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 PiƱa, 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.