Monday, October 27, 2014

Dimsum Breakfast at President Tea House in Binondo

One Saturday morning, I woke up with an intense longing for a good old fashioned dim sum breakfast.  Since I was not in Hong Kong, the best way to satisfy the urge was to head all the way to Binondo to enjoy all my favourites at President Tea House.

Because of the horrendous Saturday traffic, it was nearer brunch time when we  got to our destination.  But no matter, we were still given the condensed early morning menu which includes congee, noodles, rice toppings and of course, dim sum.

It had been a while since I had been to the Binondo branch and was pleased to see that President Tea House had renovated their interiors -- it's brighter, more modern looking and the predominantly cream coloured booths make for a cleaner look.

One of the reasons why I love dim sum is that it is encouraged that you  have many small bites on the table.  That way, you enjoy tantalising little tastes of many things -- all of them delicious.
I couldn't decide if I wanted noodles or congee this morning.  So I ordered both. We had the house special -- beef brisket and wonton noodles plus a bowl of pork bola bola congee.  They came in deep bowls, perfect for sharing.

Congee is best eaten with bicho bicho or crullers -- the crunchy "sticks" add texture and chewiness to an otherwise soft, simple bowl of boiled rice.

We craved for something oily -- so I ordered radish cake which came delightfully deep fried and instead of one big slice, was artfully cut up in small cubes, the better to apportion and enjoy.

I cannot pass up steamed spare ribs with tausi or black bean.  It's a simple dish but very easy to get all wrong -- sometimes, the pork can be tough, sometimes it's too fatty, or too salty.  President Tea House gets it done just right.  The small bite size morsels are tender and the black beans do not overpower the dish.

President Tea House's asado siopao comes two to an order.  We also ordered a jumbo bola bola pao but that wasn't as good as the asado so be warned!

The pork and shrimp siomai was juicy and scrumptious.  Dim sum literally means "touch the heart" and yes, these little dumplings did just that.

The hakaw or shrimp siomai was equally good -- the shrimp were whole and fresh and the transparent rice wrapper was not too thick.  This is how hakaw should be.

Our hands down favourite was the quail's egg siomai.  Just three pieces to an order, each small whole quail's egg is placed on top of a smidgen of ground pork and then bundled up in a wonton wrapper and steamed.  It was a little pocket of delight.

Next time you have a craving for authentic old fashioned dim sum -- make your way to President Tea House, the main store in Salazar Street in Binondo is the best place to fulfil your dim sum desires.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Espesyal na Longganisang Lucban from Eker & Ely

Longganisa is  sausage in Tagalog  and various towns throughout the country have their own homegrown recipes, some more popular and sought after than  the others.  
Longganisang Lucban is one of the more popular varieties and you just cannot go to Lucban without buying some to take back home. 
This sausage has a distinctive garlicky and slightly sour flavour.   Atsuete or annatto seeds give it a reddish tinge and oregano and other herbs like local basil, tanglad or lemongrass give it its unique taste.  
While you can buy it just about anywhere and everywhere in Lucban,  it still helps to have your very own "suki" (favourite vendor) --  that produces the best quality, authentic tasting longganisa.

 On this last trip to Lucban, everyone I asked had different opinions as to who sold the best longganisa.  I finally decided to go with my sister-in-law's recommendation.  She told me to look for
Eker & Ely --  their store is easy to find, it's right on the street right behind San Luis Obispo church.

 The store had other Lucban pasalubong specialties for sale but I zeroed in on this scene behind the counter -- dozens of strings of  longganisa, hanging from two bamboo sticks were being wrapped in paper, ready for the many customers who were lined up to buy.
Lucban longganisa is sold by the dozen -- P75 for twelve pieces. The jumbo variety, slightly bigger, sells for double that amount.

 Back in Manila, Sunday morning was the perfect time to open up a pack and enjoy this treat for an unhurried breakfast.
Uncooked, the regular sized longganisa is just about 4 inches long.  Cooked, it shrinks to half that size.
Because longganisang lucban has quite a bit of pork fat, it's best to simmer it first in a little water.
As the water evaporates and the fat slowly seeps out, prick the longganisa to release more of the fat  but move away from the stove unless you want your shirt splattered with the red atsuete juice that will squirt out from the casing.
Don't add any cooking oil but let the longganisa cook in its own fat.

