Saturday, June 23, 2012

Trek through dessert

Seize the moment. Remember all those women
on the Titanic who waived the dessert cart.
                                     ~Erma Bombeck

No matter if the meal were multi-course or turo-turo fare, dessert -- for me, anyway -- is like oxygen. I would gladly pay for a slice of chocolate cake with two hours on the treadmill, but please, please, never deprive me of my bit of sweetness. Even the most humble streetside eatery makes a nod for a sweet end. Many serve hard candies, though, which doesn't really count as dessert. Others have the native rice cakes, which are usually too heavy to be considered, and are probably more merienda fare than a meal ender.

At this point, I would like to state for the record that I am one of those persons who, when eating something sweet need to offset the taste with something contrasting, like a salty or savory morsel. I usually feel sated with a couple of bites of sweet things -- cakes and the like, not people -- and the Tagalogs have a word for it, "umay." Its one of those non-translatable things. Umay is the feeling one gets when you get sick or gaggy over too much sweet. Try eating white chocolate or leche flan and nothing else beyond the point of saturation and thats the feeling. It has nothing to do with being full. It has everything to do with taste. Unfortunately for me, I get the umay feeling quite early in the eating of dessert. So, sometimes -- and my friends all attest to this, while rolling their eyes -- I eat dessert with the meal.

Yeah, you read that right.

caramel cake
Caramel cake
But dessert has been around since man probably discovered that certain fruits or plants which didn't kill him, had those dulcet tones for his tongue. Early desserts were honeycombs, dried fruit, dates. Before mass sugar production, sweets were -- as many luxuries were -- reserved for the rich. The birth of sugar plantations and machinery that hastened production resulted in a more democratic enjoyment. The Philippines in fact enjoyed a large quota for exports to the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, continuing on until the seventies. The strict enforcement of a diminshed quota, and rising competition led to the depression-like state of sugar producing provinces like Bacolod in the 1980s.

To this day, we remain a significant sugar producer, but so diminished now, due to the widespread belief -- I'm still hoping this could be debunked by some scientist -- that sugar is (gasp!) bad for you. Further discussion not needed, nor required as it may lead to another depression, this time, mine.

Dessert comes from the French word "dessirvir" meaning to clear the table. I take that to mean that dessert is meant to clear the palate or sweep it with a taste different from the meal so as not to get gaggy over the savory meal. This leads us to another Tagalog word for over satiated with a savory taste, "suya" Thus in Tagalog, one is invited to eat a sweet dish after a meal to remove the suya ("pampaalis ng suya").

To prevent umay, many people serve dessert with cheese as a counterpoint. Anyone who has eaten apple pie with edam or even with sharp cheddar or cottage cheese knows whereof we speak and is well aware of the symphony of tastes this provides.

Thus to clear the suya, especially after a turo-turo tour, we have found -- and continue to keep finding -- wonderful dessert places in the metropolis. I theorize that Pinoys have such a long history of dessert, every family has at least one favorite that keeps showing up at reunions and family gatherings, making many quite the experts at making them. Our love for them makes us skilled at it, and there are quite a few bakeshops, beyond the Goldilocks and Red Ribbon varieties which prove it.

Thus, evidencing the Pinoy's love for the sweet stuff and their skill at it, most coffee shops and restaurants boast of specialties or a line up of special cakes, pies, cupcakes or cookies exclusive to their stores. Others have gimmicks, such as Orange Hotel's eat all you can cakes and coffee.

black and white cake
black and white cake
The one we went to is located on Santolan and featured on that day, caramel chocolate cake, double chocolate cake, and black and white cake, making it my decadent day for choco. The coffee they served was a very mild arabica, smooth and classy. The caramel cake was moist and lightly sweetened, making it
a perfect partner for the hot and only faintly bitter drink.

The double chocolate cake may have been sitting in the freezer a bit long because it was dry and not quite as flavorful. The coffee made up for it, as by then I was on my second cup.

