Filipino Food

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Yesterday, via my Twitter account and Facebook Page, I shared a piece from The Atlantic Wire about Halo Halo, the unique Filipino dessert loved by millions. The article discussed the ingredients of Halo Halo and the author offered how, growing up, he never got into it or understood its seemingly strange combination of ice cream, gelatin, shaved ice, milk, leche flan, beans, ube paste and, occasionally, strips of langka (jackfruit). Ostensibly, the article is about Halo Halo but really, for me, it answers a question I’ve been pondering for months, even years: When is Filipino food going to get its day in the sun here in America? Based on the article, written by Alexander Abad-Santos, the answer is now.

Growing up in Hong Kong, which is one of the most diverse cities in the world, in a multicultural household (I’m Fil-Am and so is my mother and our American side comes from German stock. My father is Filipino but with Spanish and Chinese heritage; his mother was half Manchurian.), savouring different kinds of cuisine was never an issue for me or my brother and sisters. We enjoyed full scale Chinese banquets at Fumania and Yung Kee, humbler ngau lam lo mein (beef brisket over noodles) at local noodle shops, Bulgogi and Tempura Udon at our favourite Korean and Japanese food spots in Causeway Bay, five-star Western dishes at Landau’s, fast food at McDonald’s and Indian and Pakistani food at various spots throughout Hong Kong and in several friends’ homes. My favourite Lasagna and my favourite Cannelloni, to this day, are the ones I’ve eaten at Rigoletto, which was located in the area where Wanchai and Causeway Bay meet. Dim sum was enjoyed at City Hall and, of course, at the Luk Yuen Tea House, located in the Western District of Central. At home, my mother cooked up all sorts of stuff, too. For Christmas – we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving until we moved to America – we’d enjoy a roasted turkey with my German-American grandfather’s chestnut stuffing.

Food, ‘different’ food, for my family was never a thing or a trend. We eat what we like when we’re in the mood for it and we like a nice variety of cuisines. In the mid-1980s, however, with an apparent global health kick, Japanese food was touted as the healthiest food one could get and the savior to battle obesity and rising cholesterol levels. At the same time, egg yolk, which recent studies show is not bad for you, was among the rising stars of culinary health villains. As a result of this, Japanese food surged in popularity. I recall a minor spike in Indian food popularity in the late 1980s, shortly after moving to the United States, and, in the 1990s, there seemed to be a boost in Spanish food. In the early 2000s, I noticed a sharp increase in the number of Vietnamese restaurants opening up. Sadly, the number of Vietnamese restaurants that popped up appear to have vanished just as quickly, at least here in New Jersey. Thai restaurants started to pop up in the late 1980s but they seemed to have their sharpest popularity spike in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I’m glad to report that within the last year a new spot has opened up close to home. More recently, restaurants offering Thai but also Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine have been growing in number. My favourite is Penang in East Hanover, New Jersey.

So, with food popularity ever changing, it’s only a matter of time before Filipino food, the taste of my native land, comes into vogue. And, being a country with a storied history and diversity within its shores, it has something to offer every palate. The Philippines, being the largest archipelago in Southeast Asia, has an abundance of seafood. Rice, a staple in the Filipino diet, like it is in other Asian cuisines, is commonly offered plain or fried with browned garlic. In addition to rice as part of the main dish, there’s an array of rice-based desserts to enjoy; treats like Bibngka, Puto Bongbong, Kutsinta (my personal favourite), to name a few. Many of our dishes are stew-type. There’s Adobo, the peanut-sauced Kare Kare, Afritada. Many of these kinds of dishes can be made with chicken, pork or seafood. Coconut milk is often added to Filipino dishes and these dishes can be made with and without it, illustrating the chameleon-like adaptability and palate of the Filipino. Paksiw is a seasoned fish stew that has a version that is made with coconut milk and one without it. Pork is another staple in the Filipino diet and it comes in the aforementioned stew-type dishes but is also enjoyed grilled, Inihaw na Baboy. Click here for my recipe for that. Not to be left out, Kaldereta Kambing is a dish that is best described as a Filipino sister of Indonesia’s Beef Rendang but with goat meat.

