Monday, October 10, 2011

Savoring the Sapin –sapin


What makes people so passionate about food? There are so many components comprised of a complexity of ingredients such as poultry, meats, seafood, vegetables and spices in making a single dish. Depending on which part of the world we come from, because of the type of soil and climate, each country produces their own unique cuisine. This eventually contributes in defining a people’s culture. Having the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with other country’s delicacies is the most practical way to learn about a country and its people and also get to enjoy the various tastes and smells of the food which gives us a broader understanding of how we live through how we eat.

Eating brings families and friends closer together and in a broader sense brings the many cultures together. It makes the world seem not as big and scary, but rather a familiar place we call home.

The Filipinos take pride in the multi-faceted inheritance of their culture from various foreign settlers who introduced to the country during the spice trade many ways to prepare and preserve food. We adapted these different techniques, added distinct qualities and made it our own. Thinking about the history and evolution on Philippine cuisine, this reminds me of a particular dessert called sapin-sapin. The sapin-sapin originated from the northern part of the country, the province of Abra. It is a mountainous region with rugged terrains ideal for trekkers who delight in the thought of roughing it. The people of Abra are mostly descended from Ilokanos from the Tingguran tribe who are famous for their woven baskets and blankets and, of course, the sapin-sapin.

Sapin-sapin is made with glutinous rice and coconut. It is usually served as a dessert, but because it has a tendency to be filling, it’s often eaten for brunch or merienda (afternoon snack). It’s a simple dish comprised of rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, water and coloring. To add texture to the dish, coconut flakes are sprinkled on top. This is painstakingly made by soaking rice flour overnight in water and then ground into a paste with coconut milk, sugar and sometimes yams or yam four. What makes it intriguing and special is how it’s prepared. The glutinous rice is colored and layered making it a festive dessert. The first layer is colored in purple (usually the bottom), the middle is a golden yellow resembling egg yolks and the top is white. Each layer is steamed before another layer is added. Delicious and beautiful.

The sapin-sapin is a perfect example to cite the facets of a particular culture. However complex it is, it still has that basic end result, it satisfies the hunger and allows us to get a glimpse of the kind of people the Filipinos are.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Maty’s Tapsilog


A typical Filipino breakfast is heavy because the Philippines is a country that is devoted to farming and majority of the Filipino people in the good old days started the day really early and had to work long hours in the fields tending to the crops and animals in vast farm lands and haciendas. A heavy breakfast would keep their energy up until lunch time.

The tradition of eating a hearty breakfast still continues but the variations of breakfasts are served all day long and can be eaten for lunch and dinner as well. It’s widely served in every corner of any bustling street. Even McDonald's in the Philippines serves local Filipino breakfasts.

The usual Filipino breakfast is comprised of sinangag (garlic fried rice), itlog (egg, scrambled or fried) and either tapa (cured beef) tapsilog, tocino (cured pork) tocilog, longganisa (pork sausages) longsilog, daing na bangus (milkfish cured in vinegar, garlic salt and pepper) bangsilog and other variations. The ‘si’ stands for ‘sinangag’, ‘log’ stands for ‘itlog’ and the first part of the word stands for whatever viand you choose to have.

The word ‘tapa’ is said to come from the Sanskrit term meaning ‘heat’. Tapsilog or any suffix with ‘silog’ is a Filipino slang term. The word ‘tapas’, however, is derived from the Spanish word meaning ‘appetizers’.

Many of the cities in Manila and around the Philippines have become bustling over the years and many Filipinos opt to commute to work instead of braving the traffic. Modes of public transportation available are taxis, buses, subways, and the most popular of all, jeepneys. These originated from old U.S. army jeeps that were left in the country after World War II. They are known for their colorful decorations and open air seating. You can get to almost anywhere you want to go and see the best parts of the cities you visit in the Philippines by riding jeepneys. This is the best way to immerse yourself in Filipino culture.

With the numerous public transportation vehicles available, most especially jeepneys and their drivers, carinderias (native eateries) have been put up beside main roads that have access to a lot of jeeps. One such carinderia that is popular for their delicious Tapsilog is called Maty’s. It’s located in Barangay Tambo, bordering Barangay Don Galo, districts in the city of Paranaque in Metro Manila. Tapa is made from beef, marinate in soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, sugar and salt. When I was a child, our cook from Pampanga (a province in Luzon) would pound the beef with a meat tenderizer after marinating it overnight. She would then dry it in the sun for a couple of days. The result was crispy, tasty strips of beef, something like beef jerky without the smoky flavor. It was delicious, but tedious to make. A more practical way of making tapa nowadays is to just use tender beef meat and marinate it overnight. But Maty’s style is after marinating the beef, it is boiled until tender and flaky, and then fried. It is something quite unique known only as Don Galo’s tapsilog.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lumpiang Ubod of Silay


I've always had a fondness for the Ilonggos. A child of the 70's, I still had the opportunity to experience the ways of my grandparents where cooks served families generation after generation and children had yayas (nannies) that can be trusted. This is always an assurance that your children are well taken care of and most of all, loved. I should ever be so lucky as to have the same for my children.

My yayas were mostly from Iloilo (I had quite a number of them, I was a brat). Out of the many, I only remember one. Her name I vaguely remember, though. Gloria, I believe. No matter how mean I was to her, she would always cradle me to sleep and kiss my wounds (battle wounds from too much rough playing) when they hurt. She gave me nothing short of love and kindness. She stayed with me for some time and just as when I already trusted her with my child’s heart, she left. She was the last yaya I allowed myself to love. I was 5 years old.

These memories take me back to the Visayas, the City of Silay. Silay boasts itself for being the seat of arts, eco-tourism and culture. It is one of the major tourist destinations in the Philippines and is located in Negros Occidental. The city is known for its beautiful ancestral houses, steam locomotives, abundant cultural heritage, wild forests and hometown delicacies, namely, the lumpiang ubod.

