Thursday, March 30, 2006

LP8 Paslit Edition: Tinolang Native na Manok

My eldest, three years old and about to enter preschool in June, loves to pull a chair to clamber onto so he could watch whenever I'm cooking. His sister, only a year old, loves to do that, too, only she cannot pull a chair yet and has a bit of a difficulty climbing onto our dining chair. She resorts to reaching out her arms to me so I could carry her and bring her near the stove so she could say ampetáng! (mainit! hot!), but which sounds only 'petáng!

Just after we wake up in the mornings my son takes out from its box his sister's plastic play kitchen and proceeds to slice with a plastic knife his doughed up clay, telling me to wait for the breakfast he is preparing for me.

As such, that is the extent of kid cooking in the house, which is the theme for this month's Lasang Pinoy, hosted by Iska at Edible Experiments. So I'm harking back to my childhood to tell of my own adventures in the kitchen.

Which, truth to tell, does not amount to much. I am one of those kids who never took to cooking - I was not interested, and seeing that, my mother didn't see any reason to kindle a flame inside of me. It was a chore I was exempted from, and I have to say I was happy, because that meant I was exempted from the marketing chores, too. I was more interested in other things, like eating what others cooked (so I loved going to parties), for one, and feeding to the cats and dogs the leftovers from our meals. And my mother let it go at that.

Little would she know how I would take to cooking later on in my life, sustained, and borne out of necessity, by my love for food and eating, and which benefits me so much now that I have a family of my own.

But back then, I only had stints in community/family food preparation activities, like rolling and forming rice dough into balls (bilo-bilo) for kinilér (ginataang halohalo/bilobilo). Or burying cashew pods under live coals, to later unearth and crack for the sweet, toasted nuts of malóko within. Or the backbreaking tasks of shelling cacao beans, pounding chocolate mixture and forming them into the native tsokoláte tabléas that my family was known for in our hometown.

I was sometimes asked to cook rice. I washed the rice until the water ran clear, and I could never get the right water level (I don't know if this has something to do with my long fingers? For non-Filipino readers, this relates to a time-honored Filipino practice of measuring water to put in a pot of rice by the finger joints), so the family ate rice that smelled burnt but remained uncooked, or too watery that my dad once thought we were having arroz caldo for dinner.

I was marked for that, and until now I always think I cannot cook rice properly so I ask my children's nannies to take care of it. Sometimes when I have no choice, salt on the rice pot lid and some mumbled prayers do miracles, but I think I just get lucky.

I remember, when we lived in my paternal grandparents' house, having a miniature set of clay cooking equipment, complete with a pot, a clay stove, some ladles, which could be used to cook food like the real thing (primitive though as it was, a pot and a clay stove used to be the only means to cook when I was a child, and we still have it now to cook food that has to have the taste of a woodfire, and requires clay cooking for even heat distribution).

I never was able to cook anything in my play set, of course, but my dad's cousins, who took care of the cooking in the house, once cooked a real tinola (chicken in broth and vegetables) with it. Of course it was just a cup of it.

In remembrance of that memory, and of my days of self-imposed ignorance, which could have had debilitating effects on my stature as wife to a socially active husband, and mother to growing kids, had I not found the necessity of cooking and the natural instinct to do so, I celebrate this month's Lasang Pinoy with tinola. The tinola cooked in my paternal grandparents' house during family Sunday dinners, using free-range chicken raised in the backyard.

I don't raise free-range chickens, but they can be bought at the public market, alive, every Wednesday and Sunday, the market days in my hometown. I have seen "organic" dressed chickens sold by Rustans, but at the price of P500/kilo, it's rather a laughable idea.

When buying native chicken alive (identified by, at the least, colored feathers), it is best to tie it in the backyard for a few days, feeding it just grains. This so it could expel anything it has eaten from the soil, cleansing its intestines, assuring that it won't be very malansa when cooked.

A dressed native chicken has tawny or yellowish skin, bonier than the commecially raised white leghorn (especially the drumstick), and often has unborn eggs. It is the best, the one and only chicken to use for me, for cooking tinola, because slow-cooking for hours renders its fat and brings out the full flavors from its well-exercised bones, making the broth incomparable in taste.

The medicinal taste sometimes found in commercial chickens can never be encountered in native chicken, and you are sure that you are not eating anything peppered with growth boosters and antibiotics and other synthetics from the time it hatched from its egg.

Cooking native chicken tinola requries a lot of ginger, and a pot full of water, wherein the chicken is boiled for about two to three hours. In a pressure cooker it can soften in about 30-45 minutes, up to one hour when it has already hatched many a batch of eggs (the chicken locally called "cull" in slang).

When the chicken is cooked the choice vegetables are added. For us it is peeled unripe papaya from the backyard, cut to thick cubes, halved potatoes and carrots, and some whole peppercorns for flavor. When the vegetables are almost done, young marunggay (malunggay, moringa olefeira) leaves plucked from the trees in front are added to the soup.

The chicken, and the vegetables, and the soup, make for a complete meal requiring nothing else but steaming hot rice (not cooked by me), and maybe some sweets afterwards. It is healthy fare, invigorating, cold-chasing, but best of all flavorful and a celebration of things growing around you.

Related Posts

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Shiitake-Potato Omelet

Cafe By the Ruins, my most beloved Baguio restaurant, calls this simply vegetable omelet. It is a simple enough omelet - tender slices of blanched shiitake mushrooms and julienned boiled potatoes moistened by a little mayonnaise and some melted cheese, lovingly enclosed by perfectly scrambled eggs.

But it is nowhere near light. Paired with the restaurant's freshly-baked, fiber-rich kamote (sweet potato) bread or English muffins or cinnamon rolls (in photo are some slices of Good Shepherd Marian loaf), and, just to be indulgent, a cup of hot tsokolate, it makes for a heavy breakfast fare that could sustain you through uphill walks in and around the city.