 Once the longganisa starts to fry, cut each in half to allow the meat, and yes the pieces of pork fat, to cook more thoroughly.  As to the degree of doneness -- my family likes their longganisang lucban  well cooked till it's very crunchy.
Doesn't this remind you of  chorizo?  I find that the garlicky, slightly tart flavour has similarities to its spanish cousin.

After removing  the longganisa from the pan, I quickly stir in a few beaten eggs to cook in the  drippings. The scrambled eggs pick up the reddish tinge plus the last little bits and pieces of crunchy sausage.  It's longsilog for Sunday breakfast, Lucban-style!
Kain na!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pavino's Bakery -- Lucban's Best

Pavino's Bakery, a local, long standing panaderia in Lucban makes the best local cookies and breads this side of Mount Banahaw.  I have been ordering Pavino's specialties for many years and made sure I dropped by on my last visit to Lucban.

The bakery is just behind the plaza fronting the munisipio.  You can't miss it -- it's also across that other popular Lucban brand, Buddy's Pancit Habhab.

While broas (ladyfingers) is the specialty of the house, I much prefer Pavino's other cookies most specially their very thin and crisp apas -- golden brown, sugary and utterly addictive.  
The camachile cookies, shaped like the camachile fruit, are also very good  and have a slight buttery taste.  Pavino's sells these  cookies -- the broas, apas and camachile in both plastic packs and tin cans.

All the baking is done on-site, right behind the storefront.  There are trays of fresh baked bread and cookies  that give off a maddeningly delicious aroma.

I am wracked with indecision as I view the variety of breads and pastries lined up on the counter -- ensaimada, cheese rolls, butter cake slices, brownies, native rice cakes like espasol, puto ... I want to buy everything I see!

 In the end, I stock up on packs of pinagong, a Quezon specialty.  This bread is so called because its shape mimics a turtle's shell. Pinagong is a dense, compact type of egg bread that's rather heavy but utterly divine.  Heated in the toaster oven and slathered with butter, it makes for a filling breakfast treat.

Pavino's and I go a long way back.  For more than fifteen years, they have been the source of Christmas gifts that I give to just about everyone ...  friends, family, officemates, clients, suppliers, neighbours, etc.
I always order their apas -- those thin, crisp, sugar dusted cookies.  They come in gallon tin cans which Pavino's wraps in colourful Christmas wrappers.
Maligayang aPasko ... salamat sa Pavino's!

An Afternoon Stroll through Lucban and Merienda at Casa San Luis

My husband hails from Quezon and one Saturday afternoon, he had to go all the way to Lucban for a family meeting.  It had been decades since I last visited so I joined him -- not to attend the meeting but to reacquaint myself with this place.

As in old towns in the Philippines, the catholic church occupies prime position right at the centre.  The patron saint of Lucban is San Luis Obispo, a bishop from Toulouse, France.  How he landed this gig in Lucban is a great mystery to me.    
The church is made of weathered stone and has quite an ornate facade.  
There are arched windows in the front and the curves are continued throughout the top and the sides of the facade.  The bellower stands  beside the main structure, lending an air of strength and solidity.
This church of San Luis Obispo was first built in 1595 but was destroyed in 1620.  
The second church was constructed shortly after but was again destroyed by fire in the 1700s.  
The current church was completed in 1738 but has since had some repairs after being damaged in World War II.

Lucban's church is big and the interiors are bright and quite spare --  a contrast from the rather elaborate exterior.  It's also very well maintained -- from top to bottom, it was neat, gleaming and spic and span.

This is how the church looks like from the side -- you can appreciate how massive and impressive it is.  The view is  marred by this incongruous fountain where an angel watches over a mermaid eternally splashing in the water.  What would San Luis Obispo have to say about that?

From the church, I take a stroll through the town.  Lucban is situated at the foothills of Mt. Banahaw so the climate is always cooler than the other towns of Quezon.   Very clean and cold water runs through the town's streets, coming straight from Mt. Banahaw.

It was a cloudy, dry and cool afternoon - perfect for strolling through Lucban's narrow and quiet streets.  It was good to see that quite a number of old houses were still standing and had not given way to newer structures.