Lumpiang ubod is loosely translated as heart of palm spring rolls. The wrapper is not fried and is made fresh. What makes it so special is its unique taste and texture. The heart of palm can be tough at times so you have to use ones that are still young, so to speak, otherwise it’ll just be too hard to eat. Relatives from Negros Occidental would send fresh lumpiang ubod by air cargo on the same day for birthdays and other special occasions. As we get older and time marches on, the things we take for granted often pass like the sands of time, which can make us long for the familiar tastes and smells that remind us of our childhood. It’s fortunate that many of my relatives have shared and exchanged their precious ‘secret recipes’ with one another so I can share it with you as well.


1 cup pork, diced finely

½ cup pork oil

½ tablespoon garlic, minced

2 medium sized onions, sliced finely

¾ cups shrimp, blanched, shelled and sliced finely

1 pork cube

1 shrimp cube

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

4 cups ubod (heart of palm), sliced into julienne strips

Salt and sugar to taste

Spring Onion stalks for garnish

1 head garlic, very finely crushed to a paste

Let the pork boil in water until the fat is rendered. Fry pork in its own oil until meat is slightly browned then set aside the meat.

In the still hot pork oil, saute garlic and onions. Add the shrimps and pork, pork cubes, shrimp cubes and oyster sauce. Stir until everything is hot, add the julienned ubod. Let it simmer until ubod is tender. Lastly, season with salt and sugar and let cool.

Lumpia sauce:

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons soy sauce

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup water

Mix the first 4 ingredients and set aside. Boil water and add cornstarch mixture. Continue stirring until cornstarch has cooked, you can tell it’s cooked when the mixture is transparent.

Spread the lumpia sauce on a piece of lumpia wrapper (the store bought ones should be fine). Add the finely crushed garlic and put about 2 tablespoons of the cooked ubod mixture in the middle of the wrapper. Insert a stalk of spring onion, then roll. It is best served immediately.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Remembering Lola Caring’s Pochero


Pochero is another Filipino dish with Spanish roots. Because of the many ingredients required in making it, it’s usually served on special occasions. I grew up with Lola Caring’s pochero. As a kid, I never really appreciated my maternal grandmother’s cooking. I found it to complex with all the different kinds of ingredients and sauces mixed with her dishes. The simpler the dish, the better. As a grown up, I now miss everything she prepared, and how my Lola Caring’s daily meals seemed like she was having a party and everyday was a special occasion. In her later years, she moved a few streets away from my parents’ home, and I would always hope for an invitation for lunch. And those lunches were as frequent as ever.

In memory of my Lola Caring, I would like to share one of my favorite dishes that she served for her family. This is not exactly my lola’s recipe, but it’s just as good. What makes it uniquely Lola Caring’s is eating it with the favorite sauce she served with her pochero which is the eggplant sauce. This is made by roasting eggplants (usually half an eggplant per person, although I usually use more), peeled and mashed, add crushed garlic (1 clove for every 2 eggplants), vinegar, salt and pepper.


¼ kilo Beef brisket (punta y pecho), cut into 1 inch serving pieces

¼ kilo pork loin, cut into 1 inch serving pieces

½ chicken, chopped

3 stalks leeks

3 teaspoons whole pepper corns

3 whole medium sized red onions

4 pieces chirizo bilbao sliced

3 sweet potatoes, quartered

4 plantains, sliced

3 medium sized eggplants, sliced

1 bundle of pechay leaves

2 tablespoons chirizo bilbao oil

4 cloves garlic minced

2 white onions, chopped

1 pack of tomato sauce (250 grams)

Salt and pepper

Boil beef brisket and 1 stalk leek in enough water, add 1 teaspoon pepper corn, 1 whole onion, salt and pepper. When beef is tender, remove and set aside broth.

Boil pork and chicken separately with the same ingredients. When tender, remove and set aside.

In another pan, cook chorizo bilbao slices and vegetables with the beef, pork and chicken broth until done. When the vegetables are cooked, remove them from the broth. Set aside broth. Arrange in a platter, the beef, pork, chicken, chorizo and each set of vegetables separately.

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil. Add tomato sauce and 2 cups of the combined broths. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the sauted tomato sauce on the meat and vegetables on the platter. Serve hot.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lechon Manok, A Filipino Favorite

The Philippines had been under Spanish occupation for over 300 years. It is not surprising that a lot of Filipino dishes are derived from Spanish cuisine. Among this is lechon. This simply means ‘suckling pig’ in Spanish. The whole process of lechon involves slowly roasting a whole pig in charcoal until the skin is brown and crispy. Since roasting a whole pig can be tedious, expensive and simply not practical for everyday consumption, chicken (manok) has been a more viable yet just as delicious option.

To get a closer look at the origins of lechon manok, we now travel to Iloilo city. Iloilo is located in the Visayan region of the Philippines. It is known for its ostentatious lechon industry. I had my first taste of lechon manok from a corner stall called Toto’s Lechon Manok. Toto is originally from Iloilo, the stall used to have about 10-15 whole chickens skewered on long metal spikes, rotating slowly all at once on burning charcoal. The chicken was stuffed with lemongrass (locally known as tanglad), marinated in its own secret sauce, and was served with lechon gravy. This was in the mid 80’s. The stall was located across church, and every Sunday there would be a long line of churchgoers buying their Sunday lunch. All had the same idea of wanting lechon manok after getting a whiff of its delicious aroma which was the main cause of distraction from having to listen to the priest saying his gospel.

Lemongrass is mainly used for its scent which perfectly complements poultry and fish. It’s easy to grow and looks very much like weeds. I was never aware of what lemongrass looked like and it’s not always available at the supermarket, when I asked the gardener at my home to get rid of the unsightly weeds growing in the backyard, I was pleasantly surprised when he corrected me saying that they were not weeds but lemongrass. I now have the luxury of having it whenever I want it and it doesn’t need any tending, it just grows abundantly like weeds, really.

The gravy is a liver based sauce. I always prefer making my own liver sauce from scratch if I have the time, I whip up a batch and it can be stored in the freezer ready to be microwaved when I need it. My recipe is as simple as chicken liver fried in onions, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and Reno liver spread. I like chunks in the sauce so I don’t use a food processor. Mashing it with a fork works perfectly for me. This recipe was handed down from generation to generation from my maternal grandfather’s mother. But today we settle for Mang Tomas’ Lechon Sauce which has found its way into every Filipino household and is readily available in every supermarket and used as a sauce for almost anything and everything.

