Thursday, March 24, 2011

My Top Ten Cuisines

There is no disputing that I like to eat and that I like to eat almost everything.
Not much escapes my palate and if something is new or foreign or slightly weird, my curiouser and baser foodie self takes over and I open my mouth and say "aaaahhhh".
There are some things that I like more than most.
The other night, as I was flipping through Flipboard (my new favorite iPad app), I came upon an article titled "My Top Ten Cuisines".
This post is inspired by that.
So, to the followers of this blog (yes, my son and my husband) here is my Top Ten list of the food that I crave / lust / long for.
Filipino cuisine exempted because that would naturally be on the top of the list.
10. Middle Eastern - as exemplified by hummus, falafel (my "burger" substitute when I was a vegetarian many years ago), kofta, tahini, shawarma, olive oil, pita bread!
9. Moroccan - couscous, more olive oil, lamb, tajine, kefta, merguez (moroccan longganisa)
8. Spanish - chorizo, jamon, calamari (the real small, baby kind), tortilla de patatas, fabada!
7. Italian - pasta vongole, salami, gelato, gnocchi, pizza, cannoli (funny, I have only tried cannoli in New York can only imagine what the original one would taste like), LAMBRUSCO!
6. Mexican - enchiladas, tamales, burritos, tacos and I suppose nachos are Mexican in origin?
5. Indian - again, a very vegetarian friendly cuisine. Malai kofta, dosas, wonderful Indian breads all freshly baked in tandoor ovens, chicken tikka, mutton roghan josh, curries galore, cucumber raita to cool down your tongue.
4. Korean - hot hot hot! I love gochugang and will put it on anything, yes even just plain hot rice. Pajeon is a wonderful way to eat vegetables and barbecued ribs wrapped in lettuce with gochugang sends me into raptures.
3. Malay - by way of Singapore. Carrot cake (the turnip kind), bah kut teh, chicken rice, nasi lemak, rojak, chili crab, yong tau foo and the list goes on and on.
2. Chinese - I would kill for Peking Duck, char siew pork, crispy roast pork ... and one of these days, they will be the death of me.
1. And the number one top cuisine on my list, which I could eat any time and all the time, Pinoy food excluded, is (drum roll please ....) Japanese food!
Tonkatsu, chashu men, kushi age, unagi, uni, sushi and sashimi, nabe, soba, tempura, yakitori, pickles, yes even the dreaded natto -- I eat and love them all!
I have had many mediocre and some bad meals everywhere I have been
BUT I have never had a bad meal in Tokyo -- from the fanciest, Michelin starred establishment to the smallest, humblest izakaya to the vending machine at the train station -- Japanese food has never failed me! For that alone, for consistency above all else, it is at the very top of my list.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Maasim, Maalat, Matamis, Mapait, Masarap

That's sour, salty, sweet, bitter and finally, umami -- the five basic tastes in Tagalog.
Last Saturday, I attended a Symposium on the Filipino Palate at Enderun College.
Amy Besa erstwhile of Cendrillon and now of Purple Yam fame and one of the most passionate champions of Filipino food abroad, had put together a group of like minded individuals for a lively discussion of what makes up the Pinoy palate.
Why do we eat what we eat?
It was quite a lofty objective and somehow, the casual and breezy way in which the symposium was conducted never quite made it to that goal.
What we did end up with was a culinary tertulia of sorts, among a small group of interested and interesting people - chefs, writers, bloggers, foodies -- who I believe were brought together by Amy's infectious enthusiasm and perhaps that alone is a good start.
After a few short talks from various people on topics ranging from Southeast Asian food to cooking in clay pots to artisanal vinegars, Amy announced that there would be a food tasting of some of the things we had talked about in Enderun's restaurant. And about time too, all the talk about food and the slide shows of regional cuisine had made most of us quite hungry.
I had thought the tasting would be just that -- small sips of vinegar from Bulacan and Ilokos, patis from Navotas and Cavite (Amy had described it as wickedly smelly) plus some bagoong, burong isda, and even pajo that some people had brought for her to try.
But the tasting became quite a feast albeit a very healthy and green one -- we had platters of alugbati, saluyot, kangkong, sigarilyas, alukon, patane, ampalaya, talong -- I could have broken into a song -- "Bahay Kubo" would have been entirely appropriate.
We spent over an hour talking, exchanging opinions, tasting, dipping, comparing, reminiscing, delving into just what it was that made us enjoy all the flavors -- maasim na suka, maalat na bagoong, matamis na kutsinta, mapait na amplaya --
I came to my own conclusion that we eat what we eat because ultimately, Pinoy food is really masarap!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Yong Tau Foo -- re-fried, re-heated, really good!

