Sunday, July 28, 2013

Egg Coffee Anyone?

There are some things we do in style whenever we travel and other things we do the Lonely Planet way.  What is life without adventure anyway?

On one trip to Hanoi, we chose to go on a treasure hunt, searching for ca phe trung or egg coffee.  Intriguing, isn't it?  We thought so, perplexed as well, by the directions we had on hand.  Armed with a map, a vague set of directions and a paralyzing fear of being run over by a Vietnamese moped, we were off.  The destination was Cafe Pho Co, 11 Hang Gai Road.

First we had to find Hang Gai Road.  That was easy.  Then we had to look for this, a shop that shared the same address as the coffee shop.

If you look hard enough, you will find this in a collage of shop signs.

Below the sign was an alley.  We walked in with butterflies in our tummies, wondering if we were doing the right thing.

And walked some more...

...and ended up here.  So, now what?

We ordered our coffee here from a lady who refused to be in the photo. See the menu on the table? She ran away when I pointed the camera. After she left to prepare our order, we climbed the first flight of steps...

...then climbed another set of steps...

...and more...

...and finally this! find this!

I didn't know what to make of it.  Half naked men, reading thankfully.  Quiet, so never mind that it looked like a dive.  We had a great view of the lake.

While sipping our egg coffee.  Where's the coffee, you ask?  All that froth was as thick as custard.  Those teaspoons could stand just like Dairy Queen's Blizzard although I must say I don't think we could have held the cups upside down.

 We found another landing on our way down.  Charming isn't it?

I was curious to find out what it looked like from the street below and there it was, above the trees.  Looked better from down there.  What an adventure.  Exciting way to spend an afternoon in sweltering Hanoi.

The Verdict: Yabu vs. Saboten

The ramen battle of Manila is still ongoing with Japanese noodle houses sprouting faster than you can say banzai!  Next on the ring is katsu.

Yabu, our go-to place for katsu, remained unrivalled for over a year.  Its first branch at SM Megamall doubled in size after only a few months but the lines are still there and growing.  The 2nd branch at the Robinson's Magnolia mall has a queueing system with an electronic pager, allowing you to walk around the mall while you wait.  It is a wait that can take an hour or more on a busy day, a wait that most people are willing to take.  Yabu has now grown to 4 branches around the city, a sure sign that things are going very well.

Yabu now has a worthy rival.  Saboten, which first opened its doors in 1966 in Shinjuku, Tokyo, claims to be the largest tonkatsu chain with over 500 shops in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, China and now, the Philippines.  Part of that claim is having the original tonkatsu flavor, whatever that means.  They opened at the Atrium of Serendra and after several attempts, we finally got to try it.

Just like Yabu, seating is on a first-come-first serve basis only.  No reservations are accepted.  Definitely a wise policy for a busy restaurant.  We went early this time but not early enough.  We ended up sitting outside, an area which definitely felt like the second best seats of the house.  Thank goodness it was a cool day and there were no flying pests.

The menu was easy to navigate, with lots of photos to spare you from guessing.  There were a lot of rolled cutlets - stuffed with asparagus, stuffed with crab cream, stuffed with plum.  They did look tempting but in the end, we decided to have what we came for - tonkatsu.  
I ordered the Grated Radish Katsu Loin Set, crisp katsu topped with a generous portion of grated radish.  It came with a slice of grapefruit that I had to squeeze over the katsu and citrusy ponzu sauce.  The katsu was tender and crisp to the bite.  The radish and the ponzu helped cut the fat resulting in a lighter and fresher flavor.  Together with bites of radish and cucumber pickles, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Next time though, I think I will order the tenderloin version.

