Friday, July 30, 2010

If it's Wednesday, it must be Wee Nam Kee. Chicken Rice, SHIOK! Part 2

I'm a creature of habit so when I'm in Singapore, I always have chicken rice from the usual suspects ... Sin Swee Kee in Seah Street or Yet Con along Purvis (take the MRT to City Hall to get there). On my last visit, friends of mine took me to WEE NAM KEE. It's a very popular chicken rice place along Thomson Road. We arrived just in time for lunch and had to sit al fresco, right on the sidewalk.
The chicken was tender and tasty although I found it a bit soggy since it was served on top of a soy based sauce. The ginger and the chili sauce didn't really distinguish themselves but the rice was fragrant and flavorful so that went in the blink of an eye!
Aside from the chicken rice, we ordered kangkong or swamp cabbage with sambal sauce.
Wee Nam Kee's menu is quite extensive, they offer cantonese roasts, the ever present Hainanese pork chop and even that other famous Singapore dish, chili crab.
Like any popular place, no dawdling during lunchtime -- the long line of regular patrons will relentlessly stare at you until you stand up and pay your bill.
How to get to WEE NAM KEE : take the subway to Novena and walk along Thomson Road. The restaurant is right across the St. Alphonsus Catholic Church. Run by the Redemptorist priests, there are novenas every Wednesday.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sin Swee Kee ... That Chicken Rice was SHIOK, lah! Part 1

Hainanese chicken rice is Singapore's national dish and I just love it! I have 3 favorite chicken rice places in the Lion City and all are just SHIOK (I think that means effing good in Singapore slang). While people can be lulled into thinking that this dish is healthy because it's made with boiled chicken -- you all got another think coming. The chicken may be boiled but the rice is cooked in the chicken broth with all that chicken fat! Which is why, the rice is so delicious. With the accompanying ginger sauce and chili paste, it's just one mighty fine SHIOK meal!
Next time you're in Singapore, check out YET CON on Purvis St. where the chicken is extra tender and juicy. Yet Con also serves thinly sliced and very good roast pork. My other favorite is SIN SWEE KEE along Seah St. (just next door to Purvis). Their bright green ginger sauce gives a different flavor to the dish. I also like their chili sauce, freshly made everyday, in full view of customers. Their fried fritters (ngoh hiang) are also worth ordering.
What drink goes with chicken rice? Nothing beats Yeo's canned cold barley drink! SHIOK!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Poutine -- the best junk food ever!

What is the national dish of Canada?
Calvin Trillin in his article "Funny Food" published in the New Yorker, Nov., 2009 said that "poutine" while originally from Quebec, was fast becoming the Canadian national dish.
When I read that I thought well, if it is then I want to migrate to Canada. I would love to live in a place where the iconic dish is a bowl of junk food.
Because that's just what poutine is -- a bowl of cholesterol, a bowl of obesity, a bowl of cardiac arrest .... in reality, it's french fries, hand cut, freshly made, deep fried in lard and topped with cheddar cheese curds and thick brown gooey gravy! One bad thing piled up on top of another!
I finally got a chance to try poutine the last time I was in Hong Kong. As I was meandering along Ocean Terminal looking for a place to eat lunch, I saw a brightly lit stall called "New York Fries" serving of all things -- POUTINE! I ordered a small bowl, with a hotdog and a coke.
How did it taste? Well, how does anything bad for you taste? It tasted good of course! The fries were hand cut with some skin on them, just cooked, well salted and the texture of crisp fries with hot gravy and yummy soft cheese curds made for a sinfully good combination.
But I'm holding off on those immigration papers. If I had poutine everyday I wouldn't live to get my citizenship!

