made us all try bibingkoy from the very popular and long standing Aling Ika's Carinderia  (which deserves a separate post unto itself!).  Bibingkoy is a mochi-like rice cake stuffed with sweet red beans or munggo.  We have something very similar in Orani, Bataan where I am from but what makes this particular version unique is that it is slathered with a ginataan sauce -- making it even gooier, richer and yes, yummier.

Lunch was at Calle Real in Tanza,  a well established and very local restaurant set in an ancestral home.  This was where I tasted calandracas (fascinating etymology but more on that on another post) 
a slurpy but not soupy sotanghon dish that hit all the right notes.

From Tanza, it was an hour's drive to Maragondon, time enough to nod off in the air conditioned cocoon of our jeepney-on-steroids. Maragondon is a sleepy little town with two very important sites.  One is the church of Our Lady of the Assumption,  established by the Jesuits in the early 1600s.  
This is a designated National Cultural Treasure, impressive and imposing with its spare, clean lines.

Maragondon's other must-visit spot is just a few blocks away from the church.
My favourite part of the tour was a visit to this museum that I had never heard of.  This is the 
Museo ng Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio or Museum of the Trial of Andres Bonifacio.
Established in 2001 in the original house that served as the trial venue and very well maintained by the National Historical Commission,  it is a  powerful and moving place but sadly, I think it suffers from a severe lack of promotion.  
I believe this  important museum which shows an objective, historical account of the Supremo's last days,  should be more well known and visited by many Filipinos, specially students (more on this museum in a later post). 

The tour ended with a visit to the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite.  Interestingly, it was one of the first places we had passed by this morning so in my mind, we had come full circle.  I have been to this place a number of times before and was happy to see that it is even more well run now.

Our stomachs had to come full circle too.  After a thorough tour of the house by one of the 
Museum's very knowledgeable guides, we enjoyed our last Cavite specialty for the day -- 
Pancit Choku en su Tinta or noodles in squid ink sauce.  Topped with thin slices of unripe green
kamias and liberally sprinkled with toasted garlic, it was a delightful ultimate taste of Cavite.  
The kamias added a tart and sprightly flavour (not to mention it looked really pretty against the black noodles)  thus  balancing off the umami linamnam of the squid ink.  
Nowadays most of the new and "fancy"  Pinoy restaurants serve a version of squid ink pancit 
but Cavite's original dish, this one from Asiong's Carinderia is a hundred times better than any 
I  have tried.

Before the light completely faded, we had time for a group photo in front of the Aguinaldo Shrine, beside Tour Holidays' vivid, varicoloured jeepney-on-steroids.  We each had a plastic cup of Asiong
Carinderia's special halo-halo -- a cold and reviving way to end this memorable culinary and historic tour of Cavite!


Mabuhay ka, patriotic Caviteño Ige Ramos!  Thank you for a remarkable KKK (Kainan at Kasaysayan sa Kavite)  experience.  It was a memorable way to discover the historical treasures 
and culinary gems of Cavite.  


Monday, July 25, 2016

Celebrating Amigo Santiago's Feast day in Santiago de Compostela, Pasuquin, Ibaan and Iguig

I am typing this post today, July 25 on the feast day of St. James the Apostle also known as St. James the Greater. The patron saint of Spain, St. James is called Santiago and is at the centre of the ancient pilgrimage route known as the Camino de Santiago.  
Last year, my friends and I walked the Camino, 134 kilometres from Triacastela to Santiago de Compostela. Since finishing the pilgrimage, I have come to think of St. James in more familiar terms --  in my mind, he's my Amigo Santiago.  

While there are many images of Santiago along the Camino, this statue in the churchyard of Portomarin is my favourite.  Clad in simple pilgrim's garb, he points the way for us peregrinos as 
we continue on our Camino.

The Camino ends in Santiago de Compostela at the steps of the magnificent Baroque cathedral.
This photo is of the western or main entrance situated in the equally imposing square called the 
Praza do Obradoiro
The Cathedral  built in the 12th century  is undergoing renovations but even with the scaffolding hiding the major parts, it is still an awe inspiring sight.   I still cannot find the words to describe how 
I felt, as I rounded the corner and came upon the Cathedral, at the end of my Camino.

The Cathedral interiors are rich and grand yet exude a profound spiritual and almost mystical air.  
At the centre altar is the famous statue of Santiago  that for centuries,  countless  pilgrims have ardently and yes, even tearfully embraced to give thanks and praise at the end of 
their Camino.  Hanging in front of the statue is the giant incense burner, the Botafumeiro which  
swings impressively overheard during special pilgrim masses.