Not to be outdone by the Chinese, who waste nothing (think Fung Chow, steamed Chicken Feet, which is one of my favourite dim sum offerings), Filipino cuisine includes Chicken Ass, the fried butt of the chicken which is perfect with a serving of garlic rice. Banana leaves are often used on top of the plate or serving dish at Filipino restaurants. Another kind of leaf, those from taro after the root has been used to make a variety of other dishes, is made into a dish called Laing, which sees the leaves stewed in coconut milk and garnished with green chili pepper to give it a little bite. Then, there is Sisig. Simply put, Sisig is a sizzling plate of a pig’s snout, ears and tail seasoned with garlic, pepper and salt and dipped in a soy sauce-vinegar combo when eaten. Often, a raw egg is served on top and mixed in with the pig parts on the sizzling plate. This version of Sisig is one of the more traditional ones. In today’s modern and, perhaps, more squeamish times, Sisig is more commonly made with diced pork. And, for the truly brave at heart, there is Balut, an embryonic duck egg, boiled just so and eaten from the shell with Filipino rock salt.

From what I know, The Philippines is the only country in Southeast Asia that was conquered and ruled by western countries from both parts of the western world. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan led a Spanish galleon, via Mexico, to The Philippines. Eventually – the armada’s first attempt failed thanks to Lapu Lapu, the country’s first national hero – Spain conquered the island nation that would become The Philippines (named after King Philip II of Spain). In addition to Catholicism, language, architectural innovations, Spain’s culinary influence on the natives also made an impact. Adobo is largely a Spanish-originated dish. The Philippines now has longanisa, which is arguably derived from the Spanish chorizo. Filipinos have their own versions of tapa that range from a dry but tender variety to a softer kind (Bistek) seasoned with soy sauce (toyo in Tagalog) and kalamansi. When the Americans took over, after the Spanish-American War, and with its continuous influence stretching up to and through World War II, American flavours have taken hold as well. Spaghetti is an Italian dish but it was likely introduced – Spaghetti and Meatballs – to Filipinos through the Americans. Whoever introduced it, there is now something called ‘Filipino Spaghetti,’ which boasts a sugariness that is not typically found in other forms of the pasta dish. And, of course, as every Filipino will attest, there is Spam. Spam, in a strange way (to Americans), is a delicacy to the Filipino. Sliced Spam in warm pandesal is a common midafternoon snack.

As a widely used port for traders, The Philippines met the world and the Chinese settled in as well. The Chinese influence in Filipino food can be seen, largely, in our noodle dishes, some of which resemble the lo mein you can get in some Chinese and Chinese-American restaurants. Char Siu Bao, a steamed bready white bun with roast pork inside has also been evolved in The Philippines into a steamed bready white bun with a sweeter pork inside, less red in colour, called Siopao.

Even as a single nation, the variety of Filipino dishes is rampant. Adobo, for instance, is the national dish but there are variations based on cooking style and regional origin. Some versions of Adobo are saucier and darker, with more toyo, than other varieties. Some are boiled then friend twice, reducing the toyo, rendering the sauce into a lighter and thicker oil dip. Some version are made with chicken, some with pork, some with shrimp, some with a combination of the three and others have liver thrown in. And this is just with Adobo. The same kinds of – and more – variations exist with other dishes.

So, really, Filipino food does have something for everyone. When pressed for a quick explanation of what Filipino food is like, I usually say something like, “Take Spanish food, Chinese food and a roaming goat or pig and mash it up. Throw in some coconut milk and serve it over rice and there you go.” To some, that might not sound exactly appealing. When you break it down to its component parts, though, the options are endless; or, at least, as varied as the country’s more than 7,000 islands.

For a sample of Filipino food recipes, check out this link. http://www.filipinofoodrecipes.net/

If you’re not prepared to cook them yourself but you’re ready to try some of our dishes, here’s a list of some of the Filipino restaurants in and around New York City.

Maharlika http://maharlikanyc.com/

Grill 21 http://www.thegrill21.com/

Jeepney http://www.jeepneynyc.com/

Pandan http://www.pandanasiancuisine.com/

Click here for Mr. Abad-Santos’s article.

