Wednesday, March 26, 2008


[Ginataang halo-halo/rice balls, bananas and various rootcrops in coconut cream]

Happy Easter!

With the end of Lent we're on to a summer that's going full blast. It's along the lines of everything's two-sided - the sultry heat that can sweat you out dry, but with it comes the vibrant colors that only a red-hot sun can bring. An abundance of all things edible, in all colors that Crayola can think of, prettying up lush fields and gardens.

[from top, clockwise: bananas, ube, langka, kamote, anise]

Rootcrops are available year-round, but they're in profusion, and at rock-bottom prices, at this time. Langka has just gone into season, and it is the ultimate ingredient to a comfort food from my childhood, the memory made and nurtured in my paternal grandparents' house.

My lolo and lola, although not born to rich families, were able to acquire tracts of land by sheer prudence and good management of their finances. From these properties we enjoyed the fruits of their labors - rice and crops planted by tenants, the produce of fruit trees planted by my dad, and his papa, when he was but a child.

During summer, stocks of produce arrive at the house, and it was there where I came to know about what the land can give, and how it is made into food, the knowhow from an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation.

Easter was celebrated with these crops, and I remember seeking solace from the afternoon heat in the dark dining room, where I would come upon my dad's cousins rolling rice flour dough on the table for that day's treat. I would join in on the fun (fun at the start, becoming tedious later on), pinching inch-long pieces from the dough rolls and rolling them between my palms to form balls, smearing my hands with sticky dough.

That experience, and the memory of it, has become priceless, now that my grandparents have passed away, the house is being let, the cousins have their own families to tend to, and there's nobody to watch over the properties that the tenants have stopped giving our share of the crops.

But I recreate home, now that I have my own, in a place where my children are sometimes laughed at because they mix their languages - because I insist that we use my and my husband's mother language even when we're in Tagalog country. I once had my then two-year old son point to a favorite ingredient of kiniler, saying "I want banana-saging-ponti," all in one breath.

They find forming balls out of sticky dough quite fun, too.

Kiniler, the Pangasinan term for what is commonly known as ginataang bilo-bilo or ginataang halo-halo, can be as simple as rice balls and diced seba (saba) cooked in coconut cream thickened by ground glutinous rice. But it can be as lavish - a cornucopia of all things the land can yield - as a stew of all these things: kamote in three colors - white, yellow and purple - saba, langka, even buko and mais, anise.

I like my kiniler multi-textural - soft and sticky (bilo-bilo), crunchy (langka and ube), chewy (sago and saba), mushy (kamote). And full of varied flavors - the rootcrops and fruits transcending from one level of sweetness to another, the buko providing a refreshing respite, the bilo-bilo and sago a foil for all the variety of tastes, the anise punctuating with bursts of spice and aroma. All rounded up by the creamy goodness of gata.

A fitting celebration of life, the after-life, and hopes for a better one in the next.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ampalaya con Kani

[Sauteed bitter melon with crab meat]

One day, when we had excess crab meat languishing in the freezer, and all the vegetable drawer contained was ampalaya, I discovered that ampalaya and crab meat can be a great pair to make ampalaya con kani (an intended pun on the common Pinoy dish ampalaya con karne). It is actually a better altrernative for me, who generally avoids meat.

Eating sauteed ampalaya can be considered in line with the sacrificial spirit of Lent at our house, because the househelp don't like it and will just have instant noodles when it is the dish I ask them to cook.

We eat it regularly - maybe once a week - and maybe I should have bought tons of ampalaya for this Holy Week, but it is hardly sacrifice for me and the hubby because we like eating it, not only for the taste but for its health benefits, as well. It would be bitching towards the househelp on my part to impose ampalaya on the entire household this week - not a good attitude, now or outside of Lent.

I like ampalaya cooked simply - sliced, salted, and squeezed, then sauteed with garlic, onions and tomatoes. Topped with cubes of fried tokwa (tofu) if I had remembered to buy at the market. And that's it. No eggs or ground meat. Great with fried or grilled fish.