The best part of the day was the black and white cake. Subtly made, sweet highlights, but never overwhelming or cloying, though the cream could very well have headed that way.

All cakes could have suffered from dry roughness of a commercial cake, but these had an almost home-made quality. I only wish I had more thumbs for a more convincing sign of approval. Three thumbs up.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Turo-turo series: Maginhawa pa rin

Diliman is where UP is, and therefore remains one of my favorite places. It has given rise to interesting eateries catering to students -- something which we must explore soon. However, there is also another area, exiting UP from the Stud Farm, in Maginhawa street, Teacher's Village, which is slightly more upscale, more "young new professional" and less "student budget." My only complaint is that it seems to be perpetually stuck in the up and coming stage, never quite becoming a Malate, Timog or even Cubao Expo. Turn over of the pricier restos there seem to be high, even with nearby Bayantel and UP providing a steady stream of customers. 

It is, however, hospitable to low scale eateries, many of which lack the sophistication of the legendary Pampanguena in Katipunan Road fronting Ateneo. Many of these places are filling, but nothing to write home about. 

Nanette's is like that, but still packed a surprise. 
It advertised burritos and bibingka, but had on display isaw and pork barbecue, so we ordered all four. The bibingka was real, meaning it was made the traditional way, but since we went there at 3 in the afternoon, the one we had seems to have sat in the styrofoam warmer for some time. My guess is that it would have been great, had we gotten to it freshly baked. Still, it was genuine and simple -- no red eggs or cheese, and came with the requisite niyog on the side. Nanette's provides sugar on the table, which I thought was a nice touch. Most sellers of bibinka don't go that far. 

The burrito was made fresh, the onions and lettuce were crisp but the tomatoes and beef were barely there. I suspect they were going for a local version of the shawarma. Though it was tasty, it was slim and didn't pack enough inside to satisfy a customer, so at P55, it doesn't seem worth it. Hmmm. Maybe we should tell Nanette. 

The pork barbecue was cold, tough and tasted ordinary. There was too much post-roasting barbecue sauce that made it look too red. I couldn't finish it. 

But the real surprise was the isaw bituka ng baka. Lightly crisp, served warm and bursting with flavor, it felt like we hit the jackpot. Unlike other isaw offerings in other places, this nearly had a gourmet taste, no rancidity or gamey taste, no tough chewing. Certainly worth the trip, if they keep up this kind of quality.
In all, Nanette's is typical of the area, it holds promise, but doesn't live up to it too much. If it tries harder, it could be the next big thing for bakang isaw. 

Final tab: P195 for two persons. Not bad. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rice Magick

Filipinos have many words for rice indicating its importance. The words described the various stages of rice when uncooked such as palay (unhusked rice grains), binayo (shelled rice grains) and bigas (uncooked rice grains) or when cooked, such as kanin (cooked rice), lamig (day old rice), sinangag (fried rice) or even pinipig (roasted then pounded green rice), There are more in the different Philippine languages so much so that in boasting of our country's indigenous wealth and sites, we point to the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, a United Nation's inscribed World Heritage Site.

I am told that when the rice terraces were being considered for inscription, the Philippine advocates reviewed the nomination and determined that though there are rice terraces in nearly every country in Asia, we have the most extensive and oldest terraces still in existence and continuous use for 2000 years.

Rice production began in the country in 500 BC, around the time the Ifugaos were building the terraces, though rice consumption began as early as 5000 BC. The care and planting of rice, however, has changed very little since then. Rice seed is soaked in water until they sprout after which they are covered in soil until the seedlings are strong enough for transfer to rice paddies (source: 100 Events that Shaped the Philippines, Adarna Book Services, 1999).