Yong tau foo is a common dish in Singapore.
It's a mix of pre cooked yummies like dumplings, fish balls, and a lot of bean curd based stuff (that's the tau foo for you) plus fresh leafy vegetables like broccoli leaves, kangkong, spinach, bean sprouts.
Found in food courts, kiosks and hawker centers all over Singapore, yong tau foo is one of my favorite things to eat.
You line up at the counter, get a bowl and choose from the dizzying array of stuff -- pick and choose then hand it over. You can have noodles too, a choice between thick yellow noodles or thin vermicelli.
Once you've turned over your (overflowing) bowl, everything in it will be re-heated -- fish balls and fish cakes will be re-boiled, fried dumplings and spring rolls and bean curd skins will be re-fried, noodles will be dipped in boiling water.
Then everything goes back into your bowl. You can have it dry or you can have it with soup.
Season your yong tau foo with various sauces : hot chili, garlic oil, plum or hoisin sauce, fish sauce, chili paste.
I had yong tau foo to go -- a huge bowl of all the things I liked, enjoyed in the comfort of my hotel room!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Inspired by Pork?

Sadly, the National Pork Board has just announced that it is retiring its well known but rather long in the (hog's) tooth slogan of "Pork, the other white meat".
The new line "Pork. Be Inspired" has me quite confused.
Inspired to cook more pork? Eat more pork? Inspired to spread the gospel according to pork?
Pork certainly makes me salivate, thinking of bagnet or char siew or sinigang na ribs.
It has jumpstarted this blog.
But as a marketing line -- "Pork. Be Inspired"?
Too abstract. Too passive. Too lofty.
"The other white meat" was so right.
Straight to the gut (where the major decisions are made).
Crisp (like the skin of a suckling pig).
And certainly clearly positioned pork for what it was.
I think this is a mistake.
Maybe like the people at Gap, the people at the National Pork Board will bring back the old slogan when this one fails to "inspire".

Monday, March 7, 2011

Krazy Kit Kats!

If you like Kit Kat and have been enjoying its basic original taste, it's time to come to Japan and discover just how KRAZY you can go with Kit Kat!
Japanese are gaga over Kit Kat and have so far come up with eighty, yes count them, eighty flavors of this popular confection.
They range from the normal and expected (apple, strawberry, peach) to the eyebrow raising (cheese, roasted corn, green tea) to the downright strange (purple yam, miso, soy sauce and wasabi).
Weirdly enough, most of the flavors work.
I liked soy sauce and wasabi has a certain kick. Green tea comes in both latte and regular versions (both very good and very Japanese). Cheese, unsurprisingly, did not do anything for me. Neither did melon.
My favorite is the dark chocolate Raspberry and Passion Fruit flavor.
I get Kit Kat Krazy when I am in Tokyo. Convenience stores carry different flavors so you have to look around for what you like. Some of the flavors are regional too so don't expect to find them all in one place.
I have tried maybe twenty varieties of the eighty so I'm counting down -- sixty to go!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hawker Centers Part 3: People's Park, Chinatown