Enky had the Clay Pot Tenderloin Set, tonkatsu simmered in onions, sauce and egg with the rice served separately.  I thought it was a modern version of katsudon but writer-friend Rene Guatlo corrected me and said that it was katsuni.  The tenderloin meat was much better than the loin that I had and certainly worth the small premium you pay for.  Enky and I agreed though that we like the katsudon version of Yabu better.
Yabu's Katsudon meal

To compare:

What I like about Yabu:
  1. Quick, efficient, fuss free service
  2. Kurubota pork option
  3. Hiroshima oysters available
  4. A softer crunch to the bite
What I like about Saboten:
  1. Unlimited Japanese pickles and miso soup
  2. Grated Radish Katsu
As you can infer, the winner is YABU!  I must qualify though, that even if I think Yabu is better overall,  I would go back to Saboten for the Grated Radish Tenderloin Set.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pig Out

What is the difference between lechon kawali and bagnet?   Aside from the fact that bagnet is Ilocano while the former is a more generic Filipino form of deep-fried pork belly, bagnet has a more intense flavor.  While most people say that bagnet is the Ilocano's version of lechon kawali, I say it is a cross between chicharon and lechon kawali. You get the crisp crackling on the skin like chicharon and the luscious striations of meat and belly fat like lechon kawali.  Bagnet is dry and a dark caramel brown while lechon kawali is golden and juicy.

8065 Bagnet has bagnet as its centerpiece.  The menu is everything bagnet, from Bagnet Dinuguan 

to Bagnet Sisig and Bagnet Karekare.  I wanted to see what the fuss was all about so one wet Saturday, we tried it.  They said it was a hole-in-the-wall.  Well, it was out of the way but not too much of a hole.  The restaurant is air-conditioned and seats 50 comfortably.  

Decor is quirky, adding to its charm.

But then, you ask me, how is the food?  Ummmm... it isn't bagnet, it's lechon kawali.  Is it any good?  Ummmm... Beau and Enky said they were having an off day on the day I choose to try it for the first time.  So, the best I can muster is, it is edible and cheap.

Aside from the Bagnet Dinuguan, we had Pakbet Bagnet.  I asked the waitress if they were doing an Ilocano pakbet or a Tagalog one.  She got flustered so I restructured my question.  "Are you using fish bagoong or alamang?"  Her answer, "Bagoong ho."  So much for that.  I had my answer when the dish was served.  They used bagoong alamang.  It would have been okay except that their bagoong was dark and sweet.  Disappointing.

Enky had the Classic with sliced green mango and achara and that dark glob of sweet bagoong.

The skin was soggy and not crisp at all.  An aberration, Beau and Enky claim.  Maybe, it wants me to come back.  I don't know.  Maybe you should try it and your first try will be much better than mine.  As for myself, I think I should plan a trip to Ilocos.

8065 Bagnet
8065 Estrella St., San Antonio Village, Makati City
Telephone: +632 519-6511
Operating Hours: 
Monday to Saturday 11am – 12mn; 
Sunday  5pm – 12mn

Monday, November 14, 2011

Just Katsu

I spent the better part of the afternoon walking - parked at Megamall, ran some errands, walked over to Podium and did the same, across to Anson's to close the deal, then back.  Navigating Megamall is always an ordeal.  They don't call it mega for nothing.  Were it not for my trusted FitFlops, my feet would have given up on me before I could even get out of Megamall.
By 8pm and I figured we were stuck with mall dining for dinner.  I wasn't too optimistic about our dining choices.  Looking around, we saw mostly quick service restaurant chains.  Well, we could have gone back to our old reliable Pho Hoa at the basement but being stuck with something familiar wasn't my thing that night.  So off we went, up and down, back and forth.  Fortunately, most of the restaurants are located at the Atrium and Bridgeway so we were going around in a relatively tight circle.  Just as we were about to give up and head towards Pho Hoa, a sign by the escalator caught our eye - Yabu, The House of Katsu.  "That's it," I said, "that's where we're eating."
We headed for the 2nd level of the Atrium, not expecting much.  The place looked attractive, modern and tastefully put together.  There was a good-sized crowd which was comforting.  The moment I opened that menu, I knew that we had a promising meal ahead of us.

It was simple.  Just katsu with a promise that what they served was exceptional.  My first choice was the Kurobuta pork katsu meal.  Our server declared that it was out of stock!  My enthusiasm down several notches, we settled for the Tonkatsu - pork for the husband and chicken for me.
We had a pair of appetizers while waiting.  We chose the Hiyayakko tofu and Wakame.

The wakame was nice and briny.  The tofu was firm and fresh.  When I took a bite though, a citrusy sourness hit me.  I have never tasted any sourness in a hiyayakko so I had them ask the chef what it was, just to make sure that there was nothing wrong with it.  Well, they took it back and said that they would replace it.  And they did, with Edamame and a fresh portion of Wakame.