All the peoples of the Philippines are somehow involved in the cultivation and consumption of rice. Thus, it is no surprise that many of those still practicing the indigenous religions have spells involving it. The Ifugao, for instance, in their rather complex religion and ritual practice have a divination method called haposeng where rice is placed in a coconut half shell with water. The patterns formed by the floating rice are then read by the mumbaki or shahman on which his predictions will be based.

Pursuant to my study of the lowland magickal traditions, however, I could not find any spells or rituals involving rice. I surmise that because it is  food, the prevailing belief is that the use of rice for any other purpose is wasteful. In fact, I recall our maids warning us against playing with the rice grains because they would "run away" from us (lalayasan) if we displayed wasteful behavior.

There is however, one traditional that prevails, though it is primarily Western in origin -- the rice thrown at weddings. The practice dates back to the ancient Assyrian, Egyptian and Hebrew societies where throwing food items was considered a sign of fertility (source: However, I think that the more appropriate term is that the throwing of rice (or other food items) is a spell or a wish on the newly weds for children and wealth.

Kain tayo?

Marriage ceremony of the Batakks, showing rice ritual, 1911.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Delivery special

One of the best ways to enjoy food is at home. One saves on laundry bills, gas, make-up (for those who wear them) wear and tear...And since nearly every thing can be delivered nowadays, in means that preserve freshness, heat (or cold) and form are guaranteed.

So one day, the kids get a craving for sushi. Where they had gotten this from, I may never know. Though it may have something to do with tetris video games they play on Facebook. Hmmmm....And we made an excellent discovery. Sushi delivery by Wasabi Sushi bar.

One hundred twenty pieces of kani sushi, kani sashimi and california maki for seven hundred pesos. They deliver only for minimum orders of P1200.
Though I think they skimped on the wasabi, since I can never get enough of the stuff.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I can see you, in my mind's eye, seated with your back to the window, reading your newspaper. Caffeine and cig on the coffee table beside you. We were morning persons. I still am. I would be up at 5am and always I would find you in the front room, there ahead of me. The sun would rise while we sat there, filling the room with light as you read the main page and I, the comics page. I seem to be the only person who remembers seeing you this way, in the morning hour when everything is cool and fresh, and the handsomest man in the world loved -- loves -- me.

Then, you would make me breakfast. Eggs, I remember. Scrambled? or sunny side? you would ask. And I would always answer sunny side up. And you always made them perfectly, with the yellow eye staring at us unblinking. If we were lucky, there would be pan de sal that you would have picked up yourself after your morning run. Salt and pepper on your egg, just salt on mine. You never had to ask. You knew how I liked mine.

You taught me to sop up the egg with my bread, wiping the plate clean.

We had little conversation in the mornings. Conversation was for after dinner. Mornings with you was quiet time. So I'm having one now. In the same front room, with the sunlight flooding in. I have coffee, my computer. Though I still do wish I had you. Here.

Happy Father's Day in heaven, Pa.

father, Air Force pilot,

Northerning in Diliman: turo-turo #1

Turo-turo, eateries, food, Filipino food
Ilocos Sur is known for its heritage sites, less for its beaches, which though rocky, are immensely attractive to those who want to avoid crowds.

It also has its share of edible delights: empanada, bagnet, pinakbet, bibinka... What is laudable about Vigan is that when they redeveloped their plaza, they protected the local food industry, primarily the Vigan empanada which is cooked and served there. In doing so the local government protected the unique character of the place and ensured that the empanada continues to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, preserving that much of the town's intangible culture.

EateryAnd so, craving for some empanada and bagnet, we came across Mixxx Vigan's Best on Maginhawa Street in Teacher's Village. You can't miss the stall selling freshly fried Vigan empanada. And when we were there at about 1:30 in the afternoon, it seemed quite popular.