It is one of my three favorite dishes the restaurant serves year-round that contain shiitake mushrooms (the other two being a delicious shrimp-sotanghon soup and forest stream soup), although they are seriously impaired when fresh shiitake mushrooms are not available in the Cordilleras (they never use dried shiitake). So I only order these three when it's shiitake season, which is right about just now, or cook some when I can't go to Baguio.

But Cafe By the Ruins is not only about the fresh shiitake, available or not. It has a host of many other inspired dishes not found in other eating holes in the city, and elsewhere in the country. And comfort food dishes done with admirable and palate-gratifying aplomb, sometimes infused with delicious quirks and twists. Before they were introduced in Metro Manila restaurants, lemongrass iced tea and fish roe topped creamy pasta (the fish roe in cream also doubling as a dip for the excellent breads) have long been favorites at the highland cafe.

Cafe By the Ruins is the only purveyor I know of the slow food and slow cooking philosophies in the country, though I don't think it does so consciously. The menu was constructed around what ingredients are available in the Cordilleras, and what can be grown in the small plot beside the restaurant. Daily specials feature what's in season, with an option for a full vegetarian meal. A lot of the dishes allow for minimal or no cooking, and highlight the fresh vegetables and fruits of the region. Of course, dishes from around the area make an appearance here, so there's pinikpikan and bangus and longganiza, and basi and hot tapuey.

In short, everything is in context, and, needless to say, healthy. Smoking in the premises is not allowed, and no softdrinks and alcoholic beverages is served, except for wines and the local basi and tapuey. Rice is the red variety grown in the highlands. The cafe building itself uses local materials, and displays artworks from the artist-owners. No plastic tables and chairs - northern Luzon is not known for wood furniture for nothing. Even the comfort rooms sport organic deodorizer - no albatross discs anywhere, but an engagingly sweet scent exudes from a bunch of dalia flowers, freshening up one's psyche.

It's paradise a few levels below heaven.

Other posts on food at Cafe by the Ruins:
Adobo sa Mangga
Shiitake-Watercress Soup
Lunch at Cafe by the Ruins

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sayote Tops

The cheapest, most common, available year-round vegetable from Baguio City and the Cordilleras is the sayote, chayote in English (Sechium edule). Ten pesos can make you richer by about five, heavy pear-shaped fruits, or a really thick bundle of tops or young leaves. This is because sayote is easy to cultivate - it grows everywhere, can be harvested weekly, and needs minimal care. The fruits keep a long time, and lend untold sweetness to any soup or stew.

It is not favored, though, in my family. Probably because unripe papayas are held in such high esteem, while the sayote fruit, like the eggplant and other water-logged fruits, is dismissed as just containing water and not much else. And partly because it is so common and available. The leaves feel so rough to the tongue and are too chewy.

I'm trying to remedy that now that I am grown up and managing my own kitchen. I still haven't gotten over my childhood indifference to the fruit, though I try to have it as often as once a week in a tahong-halaan tinola. But it is the tops that I have quite developed a love affair with.

My sister, influenced by her in-laws, taught me a great dish using the young leaves. The tops, including the tendrils but with the tough bottom stalks removed, are sliced and sauteed with tomatoes, julienned potatoes and oyster mushrooms, and flavored with tiny shrimps. A little water is added for some broth, and for the stalks to soften in a little.

I have come to adore the green leafy taste of the dish, a bit peppery but with sweet hints, punctuated by the light sourness of the tomatoes and the earthiness of the mushrooms. The potatoes provide starchy, soft points to contrast to the leafy bites. Paired with a chop of teriyaki-glazed tuna belly, or any other grilled fatty fish, such as Bonuan bangus or salmon, it provides for a scrumptious and satisfying evening meal.

So when in Baguio buying sayote tops is a must for me. Of course after a healthy dose of Good Shepherd products. Dealers of Baguio vegetables in my hometown and in Dagupan City always stock up bundles of it, and I always see some in the vegetable crisper sections of major supermarkets in Metro Manila. However, these are, almost always, wilted or ready to wilt.

This is understandable, since they have undergone hours of traveling and being tossed here and there. They are quite sensitive, actually. Even in Baguio, those harvested in the morning and remain unsold in the afternoons are already droopy. This is true for most leafy vegetables, anyway. They don't travel well, and they really can't be stored, even in the refrigerator. Which brings the necessity of going to the market on the day you want to cook and eat them.

Related Posts
Kabute sa Punso
Sigarilyas, Papaya, Kabute, Gabi

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tinapay: Cinnamon Swirl Loaf

This is part of a series, "Tinapay," about local breads and cookies at street corner bakeries across the Philippines.
Baguio City being a mere 1 1/2 hour ride from my hometown, not a year passes by without at least a visit to the country's summer capital. Its proximity also affords us lowlanders the privilege of avoiding the crowds and going there during tourist off-peak seasons. As such, we get to avoid the frenzy, and can take our own sweet time enjoying what the mountain city has to offer.

But a Baguio trip is, and should be, never complete without a visit to the Good Shepherd Convent, along the end of Gibraltar Road and just before you hit Mines View Park. Even if it is so out of the way, a good twenty minute drive from the center of the city.

I may forego the fresh highland vegetables at the market, breakfast and probably all meals at Cafe By the Ruins, the bulalo at Rito's, batchoy at the PMA bowling lanes, the chicken at Rose Bowl, pancit at Star Cafe, some pasta at the original Don Henrico's, and the ubiquitous walis, but never, never, will I leave Baguio without paying my respects to the nuns, even if sometimes it means we have to drive from one mountain to another (good thing I don't drive, but better that the hubby indulges me).

For you see, the Good Shepherd Convent does not only produce the one and only ube jam non-pareil, as well as a complete line of strawberry products - from fresh fruits to syrup to preserved whole fruit to spread to jam to jelly to the newest low sugar 100% fruit - but also a whole slew of bakery products that are a class in themselves and are, at times, undeservedly overshadowed by the famous jams.

Foremost of these is the cinnamon swirl loaf.

