Saturday, October 31, 2015

From Pad Thai to Puto. Krung Thai and Rocha's ... Discovering Two of Marikina's Bests

These days it seems that every street,  barangay, municipality, city has so many new restaurants, cafes, bakeries, etc.  Food is a major industry every where you go.   Perhaps everyone hears a voice whispering "If you build it, they will come" or words to that effect.
A few months ago, I read an article that Marikina City was another "in" food destination -- a fact that I am sure was already known by the city's residents -- discerning and fastidious foodies who take eating very seriously.  
Fortuitously a few days later,  I had lunch with Mags, my Marikina based niece and Harry,  her husband who is Marikina born and bred.    
The thought of good food trumps all shame and good manners so I invited myself to lunch with them, in their own stomping grounds.  They were happy and proud to introduce me to the Marikina food scene.  I had gustatory visions of trying to eat as much as I could from all the places they told me about.

Mags suggested that we start our eating tour with lunch at her sister-in-law's restaurant,  Krung Thai.  Mention Krung Thai to a Marikeño and he will immediately tell you that it is the best Thai restaurant, not just in Marikina but in the whole metropolis.  I had tried a few of their dishes before, served in Mags' home and remembered how good the food was.  
The restaurant is easy to find, after Marikina Bridge turn right on J.P Rizal and left on Paz street.   Krung Thai is at the very corner of the Marikina Public market.  I met up with Mags, her son Jio and Harry.  They were seated and waiting for me when I arrived at Krung Thai.

Krung Thai is owned by Harry's sister and brother-in-law,  Ate Betty and Kuya Sorn, a Thai national.  While they serve a few non Thai dishes at the restaurant, the showpieces are the Thai specialties which are truly authentic -- honest and faithful to what you would eat in a restaurant in Bangkok.  
Ate Betty told us to try her suman, or steamed rice rolls.  She said that the smaller, triangle shaped pockets were savoury,  not a dessert and something new on the menu.

These little rolls were delicious!  More sticky rice dumpling than suman, it was filled with what I think are lentils in a mildly sweet and salty sauce.  Did I also detect pork bits?  If you're looking forward to lunch,  please try not to eat more than one (which is difficult to do) because you need room for the rest of the specialties that Krung Thai is known for.

I let go of my initial idea of grazing through a light meal when the Spring Fried Chicken arrived.
Jio said that the chicken is a favourite of  regular diners.  It was crisp, juicy and very tasty, from the skin to the perfectly fried meat which was moist and flavourful.  I don't know how they cook their Spring Fried Chicken but it definitely beats out the one from the most famous chicken chain, the one whose name rhymes with Fax's.

I had requested for pad thai, my favourite Thai noodle dish.  I was glad to see it was served the traditional way and not hidden under an elaborate covering of scrambled egg.  Some Thai restaurants try to outdo themselves by creating a "new" look for pad thai when it's really the taste that matters.  
In Bangkok, pad thai is really street food -- a quick stir fry that you can get from a cart while you're walking along the road.  And yes, like all street food in Bangkok, it will invariably be delicious.
Krung Thai's pad thai was light with a fresh and balanced taste that did not need any additional seasonings. I ate more than I really should have.

Mags and Harry ordered the house best seller -- Tom Yam seafood soup.   The soup was fragrant,   spicy - sour, just so mouthwatering!   There were more than ample pieces of tender squid, large fresh shrimp suahe and fish slices.  I could easily order just this one dish and not want for anything else.  

To ensure the freshness and quality of food,  each dish is cooked just when you order it, no re-heating of pre-cooked food. 
The chef - proprietor, Kuya Sorn  also takes pride in the presentation of each dish as you can see from this very generous and appetising serving of Mango and Catfish salad.  

Mags ordered two kinds of rice -- the more traditional bagoong rice with pork and green mango and a shrimp and seafood rice.  I was too full to try both and had just the Shrimp rice which was excellent  and full of chunks of shrimp and other seafood.
Let me correct myself ... Krung Thai's Tom Yam soup and their Shrimp and Seafood rice would be all I would want for my next Thai meal.  

Krung Thai is a taste of Bangkok, tucked away in a corner of Marikina.  To make you feel the Thai vibe even more, there is a mini grocery of Thai ingredients and snacks.  Kuya Sorn,  Krung Thai's chef proprietor sometimes mans the cash register,  and will give you a gentle Thai good bye as you leave his restaurant.