Minoya Restaurant in Tokyo ... A Horse by Any other Name

"Nonna san, do you eat horse meat?"
My Japanese friend, my purveyor of out-of-the-ordinary food experiences in Tokyo, and I were on the subway on the way to dinner. What could I say? I never back down from a new eating experience.
We got off the subway at Morishita and two blocks later arrived at MINOYA, a restaurant established in 1899 and specializing in fresh horse meat dishes.
The nihongo word for horse is "uma" but a pretty euphemism for it is "sakura" which is also the nihongo word for cherry blossom and which refers to the bright cherry red color of fresh, raw horse meat.
We ordered "sakura nabe". The waitress brought out the copper kettle, placed it on top of the tabletop hot plate. Then came the platter of fresh horse meat, along with leeks, tofu, celery, noodles and large white globs which she told us were cubes of horse fat. The horse fat would be rendered in the hot kettle with broth and some miso paste -- we would then cook the slices of horse meat in this simmering stew of fat and broth and miso -- but not too long as apparently, horse meat becomes tough when overcooked.
I took my first bite expecting "uma" to be gamy and a little chewy but it was delicious! Very tender, very rich in flavor and rather sweetish -- it was even better than beef! It was so good that the dipping sauce of miso paste and soy sauce was quite unnecessary.
And it was so good we had to order an extra platter of horse meat and another large bottle of beer.
If you ever find yourself in Tokyo, you must try "uma" -- it's a different treat you cannot miss.

N.B. MINOYA, Morishita 2-19-9 Kouto-Ku Phone number 3631-8298 Subway lines stopping at Morishita include the Oedo, Shinjuku, Asakusa and Mita lines

A Sliver of Moby Dick or One of the many strange things I have eaten in Tokyo

Greenpeace, come and get me. I had a piece of Moby Dick.
As the debate and the controversy about Japanese whaling continue to rage, I found myself confronted with the prospect of eating whale meat in a sashimi restaurant in the Tsukiji outer market in Tokyo.
My Japanese friend and I were at lunch, grazing at the counter, watching the sushi chefs doing their thing -- pointing to this and that -- toro, ika, saba, uni, unagi, ebi and other sorts of fish and shellfish. Then the chef took out a slab of something dark and very red.
My friend looked at me ... "Want to try that?"
Well why not but what is it?
"Kujira. Whale meat."
Visions of Japanese whaling ships fighting it out with Greenpeace flashed before my eyes, along with large gentle whales being slaughtered -- just for the sake of their meat. Not very appetizing. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
Once again, my baser foodie self got the better of me. I had to try it just once, after all, there it was, in front of me, waiting to be sliced and sushi-ed and given up for my palate.
So I had one piece of whale meat sushi. The meat was very dark red and quite rough in texture. It was served with some finely grated ginger as garnish and garlic greens to mask the odor my friend said although I did not detect any.
I had thought that it would have a very strong and remarkable taste but I was suprised -- whale meat was quite ordinary and not tasty at all.
I would understand the fascination with whale meat if it was something extraordinarily good. But I was unimpressed. And just very sorry that whales continue to be slaughtered for food.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I Fugu'd and Lived to Blog