All travel books I've read about the Philippines that had been written by foreigners are one in pronouncing the Cordilleras as cinnamon bread haven. And going around the region, I found that to be excellently true. From the town bakeries of Banawe to the market bakeshops of Bontoc to the foreign-influenced restaurants in Sagada, down to the anciently revered Star Cafe and space cowboy inhabited 468 along Session Road in Baguio, one can always find and be comforted by soft, sweet bread redolent with the aromatic spice.

Good Shepherd elevates this reputation to new, hard-to-scale heights. In a light, fluffy, buttery moist loaf, inside of which cinnamon has left a whirling and twirling, fragrantly sweet trail. And I could eat a whole loaf, because it comforts me so much, but which is rather impractical since the price has now increased from the original Php5o per loaf ten years ago to Php75 nowadays. And more so because I'm leaving no room in my stomach for not much else.

But then again it's alright, because I always, always, bring extra money for hoarding the bakery items because, unlike the fresh strawberries, they are such good travelers and keep so well in the refrigerator for more than a week.

A national broadsheet, before it went online, once zeroed in on the jarred cookies - alfajores, crinkles, etc. The famous angel cookies, too, so-called because they contain trimmings of the Roman Catholic host, and which I've sent to a blogging by mail partner in New Zealand. There's a whole wheat "Marian" loaf, which is a bit dry, but satisfyingly multi-grain, without giving the sensation of crunching on pebbles in your mouth.

There are two counters in the selling area atop the hill where the convent is located, past the basketball court and the commissary where the business first ventured out. The counter to your left is where ube jam and the bakery items are sold, while the one to the right is where the various fruit preserves and nut products are. Recently a nipa hut kiosk had been added, at a right angle to the ube jam counter, selling meryenda or snack items.

This is a good development, the better to highlight the "other" first-rate products being sold, which are now a distance away from the frequently disgruntled ube customers.

So you can concentrate on the refreshing strawberry-lemon cooler, or a brew from the region's Arabica plantations. To go with, more importantly, the lusciously delightful mound of ensaymada with a generous topping of grated cheese that is worthy of another post. And (yes, and) the adobo pandesal, filled to bursting with chewy pork shreds with a bonus slice of boiled egg, that is so delicious to eat warm under the Baguio morning sun.

There are new products that have been included in the kiosk - chicken pie and baked siopao. And a big cookie peppered with hard, unmelting chocolate chips, on which you may be in danger of choking as I had been. Maybe the date cookies, which had ran out, are better. The peanut-almond cookies are passable. Cookies are definitely not the nuns' expertise. Except for the angel ones, of course.

But those are just a few among all the many other excellent products the convent makes. A bite alone into the cinnamon loaf and you'll be smitten, forever. Guaranteed. And I'm not even talking about the jams yet.


  • You are more than welcome to buy after the Holy Week and for the rest of the year (you'd be more lucky in being able to snatch a bottle of that most-coveted ube jam), but be warned, though, Good Shepherd claims no responsibility for products sold under the Mountain Maid brand at outlets other than in the convent, whether in Baguio or elsewhere. So go to Baguio! And buy Good Shepherd, even if it is the only thing you bring home. Never mind the walis.

  • Emblazoned on every Good Shepherd jar and and plastic wrap is the statement that every product you buy helps the convent in sending someone to school. Do patronize Good Shepherd products. The premium you pay for first-rate quality food products and the effort to go to their store are more than worth it. You are also fulfilling your alms-giving duty this Lenten Season, at the same time satisfying your palate. Hitting two birds with one stone - a bit odd, since Lent is about fasting and abstinence, but that's just me, hehe.

  • Related post
    Bahay Pastulan Goodies, products of Good Shepherd nuns in Tagaytay City

    Other Baguio Goodies
    Vizco's Strawberry Shortcake
    Choco-Strawberry Float

    The Tinapay Series

    Thursday, March 23, 2006


    This is a traditional Pangasinan kánen (kakanin, rice pudding), made by cooking together glutinous rice, gata or coconut cream and sinákob (panutsa, molasses cakes) or brown sugar. Inkaldít to Pangasinenses residing in the central part of the province, patopát to the outlying areas with Ilocano influences. It is much like the Tagalog bíko, the difference is that the partially cooked rice is put inside onós - young coconut leaves stripped of its thin backbone or tingting - woven into fat rectangles, then steamed.

    Like the Visayan pusô, too, although bigger, and this is sweet, and eaten by itself, for a late breakfast, perhaps, or mid-morning snacks.

    The woven coconut leaf casing makes this delicacy handy, although it's a bit sticky (which gives good reason for indulging in the childish joy of licking fingers), and preserves it well. Unlike bíko, latík, or any other "naked" kakanin spread on a biláo (woven bamboo winnowing tray), inkaldít can last up to several days, and can be stored in the refrigerator, just needing some steaming to soften it up again.

    Paradoxically, though, however pretty the lattice design the casing imparts on the rice, the "skin" makes it hard to get to the sweet, sticky treat inside. You would need a sharp knife to cut the leaves, and by the time you've realized that you've already smeared your fingers with the brown syrup seeping out of the weave, and you likewise smear the knife, making it slick-difficult to handle. But you don't want to wash your hands. You want to lick them. Go on, nobody's looking. But there's still the slippery knife. You lick it, too, the handle, the blade, and so you cut your tongue...

    Next time remember to have a knife ready, and cut in the middle through the skin and onto the rice. You pull back the cut coconut leaves, proceed with dainty, tiny bites until the case is empty, consuming one of the two halves in three bites before proceeding to the second half. Three rectangles are sold knotted together, which logically tells you that all three means one serving for one person, and so you're welcome to eat them all. Just be sure not to eat anything else for the rest of the day.

    When the glutinous rice used is newly-harvested, inkaldít is pure, soft, gooey bliss (so you understand how it can be eaten so fast). Some, though, mix in ordinary rice, making the inkaldít mabató (literally, "stony," or interspersed with hard grains, used to refer to impure grains and legumes). So you have to know from whom you're buying it, although in hard times that is no guarantee for really soft inkaldít made entirely of ansák-ket.

