Saturday, December 19, 2015

Our Annual Christmas reunion in Orani, Bataan

My father was born and grew up in Bataan -- in a small town called Orani that is famous for its crabs and shrimps.  He came to study and later on stayed to live and work in Manila but Orani was truly where his roots were.  All those of my father's generation have passed on but I still have cousins who I make it a point to see at least once or twice a year.

This is the church of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, the parish church of Orani.  It stands across the town plaza and my cousins live a few steps away, from where I took this photo.  

These are  Fe and Ate Nene, daughters of my father's eldest sister who I used to call Inang.
The house has changed much from what it used to be but it is still located on the spot where our grandparents' house used to stand.

Like my Inang and of course my own father, Fe and Ate Nene are great cooks and always make sure that my favourites are on the table every time I come and visit.

While we are all at that certain age when we should watch what we eat, Christmas is a time to
indulge -- for today,  Fe cooked up a plate of crisp, crunchy isaw that was so good it should have come with a health warning.

Ate Nene knows I love her kare kare so it is a staple for all our reunions. It is kare-kare made the
way my father used to make it -- soupy and not thick, with real roasted, mortar-and-pestled ground peanuts and not peanut butter.  Ate Nene uses beef cheeks and not ox tail because it has less fat content.  It is the best kare kare I have ever tasted!

Here I am trying to wangle the recipe from Ate Nene.  Like all good cooks, nothing is ever written down, everything is committed to memory and taste.  She dictates it to me, as she has done many times before but I keep forgetting to finally commit to trying to make it myself.

All too soon, it is time to make a visit to the church before we drive back to Manila.

My father had a special relationship with Nuestra Señora del Rosario -- he always claimed that she was his most powerful intercessor.  I ask her for special blessings for my family in Orani and that
we remain healthy enough to continue our reunions for years to come.
Maligayang Pasko from Orani, Bataan!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Home Cooked Favorites at Salo Salo, UP Town Center

UP Town Center is a new-ish mall near Ateneo along Katipunan Road.  It's right where the old 
UPIS used to be.  I had not been able to go during the entire semester that I was teaching but 
finally on the last day of classes, I found a perfect excuse to visit.  
I took three old friends out to lunch. 
While there are many different kinds of restaurants in the mall, we decided that we were all 
hungry for Pinoy food.  Salo Salo on the ground floor was also the first thing that caught our eyes.

How about some Sisig to start with?  Salo Salo's version stuck close to the original, nothing fancy, just good old fashioned Pampango type sisig.  We also ordered Paksiw na Lechon which turned out to be the best tasting dish on the table.  The lechon had been simmered for so long that  it practically melted in the mouth.  Paksiw na Lechon is much better than lechon since you can eat more with 
less of the "umay" factor.

The kare kare had chunks of  ox tail which made it authentic and home-cooked in my eyes.  I just wish the sauce were not so thick as I prefer my kare kare a little soupy.

The waiter recommended the Adobong Puti which used both pork and chicken pieces.  It was garlicky and sour and I didn't miss the toyo at all.

To assuage our guilt over all the meat dishes we ordered, we  had  Bistek na Tiyan ng Bangus.  
The belly was large and fatty -- just the way tiyan ng bangus should be.  Extra rice please!

With the table cleared, time to capture this moment for posterity.  These "boys"  may be my 
ex-colleagues but they have also become my very good friends.
Thank you guys for this pre- Christmas sama-sama sa Salo Salo!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Quiet Evening at Maria Luisa's Garden Room at the Makati Garden Club

Christmas is the perfect excuse for having parties, reunions and get-togethers.  Unfortunately, everyone else is thinking the same thing -- so you have congestion and traffic, not just on the road 
but even in restaurants, bars and hotels.  

It was a therefore  a pleasant surprise that an early Christmas party hosted by our Amigo Gerry was 
at a quiet and private place that we (amazingly) had to ourselves.  During the holidays, you would expect every restaurant to be full.   But not tonight, and not at Maria Luisa's Garden Room.
Maria Luisa's Garden Room is the small but exquisite restaurant that is exclusively for the 
use of members of the Makati Garden Club.  I had never been but had been told that I was in for a truly marvellous dining experience.  