Fugu is pufferfish, the deadly poisonous pufferfish that is also a delicacy in Japan. When prepared improperly, fugu causes paralysis and death and has no known antidote -- which for the adventurous makes it even more appetizing.
But I exaggerate -- fugu is very seldom prepared improperly because to cook, serve and sell it, you need a special license -- a license not to kill your customer. Fugu specialty restaurants in Tokyo hang their licenses for all customers to see.
I had the full course fugu meal one autumn evening in Tokyo. I had absolutely no qualms about it, was more curious than nervous and had high expectations given that I was taken by my Japanese host to a very well known fugu restaurant near  Tsukiji market.
The meal started with a small dish with three tiny slivers of white fugu meat, marinated in a light ponzu sauce. It reminded me of a blander and milder kinilaw. This was it? This was fugu?
Next up was fugu sashimi, very thinly sliced to the point of being translucent. Given its deadly reputation, fugu is actually very mild, the flavor quite nondescript.
 The sashimi was quickly followed by a small salad of raw fugu slices seasoned with vinaigrette and topped with micro greens and sweet corn.
After the salad course, the waitress came in bearing containers of hot sake -- oh goody, they were going to get me drunk so I wouldn't notice when paralysis sets in!
With my hot sake, I was given a tiny dish of pieces of dried fugu skin.
 My host instructed me to put these in my empty glass, pour the hot sake over it and quickly light a match over the glass. So, I thought -- if I don't die from fugu poisoning, I can always blow myself up to kingdom come.
I was told that lighting the match and quickly extinguishing the flame would lessen the sake's alcohol content allowing for the fugu taste to rise above the sake fumes. What did it taste like? How about "Daing Daiquiri", does that give you an idea?
The next dish served was deep fried breaded fugu -- fugu and chips! Anything deep fried will always taste good, even bland fugu.
All those little courses were just precursors to the main event -- the fugu nabe. Fugu being an autumn delicacy, lends itself well to nabe, the one dish hot pot meal that Japanese eat during autumn and winter.
The nabe, cooked shabu shabu style came with large platters of sliced fugu, mixed vegetables,
tofu, noodles, celery stalks, all laid out for swishing and cooking in the communal pot.
The last course of the fugu dinner had the waitress bringing in a large bowl of cooked rice, which
she put in the remaining nabe soup. Breaking some eggs into the pot, she made a quick and very delicious porridge -- with all the flavor and goodness of the fugu and the many ingredients that had gone into the nabe.
Fugu congee, I happily thought as I slurped away! Such good comfort food on a chilly night in Tokyo -- specially comforting since I had eaten the deadly fugu and lived!

N.B. I had fugu at TENTAKE , in the Tsukiji area in Tokyo. The full course fugu menu will set you back around Y13,000 per person.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pigging out on Books

Bless me Father for I have committed the sin of gluttony -- twice. With food. And with books.

Gluttony is my favorite capital sin -- ranks right up at the top of my list. Okay, so it's a toss up between sloth and gluttony but gluttony always wins.

I am as fond (okay, obsessed is more like it) of books -- buying them, reading them, acquiring them, coveting them, keeping them, hoarding them -- as I am of food. I have a house that has been overrun with books. There are books on the bookshelves, books in boxes, books in boxes under the bed, books on top of chairs, books on top of the coffee table -- you get the picture.

When introduced the Kindle a few years ago, I thought that it would be the last thing I would ever buy. Who wanted to exchange the pleasure of a freshly bought book, stiff, crisp pages still unread, the heft of it feeling just right in your hand...

But this year, I took a look at the Kindle again and decided that it was time to buy -- the second generation Kindle was specially attractive, slimmer, lighter and cheaper! With the iPad breathing down its neck, severely slashed the Kindle's price. For just $189 -- a whole wide world of book buying would be open to me. And it combined my two favorite sins : gluttony (for buying books) and sloth (for being able to do so without even leaving my room).
I am very happy with my Kindle. It arrived just a few days after I ordered it and it worked the minute I turned it on.

Ordering books has become almost instantaneous -- the one-click function through delivers the book to my Kindle in just 15 seconds. Of course I have tried not to order a book (or two or three) a day but it is becoming a temptation that is harder and harder to resist.
Now let me curl up with my Kindle and a bag of chips ... and please hang that 
Do Not Disturb sign on my door.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Panini a trippa at Da Nerbone, In Firenze's Mercato Centrale

Load it all up! I love tripe! And put it all on a crusty, crunchy italian roll!
It's called panini a trippa - a sandwich that is stuffed with soft slices of stewed and seasoned tripe.
But it isn't really tripe, the ordinary, greyish  honeycomb tripe that goes into our kare kare that we know so well.  
Trippa is the fourth stomach of the cow the Italians call lampredotto -- it's brown, wrinkly, 
very tender when cooked and has a more "meaty" texture and flavor than tripe.
According to Fodor's (and they have a lot of good tips, believe me) a must eat in Florence is 
panini a trippa -- a tripe sandwich or in this case, a lampredotto sandwich.