    So if only I'm an expert weaver, I'll make some inkaldít myself. But until I learn the ropes, I just have to buy from trusted makers around harvest time up until about July, when planting time starts, and signals the time of gáwat (literally "to reach," but also used to refer to hard times). Maybe Inday Sha can teach me how to make pusô, and I'll take it from there.

    Wednesday, March 22, 2006

    Montaño Sardines

    One of the great benefits of working for an agency with a nationwide branch network is access to the cornucopia of regional delicacies without even moving a foot out of my office workstation. Inter-branch employee swaps happen all the time, for training, seminar-workshops, audits, as well as case presentations and the like.

    It is a well-acknowledged fact that my co-workers in the countryside branches are the most hospitable lot. You are treated like a celebrity when you visit the branch - toured around, taken to the best eating places and loaded with food and souvenirs to bring back home. But most importantly, you are never forgotten when it is their turn to come visit you.

    I have had the luck of meeting colleagues from across the archipelago. And so I have eaten my way from Laoag to Jolo, forgive the exaggeration, by way of well-appreciated pasalubong from branch colleagues, and sometimes even from workmates returning from provincial stints.

    And so before I ever set foot in Dipolog City in northwestern Mindanao, I have been enjoying for years the city's pride, Spanish style sardines made and sold under the Montaño brand.

    The sardines, beheaded and cooked whole in corn oil with salt, whole peppercorns, some pickles, carrots and chilies, came in clear botttles with a green label, and were hot. Hot enough to make you forget the oiliness of the fare, but tame enough to let the fresh sweetness of the sardines shine through. I say they're sweet - no fishy hint or malansa taste, allowing me to conclude that they have been handled with the greatest care - cleaned thoroughly and processed straight from the sea, and flavored just right.

    All other brands pale in comparison, and are like bilasang isda, when set beside Montaño's sardines. I stopped buying bottled and canned sardines from supermarkets, and just waited for windfall, which happened about once a year, from Dipolog. When I did get to visit the city I hoarded dozens of bottles, and that year I felt so rich to have the privilege of indulging in Montaño's bottled sardines.

    Several years ago, though I have maintained good relations with co-employees in Mindanao, I have stopped relying on generosity when I found out, with a very big sigh of relief, that Rustan's supermarkets have started carrying Montaño sardines. The supply was sporadic at first, but I didn't mind, as long as I had my sardine fix at least once a year I managed to get on well with life.

    And then every trip to the grocery became an excitement of sorts, because, first, there appeared sardines in tomato sauce. This variant is not hot, but still great, with tomatoes in oil, not the usual thick sarsa in canned sardines. And then there appeared Spanish style sardines in olive oil. I'm tickled pink to be anticipating other variants. And my corporate strategy training is silently applauding these developments, because one superb means for a company to stay afloat and have long-term viability is diversification, and Montaño is doing just that. I'm assured of enjoying high quality gourmet sardines for a long time yet.

    The last two variants gave me the idea to top the olive oil sardines on pasta with pesto sauce, in a way replicating that great dish I once had (forgot the name) at Italian chain Cibo. The tomato sardines goes well with pasta mixed with its tomato sauce. I found this bottle of red pesto (pesto with sun-dried tomatoes) made by Philippo Berio, and I tried it with the tomato sardines, but I was disappointed with the muted pesto taste. The tomato sauce of the sardines was way better.

    For this pasta dish it would be nice to use angel hair or capellini pasta. For a great way to cook your own fish Spanish style, may I refer you to fellow Filipino blogger Ting, who has perfected her own Spanish style recipe through the years.

  • Montaño sardines available in most Rustan's and SM supermarkets.

  • Tuesday, March 21, 2006


    Sometimes happiness is as simple as being able to buy a handful of baég (about 50 grams at Php10) to put in a pot of pakbet (pinakbet), or mix in a stew of balatóng (munggo, mung beans) sauteed with chopped, ripe tomatoes. It becomes a joy, really, because the tree, or more appropriately the woody, high-growing shrub, bears only seasonally these light-green, textured, long spindly flowers that turn into a vegetable for us Northerners (Ilocanos and Pangasinenses).

    The shrub does not benefit from any blossom-inducing chemical spray since it is not much known outside of the Ilocos region, although I've heard it proliferates even in the Batangas area, where they eat it as a vegetable, too. But it is well that it is kept organic, since I'm well aware how access to fresh, unadulterated produce can be a pricey privilege in this time and place.
    Baég (Allaeanthus luzonicus) is endemic to the Philippines, also known as alokon or himbabao in Ilocano. It is rich in vitamins A, B and C, and contains calcium, phosphorus, potassium and iron. It is mixed in the Ilocano dish inabrao, or a vegetable stew of tomatoes, sitaw (string beans) and patani (fresh lima beans), flavored by pieces of grilled pork. In Pangasinan it is called baég, with the requisite Pangasinan guttural ę that all Filipinos outside of the province find so hard to pronounce (it is like the e in brother, or the second e in eagle - easy, right?).

    Baég makes any dish more aromatic, but only subtly so. It adds texture, and additional roughage, to any vegetable dish that is sinágsagán (having as base stock seasoned with the salted, fermented fish paste bagóong). When cooked it turns vibrant green, soft and a bit slick. It can be had by itself, sauteed with shrimps, or in some places with bisukol or kuhol, snails, cooked in gata or coconut cream (definitely not in the Ilocos region).

    In Pangasinan it is most commonly cooked with pakbet, a mix of okra, eggplants, tomatoes, palya (ampalaya, bitter gourd/melon), all put together in a boiling pot of sinágsagán and agát (luya, ginger). The pakbet shown here (photo above) also contains cubes of kamote (sweet potato), also a common practice and to which I have some objections, but I allow it because of the kamote's beneficial contents (vitamin A, calcium, soluble fiber and resistant starch), especially for kids.

    It is now the season for baég. My cup runneth over.