But we have this once in a while, when there is left-over crabs, or alimasag. Or when I chance upon crab meat in the grocery. Rather than cook crab meat in an omelet, upping the cholesterol level, we have them with ampalaya. I would like to believe the health benefits of ampalaya compensates for the richness of the crab, especially when it is female and full of hard, orange fat, as I am wont to buy.

And I think I earn some brownie points when we have ampalaya con kani, because - wonder of wonders - the househelp eat it! And not just token eating it, but really eating it like they like ampalaya. As in, no leftovers. Which is actually good for one of the househelp because she is anemic.

Abstinence from meat during Lent is hardly sacrifice for us in the house because we hardly have meat, anyway. And actually, not eating meat these days is hardly sacrificial at all. We can all avoid eating meat, yet still eat luxuriously, and not with the spirit of sacrifice. Premium seafood is available anytime, in markets and restaurants.

Eating ampalaya con kani during Lent may not be in line with the spirit of sacrifice also, but for those who are seriously avoiding meat this week and are used to eating ampalaya con karne, this would be a great alternative.

Ampalaya Con Kani
2 ampalaya
1 cup crab meat
3 pieces tomatoes, sliced
crushed garlic
sliced onion
sea salt
cooking oil

  1. Wash ampalaya and slice off the ends. Slice thinly.
  2. Sprinkle salt on the ampalaya slices and mix thoroughly. Let stand for a few minutes.
  3. Squeeze out the juices from the ampalaya slices several times, until limp. Wash under running water and drain.
  4. Heat oil in a pan. When smoke starts to rise, put in garlic, stirring until golden brown. Add onion slices. When then onions have turned transparent add the tomatoes. Stir regularly.
  5. When the tomatoes have gone limp add the crab meat and let cook for five minutes.
  6. Add the ampalaya slices, then season with salt, and ground white pepper if preferred. Cover and let cook.
  7. The ampalaya is done in about five mintues more of cooking, but if you don't like ampalaya undercooked let it stay in the pan longer, about ten to fifteen minutes.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Crabby at The Red Crab

This, was the most expensive crab I've ever eaten, and probably ever will. It was at The Red Crab. It was huge - yes, positively huge, being as large as the platter it was served in, spanning the ladle there. But I felt shortchanged by the amount of crab meat it yielded. And by the way it was cooked. The meat was not freshly succulent. It sorely needed the melted butter and fried garlic that accompanied it, to make it palatable. And it was makunat.

It cost Php2,025. I know crabs in restaurants are priced by the hundred grams, but I think our red crab's price referred mostly to the shell. It didn't even have an inch of the glorious orange, thick fat.

The best-selling oysters were baked smothered in cheese and cream, a la Rockefeller. I would have preferred my seafood cooked with minimum intervention, but this was a bit fine. A bit.

The best one among the three dishes we ordered was this seafood chopsuey. Crunchy Baguio vegetables topped with a great mix of fresh seafood (squid, shrimps, fish) in a thick sauce.

There were four of us dining, three ladies and a male driver who has the appetite of a girl, plus my three-year old daughter who didn't count for much in terms of the amount of food she could eat at this stage in her life. And this was all we ordered, plus rice and individual desserts.

It could have been an okay meal - food was passable, we didn't mind not being full afterwards because we were on our way to Pangasinan and were anticipating the various treats we could buy and eat along the road, service was satisfactory (our waiter was a Pangasinense kabaleyan).

But we couldn't help but raise our standards higher when we saw the bill. It was a few pesos shy of Php5,000. We actually didn't pay for the meal - it was courtesy of an aunt who wanted to treat her cousin (my balikbayan aunt). Nevertheless, we know the value of money.

My balikbayan aunt, who shops at Tiffany's and eats at Taverne on the Green, and at Windows of the World before 9/11, was aghast and was calculating on our way home how many kilos of succulent, fat-laden crabs and sweet, juicy suahe we could have bought and eaten at Seaside (both at Baclaran and Macapagal), where she had enjoyed so many meals.