I headed off to the Mercato Centrale at at the unholy hour of 7 a.m to find the market already bustling with just-opened stalls,  lots of shoppers but Nerbone -- the oldest lampredotto sandwich stall in the market and an icon in the Firenze food scene -- still closed. It would be an hour's wait but looking at the crowd already gathering, I knew it would be worth it.
When the stall finally opened, I took my place in the queue amidst a predominantly male and middle-aged crowd. I guess it would take some testosterone to have a really hearty sandwich so early in the morning!
Since I spoke no Italian, I took my cue from watching how everyone placed their orders.

First you line up at the cashier, pay for your panini and then give the receipt to the counter man who was busily assembling the sandwiches. Then it was time for some non-verbal communication.
"Manzo? Trippa?" - for the unadventurous,  Nerbone also makes traditional Italian beef sandwiches.
Trippa of course!
The man split open a roll, speared a piece of lampredotto from the liquid, sliced it oh-so thinly, piled it on the roll -- looked at me again and asked ...
"Salsa?" -- pointing to the red (hot) sauce and the green (piquant) sauce.
Gesturing wildly -- I said "Everything on it!!!"
"Bagnato?" he cocked an eyebrow at me ...
Oh dear God I wanted to scream ... YESSSS! YESSS! Just give my my panini, can't you see I'm dying here?!
Bagnato means to dip the sandwich bottom side down, in the tripe's stewing liquid, just a quick dip to make for that perfect texture of a soggy bottom with a crunchy hard top.
He wrapped the sandwich in some greased paper and I found myself a chair, opened my sandwich and bit it into it --- stupendo!

Every bite was a blend of soft meat, mixed with crusty roll, just enough drippings for a juicier
chew.  The red and green salsa gave an added spice and kick that seemed to change with every bite -- to make you look forward to the surprise the next mouthful  would bring.
It was a large and hefty sandwich and the Italian men were looking at me and wondering if I could finish it all -- and of course I did.
 When I got up to leave, there were smiles and nods of approval.
See you again tomorrow ...  they seemed to be asking.
Definitely, I will be back!

Slurping Ramen in Shiodome at Kitakata Bannai Koboshi

Marinated, roasted pork belly, sliced so thin, each slice with a perfect blend of soft, melt-in-your-mouth-meat and fat with a sliver of roasted pork skin that miraculously has not lost its bite and slight crunch ... now put these on top of a light, simple but flavorful broth made of pork bones .... it's a bowl of porcine goodness! It's Cha-shu Men!

Cha-shu is a derivative of char siu (roast pork) and cha-shu ramen while very popular in Japan and is really considered as a chinese noodle dish. As opposed to the soba and udon noodles which are inherently Japanese.
The Japanese who are very serious about their food even have a ramen museum in Yokohama City where ramen from the different regions in Japan are showcased. One of the more famous ramen is Kitakata ramen which traces its origins from a city northeast of Tokyo.
Kitakata ramen noodles are very springy, they don't lose their texture or become soggy even when the hot broth has been poured over them.

In Tokyo, there is a chain specializing in Kitakata ramen. Called Kitakata Ramen Bannai Koboshi,
it has a branch very conveniently located near the hotel I always stay in. Lunch time lines are long so if you don't want to wait, it's better to go early or very late.
A regular order of cha-shu men comes with generous slices of cha-shu, plus a ajitama or soft boiled egg, some menma or pickled bamboo shoots and green onions.
Lunchtime goers can have free rice with their ramen -- carbo overload! Or one can order the set meal which includes a side dish of thicker cha-shu slices over rice and a whole boiled egg.
 If you're a real pork lover, you can order the slightly more expensive bowl that comes with double the pork slices and no other distractions. Watch out for that cholesterol content!

No lingering at Bannai Koboshi. Everyone shares a table. Order your cha-shu ramen, have some gyoza on the side, gulp down your beer, slurp your soup and go. Other people are waiting to take your place!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Best Buy at 168 Mall

What do I go to 168 Mall for? Wristlet bags? Designer knock offs? Ripped jeans? 
NOT!  It's to-die-for lechon macao or roasted crispy pork at Mitzi's -- a food stall located at the 
mall's 3rd floor food court.

Mitzi's is easy to find, it has the longest queue in the food court with people lining up for the roasted meats.   