    Related Post
    Baeg with Moringa Pods

    Friday, March 17, 2006

    Tinapay: Inipit

    This is part of an ongoing series, "Tinapay," about local breads and cookies at street corner bakeries across the Philippines.
    As the last few days have, all of a sudden, been sultry, I just came to realize that we're now officially in the middle of the travelling season. Tourist trips across the country usually start in October, when rainy days become sparse, and the cool weather is a boon to hikes and treks. Beach trips, though, are postponed until the onset of summer, so the waters are comfortably warm and free of jellyfish, and the possibilitiy of being caught in a storm on- and offshore is minimized.

    And so now, with all travel gears on high, all those not fortunate enough to schedule their trips earlier or who waited for summer to begin should expect all tourist spots to be clogged. Not that it's a bad thing, if what one craves is a full party. Like a whole herd of whale sharks, perhaps.

    I mind crowds, but I don't mind travelling at this time. Because for me, the fun is as much in arriving as in getting there. Especially during long trips by land. You get to see vistas upon vistas opening before your eyes, ever changing in shape, structure and hue every few kilometers or so. And of course, long driving requires frequent stops, and this makes the trip even more enriching.

    For the heretofore visual becomes an experience once you step out of the vehicle. You get to feel more of the place where you stop, which becomes a bonus because it is not in your itinerary. And, what's more important, you get to eat something that is, in all likelihood, not likely to appear on your buffet table in your final destinaton.

    Which was my main point, all along, in this post - it just, as usual, took me a long-winded while to come to it. Because that is how I came to meet Bulacan's pride, inipit. Not the dry, parchy inipit being sold now in individual foil packs in supermarkets, but the boxed soft, moist, chiffon layers hugging a richly spread sweet custard, where it derives its name ("sandwiched"), and topped with a generous melt of margarine and sprinkled sugar crystals.

    Bulacan is a province marked by history, but for me it had been just a province I pass by to and from Pangasinan on the North Expressway. Before I studied in college I didn't know anyone there, and so I could not have known the epicurean treasures it held, if not for that Shell stop-over along NLEX a few kilometers after the toll gate. Of course, Bulacan inipit can now be bought in malls in the city, but before that development I had been privileged to know the delicacy due to my travelling.

    We had been taught not to buy food at bus terminals and stop-overs - later on it became a conquer your fear factor for me - and I had ranted about the general condition of comfort rooms that we had to go to when on the road. I had learned to endure nature calls for hours because of this. And so everybody heaved a sigh of relief, and welcomed with open arms the first gasoline station with clean and fresh-smelling comfort rooms and decent food ever to exist along NLEX. Never mind that it was just fifteen minutes along your trip out of Manila.

    Before gasoline stations became virtual malls there was Shell Tollway Plaza, with Shell Select the only outlet to sell food - foil-packed, bottled, canned - all trappings of a convenient store. But there was a shelf or two carrying local bakeshop goodies, probably from the nearest town, which was Malolos.

    There were pianono, egg-topped ensaymada, taisans, etc. The inipit sold was not made by Eurobake, which I heard made the best one, but by Mil-Rose. But this became the inipit for me, to which all other inipit I ate and eat were and are compared. And it is still the inipit I buy.

    It has the comforting look and feel of a provincial treat, made with love and care, unbelievably delicious, teeth happy to sink into the moistly spongy goodness alternating with the sweet custard. It always gets dismissed by provincial folk to whom it is given as a pasalubong, because it looks common, even ordinary, but once they try it I always see their eyes lighting up. And always, always, they reach out for more until the box is empty.

    Gasoline stations have since then mushroomed along the lane going north, farther and farther from the toll gate. There are several others now, too, on the opposite side, going south on the way back to Manila. A lot of the chain establishments have also opened outlets side by side with one another inside the gasoline stations.

    Even South Luzon Expressway is now dotted with large gasoline stations, too, with fine-dining offerings, to boot. Their comfort rooms are as nice as those in five-star hotels, sometimes even nicer. There are no regional delicacies sold, though. Food is what you can find all over Metro Manila. The only regional dining outlet, a grilling station selling aromatic Batangas beef burgers, closed shop just recently.

    In Metro Manila, they are starting to employ the same strategy. All gasoline stations now carry a food outlet, and one, a Petron station at the corner of Buendia and Makati Avenue, right smack in the commercial business district in Makati and so near the red light district that is Burgos, has built a building for dining outlets.

    But I still make it a point to stop by Shell Tollway Plaza. Shell Select is still open, and still carries inipit. I heard that when the lease expired Shell decided not to renew the franchise and took it back, so to benefit from the burgeoning profits itself. I don't have cause to complain - it has not deteriorated in service, and now offers a lot of choices for refreshment - but only as long as it carries inipit.

    Related Post
    Barasoain Inipit

    The Tinapay Series

    Thursday, March 16, 2006

    Tahong-Halaan Tinola

    [Mussel-Clam Ginger Soup]

    I understand that the term tinola in Metro Manila, and probably in other parts of the country, as well, is sauteed chicken in gingered soup with sayote (chayote, sechium edule) tuber and sili (bird's eye chili) leaves. So I'm calling this soup tinola, since it's basically tinola, only with steamed tahong and halaan out of their shells and not chicken.

    The cleaned (washed and trimmed) mussels and clams are boiled in a pan of water with a piece of ginger that was peeled and whacked by a wooden ladle (I'm trying to say pinitpit, but how do you say that in English? It sounds like pinalo to me). Crushed ginger, maybe, but only with a single whack, or else the soup will be too fiery hot.

    When the shells have opened, take them out of the pan, let cool for a while, then pick out the meat from all opened shells. Put back the meat into the pan, discarding the empty shells and all unopened ones. The mussel and clam meat are usually sauteed in minced garlic and onions prior to putting them back into the soup, but I skip this to reduce on cooking oil intake.

    Bring the soup back to a boil, then add sliced sayote tubers, adding in the sili leaves, and maybe a couple of green sili (siling pansigang), when the sayote has turned a bit transparent. Season with salt and ground pepper to taste.

    This is a very tasty soup, not quite a tinola (no chicken flavor) and not quite a clam/mussel soup because of the sweetish presence of the vegetables, but with all the ingredients so comfortable together that they seem to think they were made for one another. Mind-clearing, clean-tasting soup despite the cloudy appearance, flavorful chewy mussels, succulent sayote slices and the bitter-green notes of the sili leaves, all providing varying textures and flavor contrasts.