Once served, the waiter mentioned that they put ponzu in the sauce for the hiyayakko.  So that's what was making it sour.  A slight twist.  Hmmmm...I would have wanted it back but by then it was too late.
I was fiddling around with the sauce tray while waiting for our main course to come.

The pig on the left held the pink salt, on the right was the bulldog sauce to be poured over your katsu with a small bamboo ladle, and Japanese pepper and chili.  Not in the photo are the salad dressings - sesame and vinaigrette.
Our tonkatsu meals arrived hot and steaming.

The tray held slices of watermelon and pineapple, Japanese pickles and cucumber, miso soup, bottomless shredded cabbage and thick, juicy cuts of Chicken Tonkatsu.  As promised, the katsu was crisp outside, tender in the center.  The Japanese rice was extra generous, the egg soft and curdy.  If there was anything I would think was less than perfect about this dish, it would be that it could have used more onions but other than that, it was excellent.  Raul's pork though had too much gristle or litid, making it tougher than it should have been.  The flavor though was spot on so he wasn't really complaining.
The Tonkatsu was listed at P265++ for the pork and P260++ for the chicken.  The meal ended with a large scoop of ice cream with their compliments.
The verdict: great value for money, a well-focused menu, exceptional food, service a bit confused (they opened 11-11-11 so they are excused), ambiance - well, being in a mall, expect lots of noisy kids.
My recommendation:  go for it!  I would definitely go back with Beau in tow.

Yabu is on the 2nd level of the Atrium of SM Megamall.  It is so new that it isn't even in the mall directory yet.  Trust me.  It is there.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Just Pork Chops

It's almost year end and this is only my second posting for 2010.  I still can't qualify as a real blogger, can I?  Well, the best thing I can do is make every posting count.  Excuses, excuses.

I went shopping at S&R (our local Costco) the other day and as I was browsing through the chillers as I am wont to do, my son and I found thick center cut frenched pork chops that were screaming "eat me, eat me!"  My son, the budding foodie, got all excited.  (Pork chops, after all, is his all time comfort food.)  In the cart they went, priced just a little higher than regular chops.

We're not fans of apple sauce so after scouring a few cookbooks, magazines and a few sites for a recipe, I decided to wing it.  First, I made a paste of garlic, fresh rosemary and olive oil.  Then, I seasoned the chops generously with salt and pepper and rubbed them with the garlic-rosemary paste.  I allowed them to marinate for about an our.

I don't have an oven where I stay in Manila (I know, I know) so I had to improvise.  How do I cook a 2-inch cut of meat evenly in a pan?  I figured, sear the meat on both sides then lower the flame to allow it to cook slowly.  I heated the cast iron pan to just below smoking point, oiled it with some regular olive oil then got those chops in there.

Aren't they so yummy gorgeous?

After searing on both sides, I turned down the heat and allowed the chops to cook 15 minutes each side for a total of 30 minutes.  And this was how they turned out.

I wrapped them in foil for about 10 minutes to seal in the juices then transferred them to individual plates.

I was too hungry to bother making the plate pretty so what you see is a tender, juicy, unadorned, crusty slab of pork.  I served it with gravy but on hindsight, I'm thinking maybe a garlic sauce would have worked better.  Hmmm...I need to get a hold of a recipe of that Casa Marcos vinegary garlic sauce that was good with everything.  Next time.

The verdict: it was great but not perfect.  I'll try reducing the cooking time to 25 minutes the next time.  I'll also try brining it another time.  Check back for results.  But in the meantime, go ahead and go for it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Spanish Style Oxtails Braised with Chorizos

I find working with food - cooking, writing, and eating; truly inspiring.  Luckily, I was asked once again to edit the second Aboitiz-Moraza Family Cookbook.  The first one was published in 2005 and this second one in 2010.  It wasn't easy but a wonderful experience nevertheless.  Unfortunately, the book isn't for sale nor is it for public consumption.  You must be given one by a member of the family.  So if you receive one,  lucky you.