There's the lechon macao,  asado or char siew pork, steamed white chicken (for those on a diet). 
 In addition to that, there's good solid Chinese fare like steamed chao fan or rice rolls, ampalaya con tausi, yang chow fried rice, fish with tokwa and tausi and chami cooked to order -- also very good -- very oily but very yummy!

But Mitzi's unbelievably crisp-skinned lechon macao is the star of the show.  It's fork tender, well cooked,  and perfectly seasoned.  Surprisingly, it isn't oily at all, perhaps because it's displayed hanging on a hook thus all the oil and fat have dripped off.
Because this is 168 Mall, prices are very reasonable.  A generous single order of the lechon, good for 2 to 3 people costs less than P200 but makes for a very satisfying meal. BURP!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Respect you Pig, so I shall eat all of you.

It's been called different things, like "whole beast", "nose to tail" or "head to tail" eating.
 Whatever you want to call it, it's basically the principle of respecting the animal that gave its life
for you to enjoy yours (in a gustatory fashion, that is) hence you show this respect by eating
every part of the animal, in that sense, not letting his death go to any waste at all.
Which is why we eat the tail of the lechon first, sneakily grabbing that first piece of goodness
before anyone has come to the table.
We also eat pig's feet or trotters, pig's knuckles (pigs have knuckles!) -- for crispy pata, humba,
ham hocks.
Of course the pig's body offers up a lot of bounty.
  Liempo, pork chops, kasim, pigue, ribs, blood for dinuguan, intestines for chicharon bulaklak and isaw for paksiw.
 Lungs and kidney for bopis. Lapay and atay. And we're just getting started!
The pig head is a marvel. Pig brains, rich and creamy. Pig face -- ah those cheeks, those wonderful wonderful cheeks. Where would sisig or tokwa't baboy be without those fatty, cheeky cheeks?
The snout, the ears .. . chewy gelatinous texture in every bite.
Thank you Pig for your sacrifice that I might have food for my stomach and fodder for this blog.
Ad astra per alia porci!

I went to Amsterdam and all I ate was Chinese food.

Is Amsterdam the capital of Chinese cooking outside of China? If you ask me, perhaps it is.
We visited Amsterdam and up to today, I am still laboring under the illusion that their national dish is char siew pork. Make that char siew pork and yang chow fried rice.

Can you blame me? It was a short visit, just all of 3 nights and while I did try to look for what Dutch cuisine was -- peering into a lot of those ahem, coffee houses redolent with that familiar sweetish smoky smell -- the most appetizing option I came up with was chinese food.
But what glorious chinese food it was! Comfort food when you've been out of Asia far too long, craving for that bowl of carbohydrates otherwise known as rice, with some familiar flavour to go with it -- the familiar flavour of PORK! Juicy, lovely, luscious PORK!

Nam Kee looked like it was transplanted straight out of Binondo by way of Hong Kong. A very panciteria type of place where service was brisk and brusque but the roasted meats more than made up for the lack of charm. Paired with a huge platter of yang chow fried rice and a large bowl of wanton soup, it was the best "Dutch" food I ever had.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Bak Kut Teh or pork rib soup is a Hokkien dish found in Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan.
 In Singapore where I first tried it, it is served with rice and side dishes like boiled peanuts,
fried cruller and pickled mustard greens and is traditionally eaten at breakfast time.
Bak Kut Teh involves boiling 2 inch pork rib slices with spices and herbs like cloves, garlic,
star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns and other stuff -- like soy sauce or even ginseng. It's very
soothing and comforting -- which is why Singaporeans probably take it for their first meal of the
As any die hard bah kut teh fan will tell you, one man's best bak kut teh place is another man's
worst so go and discover your favorite by yourself, lah!
As for me, there is the place near Little India ....

Insarabasab ... aysus, naimas!