Inside is the turo-turo. We ordered the empanada espesyal, bagnet and papaitan. As far as price goes, it was pretty reasonable, we didn't even break P300, which included the softdrink. The empanada is not the same as the ones in Ilocos which are bursting with the green papaya and other veggies. However to its credit this one did not have an eggy-taste -- meaning that the whole raw egg placed in the middle prior to being deep fried, didn't overpower the taste of the beef which remained juicy. The crispyness was perfect. It was served with ordinary sukang puti, making us wish that sukang Iloko had been served instead, (but the Tagalog in me did not protest too much as I happen to like sukang puti)

Thus, had the empanada not suffered in comparison with the original of the plaza in Vigan, it would have a had a higher rating. Still it was crispy, juicy, oily and filling. Good snack fare.

The papaitan came next and was promptly forgotten. It was watery and barely had any taste, pait or otherwise.

Redemption came in the form of the bagnet. This sinful double fried "ulam" came lightly crisp and served in bite sizes so one does not have to struggle with cutting it. Originally, served plain, we asked for the bagoong Ilocano, a watery fish bagoong that mostly comes from La Union. The two went so well together, that it would have necessitated a second serving, were it not for the fact that we had to review a dessert place later in the afternoon. We were flirting with a heart attack enough as it was.

In all, it wasn't too bad. But this may require a second look as we hadn't tried the pinakbet yet. If you don't mind your empanada virtually naked (few veggies), then this place is for you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Point and Shoot: The Turo Turo Series Begins!

I have, at some point or another in the course of writing on food, threatened to do a series on eateries -- as we fondly Anglicize the term. They're pretty ubiquitous. Every city has them, wherever one finds jeepney rest stops or near bus stations or schools. There are some that cater to drivers and are located near high end restaurants.

Ground rules. What would constitute a turo-turo or eatery? And what determines a good one -- aside from the obvious taste requirement? Here are the qualifications:

An eatery or turo-turo serves food already cooked and in a display case or on warming dishes where one makes a selection based on what are laid out on the serving dishes. Alternatively, some turo-turo places cook the food continuously during the dining hours, such as barbecue or inihaw places. This is an allowable variation.

Taste and consistency. It must not only be good, it must be consistently good. It must make a tasty first impression and be able to sustain it on the second and subsequent visits. Corollary to this, one good dish isn't enough to make for a good eatery. More than half the dishes on the menu or in the display should be delicious.

Price. By its nature, turo-turos must be cheap and filling. Points are given for healthy preparation and ingredients. Bonus points if, when serving a traditional dish, it is authentic both in method and ingredients and presentation.

Freshness. Because of the manner in which a turo-turo is run, freshness is usually determined by what time one goes to it. Too late after the lunch hour and the dishes are most likely limp, cold or past their due date. However, bonus points go to the the ones who make up fresh batches during the day. This usually means they have a steady flow of customers -- a clear indication of popularity normally based on taste.

Appearance may be waived, but we do take note of creative or traditional means of serving, e.g. banana leaves, bilao or coconut half shells.

While many of the eateries that will be featured here are in Metro Manila, we will also be exploring those outside. Also, this column welcomes guest writers, bloggers, contributors or tipsters and we would be happy to publish those who give us explicit permission to do so.

Our first discovery comes out tomorrow. Abangan.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Top of the morning love

Rainy days are a recipe for disaster when you have school aged kids. It means that no matter how much your body doth protest, again and again, you glue your ear to the radio, waiting for some advisory, leave your warm, inviting bed and get started on the lunch packs, all the while hoping -- hoping!- the radio announcer says those magic words, "Classes suspended."

But it doesn't happen. Or rarely does. Unless the flesh of your flesh goes to school in some flood prone area, and then, not only do you suppress all the vile words working their way out of what is supposed to be a PG mouth, but you also have to start yelling at the radio to hurry up with their announcements or suffer some fate involving nameless insect infestations. And if classes are, by some arcane formula NOT suspended, one must search the memory for where the boots, raincoats, umbrellas, jackets, hats, pumpboats, oars and other rainy day essentials lie mocking you with their invisibility.

