Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Back to Bacolod! Manokan Country and Calea - proletarian dinner, premium desserts.

Bacolod .... I'm back!!! This was my 3rd visit in 6 months.
Why do I love Bacolod so much?
Maybe because Bacolod has terrific cuisine, inspiring heritage and cultural sights and a relaxed and happy vibe.
But since this was my third time around, I had to do something different and eat somewhere I missed the last time I was here.

Manokan Country is a must go to in Bacolod. I had not been to this new site near the reclamation area so it was definitely worth a stop. It looks much fancier now than the old Manokan area many years ago. This "strip mall" structure is home to more than a dozen restaurants -- all serving chicken inasal.

Bambi, my good friend and Bacolod's best tour guide, said that Aida's was the place for the best chicken inasal. We got there just as dusk was settling -- the deluge of dinnertime patrons had not yet arrived.

The waiter looked quite offended when I asked if they had anything other than chicken.
Silly me, it's called Manokan Country after all.
But -- each and every restaurant had an oyster vendor sitting outside, with huge baskets of fresh oysters. Perhaps oysters and chicken are a perfect match?
I ordered a plate -- along with rice, this would be my dinner.

Everyone else ordered their favorite inasal piece -- pecho for the white meat fans, paa for those who prefer dark meat and pecho-pak or pecho with pakpak for those who like a bit of both.

We also ordered isol or chicken ass which came in such huge meaty chunks, plus the ever popular chicken baticolon or gizzard and chicken atay.
Such an unpretentious, simple yet delicious dinner.
And so affordable!
Chicken for 8 people plus those chicken parts ala carte, plus my 2 plates (yes, I had 2) of fresh oysters, two liters of Coke and 9 plates of rice -- the whole meal came to just P740!
The best meals are certainly not the most expensive -- foodie finds are where the locals really eat!

After that very proletarian meal, we needed dessert!
Time to head to Calea, Bacolod's premier cake shop -- located just across the L Fisher Hotel. We had coffee with Calea's famous chocolate cake -- so rich and sinful plus a slice of Cathedral cake, creamy with mosaic pieces of multi colored gelatin jewels on top of a graham cracker crust.

I love profiteroles and cannot resist them! Calea's profiteroles capped off a night of food and fun with family and friends.
And this is why I love Bacolod! I'll be back!

Friday, January 13, 2012

24 hour Sushi at Sushizanmai in Tokyo

Do you wake up in the middle of the night from a dream about food, so vivid that you have an intense craving to eat it?

I have sushi dreams!

If I lived in Tokyo, I could run out at 2 am and actually fulfill my sushi dreams at Sushizanmai, a popular sashimi and sushi chain that's open all day and night.
24 hour sushi! I know I've died and gone to nigiri heaven!

The lighted menu board outside this branch near the Shimbashi station is an education in itself. I want to go inside and order each and every kind!

Since we go during off hours, we find a nice quiet table.
Don't go during rush hour though as the queue can take up to 30 minutes!

For starters, we indulge in a nice big bowl of chirashi sushi topped with my all-time favorites -- grilled unagi, fresh ebi, salmon roe, saba, ika, tamago, kani, and different cuts of maguro!

We follow that up with a plate of mixed sashimi... just to change the pace.

Then, because we're not yet content, we order this special plate of all maguro sushi.
There's minced tuna maki, ultra smooth and fatty toro, which is served two ways, raw and lightly seared.
The slightly grilled toro is so addictively yummy, we have two more pieces for the road!

It's midnight and I am sushi-sated. A glass of cold cold Asahi beer will ensure deep slumber ... until the next sushi dream!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Lining up for Tempura at Sansada in Asakusa

Tokyo is a city of innovation and modernity. It is also a city of tradition. Wherever you go, you find iconic images of Japanese heritage and culture.
Asakusa is one such place that typifies old Tokyo -- with its temple, its shopping street of Japanese arts and crafts called Nakamise dori and its many small and old restaurants that have been there for years and years.

This famous gate, Kaminarimon leads to the Senso-ji temple. It is also my marker for a traditional and typical tempura restaurant that is acclaimed in the Asakusa area.

You cannot miss Sansada as it's just to the right of the Kaminarimon -- and you'll see the queue that starts to form even before the restaurant opens at 11:30 am.

Once you enter the door, you see the glassed in kitchen where the food is prepared. The seating areas are on the second and third floors.

We arrive before 12 noon but the western style dining room is already full. So, we wait in line and peer in, silently wishing these people would just hurry up and finish their meal!

We don't have too long to wait and are finally ushered in to our table.
But not before shedding our shoes and leaving them outside in the racks provided for them. The waitresses are grandmotherly and do not speak eigo but they know enough to bring an english menu for us.