Maria Luisa's Garden Room is named after the founder of the Makati Garden Club.   I had never noticed this place but it is located right at the corner of EDSA and Ayala Avenues.  
The interiors are furnished in a very classic and tasteful way.  There are two separate rooms in this charming "cottage" -- the main dining room  is cozy with  chintz covered chairs and interesting art 
on the walls.  I looked at the empty dining room with disbelief.  How could this delightful place be empty in the middle of the Christmas rush?

We were seated in the smaller room off to one side.  The decor is a bit more "country" with wicker chairs,  curtains, floral tablecloths and painted white furniture.   This area seats about 24 people and can be reserved for private functions.

The restaurant has a very amiable and hospitable Swedish chef.  We were taken good care of --
he came to talk to us and made suggestions for our dinner.  Of course, we all put ourselves
in his very capable hands.   To start with, we had the house specialty -- mussels in a wine and cream sauce.  This was divine!  The sauce was flavourful and light --  not at all what you would expect from a cream based dish.

Breads are baked in the restaurant everyday.  We were given a basket of sliced french bread which went very well with the mussels.   Their bread  is wonderfully crusty and chewy --  certainly much better than what I have tried in some 5 star hotels.

The house salad was an appealing mix of flavours and textures with salty olives,  sweet sun-dried tomatoes, crunchy walnuts and soft creamy cheese.

This was the view from our table -- fairy lights illuminated the garden.  It was hard to believe that noisy, congested EDSA and Ayala were just beyond the garden walls.  It was a relief to be
so "far away" from the noise and bustle of the holidays.

The chef had recommended that we all share the Seafood Cioppino, which is a tomato based stew with an appetising assortment of fish, shrimp, crab, shellfish and other delicious morsels. Cioppino
is a healthy dish -- it is not deep fried, there is no meat and seafood is rich with HDL or  good cholesterol.  This was guilt free eating for the holidays!

After ingesting that good  cholesterol, we needed to even up things with some LDL or "bad" cholesterol.  The chef recommended entrecôte for our main course.  It was served the traditional
way with a side of frites and some haricot vert.  The entrecôte was tender, perfectly medium rare
and  had bits of charred irresistible beef fat.  It warmed my heart ...  and clogged my arteries.

Because our host was celebrating his birthday, we asked for a simple noodle dish --
birthday pancit would be out of place in this restaurant but the chef whipped up a vegetarian pasta with just fresh tomatoes, herbs and a generous amount of melted cheese.  We all thought we were
too full -- from the bread, the mussels, the cioppino and the steak but one forkful of this rustic and simple pasta had us eating some more.

Thank you to our Amigo,  Jefe  Gerry  for this singularly enjoyable evening. Superb food in a lovely and restful setting -- truly the best way to celebrate the season and the bonds of friendship.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Of Pancit and Old time Panciterias -- A Special Edition Wok-king Tour with Ivan Man Dy

Last week-end, I brought the Amigos on a walking and eating tour of Chinatown in Binondo
So I could show them a real honest to goodness Binondo experience, I decided to ask 
Ivan Man Dy of Old  Manila Walks to create a special edition of his Wok-king tour for us.  I have taken Ivan's tour many times, with balikbayan guests, colleagues, friends but no matter how many times I have walked and "wokked" with Ivan, each time is always unique, interesting and a lot of fun. 

This special tour was a way of celebrating my birthday with good friends.   I was glad that the majority of them had never done Ivan's tour.  We kicked off the tour with a quick geography / 
history / culinary / cultural  lesson at the lobby of the Ramada Hotel.  

Because it was a birthday celebration, I had asked Ivan for a "pancit" themed wok-king tour with an emphasis on old time panciterias.  When I was young, I  remember coming to Chinatown with my father nearly every Saturday.  We would eat lomi, miki, mami -- you name the noodle, my father had a special little hole-in-the-wall panciteria that was his favourite.  
Nowadays most of those panciterias are gone but some hardy ones still remain standing.
Our first stop was an old favourite of mine -- Quik Snack is located along short and narrow Carvajal Street.

I go to Quik Snack for their machang but Ivan highly recommends their lumpia.  Tightly wrapped and filled to near bursting,  Quik Snack's version has lots of finely chopped peanuts, vegetables, tofu, pork bits and dried seaweed.  This kind of lumpia needs no sauce at all except maybe for a drop or two of hot sauce with each bite.