Over the years, lechon manok stalls have sprouted in every street corner and are available everywhere. It’s a staple dish whenever you need something quick to serve for lunch or dinner. It’s always freshly roasted and is one of the healthier ways of preparing your food.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Hot and Spicy Bicol Express


Bicol is located in the southeastern tip of Luzon island in the Philippines. There are several volcanoes in the province and Mt. Mayon which surpasses most mountains in splendor and beauty being the only mountain almost a perfect cone in shape. It is the most prominent and active volcano in the country and is said to be one of the most famous jewels in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Bicol is also known for their local handicrafts and lately, due to the popularity of water sports in the region, CamSur Water Sports Complex designed for wakeboarding, water skiing and wakeskating, has been a popular destination for all water sports enthusiasts and is even a common place to go for whale shark spotting. Moreover, Bicolano’s (people who hail from Bicol) are known for their love of spicy food.

There was a food stall in our local supermarket that sold homemade and home cooked specialties from Bicol and one such specialty was Bicol express. History indicates that the origin of Bicol express was from a woman named Cely Kalaw who is a native of Laguna but when she was only three years old, she moved to Naga, Bicol and grew up there. She was then exposed to the cooking style of the Bicolanos. With adapting the Bicolano approach in preparing food, she then came up with the dish we now all know as Bicol express. She introduced this dish in her restaurant located in Malate, Manila called the Grove Restaurant. It said have been named after the train that travels from Paco train station to Bicol.

Bicol express is said to have been derived from a popular Bicolano dish called Gulay na Lada (gulay means vegetables in Tagalog and Lada means Indonesian/Malay), only it was made popular and known for as Bicol Express. It is made from pork belly strips, garlic, onions, ginger coconut cream (as with all Bicolano dishes) turmeric, bagoong (shrimp paste) and a lot (I really mean a lot) of green finger chili. It’s a simple dish that just involves sautéing all the ingredients together until cooked. What made it intriguing for me when I was younger was how spicy it was. I used to eat it to show my parents just how brave I was to be able to withstand the almost painful heat in my mouth when eating it, but as I got older, I got to appreciate the distinct element of heat in my dishes. And I tend to find most dished that are not spicy lacking in flavor.

Bicol express is now a common dish served in almost every Filipino household brave enough to take the heat.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Philippines Very Own Caviar: Taba ng Talangka


The Kapangpangans (as what the people who hail from Pampanga are called) have always been known to be great cooks, and Pampanga is known to have the distinct title of being the ‘Culinary Center of the Philippines’.

One of the most sought after delicacies from Pampanga is taba ng talangka (shore crab or river crab roe/fat). Talangka is abundant in Pampanga because the city is bordered by a river. Taba ng talangka has been labeled as the caviar of Filipinos. It is made from the orange fat of hundreds of mini crabs that have been painstakingly shelled and the fats removed, gathered, and placed in a bottle. My grandmother used to tell me that one huge sack of talangka can make only make one small bottle of taba ng talangka. It’s rare to find pure taba ng talangka nowadays, most are mixed with starch and if you’re lucky, talangka meat.

I remember eating fresh talangka fat, it was always mixed with steamed white rice. My dad used to shell the little crabs for me and he later on taught me how to properly open them. My grandmother would eat them ‘buro’ (that’s pouring boiling water onto the still alive crablets), others would shell them still alive and put the crab fats on steaming hot rice. After removing the fat from the shell you can then split the legs in half, dip it in spicy vinegar and suck on the meat and leftover fats. It’s sinfully delicious.

Unfortunately after the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption which caused lahar flow, the Pampanga river had to be dredged and widened by 500 meters. This caused a drastic decline in talangka. It has become a rare catch in an area that used to be so rich with it. Most of the talangka now comes from the province of Bicol which is further away from Manila.

The best bottled taba ng talangka that I’ve tasted is from Navarro’s. I always get Navarro’s (Taba ng Talangka) Premium. The business is family owned and is from Pampanga. They have been producing taba ng talangka since the 1970’s. This is the only taba ng talangka that is closest in taste to the purest kind. Whenever I’m craving for taba ng talangka, I fry some chopped garlic in oil and add a tablespoon or two of Navarro’s (Taba ng Talangka) Premium and add a bit of kalamansi (local limes). I then mix it with my steamed white rice. It’s always a welcome treat that adds depth to any dish.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Manaloto’s Chorizo Recado

Chorizo is a pork sausage that has been smoked. It’s rich in flavor because of all the spices mixed with the pork meat. It is often served in tapas bars with your favorite alcoholic beverage. It is another popular dish the Filipinos inherited from the Spanish. Another term for it is ‘longganisa’. Technically speaking, a chorizo is cured (a technique in food preservation using salt, sugar, nitrates or by smoking) while a longganisa is fresh. But most of the longganisas in the Philippines are fresh, and mixed with salt, vinegar, garlic, pepper and sugar and sometimes air dried. So the term chorizo or longganisa only applies in name depending on what region it’s made from.

The particular one I am raving about is from Bacolod, and here it is called chorizo. Bacolod is the capital of the province of Negros Occidental. It is known as the sugar bowl of the Philippines where the old rich land owners watch over their haciendas (plantations) and live the quality of life as our forefathers have lived it. Bacolod can be compared to Americas Old South. But as of late, the city has been slowly entering the modern world with its introduction to the commercialism of malls being built in the city.

Manaloto’s chorizo recado is available right in the heart of Bacolod city in a rather small and quaint grocery store called K-mart (not to be confused for the large supermarket chain in America). Unlike other chorizos or longganisas, Manaloto’s chorizo recado is made from lean ground meat mixed with garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper and I believe smoked paprika. I am just guessing on what’s in the chorizo based on my keen sense of taste (yes, I mean keen) because I’m sure the family would not just give out their recipe to anyone, more so the world. Normally, saffron would be the most obvious assumption for the orange tinge the chorizo gives out when it’s fried, but since chorizo or longganisa is supposed to be food for the masses and saffron being the most expensive spice in the world, paprika would be more applicable. Its affordability makes it such a popular viand.