Since the time we came back from the Camino, I have tried to see as many of the local churches dedicated to Amigo Santiago.  Last year on a visit to Northern Luzon, I discovered that the town of Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte where I had regularly stopped many times before to load up on their unique "biscocho" ,  had a parish church dedicated to St. James.

Unlike many of the churches in Ilocos, the  parish church of Pasuquin is quite new.   The 
town dates back to the 1700s but  a much older church had previously succumbed to an earthquake. 
It was unfortunate that I was not able to see if any of the ruins were left.

The statue of the pilgrim Santiago stands to the side of the main altar.  I miss his pilgrim's hat but 
he carries a staff and a small pouch.

Santiago was both pilgrim saint and moor slayer.  It is said that he appeared in the battlefield and 
held off the moors, thus keeping Spain staunchly Catholic.  As warrior saint, he is shown astride 
his horse, holding his sword.

On one of our frequent trips to Lucena, I noticed a familiar figure along the road.  Sure enough, it was 
Amigo Santiago, on top of his faithful steed in front of the St. James the Greater Parish Church 
of Ibaan, Batangas.  

Ibaan's towering church has been around since the 1870s.   It was originally established by the Augustinians but is now under the Oblates of St. Joseph.  From what I have read, it has also undergone renovations which have strayed from its original appearance.  

The altar is beautiful and quite opulent, gilded in gold.  Santiago as Apostle  stands in the centre flanked by Our Lady and the Sacred Heart.  

I go looking for Santiago the Moor Slayer and find him relegated to a side chapel in his classic warrior pose.

I left the best for last .... 
This is a church that Jay and I have been regularly visiting  long before I did the Camino.  Ever since we first came here in the 1990s, we have tried to visit every year -- it is our own little pilgrimage of sorts.  This is the St. James the Apostle Parish Church in Iguig, Cagayan Valley  a few kilometres away from Tuguegarao.  Can you just make out Santiago's statue  on top of the church portico? 
I wonder if he doesn't feel just a bit confined inside his glass case.  

A marker on the red brick facade attests that the church was built in the 1600s.  

White paint covers the thick and heavy walls inside the church.  The main altar is quite simple and has a statue of St. James garbed in pilgrim attire.   I wish I had a closer shot so that you could see the scallop shells decorating his cape. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino de Santiago.  

And surprise, surprise -- Santiago as Moor Slayer is not hidden in a side chapel but stands prominently on the side, flanking the main altar. 

You will only appreciate the grandeur and majesty of the church when you go around the 
side and see the entire monumental structure, framed by nothing but the wide expanse of sky.
 I enjoy taking friends here and bringing them around to see their gasps of surprise, awe and delight. 
The massive buttresses at the back have helped hold up this church for centuries.  
It is a splendid example of early Spanish church architecture in the Philippines  -- in my mind it is one of the best.  
I am sure Amigo Santiago is enjoying his spectacular church in this windswept perch on top of the hills of Iguig.  
I shall continue to look for him in other corners of this country!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fukuoka in Five - Cooking Lessons in Atsuko san's Kitchen

When traveling, Jay and I are always on the look-out for  new and unique experiences that will 
allow us to know more about the place,  the people and the culture.  On this trip I decided to
take the Fukuoka Home Cooking Class which would be held right in the home of the teacher --
now how interesting and different would that be!

The Fukuoka Home Cooking Class is offered by a local tour company called Trip Insight.   We were told the teacher would meet us at  Befu Subway Station, just a 20 minute ride from our hotel.

After we all met up, our first stop was a neighbourhood supermarket where we shopped for 
some of the ingredients we would use for the class.

This very charming and pretty lady is Atsuko Kuga, our  teacher  who would share her personal recipes and teach us how to cook some basic Japanese dishes this afternoon. 

As we walked through the supermarket Atsuko san pointed out some of the various
ingredients normally used in Japanese cooking.  I never realised there were so many varieties
of  soy sauce available,  a whole shelf of them!

We bought some boneless chicken -- both breast and thigh fillets.   Atsuko san mentioned that 
Japanese prefer dark meat so breast meat is quite inexpensive.  We also got some watermelon
for dessert,  plus tofu, spinach and  carrots.

Atsuko san  lives just five minutes away from the supermarket.  Once inside her lovely and comfortable home, she invited us to relax  and served us green tea and senbei or Japanese rice crackers. 

Before any cooking could be done, Atsuko san had us wear these aprons.   I thought Jay would put
up a fight but he wore his blue floral apron with much aplomb. 