We ate more than we should at Krung Thai so a visit to Marikina's  Lilac Street, with a lot of new restaurants and coffee shops,  was suddenly out of the question.  
However, my nephew Harry insisted that I could not leave Marikina without a taste of the most famous puto in town.  Rocha's Puto Kutsinta is along J.P Rizal and just about a hundred meters  from Krung Thai.

Rocha's store is really small and there was just enough room for Harry (on the left) and another customer.  There are cookies, brownies and other sweets for sale but it's the puto kutsinta that is the hands down favourite among Marikeños.  

This is my niece, Mags waiting for our order.  If you're in Marikina you must not leave without a box of Rocha's.  Don't miss it, it's right by the roadside, just a short distance from the public market.

Here is my "pabaon" from Mags, Jio and  Harry, a box of Rocha's Puto and Kutsinta.  Would I be able to wait until I got home to open this box?

My inner hog took over!  The car  had barely crossed  Marikina Bridge before I opened the box and took out one piece -- and what a delightful melt-in-your-mouth treat it was!
Rocha's Puto tastes like a hybrid -- it's like puto but with the dark orange colour and slight chewiness of kutsinta.  Two of my favourite "kakanin" (rice cake) in one delectable bite!
On top of each puto is a small square of cheese -- the coup de grace for your tastebuds.
As it says on the box, "Yummy".   I had to keep myself from finishing each and every piece.
Thank you Mags, Jio and Harry for two amazing Marikina food experiences.
I'm sorry I abused your hospitality -- lunch na plus pabaon (take home)  pa!
You are forewarned ... I look forward to seeing and tasting more of  Marikina in the future!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Paella by Ouido

When trying to cook a dish for the first time, a recipe is always helpful but for me, learning how to do it from someone who knows and does it well is always a better thing. 
I have been wanting to cook paella but thought it would be particularly daunting.  My long time and very good friend, the Kastila had always told me how easy it was until I finally decided to take his word for it.
Over lunch of fried chicken and beer,  he talked me through the process while I took copious notes in my brain.  His final words to me were "It takes longer to prep than to cook".

What you put in your paella can vary.  In Spain, they have many versions usually based on just where the paella comes from -- a landlocked province would use meat while a place near the sea would have both meat and seafood.
For my paella,  I decided to use chicken thighs, pork belly, shrimp and chorizo.
By the way, do you know the provenance of  Chorizo El Rey, also known locally as Chorizo Bilbao?   I always thought it was a Spanish brand until a cousin who lives in the US and always bought a can whenever he visited Manila,  finally read the label and much to his chagrin, realised he could have bought it from the factory in Nebraska.
My father, who used Chorizo el Rey oh so sparingly, as if it were precious rubies, would be spinning in his grave if he knew that.

Remembering how my father never let anything go to waste  -- I peeled the shrimp, leaving the tails on and then pounded the heads and shells together,  straining the liquid to make a flavourful addition to the broth for my paella.

The Kastila said that arborio rice is the best variety to use although he did mention that Calrose would do.

He had given me two of his paelleras, well used and seasoned, they would make cooking easier and I wouldn't have to worry about preparing the pan before using it.  For this recipe, I used the bigger 14 inch paellera.
To start off,  I browned the chicken and pork pieces in olive oil, seasoning them with salt and pepper.  Stir to keep them from sticking.  I used chicken thighs with the bones in because I felt they would add a bit more flavour than breast fillets.  If you decide to use boneless chicken and pork tenderloin, try not to overcook so that the meat does not dry out.

Removing the browned meat from the pan, I made my sofrito which was made of garlic, a small onion, lots of tomatoes and paprika.  Sofrito  is the base used in most spanish dishes and familiarly, is much like our basic ginisa (except for the paprika).
The Kastila said that he doesn't use onions, but I included a small one, just because I'm so used to it.  Somehow, it did not seem like ginisa without onions.  And my father always used to say that the secret to a good dish was in the ginisa. 

Once the sofrito started to come together,  I put in the rice, stirring well so the grains would absorb everything.  Then I put back the browned meats, the chorizo and the green beans.  The warm broth comes next. Keep a bit of broth of reserve in case your paella dries out.  I kept half a cup on hand but did not need to use it.

Keep the heat on high to cook the rice.  When the liquid has reduced,  turn down the heat and put the shrimp and olives on top.   Cover with foil towards the end of the cooking process.