I had always managed to skip this very popular-among-the-locals hawker center whenever I would go to Chinatown in Singapore. Somehow, I would always gravitate towards the open air food market of Smith Street with its festive atmosphere, dozens of food stalls and its conducive air for imbibing glass upon ice cold glass of Tiger Beer.
But since a niece who is living and working in Singapore stays near the Chinatown area, I was finally able to schedule a visit to People's Park Hawker Center, albeit at the unpopular hour of 10 am.
The Hawker Center is spread over two floors and it was just too bad that only a few stalls were open. There were a lot of round tables which I could only imagine would be full come the rush lunch hour.
At the time we arrived, most of the stall owners were just bringing in their ingredients and starting to prep for the lunch crowd. However we zoomed in on a fresh dumpling and noodle stall that my niece said was a favorite.
I had my usual fish ball soup and we got a plate of roast duck and crisp roast pork from another stall that had also just opened.
The fish ball was actually a dumpling -- very light and spongy and springy -- I bit into it and a burst of hot broth spilled out along with the ground pork stuffing hidden inside.
The broth was piping hot and needed no other seasoning. Broccoli leaves added texture to the dish -- springy fish balls, soft meat dumpling, crunchy greens.
It was the perfect thing to have on my last day in Singapore.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Tale of 2 Hawker Centers: Part 2 Newton Circus

Newton Circus and Lau Pa Sat are two of the most well known and popular hawker centers in Singapore -- locals say, too popular and too "touristy". I should really get out and try the hawker centers where residents really eat.
I first ate at Newton Circus in the mid 1980s. Since then, it has undergone quite a bit of touching up and renovation. Today, it is widely regarded as over priced and too full of tourists but it's convenient to go to and there are still stalls that offer very good food.
I met up with two ex-officemates now based in Singapore for a rare evening of eating, drinking, reminiscing and bonding at Newton Circus.
One of the things I don't like in this hawker cetnter is the too aggressive touting done by stall owners and their reps. As we entered the food center, we had to literally dodge and turn away very pushy touts, all shoving menus in our face and telling us to "take this table, lah, I order for you, what you want?"
We moved to a quieter spot outside and found a table by the corner. No touts here, we could finally relax and enjoy our dinner in peace.
What a meal it was! Very cold Tiger beer, chili crab, 30 sticks of satay - mutton, chicken and pork, mee bihon and ginger garlic clams.
Plus a plate of fried fluffy bread to sop up the chili crab sauce with.
I was hankering for carrot cake, another favorite, but we found ourselves too stuffed for that.
The open air and expansive grounds make Newton a favorite for dinner and late night eating and drinking. It's open till 4 a.m. so you can drop by for beer and pulutan anytime.
Just steer clear of the touts!

A Tale of 2 Hawker Centers: Part 1 Lau Pa Sat

When I'm in Singapore for work, I try as much as I can to eat local -- whether it is in a sidewalk cafe, a local restaurant, a food court or the best thing, at a hawker center.
Lau Pa Sat Festival Market along Robinson Road is near the office and is one of the more well known (and tourist-famous) hawker centers in the city.
It is housed in an ornate, filigreed building, built in the late 1800s. Inside, despite the fact that it is filled to bursting with people and food stalls, the many rotating fans and the high airy ceiling keep the temperature at a comfortable level.
Lau Pa Sat has Pinoy food stalls, most notable of which is Tapa King. Another Pinoy food stall, located outside the hawker center is called Cantunan Atbp. I presume it is referring to the varieties of pancit it offers.
In addition, there is a Mang Kiko Lechon which offers lechon and sisig meals and has long lines -- not just of Pinoys but of locals and expats as well.
We have successfully exported our cholesterolific cuisine!
At night, Lau Pa Sat transforms one side of the street into a satay joint with patrons enjoying cold beer, satay, barbecued chicken wings and other Singaporean goodies until way past midnight.
For my lunch at La Pa Sat, I had my favorite -- spicy fishball noodle from Song Kee Noodle House. Despite the queue, the fish ball assembly line was quick, you order, you pay, move forward in the line, and by the time you get to the front, your fish ball (with fish cake) noodle is ready.
$3 for the basic bowl, add $1 if you want more of the freshly made, springy fishballs. Just $4 for a local lunch, so good lah!