I do wish though that the munisipio or town hall had been less of a generic modern building,  so that it could have enhanced the old-time feel of Lucban.  But perhaps, this is a symbol of  progress ...

Right across the munisipio was this small plaza, of course with the requisite statue of the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.  Unfortunately he stands watch over this garish orange eyesore,  the town's main hotel.  He does have his arm extended -- as if to ward off its unsightly presence.

This old house has been painted a bright yellow and a coffee shop occupies the ground floor.  Because it has retained the  traditional architecture, it has a certain quirky charm.

This well preserved bahay na bato (traditional Filipino house combining wood and stone) has yielded it's backyard to commercialism and progress.  Nestled underneath the towering  mango tree is a popular and recommended eatery -- Cafe San Luis.

There are a couple of large white tents that have been put up amidst the greenery of this old house's back yard.  It's a charming, breezy place and perfect for a solo snack on this lovely afternoon.

It may have been the middle of the afternoon but a cold bottle of beer seemed like the perfect thing to have.  I firmly believe that when it comes to having beer, there is no better time than now.

It was quite a surprise to see that most of the items of the menu revolved around pasta and sandwiches.  I had been looking forward to sampling the local delicacies -- perhaps native rice cakes or sweets?  
I ended up ordering the only Lucbanin specialty on the menu -- longganisang Lucban, served as the main ingredient in simple pasta dish.

After my merienda, it was time to shop!  Lucban is famous for its handicrafts such as woven hats, bags and baskets -- I had quite an armload of great pasalubong (presents) to take home.
All in all, it was a well spent afternoon in Lucban -- and now, I can't wait to go back.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Last Slurp at Kamakura Noodles in Kansai International Airport

It takes an hour from the city to Kansai International Airport so I make it a point to get there earlier than needed to enjoy (and cram in) the last few minutes of eating and shopping.
One floor below the departure area is where you can do just that -- there are different eating places and lots of shops (Muji, Uniqlo and a host of others).

On this last trip, I saw this branch of Kamakura Noodles, an Osaka chain that had been recommended by Japanese colleagues but that I had not visited before.  Why is it called Kamakura when it is based in Osaka?  I had no idea.  I did know that a hot bowl of ramen would be a wonderful belly filler, much better than whatever food the airline had in store for me.

It was not even 8 a.m. and the place was nearly empty.  I found the interiors to be very well lit, clean and the touches of red added to the bright and welcoming ambiance.

There are quite a number of choices in this airport branch.  Kamakura Noodles use a shoyu based broth, which is clearer and lighter and one that I prefer over a miso or tonkotsu base.  Kamakura's number one best seller, based on this poster is the chashu ramen with egg.

I had been craving for karaage  so I could not resist ordering it on the side, even if I knew it would be  way too much for an early morning breakfast.
An order was made up of 6 pieces, not too big and not too small -- freshly fried and crunchy.
The ginger taste was quite strong which is the way I like it.  There was no need for any seasoning or sauce for the karaage as it was tasty enough on its own.

I did not realise Kamakura's chashu ramen would come in such a deep and huge bowl.  
For 900 yen, this is indeed good value.  The shoyu broth was just right, not too salty and not bland.
One thing that made Kamakura ramen different was the copious amounts of sliced Chinese cabbage.  Other than that, the ramen noodles were of the same high standard as what you would expect -- firm,  springy and slightly chewy.  The chashu was tender and well flavoured.
I am sorry to say that this plus the karaage was just a bit much.  
I tried my best but Kamakura's ramen bowl defeated me.  I had to leave without finishing my food. 
 Gomen nasai, oishii deshita demo totemo oki deshita!  
(Translation - I am sorry, it was delicious but too big!)

I could barely waddle to check in my luggage.
That last slurp ... and burp in Kamakura Noodles kept me full all through the flight home.

Large Beer and Small Bites at Tempura Denden in Kitashinchi

Kitashinchi is Osaka's famed nightclub/entertainment/restaurant area.  It's also where ANA Crowne Plaza is, the hotel I stay in when I'm in Osaka for business.   It's such a convenient place for a late night snack or drink.

 After a day of meetings,  I always need a drink to unwind.  I wandered into a small place called Tempura Denden along Dojima road, just a few steps away from the hotel.  
I had passed by it many times and had always been attracted by the queues of office workers during lunchtime, lining up for the karaage or fried chicken lunch special.  
In the evening though, like many places in Kitashinchi, Tempura Denden turns into an izakaya -- a casual Japanese bar serving small plates along with drinks.