My Negrense friends (people who hail from Bacolod) cook their chorizos by removing the meat from the skin then frying the meat in a bit of oil until it’s cooked. I prefer cooking mine in a bit of water until the chorizos are spurting in their own oil. I then puncture the skin with a fork, releasing the orange juices. At this point I crank up the heat of the stove to cook the outer layer of the chorizo until it’s toasty, leaving the middle part still juicy. I serve it with plain white rice and either a scrambled egg or fried egg. I don’t like having garlic fried rice (how chorizo or longganisa is usually eaten with) paired with Manaloto’s chorizo recado because I want to savor the flavor of it. With its already rich taste, plain white rice is the perfect complement to it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hizon’s Ensaymada

Hizon's Cakes and Pastries has been a long standing institution in the heart of Manila. Located in 1197 J. Bocobo street corner Arquiza street, Ermita, Hizon’s Cakes and Pastries restaurant has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner since 1946. I, however, have never eaten in the restaurant yet. What I always remember ‘Hizon’s’ (as we call it) for, is their ensaymada. Growing up, Hizon’s ensaymada was the only ensaymada I had ever known. They’re huge, almost double a child’s fist, oozing with butter and topped with real grated quezo de bola cheese. Quezo de Bola is a Filipino term derived from the Spanish words literally meaning ball of cheese. It’s more commonly known to the world as Edam cheese, which is a Dutch cheese that is spherical in shape sometimes slightly flattened at the top and bottom and is coated with red wax. The ones in the Philippines are really round. There are companies that locally produce this type of cheese, but the only semblance of it being queso de bola is the shape and that it’s covered in red wax. I still prefer the brands Marca Pato and Marca Piña, both imported from Holland. Its festive appearance makes it a common attraction during the holiday season as part of the Christmas feast. Queso de bola tastes rather mild and slightly nutty. It has a tendency to get saltier and drier with age and doesn't easily spoil. Its taste and texture closely resembles Gouda cheese.

Ensaymada is another one of the many types of foods derived from our Spanish heritage. Ensaymada is similar to ensaimada, which is a pastry that is a specialty in the Balearic Islands, commonly known as Mallorca (Majorca). Although the ensaymadas’ fame is recognized to be a notable Spanish legacy, it is said to have come from the Arabic occupation of the Ibizan Peninsula in the year 740 to 1235 AD and the explorations of the Arab land by the Spanish and Portuguese who later on introduced it to the world.

Ensaymada is a type of sweet bread with butter based origins. The original ensaymada, such as what the Hizon’s ensaymada still looks like, is one big snail-like coil, smeared with rich butter, dusted with white sugar and topped with grated cheese (for Hizon’s it is queso de bola). The buttery rolls taste heavenly, soft, sweet, milky, light, fluffy and rich all at the same time. It’s great with coffee or tea anytime of the day.

The sharpness and saltiness of the queso de bola provides a perfect balance to the richness of the butter. Hizon’s over time has never sacrificed the quality of their ensaymada and it makes the trip to Ermita always worth it. But as of late, I’ve seen a few Hizon’s stalls at a few of the bigger malls within Metro Manila. This has made it easier for us busy city folks to put our craving stomachs to rest.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kansi: Sinful Soup for the Soul

If there is one sinful dish that can transport you to bliss while it slowly wreaks havoc on your arteries, it is kansi. It is a soup brimming with meat so tender that it flakes at the slightest touch. The bone marrow melts in your mouth like butter from heaven and you might involuntarily groan with pleasure. The broth will be a culmination of the flavors of all the ingredients that has been simmering for hours. The soup is hearty and you can feel its warmth work its way all over your body. It’s a perfect companion for rainy days.

The dish is similar to bulalo only it’s sour because of the batwan. Batwan is in the same genus as mangosteen, they both look similar only the batwan is green and stunted. It is a fruit that is sour but is not acidic. It’s not easy to find this, and is common in local cuisines in Negros Occidental. I almost always substitute tamarind soup base for it. The richness of the marrow is complemented by the sourness of the tamarind or batwan. This adds to the profundity of Kansi.

8 cups water
½ kilo beef brisket cubed
1 beef bone marrow cut into single serving pieces
1 medium sized red onion quartered
1 tomato quartered
½ kilo young jackfruit slices
1 stalk lemon grass
¼ kilo batwan
4 long green finger chili
1 tablespoon atsuete oil

Boil water and add the beef brisket that has been cut into cubes, beef bone marrow, onion, and tomatoes. Let all the ingredients simmer in a pot until beef is tender. You can use a slow cooker and leave it for a few hours. Next add the jackfruit slices and lemongrass. When the young jackfruit slices are cooked, add the batwan and green finger chili. Season with salt then add atsuete oil (annatto seed oil). Serve hot.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Filipino Embutido: Not Just a Holiday Treat

In 1521 the Spanish set foot on Philippine soil and thus began the introduction of the natives to the Spanish influence in way of life and everyday cooking. The Philippines, having been a colony of Spain for almost 400 years, has brought about a unique quality in local cuisine. Many food historians say that about 80% of Filipino cooking is derived from Spanish roots.

Along with the introduction of spices, the Filipino tradition of sautéing garlic, onions and tomatoes in oil in daily meals can be traced to the very first governor general in the Philippines, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. He taught his household help how to make his favorite Spanish dishes, and they in turn passed on the recipes to other friends and relatives, thus establishing the beginnings of Filipino cooking. Soon the Spaniards migrated and inter-married and various twists were added to adapt to the other local ingredients in the country.

Today’s local cuisine have come from the many different cultural influences, but common Filipino dishes served on special occasions are of Spanish roots.

Christmas is the most celebrated holiday around the world, and in the Philippines, the preparation in anticipation of Christmas begins as early as August. Christmas songs start to hit the airwaves and Christmas decorations are put up in the malls in September. The preparations keep building until Christmas day, and festivities culminate on New Years’ day.