    It's a low-calorie, low-fat, nutrient laden dish. Perfect for Lent, but nonetheless a delicious and easy soup to make any time of the year, since all the ingredients are perenially available, and costs almost nothing. I could eat an entire bowlful of this on a hot day.

    I learned to make this from a friend who grew up in Cavite. I have to note, though, that I forgot to ask what they call it there where the mussels come from, and that I'm calling it tinola because I know tinola is a clear, gingery soup with chicken, or, if preceded by a qualifier, with whatever is referred to by the qualifier, like fish tinola, which doesn’t contain chicken, and is called pesa in Tagalog. Although in Pangasinan we do not have beef tinola or pork tinola, but instead we have laúya, both referring to pork (nilagang baboy) and beef (nilagang baka).

    All of these are clear soups flavored with ginger, usually with green leafy vegetables and a starchy root crop, the kind of vegetables added varying and depends on the kind of meat used. Both the dark-leafed, native (meaning indigenous to the Philippine islands) pechay (bok choi, pak choy) and marunggay (moringa oleifera) are favored leafy accompaniments (not together, though, either one or the other) for all kinds of meat, including fish. In their absence cabbage is for beef, Chinese/Baguio pechay is for pork, or green beans for both.

    To up the vegetable content, sliced green, unripe apayas (papaya) are also added to the soup, regardless of what else is in it. Potatoes and carrots are also added, and so the meat/fish becomes only one of the ingredients instead of the star attraction. But we stop at that, and never add seba, saba bananas because a sweetish hint is virtually unknown, and frowned upon, in Pangasinan savory dishes. And so chicken tinola does not contain sayote and sili leaves for Pangasinenses, but is a gingery soup chockfull of vegetables enhanced by garlic, whole peppercorns and salt, or patis, or sometimes the salted fish paste bagoong.

    Related posts on tahong
    Grilled/Crispy Fried Tahong
    Kasilyo-Topped Baked Tahong
    Daing na Tahong from Puerto Princesa

    Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    Chippy-Crusted Fish Nuggets

    Early on in my cooking I got tired of boring old bland bread crumbs, so now I spice up anything fried with the generations-enduring, age-defying snack chips all Filipinos know - Chippy, the first corn chips ever to reach across the country (at least in my generation) before the likes of Granny Goose and the more recent Ruffles and Lays. And locally manufactured at that.

    Chippy first came out, and stayed on for decades, in only one flavor - in the red foil pack, in salty, barbeque-flavored rectangular chips. It is now identified as barbeque flavor because there are now two other Chippy flavors, chili & cheese and vinegar.

    When I had been experimenting with my chicken roll I had wanted to have a crunchy, flavorful crust. I first tried the proven coating of flour-egg-cornstarch, which came out crunchy, but too dusty/chalky for the tongue, and tasteless besides. One day I just saw the Chippy pack that had been sitting for ages on the kitchen shelf, since in the family we have not been really fans of junk food. I put it to good use, and have never looked back since.

    Of course I would try other corn chips (potato chips crumble easily, defeating the crunchiness purpose), but nothing beats Chippy in flavor. The chili & cheese variant is perfect for cordon bleu/chicken roll, while the vinegar flavor matches battered fish fillet, with the original barbecue transcending everything, especially deep-sea fish needing a strong marinade.

    The best fish nuggets I've cooked so far are fillets of tanigue cut into 2-inch squares, marinated in calamansi juice, finely crushed (pounded in a mortar) garlic and salt overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to cook they are first dredged in flour, dipped in beaten eggs, then coated with roughly crushed Chippy, and fried in hot oil for two minutes on both sides.

    I never crumble the Chippy too finely, or the nuggets won't be crunchy, and the flavor won't be perceptible (at least for me, but I've had people in awe by Chippy pounded to dust). I just make a little opening in the foil pack to let out the air, and crumble the chips inside with my hands.

    The same process can be applied to chicken fillet, with the same marinade, and with the same delicious and crunchy result. Different strokes, for different folks. Serve with garlic mayonnaise and sweet chili sauce for dipping.

    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Bihod Sauté

    Something for Lent. As a child I was given the roe from bulging fish cooked in sinigang - the traditional Filipino soup of fresh fish in clear sour broth. And it stuck - I've always given premium to fish roe, extending to fat squid thick with doughy filling. And I'm not referring to stuffed squid.

    The fish we consumed were small, though, relatively speaking. As big as a palm, with fish roe as thick as a thumb, curling up when cooked. And I was content about that, the sweetish treat crumbling to tiny dots in my mouth.

    Until I went to Metro Manila to study, and met many friends from around the country, and travelled to their homes, trying out many regional cuisines. And I found out tuna can be as tall as a man. Roe as long as my arm. And cooked by itself, separate from the mother fish.

    Oh, that first taste of grilled yellowfin tuna bihod from Davao! Retaining its shape, like a long fat bratwurst sizzling on coals. Eaten as it is, just with a dipping sauce of soy and vinegar spiced by chopped onions. It was magical for me.

    Since then I have always asked fishmongers selling deep-sea meaty fish if they have some bihod. I'm not always lucky, since there are only two roe coils per fish, and these are sold very early in the morning, while I'm still in bed. And then not all tuna are female, and not even all female pregnant all the time. My luck frequency is about once a month, which is just fine so the bihod could retain delicacy status.

    I've tried roe sold in Metro Manila wet markets coming from tambakol, yellowfin, bluefin, tanigue. The first one has the most fishy (malansa) taste, while the last one is so creamy it almost tastes like milk, and it has become my favorite. It is the rarest, however, so I settle for tuna eggs whenever it is available. The downside to this, however, is that I have come to view roe from small fish as inferior, and I have lost my taste for them. Small fry, as they say.