Time to get cooking!  This is Atsuko san's very complete and spacious kitchen,  fitted out for 
her students.  She had two small stoves ready,  one for Jay and one for me.   The first recipe we learned was tamagoyaki, the Japanese rolled omelet. It was intimidating  to see how deftly
Atsuko san spread the egg around in her special tamagoyaki pan.   
I told her I was getting so shinpai desu or stressed.

It may just be an omelet but it requires skill and nimble chopsticks.  Jay definitely got the hang
of it before I did.

To keep a nice shape, Atsuko san taught us how to gently wrap the finished tamagoyaki in 
bamboo mats.  No squeezing please!

Next up was chicken teriyaki.  Jay chose to work with breast fillet while I had boneless thigh 
fillets. Atsuko san asked us to butterfly the chicken then pierce it all over with the knife to 
keep the meat from shrinking and curling up.

Jay being the health minded person that he is removed the skin from his chicken breasts 
while I, the gluttonous gourmand that I am, opted to keep the skin on.  I actually think
that the skin keeps the fillets from drying out.  You can always opt not to eat them once they are cooked.

Atsuko san taught us a trick that she said all Japanese moms do every single day in the kitchen -- 
chop up tofu in equal sized squares without using a chopping board at all,  just the palm of 
your hand.  This definitely requires a soft touch or you could end up losing a few digits.  
The tofu would be used for our miso soup.  
Atsuko san being the remarkable cook that she is, makes her own miso from scratch using 
fresh soybeans.  Her miso tasted deep and sweet,  so much better than store bought.

Part of the afternoon's course included vegetable tempura.  Atsuko san showed us the proper 
way to cut the fresh shitake mushroom so that it would cook faster, and look better too.  
Jay's knife skills were so good his shitakes looked  much better than my mangled ones. 

Here is Jay dipping the vegetables in batter for the tempura.

To make sure the different vegetables were cooked just right, Atsuko san shared a valuable tip --
fry leafy vegetables in hot oil,  count to five and remove,  for onion rings count to ten, count to  fifteen for mushrooms and twenty five for sweet potatoes and carrots.  
Ichi, ni, san, yon, go .... I was really glad we still knew how to count in Japanese!

Time to plate the food!  With a few sprigs of maple leaves from the tree in her front yard as
garnish, Atsuko san showed us how to slice the omelet and set it on the plate.    It was so
simple but looked very appetising,  like a tamagoyaki tree!  Really,  the Japanese are the best
at food presentation.

And here are the two plates of chicken teriyaki that we cooked, set amidst fresh greens and 
sliced tomatoes.  Can you guess which is mine and which is Jay's?

Et voila!  We managed to cook all these -- the tamagoyaki, miso soup (simmering on top of another stove),  chicken teriyaki and vegetable tempura.  It took us two hours to prep and cook but it was such an interesting and entertaining two hours.  We learned a lot and we also laughed a lot.
We must have been Atsuko san's noisiest students ever.  She is a wonderful teacher who made cooking fun and put us completely at ease.

We brought the dishes out to the tatami dining room and Atsuko san showed us how to set the table, Japanese style. 

Doesn't it look so inviting?  I still cannot believe that Jay and I actually cooked all that.   
Atsuko san is not just an amazing teacher, she is a miracle worker as well!

As we were getting ready to try the dishes on the table, one of Atsuko san's sons arrived from 
Tokyo where he lives and works.  I am sure he is used to seeing strangers and foreigners messing
up his mother's kitchen.  Earlier on, we also met Atsuko san's youngest  daughter who spoke very good english and was friendly and just as gracious as her mom. 

Time for a "we-fie" with the best Japanese cooking class teacher ever!

Atsuko san was so thoughtful, she  prepared these certificates attesting to our  newly learned
Japanese cooking skills.  We even had a mini graduation ceremony of sorts.   It was such an enjoyable experience.   I am sure that there are other Japanese cooking lessons available but
probably none as personal and delightful as the one we had in Atsuko Kuga's home, 
in her very own kitchen.
If you are ever in Fukuoka, this is something you will want to include in your itinerary!

Otsukare sama deshita, Atsuko san!  Domo arigato gozaimashita!


After coming home from Fukuoka, Jay continues to practice his newly discovered cooking skills. 
Yes, he still wears an apron, though not as flamboyantly floral.  And yes, we did buy a special pan 
so we can have a Japanese rolled omelet anytime we want.  Jay has practically perfected the 
art of a good tamagoyaki.
Thank you for bringing out Jay's hidden talents, Atsuko san!

Thank you to Atsuko san too for her photos used in this post! Photos 9, 10, 12, 13 and 14.