One of the favorite dishes served in the Philippines during the holiday season is embutido. Embutido is said to be known as a type of sausage which you can find in Spain, Portugal and in Central and South America. In the Philippines however, the embutido is known as a traditional Filipino meatloaf only it’s more complex in terms of ingredients, moreover, it isn’t encased in sausage skin. The typical ground meat is used, in this case it’s ground pork. An assortment of components are then added to the meat. There is cheese, raisins, chicken, pickle relish, hard boiled eggs and Vienna sausages. Salt and pepper is added. The concoction is then rolled into long logs then wrapped in aluminum foil and steamed until cooked. This can be frozen and when ready to be eaten, just slice some, about half an inch thick. I use Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco for dipping sauce. Embutido today is a more common viand that is not reserved for just the holiday season. It makes any day feel almost like Christmas.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dinuguan: A Vampire’s Feast


Filipinos make use of anything and everything edible from a pig, that includes pig's blood. Let's begin your introduction to Filipino food ethnicity by delving into one of the most common, well loved, yet unimaginable way of cooking dinuguan (pork blood stew).

The term 'dinuguan' is derived from the Filipino word for blood (dugo). Because of the blood in the dish, it can be shocking to some, but it’s similar to the blood sausage in Europe or even the British black pudding made into a stew. The origins of dinuguan can be traced to that of melas zomos (black soup) which was an ancient Spartan dish that is similar in preparation and ingredients such as pork, vinegar and blood.

When I was a child, my mom and dad were ever so bold as to actually tell me what dinuguan was, which made me squirmish about eating this particular dish. However, as I grew older, I got braver, which got me curious and made me want to try dinuguan. Believe me, if you don’t know what’s in it, you’ll love it.

When preparing dinuguan, you have to get up early, preferably at the crack of dawn so as to get pigs' blood fresh from slaughter (the word alone gives me goose bumps). Its ingredients are the usual basic ingredients in making a common Filipino dish such as pork, pork liver, green finger chili, garlic and vinegar. This is served in most of the Filipino restaurants but I prefer eating my own home made dinuguan (not that I ever made this dish, I leave this particular one to the cook), because I want to be sure of its freshness. The way I like this dish to be made is cooking the blood until it curdles. Others make the sauce really thick. I have the cook put a lot of green finger chilis to make it spicy, I use lean pork and I have the cook put the liver during the last few minutes of simmering so it will still be tender. Dinuguan is served with puto, which is a native sweet sticky rice cake that complements the sometimes sour taste of the stew, or with steamed white rice. My sister’s children in the States love this and they call it brown rice because my sister mixes the dinuguan with their rice. Unlike our parents, my sister and I refrain from telling the kids what’s in the stew because we wouldn’t want to spoil a perfectly delicious dish with bad thoughts.

I often fantasize about having dinuguan for dinner with candle lights with none other than a famous vampire named Edward sitting in front of me, and I am Bella, lest he mistakes me for dinner instead.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Filipino Dining at the Aristocrat Restaurant


It’s amazing how familiar tastes and smells remind you of a particular time and place in your past. Just like your own personal time machine. Just like restaurants you used to go to when you were a child. One of the most popular and beloved local restaurants in the Philippines is none other than Aristocrat Restaurant. Growing up, whenever there was a birthday or celebration of some sort, Aristocrat Restaurant would be one of the familiar places we would go to celebrate an occasion. Or when my dad would come home late from work, he would bring us their barbecued chicken with java rice and atchara with the special sauce that made their barbecued specialties taste even better.

Aristocrat is owned by Reyes family. It started in 1936 by Aling Asiang Reyes who had an ingenious idea of having readily prepared Filipino dishes. The restaurant still stands where it originally began along Roxas Boulevard in the historic district of Malate in the city of Manila. Malate is an old district, its name is believed to have been derived from the Tagalog word ‘maalat’, meaning salty. This was before the lands by Manila Bay were reclaimed to make room for more commercial and residential places. The salt water from the ocean would reach the wells in the area making the drinking water taste salty. Malate is now known for its cultural landmark, the Malate Church.

The restaurant specializes in serving favorite Filipino dishes. The atmosphere is friendly and familiar. Over the years the restaurant has added a bakeshop and a convenience store that’s open 24 hours. The structure of the restaurant has undergone several renovations but the food always stays the same.

I remember my personal favorite, barbecued chicken, usually the thigh part, with java rice and atchara. Java rice is prepared in several ways. The easy way we used to do it at home is just garlic fried rice with ketchup. However, this is one way of cooking java rice that I would not recommend. Other variations are garlic fried rice with atsuete oil (annatto seeds), or garlic fried rice with tomato sauce and some ground beef or pork. Either way, rice that has a reddish tinge is almost always called java rice in the Philippines. Atchara is pickled unripe papaya. It’s always pickled with vinegar and sugar. I mix carrots, red bell peppers and raisins with mine. Filipino food has a tendency to be too salty and it’s always balanced with something sweet or pickled.

Aristocrat used to wrap their take-out food in a paper plate with the chicken barbecue still skewered on a stick. The java rice would be wrapped in wax paper and the atchara in a small plastic container. These were wrapped in a plastic bag and then over that was a paper bag. It was like unwrapping a present trying to get to all the food. But the one thing that adds that special zest to the barbecued dishes of Aristocrat is the sauce. It’s called barbecue peanut sauce. It’s thick, dark and heavy. You can’t even tell from looking at it that it has peanuts but you get a hint of the nutty flavor when you taste it. Luckily the sauce can be bought at any Aristocrat restaurant and it’s always great served with your own homemade barbecue. It’s always a trip down memory lane and it makes me feel like a kid again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Tempting, Mouthwatering Chicharon


Chicharon or ‘tsitsaron’ as it is known in the Philippines, is made from pork skin or rind after it has been dried, salted and deep fried. The word chicharon is derived, like many of the other Filipino words, from the Spanish word chicharron which is also made from pork rinds; but sometimes, mutton, beef, or chicken is also used.