Here is my first try at paella!  I'm quite proud of how it turned out.  Muy buen sabor!
I was able to season it well.  The rice was not wet or dry but had absorbed the taste of the sofrito 
and the broth.  It had the sheen of oil but was not oily.  Best of all, there was some "tutong" or as
the spanish call it,  socarrat which is the burnt but deliciously crisp rice left at the bottom of the pan.
My son scraped it all up!
Muchisimas gracias to the Kastila for teaching me how to make a paella.  He was right, the preparation takes longer than the cooking process but it is a relatively facil  dish to make --  with results that are definitely worth it!

Here's how I made this paella, just by ouido!


Arborio rice, 2 cups
4 pcs chicken thighs, cut in half (or you can use boneless chicken thighs if you like)
1 piece pork belly (if you prefer less fat, you can use pork loin instead), sliced in 2 in. pieces
1/4 kg shrimps, medium size, remove heads and shells but keep the tails on
2 pcs Chorizo el Rey sliced (you can use the canned Purefoods chorizo if you prefer)
Baguio beans or habichuelas, sliced diagonally
Pitted olives (optional)
Olive Oil
4 cups warm broth (homemade or you can use cubes or powder)
Saffron threads (just a pinch since saffron is so expensive)

For the sofrito

Chopped garlic (I used one whole garlic)
Lots of chopped tomatoes (you can use canned but if using fresh, make sure tomatoes are ripe)
One chopped onion (optional)
1 tsp paprika

How to Make

In 12 inch paellera brown the meats in 1/2 cup olive oil, set aside.
Using the same oil, sauté the garlic, onion (optional), tomatoes.  When tomatoes are softened,
put 1 tsp paprika and stir quickly.  Add 2 cups of arborio rice and blend well.
When rice grains are well coated with the oil and sofrito, add the previously cooked meats, the chorizo and the green beans.
Next add the 4 cups warm broth.  If you have saffron, you can mix the threads with the broth or put it when you make your sofrito.
Make sure heat is on high so that the broth can cook the rice.
If your paellera is too big for the burner, you can buy a heat diffuser that will help you cook the rice more evenly.   The Kastila had given me his diffuser but it didn't match my gas stove so I had to lift the pan up and move it around a bit to make sure the heat was distributed more evenly.
After about 5 or 6  minutes on high heat, and when the liquid in the paellera has been reduced, lower the flame.  Cover with foil.  After a few minutes, lift the foil and check the rice for doneness and if it has been seasoned to your taste.
By this time, the liquid will have been fully absorbed.  Now, add the shrimp and olives on top of the rice and cover again with foil.  Keep it on a low flame for a few more minutes or until shrimps are
cooked.  Remove from stove and let sit for a while so that the rice can further absorb all the liquid, perhaps another 5 minutes.
Keep covered with foil until ready to eat.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Buen provecho!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A very happy and special 95th Birthday celebration for my Mother-in-law

Birthdays are happy occasions -- when the celebrant is 95 years old, then it makes the birthday even more meaningful and blessed.  My mother in law turned 95 this October and we celebrated this momentous event at  Modern China Restaurant in Makati.  Because her birthday was on a work day most of her grandchildren could not attend.

My mother in law is a retired doctor who raised six children along with my late father in law, who was also a doctor.  They have always lived in Lucena, Quezon and commuted every week to visit their kids who all studied in Manila.  Even to this day, she stays in Lucena and still travels to Manila a few week-ends a month to visit her children and grandchildren.
While she was a trained physician, a graduate of the University of the Philippines, I think she is more of a creative and literary person.  She has always loved to write.
In the 1960s, she wrote a weekly article for a magazine chronicling their family's one year round-the-world journey.

While she continued to write -- speeches and talks for various occasions, reflections and papers for her various religious organisations I was surprised and amazed when in her eighties, my mother in law enrolled in several creative writing classes.  Where did she get the energy to do this, I asked myself.   
After her creative writing courses, she  published a number of books, compilations of essays about her life and experiences complete with admiring and encouraging forewords by her creative writing teachers.   
Her interest and enthusiasm in continuing to hone her craft is an inspiration to me.  
For all aspiring writers out there, remember -- be like my mother in law and know that it's never too late to sit down and just write.  