    To cook, sauté some garlic (I always pound them in a kitchen mortar), adding minced onion when the garlic has turned golden brown. When the onion has become transparent add chopped tomatoes (amount depends on whether you like a lot of tomatoes in your cooking or not entirely at all). Stir and let cook for a while. Slice/chop the bihod thinly, then add to the wilted tomatoes. Stir and cook for about five minutes. Sprinkle ground white pepper and salt to taste. Garnish with chopped spring onion and serve hot, with steamed rice or toast. On pasta, too!

    Friday, March 10, 2006

    SHF 17 (Dairy): Arroz Tres Leches

    At the Panamian food stall at last year's DFA International Bazaar was a cold dessert in a cup called arroz tres leches, or rice with three kinds of milk. It was one of several Panamian food offerings which were locally cooked/made, and mostly involved rice.

    At first I was intrigued about the dessert's name, wondering what kinds of special milk were used. Upon inquiry, one of the ladies manning the booth answered that they used fresh milk, evaporated milk and condensed milk, and that the dessert also contained some raisins and a sprinkling of cinnamon/nutmeg. Though I was a bit disappointed with the ordinariness of the milk involved, I still bought a cup.

    For rice is a staple in Philippine cuisine, omni- and ever-present, eaten steamed or stir-fried with fish, poultry, meats, vegetables, fruits, coffee, chocolate, from sunrise to sundown. It is also made into sweets, like cakes and puddings, in various forms - ground, toasted, steamed - usually mixed with gata or coconut cream and sugar. Sweetened rice in all its variations are eaten as mid-morning or afternoon snacks, or as breakfast, and even as dessert.

    But I have not yet come across a traditional Filipino rice dish using milk. Milk freshly warm from a carabao's teats poured over steamed rice, perhaps, for breakfast, but the common milk used with rice is from the grated meat of a coconut, mixed with hot water and squeezed dry. A lot healthier fare, if I may say so.

    But the arroz tres leches tasted heavenly, nicely spiced, and introduced a new dimension to rice-eating. So when I got hold of quite a few kilos of newly-harvested ansak-ket (malagkit, glutinous rice), I vowed to make some rice pudding with milk in-between making the traditional kanen (kakanin, rice puddings). I used Clotilde's recipe for riz au lait a la framboise
    as guide, finding out rice cooked in sweetened milk is a traditional," grandmotherly" dessert in France.

    At least it was easy to make, not requiring special cooking equipment and a lot of sweating over woodfires, like when a bibingka or latik is cooked. It was as easy as cooking steamed rice, just pouring the milk on uncooked, washed rice in a pan and leaving it on a stove until done.

    It used up a lot of milk, though. Two litse (approximately a 200 mL milk can, the traditional way of measuring rice in the country) of uncooked glutinous rice (washed and drained of water)absorbed the mixture of 750 mL non-fat milk, 500 mL evaporated milk and 200 mL condensed milk I cooked it in, and dried up real fast. I had to keep adding evaporated milk (about 400 mL more) to get the consistency I liked - sort of a creamy, viscous pudding, with a balanced solid-to-liquid ratio - and affected the taste somewhat.

    Next time I'm going by the rule of thumb sworn to by old wives - the level of the cooking liquid two inches above the level of the rice - adding about two inches more so the pudding would come out a bit runny.

    For this initial trial I mixed a handful of green raisins from Iran (or Turkey, I can't remember exactly), bought at the same bazaar, to the rice before cooking, then mixed in several more handfuls once the pudding was done. The cooked raisins bloated back almost to their original selves, and it was a thrill to be crunching on fat globules bursting with juice one moment and on a wrinkled one the next. They were not so sweet, bigger than the common black and tasted fresh, and complemented the rice-and-milk pudding very well, the very slight tang keeping the sweet pudding from being cloying.

    The cinnamon mixed in the pudding made it a total comfort food, great to indulge in warm during rainy or cold nights, or cold from the refrigerator for breakfast in summer. I had an issue with the ground cinnamon I used, though - I had to sprinkle a lot of it before the flavor shone through (as I liked it).

    Maybe I should not have mixed it in before cooking, but to be sure I'll use cinnamon bark, which gives better flavor and aroma, the next time I cook arroz tres leches. I'm thinking of mixing in mangoes, too. Now that would truly indigenize this dish, which has earned its place in my sweet rice dishes list.

    To serve, ladle the arroz tres leches into transparent little glasses, top with raisins and sprinkle with ground cinnamon, or nutmeg.

    Sugar High Friday #17 hosted by Andrew at SpittoonExtra.

    Tagged with

    Philippine Rice Delicacies



    Wednesday, March 08, 2006

    Dishes with Old Bay Seasoning

    I'm having such a grand ball with the can of Old Bay Seasoning sent to me by Cathy for the BBM4 food swap. Several recipes have been printed at the back and on the side of the can, and I've already tried several, to great results.

    First one is marinade for grilled chicken. A spoonfull of the seasoning, juice squeezed from a lemon, some ground pepper and salt mixed and rubbed on a pound of chicken, letting it sit for about 2 hours to a day. I used four drumsticks, included a clove of minced garlic and some crushed rosemary, omitted the pepper, and put the chicken in the freezer for a night, transferring it to the chiller for about two days. The drumsticks were then grilled over live coals. The marinade seeped in real well, and the chicken came out superlatively delicious, tender to the bite.

    The smell of the grilling chicken was mouth-watering, torturing everybody in the house and all the neighbors, especially since it took two hours of constant turning to thoroughly cook it (it would have been cooked in a shorter time had I let it be and not turned it every 30 seconds or so). As the first wisp of saliva-inducing aromatic smoke wafted from the grill my three-year old was jumping up and down, screaming he wanted his chicken dinner right then and there. I thought his picky-eating stage had suddenly come to a halt. I ran out of tricks to distract him, and the waiting for the chicken became an agony.

    Crab cakes used a pound of crab meat, two tablespoons of mayonnaise, a teaspoon of mustard, two slices of bread (the one available in the house was whole wheat) which had been flaked without the edges, a tablespoon of the seasoning, some ground pepper, and a beaten egg. All the ingredients are mixed together, shaped into patties and shallow-fried on both sides.