I can't make up my mind on the dozens of tempura, tendon and lunch sets available. Meanwhile, someone lined up outside is probably wishing I would hurry up and order!

The dining room is full of both locals and foreigners. This is the western seating area where you sit on low chairs. The other rooms are tatami style but I cannot sit on the floor and enjoy my meal at the same time.

Tsukemono or pickles that go with the meal are always a delightful treat, you never know what kind you will get but they are indubitably crunchy, cold and delicious.
Of course, I order a bottle of my favorite Asahi beer.

Jay ordered the tendon with 4 prawns and a slice of eggplant tempura. A bowl of hot miso soup with small mushrooms is a perfect accompaniment to this meal.

I opt for a mix of prawn tempura and kakiage with squid, clam valves and scallops. It comes steaming hot on a bed of rice inside a red lacquer box.
Sansada has definitely perfected the art of light, non greasy tempura!

After that extremely good lunch, it's time to put our shoes back on and trudge downstairs, completely full and satisfied.
Sansada is a very good and affordable choice for lunch when you're in the Asakusa area.
Aside from the terrific food, you also become part of more than 150 years of the culinary tradition of tempura!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gyoyu : "Fish Play" with Chef Iwamoto in Ginza

48 hours after I arrived home from Jakarta, I was on a plane again bound for Tokyo. Traveling for business has its perks, one of which is regular trips to Tokyo, Japan -- a real foodie's paradise where I have yet to eat a mediocre meal.
As usual, my gourmet Japanese friend had scheduled a dinner upon my arrival.
He knows (though he does not approve) that I have stopped eating meat and bless his kind heart, always goes out of his way to give me a new food experience.

We walk from the hotel to the Ginza area and on one of the side streets, very near the corner of Harumi dori, among many anonymous buildings, we come upon this small lighted sign on the sidewalk.
It's fish night tonight! My friend has never tried this restaurant before but has read many good reviews about it and has seen it featured on t.v.

Let me drag my gourmet Japanese friend out of anonymity and obscurity.
Here we are standing in front of the small elevator that will whisk us up to the fish restaurant.
This is Nobuo Abe, the Japanese expat from Dentsu who established Dentsu Philippines ten years ago. Since then, we have shared many dinners, lunches and marvelous meals together.
He was a foodie long before the word became fashionable.
He is also a very kind and good hearted friend.

Typical of many buildings in Tokyo that house fantastic, small restaurants, you won't see any windows at street level -- they're all hidden up inside the building.
You have to be able to know the address and read the signs posted so that you know where to go.
This sign reads "Gyoyu" the name of the restaurant that Abe san has discovered for tonight.
According to him, the first character stands for fish -- although I think it somehow looks like a
cow -- or even a horse.

Surprise, surprise! The chef proprietor is a woman! Her name is Chef Iwamoto and she's very friendly and gregarious.
She gamely poses for this photo while pointing to the fish on the wall, which she painted herself.
The restaurant name "gyoyu" when taken as two words ... "gyo" stands for fish and "yu" means play. This is a chef who loves fish and plays with it to draw out unusual and unique taste experiences.
Talk about "playing with your food"!

The restaurant is very small -- as I have seen in most restaurants like this that are run by chef proprietors. There are 4 tables that seat 14 and a counter, right in front of the small open kitchen that seats 4. If you sit at the counter, you can chat with the chef and watch her while she cooks your food.

Abe san and I share a large bottle of Sapporo -- very cold and very good. Later on, we would switch to shochu -- with Abe san remarking that he notices that I have become a much stronger drinker!

Here is a small table by the entrance. Each table has hangers right beside it so that you can hang your coats and winter gear.

For this dinner, Abe san has thoughtfully ordered ahead. Reservations are crucial for this tiny gem of a place -- With just one seating each night and no lunch offered, the chef needs to prepare what she intends to serve since all ingredients are fresh, just sourced and in season.
Our first course is a tray filled with three small dishes.
From the top, chopped crunchy greens with sesame seeds in a light and smooth dressing, a fat plum marinated in shochu which gives a salty alcoholic kick and a slice of cold daikon or radish with a dollop of a yummy miso paste -- with small slivers of citrusy yuzu skin.
Everything is well matched -- slightly tart, salty-bitter, cold-creamy-citrusy.
We're ready for the next course!

The next small dish that comes out contains three different kinds of sashimi -- just two small slices of each kind. There is young tuna, tuna cheeks and a different kind of fish. So good -- each is different from the other one, in terms of texture, subtlety of taste and mouth feel.

A salad of mixed greens acts as a palate cleanser after the sashimi. Again, the dressing is very simple -- just a taste breaker that prepares us for the next course.