I liked some recipes better than most and the Spanish Style Oxtails Braised with Chorizos was one of my favorites.  The first time I made it, I brought it to my brother Ernie's house.  He insisted that I leave all the leftovers.  I've tweaked the recipe since then and specified the ingredients that I think work well.  I've also provided you with shopping suggestions in my usual control freak style.  So now, this is my version.

At the request of my cousin Mari, I posted a photo of the dish on FB.  She just wanted to see, she said.  Well, I didn't expect the reaction that I got from a lot of other friends who are eager to try it.  It's been a while since I've posted anything so I might as well make this the newest one.

So to all of you fellow foodies and avid cooks, prepare for a day of slow cooking.  Patience is key.

Spanish Style Oxtails Braised with Chorizo

2 packs (3 kg more or less) pre-sliced skinless New Zealand
     oxtails (available at the frozen meat section of S&R)
1½ tbsp good quality Spanish olive oil
½ pc chorizo Pamplona (available at Santi's), casing removed,
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4 medium organically grown carrots (they are sweeter),
     coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf, fresh if possible (If you have no access to fresh,
     let me know.  I'll spare you some.)
½ tsp smoked Spanish paprika (available at Terry's)
1 cup white wine, Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc
     (available at S&R)
1 can (28-32 oz) whole Italian or Spanish tomatoes,
     crushed by hand together with juices
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
zest of 1 lemon, grated with a Microplane rasp
chopped parsley and cilantro for garnish
Rinse oxtails and pat dry with paper towel.  Season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a heavy Dutch oven over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.  Brown oxtails in batches in pot without crowding, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes per batch.  Set aside.

In the same pot, cook chorizo, onions, carrots, garlic and bay leaf over moderate heat, stirring occasionally about 6-7 minutes.  Add paprika.  Stir for 1 minute.  Add wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits in the pot.  Add oxtails and crushed tomatoes with their liquid.  There should be enough liquid to cover beef.  Add hot beef broth if necessary.  Bring to a boil. Cover pot and lower heat so that it comes to a gentle simmer. Cook until tender, about 6 hours.  Stir in parsley, cilantro and vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add lemon zest and stir.

Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with chopped parsley and sliced pimientos.

Serve with steaming brown rice and blanched haricot vert.

I don't want to say bon appetit and I can't think of a Pinoy translation.  Will "lasapin" work?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Broas, Osang's and Mango Icebox Dessert

Broas, Osang's and Mango Icebox Dessert

I grew up snacking on broas.  My mom would get cans of them from Quezon, Sariaya if I remember right.  I would have play afternoons with cousins and friends, gathering around the table for merienda, kneeling rather than sitting on our dining chairs, grabbing for broas, slathering them with Cheese Wiz, taking in bites alternately with Vienna sausage and gulps of Tang!  Horrors to me now but definitely not then.  Maturity, sophistication and all this hoopla about health ruined it for me.  The broas I still like but until fairly recently, I only ate the ones from Quezon.

Broas can be likened to lady fingers.  They are shaped the same and both have that thin sugar glaze on top.  However, the latter is tender and soft with just a little bite to it, more cakey than crisp.  The broas, on the other hand, are crisp and toasted at the bottom, fragile if done right.

Two years ago, I discovered Osang’s broas in Baclayon, Bohol.  A local told me that they were the best.  I arrogantly clung to the belief that the ones from Quezon couldn’t be equaled but I was desperate to take home some pasalubong.  I nonchalantly bought a bag, just one bag, took it home and left it on the kitchen counter.  Days later, I finally got around to trying them.  I fell in love at first bite. They were crisp, delicate with the right amount of sweetness, perfect paired with a steaming hot mug of coffee for me and a demitasse of thick dark tsokolate for my husband, sweet juxtaposed with bitter.  The bag went quickly and I realized that I made a mistake in buying only one bag.  On my next trip, I over compensated as I usually do when it comes to regrets in my life; I bought too much.  I gave away bags of broas to the people that I thought would truly appreciate them, my family mostly but I still ended up with more than we could eat in a month.  I had to figure out what to do with them.  I decided to tweak my sister's Mango Icebox Dessert recipe, using Tiramisu as an inspiration.  I came up with my own version, which has turned out to be quite a hit at potluck parties.

