Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Banchan binge at Manna Korean Restaurant

Korean restaurants provide such good value.  Aside from being relatively affordable, all authentic Korean restaurants provide a wide array of free banchan or small side dishes, at the start of every meal.
Manna Korean Restaurant along Don Pedro, a small side street off Kalayaan Avenue in Makati is as authentic as they come.  The banchan is on your table even before you've ordered anything!

A minimum of 6 side dishes are enough to make up a good quality banchan spread.  A typical banchan usually consists of different types of kimchi, pickled or boiled vegetables, cold tofu and sometimes even fish or mini seafood pancakes or even creamy salads.  Manna's banchan may not be as extensive or exhaustive as other Korean restaurants I've been to (Korean Garden along Jupiter has more than 10 dishes in their banchan, all free) but everything is balanced and the flavors play off well against each other.

My favorite Korean "sawsawan" is gochujang -- that spicy, addictive paste made of chili and fermented soybeans.  It's like a really hot korean catsup  -- I like mixing it with rice and wrapping it up in a romaine leaf.  So refreshing, like a mini rice lumpia!

If you watch  korean t.v you know that meat, most specially beef is a major ingredient in most korean dishes -- think bulgogi, kalbichim, kalbikui, etc.  But for vegetarians like me, a simple pajeon or pancake cum omelet  with scallions, leeks and carrots is a hearty and filling dish. It comes with a soy sauce and sesame seed sauce but I like eating it with --  what else ... gochujang!  
Pajeon usually comes with seafood bits like squid or shrimp but the kitchen is always ready to do a vegetarian version. If I feel like having a spicy dish, I go for kimjeon, where hot kimchi takes the place of all other vegs.

Bibimbap is korean topped rice!  Served in thick earthenware bowls, it's a bright palette of colors, tastes and textures.  Orange carrots, bright green spinach, the sunny yellow of a raw egg yolk, dark brown mushrooms, golden sprouts and the fiery red of gochujang.  Bibimbap comes with slivers of barbecued beef which I ask to be served on the side.
You mix everything together and it's all good!

My Japanese gourmet friend, Abe san visits Manila once a year and he likes going to Manna too. The last time we had dinner there, he introduced me to Makgeolli or korean rice wine.  It comes in dark green  pet bottles and is best taken chilled.  It may look deceptively like a soda but beware, it packs a punch!

Makgeolli is poured and drunk from small ceramic bowls.  It's milky opaque, slightly sweetish, easy to drink but quite potent.  It reminds me of an unrefined sake or a more refined lambanog.
It certainly is the perfect drink to go with korean food!

Hungry for Hungarian food at Magyar

My eating buddy first discovered Magyar more than a year ago.  Located in the Paseo de Magallanes area right beside Dayrit's where we most often had dinner, Magyar was interesting -- Hungarian food?  
I was only familiar with goulash but maybe it would be worth one meal.
Thankfully, we took that first step.  Magyar must be the only restaurant devoted to Hungarian cuisine in the metropolis.  I applaud its tenacity and staying power -- a lot of restaurants have come and gone in the area but Magyar continues to thrive.  One reason is definitely its menu -- composed of well chosen samples of Hungarian dishes, it takes one unfamiliar with the cuisine on a pleasant and flavorful culinary discovery trip.

Spaetzle is a typical side dish of small dumpling-like noodles.  It takes the place of rice or bread and comes buttered with a dash of pepper and paprika.  By the way, paprika seems to be the spice of choice for Hungary.  It came sprinkled on top of most of the dishes.

At Magyar, I discovered this really scrumptious appetizer -- langos.  Made of mashed potatoes, flour and milk  -- it's fried till golden brown then liberally doused with a creamy cheese sauce and further sprinkled with grated cheese, pepper and more of that paprika.  It's like eating a gooey fried piece of bread -- chewy crisp and quite rich.  One order comes with two pieces but because it's quite heavy, it's more than enough for 3 people.  

Of course you have to try the goulash -- the single dish that comes to most people's minds when you say Hungarian food.  Magyar offers beef, lamb, pork, seafood and for vegetarians like me, the mushroom goulash is heaven sent.  The mushrooms come with potatoes, carrots in a thick and flavorful tomato based sauce -- which I like to spoon liberally over my spaetzle.  
In addition to goulash, there are sausages that come with a forgettable sauerkraut, chicken, lamb or fish paprika and a paper-thin and quite authentic pork schnitzel.

After that heavy and rich meal, dessert is in order.  There is an interesting thin layered cake called dobos but I think this light cream puff is so much better!

A few other things I like about Magyar -- the quiet atmosphere is conducive to dinnertime conversation and the service is attentive and unfailingly polite.
Long may it continue to exist!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Food for the Soul : Good Friday "Prusisyon" in Orani, Bataan

It's Good Friday once again and time for my annual trek to Orani, Bataan, my father's hometown.

Lent and most specially Good Friday is a day of rituals, traditions and ceremony in many towns all around the Philippines.
In Orani, where my father was born and where he grew up -- evening of Good Friday marks the time for the procession or the prusisyon which is participated in by carrozas showing different scenes of Christ's passion and death.

Every year when I was growing up, we would go back to Orani for the Holy Week and my father would take his place behind one of the carrozas and march in the procession.
He has since passed away and many years ago, I decided to follow the same tradition and take up where he left off.

Most of the carrozas are familiar from my childhood but the number has dwindled from more than 25 to about 18. The procession starts at dusk and winds its way around the town,
passing through the many different barangays. It takes about 2 hours from start to finish.

The walk is slow and illuminated by the bright lights that adorn the carrozas and the flickering candles that people carry.
I remember that when I was young and walking in the prusisyon with my father, it was a solemn and quiet affair. No one talked beyond a whisper.
You could only hear faint sounds of murmured prayers and the mournful tones of the accompanying violins and instruments from the high school marching band.
Unfortunately, times have changed and not for the better. People now join the prusisyon and it has become the town's social event.
Gone is the solemnity, replaced by chit chat, laughter, crying babies -- why would anyone bring babies or small children is beyond me -- and the ubiquitous sound of mobile phones ringing.

Still, when Holy Week comes around, I look forward to going home to Orani and walking behind the very last carroza of the prusisyon. This is the very same carroza that my father used to follow, every Good Friday in Orani.
Called the Mater Dolorosa, it is an image of the Blessed Mother, in black mourning robes, standing in front of an empty cross which is draped by billowing linen cloths.
She follows the funeral cortege bearing the SeƱor del Santo Entierro or the statue of the dead Christ.
As I follow the Mater Dolorosa on Good Friday evening, I am able to tune the raucous noise out.
It is my time for reflection and meditation -- in preparation for the resurrection and the promise of new life that Easter Sunday brings.