Since it was our first stop, Ivan said  we would just have some "appetisers".  
He ordered  Indonesian Tauhu which was a large block of fried tofu in a sweetish-salty soy sauce 
(it tasted a lot like kecap manis, the thick and sweet soy sauce most popular in Indonesia).  
The tofu was topped with fresh garlic,  more chopped peanuts, sprigs of fresh wansoy and hot chili sauce.  Because of the red  and green colours,  regulars call this dish "Christmas tofu".  

Our first pancit of the tour was Quik Snack's beef satay.  Soft egg noodles were sautéed with tender beef strips and kangkong in a spicy sauce.  Ivan said that the founder of Quik Snack had been married to an Indonesian, hence the Malay influences on the menu.

It must have been coincidence but most of us were wearing orange that day, which is also the colour of the uniforms of the friendly and efficient waitstaff at Quik Snack.  Thanks to Mang Ron (second from the left) for taking good care of us that afternoon!

Before proceeding to the next "pancit" destination, Ivan made a brief stop at one of the stores along Carvajal selling all sorts of raw ingredients, from sea cucumber  to fish balls to bamboo shoots soaked in brine.  Most of the restaurants in the area shop from the small stores in Carvajal Street, which sell only the best, top quality ingredients.  

We had barely walked off any of Quik Snack's calories when we arrived at the next food stop, Sincerity Restaurant along Nueva Street, just around the corner from Carvajal, again another 
familiar "friend".  

I was really glad that Ivan had included Sincerity on this tour since the restaurant and I were born on the same year  --1956.  Sincerity is still very much popular even with a new and younger generation of diners.  So who says you can't be attractive at 60?

Orange must really be the colour of the day, this time we perfectly matched Sincerity's table tops.

This is Sincerity's chamisua or misua guisado.  Misua is served during birthdays so it
is called birthday pancit.  As noodle dishes go, the chamisua is lighter and drier than most pancit dishes.  It's topped with whole roasted peanuts that give each forkful a crunchy texture and salty bite.

Regulars (like my father and me) would go all the way to Nueva Street for a taste of Sincerity's 
oyster omelettes.  I am happy to say that they taste exactly as I remember them  -- chewy and gooey with the  briny taste of fresh oysters.  Ivan says the appetising gooey-ness comes from the sweet potato flour that is used as binder for this delicious dish.

Sincerity is also famous for its special fried chicken which is nothing like you have ever tasted.  You can order one half or a whole chicken and it comes chopped up in smaller pieces, floured with a "secret" mix of herbs and spices.  You'll have to wait a bit because each batch is made fresh and deep fried as each order comes in.  So, it's always the last dish to arrive at the table.
It's so well seasoned that you don't need any catsup or gravy at all.

I couldn't drink enough of the refreshing kundol or winter melon iced tea that Sincerity serves by the pitcher. Later on, Ivan would bring us to the store where the makings of this drink can be bought,  in the form of a  solid block of pressed fruit and sugar.  

After eating 6 different dishes,  Ivan promised that we would walk a little farther to burn a few more calories -- so far the score was Pancit and Panciterias -2  Calories Burned - 0
We walked through busy Ongpin street, through the Welcome to Chinatown arch.

From Ongpin, we turned right into Salazar street, where mini groceries and Chinese delis abound.  First stop was Shin Tai Shang Foods where the winter melon drink is sold.  This place also sells cooked food,  Chinese sausages, sweets and delicacies and Hello Kitty shoes.  Yes, you read that right.   You can buy all sorts of Hello Kitty items here.

Next door is Jipin, another Chinese deli with a counter top full of cooked meats from all parts of 
the pig -- simmered ears and snout,  stewed intestines, tongue,  kidneys, stomach  -- all succulent and extremely sinful.  Offal lovers will call this heaven but gout sufferers should stay far, far away!

Ivan opened a pack of these pork floss rolls -- very thin, crisp and enticing.  It's like snacking on potato chips -- you can't eat just one.

From Salazar, we walked to Benavidez where our target was Masuki Noodle House.  There are a few branches around Manila but the one in Binondo is the original and has been around since the 1930s.