Popular varieties of chicharon are the chicharon bulaklak and chicharon bituka. Like all types of chicharon, they are all mostly eaten as a side dish to go with an alcoholic beverage. The term used for side dishes that go with alcoholic drinks is ‘pulutan’ meaning, ‘something that is picked’. It is derived from the English term ‘finger food’. It is also considered as an appetizer but in the Philippines, like most appetizers such as sisig, it has found its way to be a viand that is served with steamed white rice. Chicharon is commonly eaten by dipping it in vinegar or with atchara (pickled papaya).

Chicharon Bulaklak is mesenteries of pig intestines that are dried, salted, then deep fried to a crisp. It is called chicharon bulaklak because of how it resembles a flower after frying (bulaklak means flower in Tagalog). Variations of chicharon bulaklak are also made from chicken omentum, which is a fat- filled sac covering the small intestines of the chicken.

Chicharon bituka (intestines) is made from deep fried cow or pigs’ intestines that have also been dried, seasoned and deep fried. Unlike the chicharon bulaklak, it doesn’t resemble a flower. All chicharon varieties are similar in taste, being salty, so it’s in the texture that each one can be differentiated. The regular pork rind chicharon is a lighter shade of brown and can be stored longer. The chicharon bituka and bulaklak have to be consumed the day you buy them because they will lose their initial crispness and flavor. They both have a tendency to form sebo (hardened grease) when they cool so you always have to eat them either fresh from the pan or still warm.

Chicharon bulaklak has always been my personal favorite because of its texture. I remember buying it fresh from a place that makes it special in Quiapo (a district in Manila). It doesn’t look appetizing at all when you see it being prepared, because it looks like a long, brown creature when it comes off the deep fryer. It is then cut into bite sized pieces. To describe its texture, the petal part (looks more like fringes to me) of the chicharon bulaklak is delicate and crispy; the middle is creamy because of the fats. If I knew better then I’d say it was a heart attack coming. But I was young and I could indulge in just the pleasure of the taste of it which is oh so delicious. Now, as much as it tickles my appetite, I try to eat it in moderation. Yes, ‘try’ is the operative word here because once you start eating chicharon, it takes superhuman willpower to stop.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Batangas Bulalo vs. Nilagang Baka

Batangas is one of the many provinces of the Philippines. Its name originated from the word ‘batang’, which is a term the locals used for the abundant logs found in the Calumpang River, which runs through the province. Batangas was made famous by its many notable nationalists who descended from the province and who led the revolt against the Spanish during their over 300 years of occupation. Many of the old homes of the famous nationalists are preserved into historical places as a legacy of our history and a reminder of the era where many brave Batangeños (people who hail from Batangas) fought and died for our country.

Batangas is also famous for its natural resources, picturesque scenery (Taal Lake) and beautiful beaches with relatively calm shores. The province is bordered by Batangas Bay which is sort of like an alcove and doesn’t open directly to the Pacific Ocean. Aside from its scenic attractions, Batangas is also known for producing quality beef and is famous for its cattle industry. Hence the famous Batangas Bulalo.

I always go to Batangas for its beaches and the best one I’ve been to is only a two hour drive from Manila. On the way to our destination, it’s always a must to stop at one of the many bulalo stalls we pass along the way. Bulalo is made with beef bone marrow and beef shank. The beef shank is boiled for several hours until it is tender. Traditional Batangas bulalo consists of onions and garlic for the soup stock. Midway through the process of softening the meat, plantains (saging na saba) are added, then when the meat is almost soft enough, corn still on the cob but cut in 3 parts, potatoes, string beans and cabbage. Add the bone marrow about 10-15 minutes before you serve the dish because the marrow tends to melt into the soup like butter. My relatives like to scoop it out with a spoon. I refrain from eating it because I am quite health conscious and am not particularly fond of bone marrow. As a condiment, fish sauce with chili (siling labuyo) is used.

My maternal grandmother, who was a wonderful cook, had Spanish roots and she gave most of the native Filipino dishes she prepared a Spanish twist. I particularly loved her nilagang baka (boiled beef- I know it doesn’t sound as appetizing when translated into English) but nonetheless, it’s one of my favorites and I’d love to share a recipe which is one of my family’s time-honored dishes and is almost like the Batangas Bulalo.


1 kilo beef brisket (cubed)
1 small red onion
3 cloves crushed garlic
½ cabbage
1 sweet potato (kamote)
2 plantains (saging na saba)
2 potatoes
1 Beef Knorr Cubes
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon lime juice (kalamansi juice)

Add beef to boiling water (just enough to immerse the beef) red onion, garlic, sweet potato (kamote) and plantains (saging na saba), I add this early on because I want the sweet potato and plantains to dissolve into the broth as it gets soft. When the beef is almost tender enough to serve add the potatoes, 10 minutes before serving, add the cabbage, black pepper and Knorr beef cubes. Lastly add the fish sauce and kalamansi or lime juice.

The best part of my grandmother’s nilagang baka is the eggplant sauce. This is made by roasting eggplants (two should be enough) peeled and mashed, add a clove of crushed garlic, some mashed boiled sweet potato, vinegar, salt and black pepper. I sometimes just boil the eggplant in the soup if I don’t have time to roast the eggplants. It should be fine if it’s just boiled (just don’t forget to peel and mash it). I find this perfect in adding to the savory soup. This is best served with plain steamed white rice.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bagoong: A True Filipino Condiment

There is no other name or word for bagoong in international terms and in the Philippines. However, in the Visayas, it’s called ginamos. Bagoong is used as a condiment for everyday Filipino meals and is a familiar sight in almost every household.

Making bagoong is said to be a time honored tradition and a way of life for the people of the Ilocos region. Their daily meals consist almost always of bagoong. It is said that the making of bagoong came about as a necessity because in a time where there were still no refrigerators in the world, for fishermen who had an excess of fish that had not been sold, instead of letting it go to waste, it was essential to preserve them by making bagoong. The smaller leftover fish from the catch would always be made into bagoong. The bigger ones were dried and salted, and these were called ‘daing’.