How can ordinary pork shoulder, roasted over charcoal, chopped into inch long pieces and mixed with some calamansi juice, sliced onions, chopped garlic, ginger and a bit of siling labuyo and a dash of sukang iloko taste so good? 
Aysus, insarabasab pala!
Eaten with rice or taken as pulutan with beer, insarabasab is quintessentially Ilokano
Simple and basic but oh so good.
Insarabasab can be found in just about every carinderia or market eatery in Ilokos.
The smaller the place, the better the meal.
They say the insarabasab at Dawang's in San Nicolas is the best but I have never been able 
to make it there early enough to snag a plate.
I took this photo of insarabasab at Saramsam -- a terrific restaurant in Laoag City, right across the old Texicano Hotel.
It serves very good Ilokano food and riffs on typical Ilokano dishes like pinakbet pizza but that is a subject for another post.

Bagnet is Lechon Kawali - Size XXL

The first time I encountered bagnet, the fear of an early death came over me.
Naturally, my baser self overcame that and I dug right in.
Bagnet is the popular ilokano fried pork belly dish that has slowly crept out of Ilocos and into the mainstream consciousness (or unconsciousness,  if you have too much of it in one sitting).
It is really large chunks of liempo or sometimes pork side or pork butt that is seasoned, boiled, sun dried, fried and fried again till the skin turns into something  crisp and utterly irresistible.

The locals call bagnet as chicharon but I call it widowmaker.
I indulge in bagnet once a year on my annual pilgrimage to Ilocos province. I always buy from my suki at the Laoag Market -- her name is Maan Acorda and before she took over the stall, I used to buy from her mother-in-law, whose name the stall still carries.
Aside from mounds and mounds of shiny, skin-cracked bagnet, Maan also sells a very tasty longganisa. Laoag longganisa is dark, with undertones of garlic and the pungent and potent sukang iloko that it is made with.
I haul off about 10 kilos of bagnet once a year when I visit Maan. Wrapped in newspaper and sealed in individual ziploc bags, it keeps in the freezer for months.
When deep fried in hot oil, it turns crunchy crackly and when chopped it makes the perfect topping for pinakbet, cooked Ilokano style.

Tonkatsu Tales in Tokyo

The Japanese love pork just as much as we Filipinos do.
Case in point, one of the most popular Japanese dishes is tonkatsu or breaded pork loin cutlets. Restaurants devoted to tonkatsu alone can be found all over Tokyo and they range from the merely wonderful to the inordinately sublime.
Tonkatsu can be ordered two ways -- the leaner and more expensive hire cut and the more economical but fattier (and therefore JUICIER AND MORE YUMMY) rossu cut.
Of course you can always have katsudon, which is tonkatsu cooked with beaten egg and placed on top of rice but that sort of defeats the purpose of enjoying the crisp and crunch of a really good cut of pork tenderloin.

Tonkatsu, whether hire or rossu will always come with a generous heap of julienned or shredded raw cabbage -- supposedly to remove some of the guilt of eating all that fatty goodness. Miso soup and steaming hot rice rounds out the meal.
Condiments on the table will include tonkatsu sauce which is dark brown and sweetish, and a bottle of yuzu infused salad dressing for dousing the shredded cabbage with.
I always try and squeeze in a tonkatsu lunch or dinner or sometimes both, every time I am in Tokyo. Wako and Katsukura have branches in different parts of the city and are good places to have tonkatsu.
For the tonkatsu restaurants that Japanese foodies flock to, meander around the Ueno area, near the JR train tracks where the best ones are.

Pork - the better white meat.

The National Pork Board created this marvelous marketing move to position pork as just about as healthy as a chunk of chicken breast. NOT!!!! We all know that pork isn't just the other white meat ... it's the BETTER white meat. And it isn't really white -- because white is bland and boring and tasteless and chewy. Pork when cooked turns brown and golden and luscious and gleaming ... YES! My advice to the National Pork Board... time to re-position pork again. You will never lie at your deathbed thinking "I wish I had eaten more chicken breast".
My first blog, borne out of a desire to see what blogging is all about and to share what musings I have about the many paths I meander along, somehow all leading to putting something in my mouth. Come and explore these roads. When you come to a pork in the road, that will be me.