Ah, but there are the Zen moments too. Making breakfast, putting together even the simplest of meals to warm up the kids while they think of things to ask from you that you must magically produce at two seconds notice -- "Nanay, I think I need a cup of sand for school." Hmmmm... Still, nothing can disrupt the momentum of breakfast making, or er... assembling. For this, I thank the heavens for the wonderful invention called pan de sal for which I believe this country is marked as saved.

Oftentimes the only breakfast my befuddled, sleep deprived brain can rustle up at 4 or 5am is the unbeatable tandem of eggs, pandesal, butter or jam or cheese and coffee or hot chocolate. If its a bad day, they get instant -- coffee or chocolate. But ah... pandesal changes the tenor of the meal and turns it from a hurried slapped together one (which it is, in this case) to one that makes memories.

The aroma alone is worth the five pesos that would have National Artist Nick Joaquin perorating on the evils of inflation messing with REAL pan de sal. He once wrote about the bread of his childhood, big as his fist, brown and crusty and crumby on the outside, chewy on the inside, served hot at 4am and only a few cents per bun, looking down on the poor copies that they served then (the essay was written in the early 80s) . Of course I beg to differ. The specialty pan de sal bakeshops they have now would probably approximate sir Nick's childhood memories and still be bromate free. But I don't mind the neighborhood bakeshop version either. True, they may be a slightly paler, slightly smaller version, but the essentials are there -- aroma, light crust, crumbs and chewy insides.

And did I say aroma? That pervading smell of hot goodness, reminding you of comforting warmth, allowing you to slip into some childhood memory that evokes lullabies ...

And butter. Nothing beats butter (or margarine) melting on hot pandesal. If the gods are kind, the morning chill still hangs in the air providing a pleasing counterpoint to the sweet smelling heat  and salty creaminess in your mouth. And for a few precious moments, the children fall silent, taking in the smell and taste.

And then, moment over, the school bus honks and they're off, warmed and fortified.  And loved.

Independence Day: A story of water

Today marks the day Independence was declared from a window in Cavite. Since then, this country has gone through much joy and suffering. Independence, was a goal, much sought after, even in the years since it's declaration. It was something Filipinos continued to aspire for, fight and die for, for the most part of the twentieth century. And no challenge to it has been more serious than the second world war.

I was reading an abridged translation of El Terror Amarillo en Filipinas by Antonio Perez de Olaguer, a Spanish journalist who chronicled accounts of Spanish nationals who survived the agonizing last few days of the the Japanese Occupation in Manila. Filipino voices have already been heard on this, but most have been written from the viewpoint of those whose country was the battleground of the conflict. This is not to say that the foreigners then living in Manila suffered any less. On the contrary, the accounts clearly indicate that many were treated no differently from the Filipinos. They were subjected to suffering, deprivation, detention just as the Filipinos were. Though it would have been simplistic to say that unlike the Filipino civilians who were targeted with the same ferocity as combatants, foreigners were simply collateral damage. Unfortunately in the dying days of the war, everyone, save for those behind the guns and bayonets were victims who suffered horribly.
Evidence used in Yamashita trial of five civilian families executed
in the de La Salle University Chapel. The stains on the
wall are blood, which reportedly flooded parts of the room.

It then comes to mind, all the stories of horror and deprivation, that there were acts that had little to do with blood and gore, but still spoke of the desertion of humanity.

Due to wartime conditions, food was scarce. Many enemy soldiers deliberately burned rice fields and confiscated stores of food, to deprive guerillas and civilian supporters of logistics. Water was nearly unheard of. Contamination was rampant and those not killed by the retreating enemy forces were dying of deprivation, dysentery and water born diseases. In the prison camps and informal detentions --places where the enemy forces would corral civilians for torture -- water was gold.

In one account, Perez de Olaguer narrates:

"Something terrible happened to her (Maria Victoria Lizarraga). Her foot got burned, turning it into an unrecognizable mass of flesh. She was burning with fever. Her lips dry from thirst.