Bagoong is made from fermented shrimp or fish such as ipon (a type of goby), terong, alamang, monamon(anchovies), sardines, etc. and brine. The fish is fermented in clay jars (palayok) or in Ilocos it is known as burnays (large earthen jars) for several weeks, usually 10-12 months. But modern methods have introduced ways to shorten the fermentation time. Some manufacturers just package the fermented fish straight from the clay jars. Others grind it and sell it as fish paste. This is not to be mistaken as fish sauce which is called patis, the liquid derived from fermentation.

A similar condiment or sauce called garum was made in Ancient Rome as ancient studies claim. But this type of sauce is made out of fish intestines whereas bagoong is made from the whole fish.

There are several varieties of bagoong such as Bagoong Balayan, which is made from either dilis(anchovy) or galunggong (big-bellied round scad), Bagoong Monamon (anchovy) or shrimp. I prefer the bagoong made from shrimp which is the more popular type of bagoong. The odor of bagoong is exceptional and characteristically Filipino. Some Filipino dishes such as kare-kare, enchiladang mangga (mango enchilada) and most of the sinugba or inihaw (grilled) dishes would be incomplete without it. Bagoong is uniquely Filipino and remains to be a definitive gastronomic experience.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Adobo With a Twist


When my younger sister was due to give birth to her second child a few years back, like a dutiful sister, I flew to Los Angeles to help her out. She was staying in West Covina then. It is comprised of a rich melting pot of Asian communities from Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysians and there was quite a number of native Hawaiians, Samoans and Mexicans.

The apartment my sister lived in was just across a Hawaiian supermarket called Marukai. It was where we would get our groceries because it was convenient, we just had to cross the street. I met a lot of people who became my friends. We shared a lot of our own traditional and local dishes. One such dish I prepared for them was Adobo.

Adobo is derived from the Spanish word meaning ‘seasoning’ or ‘marinade’. Vinegar is a common marinade and dipping sauce that Filipinos use in everyday cooking, that also goes for soy sauce. But the Filipinos have come to distinguish adobo as a specific way of cooking chicken and pork.

For anyone who is Filipino, and for anyone who knows Filipinos, I’m sure adobo is one of the most popular dishes we always let our foreign friends taste. I however find the adobo a tad too salty and plain for my foreign friends. So I added my own twist to it. Traditional Filipino adobo is cooked with chicken and pork. I make mine with just chicken to avoid the fats from the pork. I made it simple and less salty and would please even the most discriminating palate.


1 whole chicken cut into pieces

1 small red onion diced

4 cloves garlic minced

1/2 cup soy sauce

¼ cup vinegar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp grated ginger

3 dried laurel leaves

Whole hardboiled eggs

Mix all the ingredients with the chicken. Marinate it overnight if possible. If not, an hour should do. After marinating, add about 1 cup of water and boil everything in a pot for about 30 minutes in medium heat, stirring occasionally.

I usually know the dish is ready based on the consistency of the sauce. I make sure the water has evaporated and just leave the sauce to thicken because of the brown sugar. Add hardboiled eggs (allow 1 for every person) and leave it in low heat for another 15minutes. If the sauce looks dried out before the chicken is cooked, just add a bit more water. Serve with steamed white rice.

There are other variations of adobo from other provinces in the Philippines. Some add coconut milk to it, others cook vegetables or fish adobo style. In fact, there is a whole cookbook dedicated to cooking just adobo. But always remember, however way you like it, there’s no other best way to enjoy a perfect meal but to enjoy it your way.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pancit Palabok: The Pride of Quiapo


The Philippines is composed of 7,107 islands and each island offers its own unique cuisine. It’s a tropical country rich in fruits and vegetables available all year round. Not to mention seafood in your own backyard with the Pacific Ocean bordering almost every island. Sounds like a tropical paradise? Just wait until you sample our food.

I wouldn’t want to overwhelm your taste buds with anything too ethnic. So for your introduction to the gastronomic delights of Filipinos, let’s first travel to the mainland so to speak, the city of Manila. Manila is a bustling metropolis, home to over 14 million people. Right in the heart of this city lies a district called ‘Quiapo.’ This was the center of commerce when the Philippines was still under Spanish rule during the latter part of the 16th century, where you can get around through intricate intersections of canals, rivers, and marshes. Our very own Venice. Today it’s mostly known for housing the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Church where thousands of devotees pay homage each year on the 9th of January and of course for its greatest culinary contribution, the Pancit Palabok.

With today’s busy lifestyle it isn’t convenient to drive through traffic or brave the commute to Quiapo for this delicacy. Luckily, whenever the craving hits you, the chain ‘Little Quiapo’ has made it available anytime at the convenience of being located at an area closer to home. It’s like bringing Quiapo to you without losing the originality and flavors of the dish.

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to make this dish from scratch and I would watch her impatiently as she prepared each and every ingredient with such meticulous care it made me want to savor each bite when it was finally served. Pancit Palabok is named thus because of its bright orange sauce made from annatto seeds (locally known as ‘atsuete’) soaked in water, shrimp juice, fish sauce and ground black pepper. It has a rich array of toppings such as fried tofu, hard boiled eggs, shelled shrimps, smoked fish (tinapa), squid, spring onions, crushed pork rinds and fried garlic. These are all on top of Chinese rice noodles cooked in boiling water. It’s also called ‘luglug’ depending on which part of the country you are in. It’s so named because of the sound the noodles made when the bamboo steamers were dipped in boiling water back in the time when we didn’t have any of the kitchen gadgets we couldn’t possibly do without nowadays.

Pancit Palabok is usually eaten with ‘tokwa’t baboy.’ Loosely translated as tofu and pork, it’s fried tofu with boiled pork mixed together with soy sauce, vinegar, and black pepper with the usual suspects such as garnishes like chopped green onions and sliced white onions to add the extra element in taste. Aside from tokwa’t baboy, we also have either ‘puto’ (I’ll go more into detail about puto next time because it’s got a whole delicious story to itself), which is a sweet steamed rice cake, or a slice of toast smeared with butter on the side.