Like my late mom, who was her great good friend, my mother in law is not a big eater.
I remember that when eating out,  they would order one dish and split it between the two of them -- sometimes they even had left-overs for a doggie bag!
But one thing my mother in law enjoys with gusto is Hot Prawn Salad.  The few times we ate together in Kim Suy, our favourite chinese restaurant in Lucena, she always made sure that Hot Prawn Salad was on the table.

Another thing my mother in law enjoys eating is chicharon -- but then again, who doesn't like those crisp and crackly pork bits?  The broccoli in Modern China was garnished with crunchy chicharon which totally negated its health benefits!

We had quite a lot to eat that day.  Of course not to be missed was the Birthday Noodles -- pancit canton with lots of boiled quail's eggs, dyed a bright orange.   I was too late to take a photo of the pancit  before everyone dug in but here is Martina with a portion of her Lola's long life noodles on her plate.

Because the wait staff were told that this was a birthday celebration, they brought out a small dish of ice cream with a candle on top and everyone sang an energetic if slightly off-key rendition of Happy Birthday.
As mama blew out the candle and I silently made a wish  -- for more happy, healthy birthdays to come.

This is my mother in law,  95 years old with her great grand daughter Martina who is turning 5 in December.  They are 90 years apart yet completely enjoy each other's company.  I think it is wonderful for Martina that she has a grand Lola like my mother in law -- I hope she grows up and inherits her Lola's love of learning, reading and writing.
Happy Birthday again, Mama -- thank you for being a blessing and inspiration to us all!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Quick and Easy Pasta Vongole

One of the simplest and yet tastiest pasta dishes to make is Vongole -- if I could always find fresh clams, I would make it more often.

We were able to buy halaan or manila clams at the Bicutan market.  They were a bit on the small side but  they were fresh and did not smell the least bit off.  
The tindera also assured  me "pinasuka ko na ho iyan" meaning, she had already soaked them in salted water to get them to "regurgitate" all the grit and sand inside.  
We have more bottles of wine than we can ever consume so making Pasta Vongole meant I could open a bottle of white wine and at least know that it would be consumed.  I used Sauvignon Blanc which is an ideal pairing for fish and shellfish.

I had fresh parsley in the chiller but I also had a packet of "fresh" furikake that I found in Nishiki Market in Kyoto, on my last visit.  "Fresh" furikake is an oxymoron of sorts since furikake is dried seasoning -- finely chopped bits of herbs, nori, pickles, etc that the Japanese sprinkle on top of hot cooked rice.
I have no idea what this particular furikake is made of but perhaps it's a blend of chives, parsley,  perhaps even some shiso leaf because it did have a minty, citrusy aftertaste.
I was sure it would put a new twist on classic Vongole.

One kilo of clams and a 500 gram pack of spaghetti yielded Vongole good for 5 to 6 people.
The furikake did complement the clams well and added a zesty taste. Along with the
remainder of my Sauvignon Blanc,  it was a quick and tasty Friday night dinner!

Here's how to make this simple Pasta Vongole,  furikake optional


1 kg medium sized halaan or clams, pre-soaked in lightly salted water to remove grit and sand
white wine like Sauvignon Blanc
minced garlic
chopped parsley
salt and pepper
olive oil and butter
500 gms cooked spaghetti or linguini
1 cup reserved pasta water

How to Make

Saute the minced garlic in olive oil and a little butter.  When cooked, pour about half a cup or a bit more of the white wine.
Put the clams in the pan and let the wine come to a boil and the clams start to open.
Once the wine has come to a boil, add the cooked pasta and mix well.  Add some of the reserved pasta liquid to keep the dish from drying out.  Add the fresh parsley.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Remove from heat.
Serve Pasta Vongole with grated parmesan or edam cheese and enjoy with a glass of white wine.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Loco for Coco at Coconut House in Quezon Memorial Circle

A memorial and shrine dedicated to the Philippines' second president happens to be one of the few open spaces in this congested metropolis.  The Quezon Memorial Circle along Elliptical Road in the capital city is also a national park, set on 36 hectares of prime land.  
I hope no one ever thinks of chopping it up and selling it for commercial use as it is a wonderful, large recreational space specially for residents in the area.
While I had passed by the place many times, I am embarrassed to say that I had never bothered to 
go in. 