"'Water! water!'

"A Japanese soldier entered, flashing a quick smile. What a sweet gesture! His look was captivating. His enigmatic countenance softened. Then, from his backpack he took a big bottle of water and a tin cup. Slowly he let some drops of the fresh and crystalline water flow, then filled up the cup and brought it to Maria Victoria's lips, her tearful eyes full of gratitude. Halfway through, the Japanese stopped. This time his lovable smile was more obvious. Then slowly he sipped the glass of water before the agonizing gaze of Maria Victoria. He drank all the water, but his cruelty did not stop there: he emptied the bottle on the floor. He was no longer smiling; the scoundrel was laughing hysterically like a beast."

Deprivation. The simplest way to bring home what we aspire for is to be reminded of it when its gone.

Happy Independence Day.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

For the Gods

Upland cultures tend to be rice-centric. The terraces are associated with several festivals and customs relating to planting, harvesting, ridding the fields of rats, among others. The cycles rule the rhythms of life..

Rice wine in the Cordilleras is tapuy. Fermented from upland rice varieties of glutinous rice (sometimes a in combination with non-sticky rice), it is part of many rituals, For instance, it is customary to make an offering of the wine to the gods, prior to making the climb to see the Kabayan mummies. In some rites, some of the wine is  sprinkled or poured on the ground for the deities, prior to taking a sip of it.

During the Ipitik festival, wine makers from all over the Cordilleras come together to bring together their best wine concoctions and share their stories and practises. Recently, at the Tam-awan International Arts Festival, several wine makers also came to Baguio with their products, guaranteeing many a merry evening.

Tapuy has a clear sweetish taste, with a strong alcohol aroma. The uninitiated would be best advised to sip it slowly as one can underestimate the innocuous 28 proof alcohol content.

Inuman na.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Comforting Baguio and Sweet Potato

There is little more to say about Baguio nowadays. It remains the summer's best target destination in a country sweltering in the summer heat, when even the rainshowers felt warm.

The old tourist traps are still there, of course. Wright Park, Mansion House, Minesview, the market place, Burnham park. They do tend to get predictable though, what with all the tourists having their pictures taken, buying up the kitschy souvenirs.  Not much new there, since I studiously avoid SM and its controversial soon too be parking lot, a.k.a. tree massacre site.

The Baguio I love, however, are where the artists are. And in this last trip, I only went to two: Tam-awan village and Cafe by the Ruins.

The latter is always a sentimental favorite. It defined for me what an artist haven is supposed to be -- organic good food inspired by local traditions, artwork everywhere, subdued lighting, local architecture, waiters in local weaves and the ambient smell of fresh bread baking. I never miss a chance to drop in for mountain coffee and my favorite merienda treat, camote bread, with pate or a butter-cheese blend and served steaming hot and fragrant. On really cold evenings, breaking bread this way with family or good friends or some handsome stranger (hey, one can dream, right?) suspends time and space. One of those golden moments you want to collect on some imagined bracelet and kept close.

This recipe isn't the same as the one as the one in Ruins but it tides me over until the next trip to Baguio

1c warm water
1/6 c honey
1T dry instant yeast
1c whole wheat flour
3c bread flour + additional for kneading
1c boiled and grated camote
2T corn oil
3/4 t salt
Gently stir to combine warm water, honey and yeast. Make sure the water isn't too hot as it would kill the yeast and spoil your bread rise. When the yeast forms bubbles or foam, gently add in the camote and oil.
Add the flour one half cup at a time. Combine until dough is formed. Knead until smooth. Form into a ball, place in bowl in a warm area, cover and let rise for about an hour or until doubled.
After the first rise, punch down the dough, knead lightly and form into a loaf. Place loaf in lightly greased bread pan and allow to rise slightly over the pan. Bake at 350deg for about 40 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when tapped.
Serve warm.