Filipino cuisine, to sum it up, is an array of complex ingredients that combine the sweet and savory in one dining experience that culminates into perfection.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kesong Puti: The Philippines’ Contribution to the World of Cheese


Kesong Puti (white cheese) is a local delicacy in the Philippines. Cheeses are famous all over the world with each country having their own unique cheese. I recently read an article about Roquefort cheese in France and was curious to know more about how it was made and why it’s so expensive. This made me think about what type of cheese the Philippines has to offer to the world. This brings us to Philippines’ very own Kesong Puti.

Kesong puti is a type of fresh cheese made from un-skimmed carabao’s milk, salt, and rennet (a natural enzyme produced in the stomach of a carabao) or vinegar. Carabao’s milk is similar to cow’s milk but I find it richer in a sense that it’s got a creamier aftertaste. It’s a lot thinner than cow’s milk in texture but don’t let that fool you, it can be really filling. The milk is not pasteurized. It is sifted several times through a cheese cloth. It is then molded, wrapped in banana leaves then stored in the refrigerator. It usually has a shelf life of about a week. Kesong puti mostly come from the provinces of Laguna and Bulacan in the Luzon area, Cebu City in the Visayas and even Samar has gotten into producing Kesong puti.

Carabaos (water buffalos) are better known as the working mule of the Philippines. They help farmers plow the lands, especially with rice paddies. Growing up I used to take long trips out of the city on summer vacations with my family and carabaos plowing the fields had always been part of the natural scenery along the way. I forget how beautiful they are and how much a part of Philippine history, culture and cuisine they have been and still are.

Kesong puti is eaten with lightly toasted pandesal (the Philippines’ local bread, I’ll get more into detail about it later on) with butter. The cheese has the tendency to be a tad salty and the bread balances the taste. Filipinos often have this for breakfast or merienda (afternoon snack) with hot chocolate or coffee. It’s also known as the Filipino mozzarella. Kesong puti when toasted can be just as chewy as mozzarella but not stringy. I was half expecting it to stretch the last time I had it which was yesterday. I also love having it wrapped in lumpia (spring rolls) wrapper then deep frying it. It’s my very own mozzarella sticks ala spring rolls. Delicious! My dipping sauce is mayonnaise mixed with a bit of ketchup. A real gastronomic delight.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lola Ding’s Maja Blanca


I have always known myself to be lucky to have two lolas (grandmothers) in my father’s side of the family. My father’s mother, Lola Nena, was widowed when my dad was only 6 months old. My grandmother’s parents asked her to go back to their home in Pampanga with her three children in tow instead of her being on her own with her in-laws in Iloilo. My grandmother’s sister Lola Ding, was already widowed by then without any children and had already moved back with their parents. They were the only two girls in a brood of 6 and this made them very close. I loved them both equally and never differentiated between the two. They were always known to me as Lola Nena and Lola Ding.

They both enjoyed the many flavors of our local fare, and both of them marrying men from Negros only added to the enrichment of their palates to the Ilonggo taste and way of preparing food. I was blessed to have been brought up in a household that valued home cooked and balanced meals that were healthy and delicious. It’s very important for a family to be able to sit down to a hearty meal that has been lovingly prepared.

My Lola Ding was the better cook, and she has passed on many of her secret recipes to the few of us willing to learn. One of my favorites that she used to prepare was the maja blanca.

Maja blanca is known as Filipino white pudding. This is made from coconut milk and corn starch with latik which is coconut milk that you heat up until it curdles and turns brown. The usual maja blanca sold commercially are yellow with corn kernel bits. My Lola Ding’s maja blanca was white and was made with carabao’s (water buffalo) milk. It’s so simple and pure to look at but it tastes so rich and creamy and it melts in the mouth.

As with all great chefs and cooks, there are no precise measurements to follow when preparing a particular dish or dessert. Everything is measured by taste. As much as I would like to share exact measurements for my grandmother’s maja blanca, I have none, but it’s unbelievably simple I can make it with my eyes closed. Just mix cornstarch with water (set aside), mix carabao’s milk with sugar and coconut milk, heat (medium heat) in a pot till sugar dissolves, add water with cornstarch. There should be enough cornstarch to turn the milk mixture to pudding consistency in room temperature. Pour everything into a round mold. You can use a glass pie pan. Next is to make your latik by cooking coconut milk till it turns brown and flaky. When latik is cool, top your maja blanca with it. This is a really delicious dessert that’s a cinch to make, yet sinfully good.

Whenever I make maja blanca, it takes me back to fond memories when my lola was still alive and we would have Sunday lunches with them. Each bite is savoring the taste of the past.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Taho: Breakfast in a Cup


I remember taho vendors calling out 'tahoooooo!' early in the morning, even before I was awake. They carry two huge aluminum buckets with covers made specially for the purpose of keeping the taho, brown sugar syrup and tapioca pearls warm. A long wooden plank secures the buckets dangling on each end. The vendor then uses the wooden plank to carry the buckets from street to street shouting 'tahoooooo!' What a sight to behold.

Taho is said to have originated from China. Early history suggests that this was adapted by the Filipinos from the Chinese even before the Spanish Occupation since the Chinese were the ones who mostly traded with the Filipinos during that time.

Taho is made from tofu or bean curd (coagulated soy milk), that is fresh, soft and silky, with texture similar to half cooked custard. The syrup is made from caramelized brown sugar and vanilla (arnibal) and the small sago (tapioca pearls) or sometimes known as boba, is placed on top. The vendors go around selling it as early as dawn and when a taho vendor serves it, he first removes the water that’s mostly on the surface of the tofu by using a large spoon almost resembling a small paddle. After removing the water, he then spoons out layers of tofu onto a plastic cup. The syrup is then added using a small long ladle used as well to mix the syrup and the tofu a bit before topping it with tapioca (I ask the vendor not to mix mine because I prefer eating taho with a teaspoon and I love breaking the slivers of tofu myself rather than slurping it from the cup). Taho is sweet and delicate in texture, it’s mostly the tapioca that you chew. It’s meant to be savored, not gulped down. Hence, my preference for using a teaspoon when eating it. The texture of taho in your mouth can be oh so sensual.

What makes this uniquely Filipino is, even after decades since it first began, the uniqueness of how taho is sold still makes it appealing and a mark in the Philippines’ culture and history that I hope will remain constant.