    I fired up the cooking oil too high, not knowing the patties would burn easily. Good thing the inside was still gooey crabby, cooked just right and still a little moist. Despite the fiasco they were still delicious, especially with some garlic mayonnaise. Next time I would like to add some minced onions, and some Tabasco sauce for a little bite.

    I tried the seasoning as a rub by itself on some porkchops which were allowed to soak in the flavor for about three days in the refrigerator, then grilled. They were awesome. I'd like to try them fried, for my honey who adores fried porkchops, probably after Lent. With maybe some crushed basil, or thyme, also rubbed in.

    I'm also planning some crab and corn soup, wishing I could get hold of some crab meat real soon. And for breakfast, some oeuf cocotte, with a dash of Old Bay Seasoning sprinkled on top. Probably after Lent, too, for, at the rate I'm going, it looks like I would have a lot of atonement to undergo for these indulgences just into the first week of the abstinence season.

    Related Posts
    Pinaupong Manok sa Asin
    Pinapuong Manok sa Sabaw
    Pininyahang Manok
    Adobo sa Mangga
    French Baked Adobo
    Chicken Mapo Tofu
    Chicken Fillet with Mango

    Friday, March 03, 2006


    Whenever I visit a new place, the first things I do are, first, visit the local parish church (Roman Catholic), to say a prayer of thanks for a safe journey. And second, go to the street corner bakery to peruse the various local breads and pastries on display. And in most probability buy some samples, especially those which look unfamiliar to me, to refresh me after a tiring trip.

    Churches and local bakeries are, for me, the best representatives of the culture of a particular town. Of course the public market is the best one, but I delay my visit to the market for a time when I have the luxury of slow indulgence, to be punctuated by lazy stops at every stall and seated vendor. And so churches and bakeries provide the first, micro-glimpse of the town's life.

    The general state of upkeep or disrepair of a town's church says much about the citizens' religious fervor, particular devotions, and a slice of the town's economic strata. Bakeries, on the other hand, are almost always the first purveyors of the region's delicacies. They provide an unpretentious introduction of the local food scene. Before an intensified, full-pledged paglamon in a local eatery or restaurant.

    As this is a food blog, I'm making it a personal project to document the many breads, cookies, biscuits, cake slices and sweets I've bitten into so far. And I'm starting with this post, but with something which most Filipinos are familiar with - that roll of moist, soft bread filled with a pudding of days-old bakery left-overs, dyed bright red to make it look like jam sandwiched in, as another food blogger put it.

    All around the country I see this, in many variations - the pudding filling in striking bright colors of violet (to make it look like ube), yellow (pineapple or langka), even green (pandan) and brown (monggo). But more commonly it is red, and generally it is sweet and a clever way of using up the unsold pieces of the bakery's monay, mamon, putok, and what have you. So it is cheap, cheaper than most pandesal, although some hoity-toity bakeshops in Manila sell some for brazen amounts.

    It is a common enough bread, not remarkable in taste, no spectacular characteristics, and sits low (probably at the bottom) in the regard of bread connoisuers. What is special about this bread, though - intriguing enough, even funny - is its name, with many permutations in each area of the archipelago.

    In Pangasinan it is called kabukiran, innocently enough, so wholesome. It being called by a Tagalog term is a bit suspicious to me, but perhaps the Pangasinan equivalent word, kaálugan, is not as romantic nor as evocative. Although why it should evoke images of idyllic ricefields is beyond me. Strange, for a lowly bread.

    When this promdi, probinsyana, country girl of a bread, goes to Manila, she is called lipstick. Still innocent enough, only pertaining to an everyday beauty accessory. Although the connotations, particularly of red lipstick, are something else, and not entirely naive.

    In Bicol she gives ligaya, happiness or joy. That should still be above suspicion, but then again, when Filipinos hear the word ligaya the first thing that comes to mind is Filipino bold star Rosanna Roces in that long, circuitous movie called Ligaya ang Itawag Mo Sa Kin (Just Call me Joy). And it doesn't refer to a simple nickname.

    Not content with being happy, the bread tries to abandon nightly wanderings and gets a daytime job, and so she becomes a kalihim, the Tagalog term for a secretary. But in the literal sense, kalihim means one who keeps secrets, or one with whom secrets are shared. Which gets interesting, for of course, the bread has a secret of its own - that filling of sweetened old rolls.

    Of course, kalihim, or secretary, has dubious connotations, as well, like keeping dirty secrets, or being accomplice to suspicious transactions. And in the ordinary sense, secretaries are generally regarded by the chief's wife and the office staff as malandi, a flirt, who toys with her boss. Many Filipino sitcoms and movies have scenes of secretaries sitting on their bosses' laps.

    And then all pretensions are stripped off, exposing all secrets. The bread is now alembong, wanton, a coquette.

    Which, when it comes down to it, is how girls wearing red lipsticks are referred to, really. Something lowly, used, dirty, dressed up with bright hues.

    In the Visayan region it becomes worse, for we now encounter no more euphemisms, but are faced with the stark boldness of her name - burikat, which refers to scum of the streets, a kalapating mababa ang lipad, a GRO, girl for hire.

    It's fascinating how this bread is made and eaten in the entire country but acquire different names, and yet keep the general vein of its shady reputation. A pandesal is a pandesal, from Batanes to Jolo, from bite-sized to humongous, be it salty or sweet. But the name-game of the lipstick bread is from kabukiran to burikat. Wholesome to downright immoral. Does it speak of our judgemental attitude as a nation, if at all?

    Or maybe our penchant for being stereotypical, labeling and categorizing everything and everybody. Or maybe, just our ability to find humor in the smallest detail.

    But wait, there's more. In Tondo, that veritable land of impudence and tactlessness, it is called, cheekily, pan de regla. Tainted. Stained. Because the center is red and the bread looks like a sanitary napkin. I rest my case.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    *Update: Other names for this bread in other areas include bellas (Marikina), pan de pula, floor wax, pan de red around Metro Manila, pam-pam (Bacolod), and balintawak in Pangasinan.

    The Tinapay Series