I ordered a tall cold glass of beer and was  happy to see that they served Heartland Beer,
a premium euro style pale lager brewed in Japan by the Kirin Company and sold only in dark green  bottles.    I prefer bottled beer to canned but in Japan,  canned beers are more popular.
As a brew,  I found Heartland light, refreshing and with a more "western" feel than other more popular, "dry" Japanese beers.

There is a "table charge"or otooshi at Tempura Denden, an additional 500 yen tacked on to your bill.  Most izakayas have this and the otooshi gives you one or two small side dishes that are served with your first drink.  My first small plate was a sweet salty sticky cluster of walnuts and small dried fish studded with sesame seeds.

The next "tapas" served was this rather generous serving of tofu in a very delectable and creamy yet light yoghurt based dressing.  The tofu was firm and just melted in my mouth.  Bits of freshly ground black and green peppercorn added piquant spice to the dish.  It was all beautifully presented in a dark green bowl -- a bright red slice of a perfectly ripened tomato added that pop of taste and colour.

I ordered hotate (scallop) tempura and my favourite -- cheese chikuwa.  Each order had just two small pieces -- as with anything deep fried, these were delicious. I could get addicted to these bite sized nibbles.

Hot melted cheese formed the centre of this chikuwa or fish sausage.  The crunchy coating, the  chewy fish sausage and  creamy cheese provided different textures and mouth feel for this tasty little treat.

Unlike the other izakayas in Kitashinchi, Tempura Denden keeps rather early hours, closing before midnight. Perhaps because there is still lunch to be prepped for the next day.
As I made my way out, I said "gochisosama deshita" (it was a feast) to the chef who was surrounded by the detritus of the evening's customers.
As I looked at the mess of used plates and cutlery in front of him, I added, "O yasumi nasai"(please take a rest).
That got me a cheerful smile!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Dinner-Setto at the Depato - Hon Sachifukuya on the 14th Floor of Daimaru in Umeda

Japanese department stores or depatos as they are called have an abundance of great food choices.  
On the top floors of the depato are many types of restaurants both Japanese and western types.  
These are not fast food chains but high quality restaurants that however are not too expensive.
If you happen to be in a depato (Isetan, Daimaru, Hankyu, Takashimaya, etc) during mealtime, rest assured you're in for a good meal.

The restaurant floors are usually open an hour or two even after the department store has closed.  
After walking through the Umeda station area, I found myself inside Daimaru, feeling some hunger pangs.    Of course I headed straight to the 14th floor where the restaurants are.

I was attracted by the tempting array of choices at Hon Sachifukuya.  Like most Japanese restaurants, they offer settos or set meals so that eating is fast, convenient and easy.  After all, most of the diners in these places are shoppers, office workers and commuters who are not looking to linger over a  meal.

Daimaru Department store was just about ready to close.  The dinner crowd had thinned out and I was quickly seated.  

First things first -- beer!  But they only had a big bottle so I had quite a bit to drink.

I ordered the fish setto  which was brought on a lacquered tray to my table.  Such a pretty presentation.  A touch of bright blue from the tsukemono was a bright singular pop of appetising colour.  Sachifukuya's  menus are  kyo-ryori based which means they are typical of Kyoto cuisine.

The bright blue  tsukemono or pickle must be an heirloom kyo-yasai or heritage Kyoto vegetable.  It didn't seem like it had been dyed and it was crunchy and quite tart.
It was placed artfully on top of the other pickles.  Each tsukemono on this plate yielded a different taste and texture that complemented each other.
I could have just eaten tsukemono with rice and I would have been perfectly happy.

There is a small side dish of boiled radish, yam, my favourite konjak and tofu.  Lightly seasoned, they were perfect bite sized delights.

I had two kinds of grilled fish -- saba or mackerel and cod.  They were very fresh and  cooked with just a hint of salt.

 A small square of tea flavoured flan and a small piece of rice cake, lightly dusted with sesame proved to be the sweet ending to this light and delicious dinner.
Setto meals are a fine example of how Japanese food is such a balanced and nuanced cuisine.
And one you can enjoy, even within the confines of a depato.