One week day, a friend who frequents the park invited me to go with her, with a promise of a visit
to a unique store cum restaurant called Coconut House, purveyors of all things coconut.
My husband tends his "farm-den" (too small to be called a farm,  too big to be called a garden) in Lucban, Quezon where there are coconut trees.  I thought it could be a source of inspiration as to what other wonders could come from this versatile and prolific tree.
It was also a great opportunity to see the monument to President Manuel L. Quezon, up close and personal as I had only seen it partially and from the road.
Truth be told, it was quite a stunning piece of architecture, the three pillars that represent Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao stood tall and stately against the horizon -- without any buildings or skyscrapers to mar the view.

There are quite a number of small restaurants and stores along the periphery of the park -- you can bring your car and park by the roadside.  Coconut House was our target and we easily found it -- it's near the Commonwealth entrance of the park.
The restaurant is not too big but it is well lit and clean and at mid morning, the lunch time crowd had not yet arrived giving us the run of the place.

For a small place, the menu was quite extensive and featured the buko or coconut as star.  There were all kinds of noodle dishes  -- buko palabok, buko spaghetti, even buko mami, all of which had very budget friendly prices.

It's semi-self service at Coconut House, you line up and place your order and they bring it to your table.  With the colourful and attractive photos of the menu items, it was just so hard to choose.

In addition to the inevitable buko pie, there were also familiar home cooked dishes cooked in gata or coconut cream -- they even have a laing pizza!

How about coffee, infused with coconut water?  And sweetened with coconut cream. If you want it cold,  you can have it with a scoop of coconut ice cream!

We wanted to sample various novelties on the menu -- but first, we had to have fresh buko, served cold with nuggets of chewy coconut bits on the side.

How about a buko "tuna" sandwich on coconut pan de sal?  Sweet buko strips topped an herbed scrambled egg with a piece of fried coconut meat, slightly smoked and salted to simulate the taste of fried fish.

The pancakes were made with coconut flour which is essentially dried powdered coconut.  It was a bit on the dry side and the butter and syrup certainly helped.  Because this uses no wheat flour, this is  a gluten free alternative for those with gluten allergies.
I didn't ask but perhaps Coconut House sells coconut flour on the side.

My friend and I were so intrigued by the Buko Dinuguan which was on the menu.  It turned out to be a type of porridge with black rice and malagkit or glutinous rice, cocoa and buko strips.  It was garnished with boiled eggs, ginger and green onions and toasted garlic.  No meat at all so this is a good dish for lacto-ovo vegetarians.  

I also ordered buko pancit which I have had in other restaurants.  This is cooked ala Pancit Canton using lots of buko strips along with the noodles.  The buko added a sweetish and fresh taste -- and makes a light and refreshing (and healthy) dish.  

After taking in the unique coconut culinary creations, we headed out to the small store attached to Coconut House where they sell all sorts of coconut by products, including bags made of coconut shells and skin care items like coconut soap, coconut lotion and coconut shampoo.

There is  VCO or virgin coconut oil which they say is the miraculous cure all to everything that could ever ail you.  Jay has been taking a tablespoon a day for many years so I guess it does work.

There is coconut vinegar spiked with chilies and garlic and bottles of coco cider vinegar.  If you believe in taking cider vinegar for health reasons, try coco cider vinegar instead of the frighteningly expensive imported variety.  
Cocos Cider Vinegar at Coconut House is just P100 a bottle, and it tastes good too.  I also use it for cooking and as salad dressing.

For those who can't take too much  salt, there is a CocoNotSoy Sauce.  And a Coco Syrup for those avoiding sugar.  Everything is all natural, as it says on the labels.

Do you have a sweet tooth?  Coconut Sugar claims to help control diabetes and weight gain. I wonder if it can be used as a sugar substitute in baking or cooking?

And of course, there is lambanog, now packaged as Coconut Vodka.  This is the local wine made from coconut sap which is the favourite of drinkers in Quezon and other major coconut producing provinces.
Lambanog packs a hefty 80 proof wallop and yet I find it deceptively easy to drink.  But beware,  one glass can find you under the table, drunk and dead to the world.

We couldn't leave Coconut House without dessert -- a freezer is stocked with all kinds of coconut blended ice cream in different flavours -- they come in single serve cups and bars and half and one gallon tubs.  It was a  cool and delicious way to end our coconut discovery tour.

After enjoying a meal at Coconut House,  you may want to hop on any of the exercise machines scattered around the park, right across the restaurant.  There are all sorts  -- from cardio machines to weight training machines  -- I thought it was a great way to shed all those coconut calories plus
these machines help incorporate exercise into the daily routine of the regular park goers.