There was nothing special about the entire dining experience at Red Crab to warrant us to be satisfied in terms of the price of our meal. Service was punctual, and more attentive than in "ordinary" restaurants. We were served a small basket of sliced baguettes while we waited for our orders. And that's about it. Oh well, we each had red aprons, and hot towels. And nothing else.

Even the desserts were not fantastic.

This is buko pandan flan, a take on the popular salad. I like buko pandan salad a whole ton better. This version was too sweet - what with sickeningly sweet syrup, the caramel sweet flan and the sweetened macapuno topping. Thrice - over-the-top - sweet, with no flavor variation. No pandan note was evident. That cherry was out of place, and the flan, to our horror, was like the face of the moon. Full of holes and craters.

As we ate our way through many Metro Manila restaurants and around Pangasinan, we always recalled our Red Crab meal (not in the presence of the sponsor aunt, of course), and always compared. And Red Crab always came short, in terms of the food, the value, the whole experience. The only thing that no restaurant could top was Red Crab's price. The closest it came to was at a restaurant in Dagupan City, but there were eight of us then, including two male drivers.

This was only my second dining experience at a Red Crab restaurant. We once ate at CrustAsia, and vowed never to return. This time was no different.

The Red Crab
Tomas Morato Avenue
Quezon City

Red Crab Group of Restaurants

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

LP 24: Loco Over Coco - The Round-up

We went crazy over coconuts last February for Lasang Pinoy!

As an event-ender, here is the round-up of entries for LP 24: Loco Over Coco : a sumptuous buffet of coconut-based dishes. We have a complete array of creations, from drinks, to traditional and inspired dishes, to fabulous desserts.

But before we take our fill, let us first, as an ice-breaker, get into a discussion about coconuts, which may be a strand of our DNA, according to first-time LP participant Kathleen, of, Massachusetts, USA.

How about turning on Da Coconut Nut Song for our background music? Courtesy of our friends Maricar and Grace, also first-time LP contributors and who have previously done a whole series on coconuts at Filipina Soul, USA.

Then let’s take a tour of our very own Coconut Palace, which highlights the ingenious ways we can use the tree of life, with our tour guide Bursky, of At Wit’s End, Manila.

Ready for a toast to the coconut? Cheers!

Lambanog with Guava Juice

Paoix, One Filipino Dish A Week, NYC, USA

Let’s warm up then to the buffet. For starters, we have bread and soup.

Pan de Coco

Dhanggit, Dhanggit's Kitchen, Provence, France

Corn & Crab Soup

Gay, A Scientist in the Kitchen

Followed by two incredible salads, both by Marketman, of Market Manila, Manila.

Ubod and Parmesan Salad

Ubod Ensalada

Hope you didn’t fill yourselves to bursting yet, because we have just arrived to the main entrees. And first in line, no less, is the famous fiery dish, Bicol Express, with accompanying Laing. Both dishes in two variants!

Bicol Express

Franco, Mariko, Monchu, Table for Three, Please, Manila

Bicol Express

Robert, Filipino Food Lovers, Missouri, USA


Joey, 80 Breakfasts, Manila

Chard Laing

JMom, Cooked From The Heart, USA

Don’t like it hot? Try chopsuey with coconut meat.

Pinoy Buko Chopsuey

Ut-man, Overseas Pinoy Cooking, Abu Dhabi, UAE

Then we have seafood in coconut milk.

Catfish in Coconut Milk

JMom, Cooked From The Heart, USA

Shrimps in Coconut Milk and Tomato Sauce/Coconut Story of My Life

Mira, Random Thoughts, Mira's Web Journal, A Moment to Exhale, USA

Tuna in Coconut Cream

Shai Coggins, Creative Geek Living, Australia

Kona Kampachi With Coconut, Apples, Ginger and Basil

Cia, Writing With My Mouth Full

Ginataang Alimango

Anneski, Kitchen Conjugations, Philippines

Hope you left enough room for dessert. For we have incredibly marvelous ones!