The recipe I have below is my personal recipe and it lists brands that I think work very well together.  I don't mean to advertise but yes, I am definitely endorsing them because I consider them to be the best available locally.  This dessert is full of natural sweetness from the mangoes.  It also makes a wonderful refreshing dessert for the summer, when mangoes are at their best.

Frozen Mango Dessert
1 can Milkmaid full cream condensed milk
2 bricks Nestle cream, whipped
pinch of salt
1 kg ripe Batungbacal mangoes
1/2 package Osang's broas
2 cans Philippines Best mango nectar

Cook the condensed milk into dulce de leche by peeling label off can and placing unopened can at the bottom of a pressure cooker.  Fill pot with water till it reaches an inch above the can.  Cook over medium high heat, timing it 1 hour after you hear the hiss of pressure.  Do not open pressure cooker until it is completely cooled.  If you do not have a pressure cooker, cook the can of condensed milk in a pot of simmering water for 3 to 4 hours.

Fold together dulce de leche, cream and salt.  Set aside.

Slice mangoes into 1/4" thick pieces.  Set aside.

Dip broas briefly one at a time in the mango nectar and layer in a square Pyrex dish.  Follow with cream mixture then arrange mango slices on top.  Continue to layer with broas, then cream, then mangoes ending with cream on top.  Sprinkle with broas crumbs.  Cover with foil or plastic film and freeze for at least 4 hours.

Serve frozen.

I just got back from a short trip to Bohol, at the behest of a good friend.  A visit always inspires such peace.  Maybe it's all that green of the fields and trees, crystal clear waters and simple lives; where life can be lived in moments, where days are long and the air is languid.  There are many places to visit where it feels like time stands still, charming and disarming.  You wish it stays that way but you realize that nothing ever stops, no matter how hard you try.

Bohol is at the crossroads of development, moving forward while holding on to its past, one foot in the future and the other in yesterday.  Its history and its natural beauty are its treasures.  A good friend and his partner are working with local communities to build lives and livelihood that work towards enlightened progress.  Programs that instill pride of place; preserve historical, cultural and natural heritage; respect the environment while making an honest living are in place.  Tourism is its anchor and Baclayon one of its enclaves.  Efforts at developing activities that will make people visit are currently taking place.

A walking cultural heritage tour of Baclayon is evolving and I had the opportunity to experience a run-through.  It starts at the baluarte, a lover's promenade of sorts, romance inspired by the sea; moves on to the market for some retail therapy, basket paradise to the uninitiated; segues to the historic Baclayon Church and grounds, a mainstay of all Bohol tours; and ends at Osang's where my story begins.

Osang's is right behind the church, accessible through an old wooden gate by the ruins of the stables when the ladies, the keepers of the  Church, say it is okay to pass.  Otherwise, mere mortals have to go through the street, at the periphery of the fence, an extra 100 meters or so.  It is in its original location, the old home and bakery of Osang, now bequeathed together with her secret recipe to her granddaughter Sylvia Maristela.  She cannot remember the year that her grandmother opened the bakery, only that she was still a little girl when her Lola Osang started to teach her how to make broas.

Sylvia continues to make the broas in the traditional manner, mixed by hand and baked in her grandmother's clay oven.  She begins by making the batter, a mixture of whole eggs, flour and sugar, in proportions that are the family's best kept secret.  No machines are used in preparing the batter to a consistency that only years of knowing intuitively can be achieved.  She pipes the batter by hand into aluminum trays that hold 10, using her index finger to keep them uniform in shape and size.

The tray of unbaked broas are then dusted with powdered sugar and baked in a charcoal fueled clay oven for a few minutes.

Once done, they are slow toasted over charcoal embers until they are perfectly crisp, bagged by  hand and kept in a large tin box ready to be sold.  How much does all this painstaking labor go for?  A mere Php100.00 per bag at the source.

Sylvia graciously offered a taste, straight from the coconut leaf spine racks, warm, toasty and slightly smoky from the ashen embers.  Delightfully irresistible I just had to ask for a second piece.

Maybe I will have that cheesy salty taste with the sweet broas again.  But this time, I'll go up a notch and use Imperial Cheese instead of Cheese Wiz. If you don't know what I'm talking about, ask your Canadian friends.