With old style black and white tiles and formica tables,  the non air-conditioned Masuki is a throwback to another time.  I briefly closed my eyes and inhaled deeply -- it even smells the same!
Ivan said that some people are turned off by the unique aroma but it reminds me of Saturday afternoons long gone, when my father and I would drop by and enjoy a bowl of Masuki's mami.

This is  Masuki's famous mami , the granddaddy or should I say the grandmami of them all.  
The noodles are made right above the restaurant using old time kneading methods so you can 
be sure each bowl contains only fresh and hand made wheat noodles.  
There are thin slices of pork and chicken and for garnish don't forget to sprinkle lots of the finely minced green onions.  Masuki also provides diners with a small saucer of their own sweetish soy sauce  but I prefer to enjoy my mami with the broth as plain and as clear as it is.
We don't have sio pao with our mami but we do get Masuki's larger than normal sio mai which is 
just as good.

Here's Ivan with some of the Amigos  --  satisfied smiles show that every one is having a great time.

Beer does not go well with hot mami so we say cheers with long uncut strands of Masuki's fresh noodles.  Here's to long life and long friendships!

Masuki is not yet the last bite on this Pancit and Panciterias Tour.   We go back towards Ongpin Street -- no traffic this time, the roads are suddenly quiet on this late Saturday afternoon.

One of my favourite food discoveries after my first tour with Ivan was a small hole in the wall shop
that sold the most delicious "sio pao C" or chien pao (fried sio pao)  The "sio pao C" was sold in
a  no-name place along Salazar Street where I have been back to many times since,  just to buy
these special buns.
For this tour,  Ivan brought us to a slightly bigger and branded store called Shanghai Fried Siopao that he says makes a better version.

Fried sio pao isn't exactly fried all the way through.  It's still a steamed bun but at some point in
its cooking process, it is subjected to flash frying which give the bun a toasty crusty
brown bottom.   The filling is pork with a blend of  chives, spring onions and maybe even a bit of ginger that elevates its taste over the ordinary sio pao.

Ivan then took us to the oldest chocolatier in Binondo.  La Resurreccion makes tableas,
old fashioned chocolate disks that are used for making the local hot chocolate.  These discs are melted in  water or milk and beaten / blended  with an old fashioned batirol  (wooden whisk).
There are two types of chocolate tableas sold at La Resureccion, sweetened or un-  and a tube of about 10 discs costs only P85 each.  You can only buy tableas in La Resureccion, sadly you'll have to wait till you get home to enjoy them.

It was past 5 in the afternoon and we had been eating and walking ... okay, maybe more of the 
eating than the walking -- for the past three hours.  The score card read Pancit and Panciterias - 3, 
Calories Burned - ??.   Our last stop was Sa Lido still on Ongpin St.  
The sign clearly states that this is the original restaurant and not some spin off.

Sa Lido is another vintage panciteria that still serves the old comida china standards -- camaron rebosado, pancit canton, hototay ...  which Ivan said are completely local inventions, adapted 
to suit the Filipino palate.  We were too stuffed by this time so Ivan ordered just a plate of asado 
or roast pork,  a dish that Sa Lido is well known for.  
I love asado  -- after eating in Chinatown, my father and I would usually buy asado for take out -- 
the accompanying pickled radish was the perfect complement to this dish.

The last noodle dish of the day was also the best.  Sa Lido's chami is  made with thick fat miki noodles -- it's oily and saucy but is  also redolent of all the goodness of the wok that must have sautéed countless orders of this noodle dish.    In Singapore they call it "shiok" -- the "spirit" or "breath"  of a good, well seasoned  wok that imparts the inimitable deliciousness to a dish.  
Sa Lido's Chami was a memorable and lip smacking way to end the Pancit and Panciterias 
Tour with Ivan.

Final score at the end of the tour -- Pancit and Panciterias - 4,   Calories Burned - 4. 
I guess we can call that a draw.
Porkintheroad sends much love and thanks to Ivan Man Dy and Old Manila Walks for indulging
my nostalgic request and allowing me to share with my friends the pancit and panciterias  of my childhood.   With all the noodles we ate,  I guess I can safely say that we all have long and happy
lives  to look forward to.