Buko Halo

Grace, Kitchen Journal, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Bucayo Squares, Almond BucaJoy

Oggi, I Can Do That!, VA, USA

Maja Blanca
Cooking with the Fruit of Life

Maricar, Grace, Filipina Soul, USA

Coconut Custard (Leche Flan with Coconut Milk)

Sassy Lawyer, Pinoy Cook, Manila

Favorite Ginataan

Nini, Pan de Panda, Manila

German Chocolate Cake

Simple Pleasures, Sweet Tooth , Manila

Tropical Bombe

Manggy, No Special Effects, Manila

Guintaan - a warm Pinoy dessert for the cool HongKong winter

Ragamuffin Girl, Food Frenzy, Hong Kong

Mini Coco Pies
13 & 1 Ways to Enjoy Coconut
Anatomy of a Disaster

Em Dy (first to submit, congrats!), Pulse, Manila

Buko Custard Pie

Babette (Kusinera sa Amerika), Not Another Blog, USA

Pastillas, my contribution to this month's Lasang Pinoy.

And that ends our amazing smorgasbord, hope it didn’t leave anyone wanting!

It had been an honor hosting this event and rounding up all your entries. My hats off to all of you, and as they say in Pinoy, thanks a lot, coconut!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

LP 24: Pastillas

Pastillas in Pangasinan is not the pastillas de leche that is so well-made in Bulacan. Pastillas refers to a candy that is wrapped similarly in wax paper or glassine, rectangular in shape, and white in color. It is also similarly sweet.

But while biting into the pastillas in the Tagalog region is biting into velvety smoothness, the Pangasinan pastillas is textured all throughout. Because the pastillas in Pangasinan is actually a bukayo - made with grated coconuts, candied with white sugar.

Be that as it may, it is not the stringy, or hard, or chokingly sweet bukayo that is so familiar to all Filipinos all over the archipelago. I would venture to say that this is the highest form of bukayo, in its most sophisticated version.

It is soft, a pillow of softness because it is made up of grated coconut, the meat not kinayod. The candied coconut has a consistent mouth feel - enough texture to be chewy, enough sugar to be crunchy, and made in such size that it just cleanses your taste buds of the flavors of your recently eaten meal, yet not so sweet that you can reach for more without feeling any guilt.

This is the favorite dessert, served on the house, of most seafood restaurants in the province, particularly and including the chain favored by the present president of the republic when she visits Pangasinan. The practice was originated by the first popular seafood house in Dagupan City, Siapno's, which has sadly closed shop.

Pastillas is made in Dagupan City, but can be found in the numerous puto kiosks lining the provincial road by the side of the town auditorium in Calasiao. Because of the low sugar to coconut ratio, it does not keep well - a maximum of a week in the refrigerator, and it turns rancid. Delivery to Calasiao is made about three times a week, and it is not found anywhere else outside of the province.

I have tried making this bukayo, but I haven't perfected it in time for Lasang Pinoy, so the recipe would have to come later. In the meantime I still source my bukayo pastillas in Calasiao.

Siapno's (not related to the owners of the restaurant) is the brand I like best when it comes to bukayo pastillas. It sells real well, so most of the time the other brands are the only ones left for sale.

There is now an ube variant, but it is more of an ube-colored version than an ube-flavored one. The original is always the best.

This is an entry to Lasang Pinoy 24: Loco Over Coco, which I am hosting for the month of February 2008, with the theme coconuts.

And with this post I am closing the event, but entries will still be accepted. Please send me the link to your post/s by email at sweet(underscore)bucaio(at)yahoo(dot)com, or at the comments section of this post or the LP24 announcement, or at the round-up which I should be able to publish within the next few days.

A big, coconutty thanks to all who participated, and hope to see you again in the next LP events!