Next up comes a slice of ishidai or false parrot fish -- a species that is indigenous to Japan.
This has been lightly basted with a sweetish sauce and grilled in the salamander. It is a bit thick and chewy, not the usual flaky, melt-in-your-mouth fish but it's very interesting and sort of grows on you.
The skin is thick and tough -- but surprisingly tasty. So -- I chewed away!

After that delicious new experience with the ishidai -- we are next served these two very small cups that contain less than a teaspoon each of our next course.
The yellow pieces in the cup on the left are bits of fish liver which are oily, fatty and very rich, as liver usually is.
The cup on the right contains bits of anchovies -- yummy and salty.
These small portions are shared between the three of us.
Japanese food is really an exercise in restraint and discipline -- can you imagine sharing these very small portions among three people in Manila?
But here in Japan -- why eat more than a mouthful if the taste of that single bite is enough?

After the saltiness of the anchovies and the fish liver, Chef Iwamoto brings out another dish that is shared between the three of us. It's an old and traditional food that Abe san said is difficult to prepare and hardly is seen in any home.
This one dish I happily recognize as having a counterpart in the Philippines.
It's fermented rice with slices of salmon. It's creamy and sour and very refreshing.
I tell Abe san about our own local buro, which is also fermented rice with either fish or shrimp and which is quite similar to this.

When the waitress brings out three bowls of rice porridge, I know that this is the end of the meal. This is simplicity at its best. Rice with chopped greens, some onions and radish in a clear and uncomplicated broth.
It is the perfect single note ender to the symphony and play of fish flavors that we have just enjoyed.

It has been an evening of "fish play" with Chef Iwamoto.
Before we leave, I give her a bow and tell her I am so happy to have dined at her table.
She speaks English well and invites me to come and visit again.
When she learns that I told Abe san that I thought she was about 40 or 45 years old, she gives a
hearty laugh and hugs me tight -- telling me that she is already 61!
I cannot believe it but then again -- she is forever young because she is forever playing with her love for food and fish!
Domo arigato gozaimashita, Chef Iwamoto!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

From Paris to Padang in 48 Hours

Simon Raven said "life is short and the world is wide" ... and may I add,
"there's so much to taste"
I arrived back from Paris before the New Year and left the day after for a business trip to Jakarta.
As I dragged my jet lagged and sleepy self off to the airport at dawn, I vowed that I would enjoy this trip, client meetings and all, and that I would make sure to try the local cuisine.
This was just my second time in Indonesia and I didn't see nor eat much the last time I was there.
When my colleagues asked me what I wanted to have for lunch, I said "Nasi Padang".
They all heartily agreed ... it was a popular choice!

We went to Sari Ratu, a very well known chain specializing in nasi padang. This branch we went to was at the basement of Plaza Indonesia, Jakarta's very premium and high end mall.

This is Sari Ratu's menu which lists all the padang style dishes available.

However, you don't need the menu at all because the minute you sit down at the table, the waiters come and place all these small plates of all the dishes available in front of you.
This is what nasi padang is all about -- nasi or rice, with a wide assortment of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, mostly cooked with chili, spices and coconut cream.
Nasi Padang originates from Padang, the capital of Sumatra.

Without even having to think of what you want to eat, you get all these yummy makan -- from fried chicken to curried squid, assorted satay, stir fried veggies, pickled hot hot hot chili -- it's your own personal buffet on the table!

Since they knew I don't eat meat, this big casserole of fish head curry was deemed as my "own" and hardly anyone took a bite. I must tell you, this was very good, spicy fish head curry made of red snapper and very fresh and flavorful.
Fat fish cheeks too! So good, I had two of those fish heads!

According to my colleagues, I missed tasting this juicy fried chicken. They call it "pop chicken" and it's steamed first then very quickly and lightly fried in boiling oil. That oil dip makes it slightly crisp and locks in the juice.

We had exotic things on the table too like this piece of fried beef lung. I'm not a stranger to this since is also an ingredient used in our very own bopis.

Dishes are placed on top of each other, to maximize table space since there are about 15 to 17 viands served at a time.
The small dish on top is stewed cow's brain which according to my Indonesian colleagues is buttery, creamy, delicious and extremely high in cholesterol.
They call it "dangerous" food and laughingly admit to eating it just once a month.

I also got a small dish of ikan bilis or dilis to us -- crisp fried with lots of hot chili, it was so good!
This would go well with beer but Sari Ratu is a strict Muslim establishment so no alcohol on the premises.
Besides, it was just lunchtime.

Here's what my plate looked like -- I had squid, the fish head curry, vegetables, the ikan bilis or dilis and heaps and heaps of rice -- which you won't see because I had seconds and thirds after I took this relatively innocuous looking photo!