The Best New England Clam Chowder In Montauk

Montauk’s Best New England Clam Chowder

Before I ruffle any feathers or am accused of being unscientific and completely biased, let me clarify that my search for the best New England Clam Chowder in Montauk began as an impromptu pursuit and is based solely on the places at which I ate. I hadn’t done any kind of pre search research either. I’ve always liked New England Clam Chowder and as part of our first dinner, I decided to have a bowl. We were vacationing in Montauk, after all, where fresh seafood is in abundance.

The following day, we had lunch out as well and I decided to have a cup of the second eatery’s version. I hadn’t eaten any kind of New England Clam Chowder in ages (other than the night before) and I guess it was on the brain. So, after the second taste, I decided to make it a fun holiday mission – my New England Clam Chowder Taste Test. Wherever I ate, that had New England Clam Chowder on the menu, I had a cup.

Here are my, completely unscientific and biased, results.

1. Gosman’s Clam Bar (www.gosmans.com)
At Gosman’s Dock, 484 West Lake Drive, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-2447

Well, this isn’t THE Gosman’s restaurant. It’s from one of the side counters in the Gosman’s waterfront complex. It’s a counter that serves up burgers, fries, chicken fingers and, of course, an abundance of seafood dishes; things like soft shell crab, lobster roll, seared flounder, crab legs, etc. Around the corner is another restaurant and counter where you can get various alcoholic beverages (I treated myself to a Piña Colada) and sushi, maki, temaki and sashimi.

It’s summer and the weather had been in the high 80s to low 90s so you might be wondering why I’d have soup; least of all a thicker, hot and heavier variety. Well, right by the water, we were treated to a refreshing breeze that brought the temps down to a cool 70 something. Plus, as I mentioned in the intro to this piece, I hadn’t had any kind of New England Clam Chowder and I don’t think I’d ever had one until my early years in the United States. I’ve been in somewhat of a nostalgic, melancholic frame of my mind lately and reminiscing with the New England Clam Chowder was my form of ‘comfort food.’

Anyway, back to the soup. The Clam Bar’s version was very tasty with large chunks of clam. It was a little thick – dense might be a better word – but it wasn’t clumpy and it wasn’t the usual white one associates with New England Clam Chowder. It had a hint of grey to it, which detracted neither my desire nor enjoyment of the soup, but it did lack some kick; at least in terms of basic flavour. A little (more) salt might have been all it needed. The difference in flavour though – the kind that’s expected of a New England Clam Chowder – may actually be a plus for the Clam Bar’s version, however, making it different from most of the varieties I’ve had. This, in turn, is due to a smokiness that, I think, came from some kind of bacon infusion. I didn’t detect any bacon pieces in my bowl so I think some kind of blend of bacon grease may have been added to the base broth.

Chowder Rating: 1 bite

2. Rick’s Crabby Cowboy Cafe (www.crabbycowboy.com)
435 East Lake Drive, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-3200

Sitting outside with a constant cooling breeze, the weather was prime again for a cup of soup. With New England Clam Chowder and Manhattan Clam Chowder the only soups on the menu, and having never been a true aficionado of the red variety, my decision was made for me – New England Clam Chowder it was! Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s variety was more like what I am used to. It’s not like they opened a can and simply nuked it in their microwave, however. Unlike the Clam Bar’s variety, Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s was thinner but without being watery and its consistency was the perfect balance of milk or cream and broth without turning it into a condensed, over starchy starter; all perfect for a light, seafood lunch. Without being pedestrian, Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s had small pieces of diced onion and smaller chunks of clam, more similar to a diner soup than that from a five-star restaurant. It had, though, a touch more bite than the smoky offering of Gosman’s Clam Bar. After the soup, we had a serving of Steamers that came with the usual melted butter and a green dipping sauce, made with crushed garlic, wine, and clam broth. Tasting the green sauce by itself, it was very similar to the soup but without the cream and chunks of clam which, in addition to being a dipping sauce, makes me think it’s the base for their soup. Rick’s Crabby Cowboy’s New England Clam Chowder was so good that my wife, who enjoy a creamy Brie with a nicely chilled white wine, after tasting the soup said, “It’s like eating cheese.”

Chowder Rating: 1 1/2 bites…nearing 2 bite territory

3. Duryea’s Lobsters (www.duryealobsters.com)
85 Tuthill Road, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-2410

This was our third trip to Montauk; the first was in 2010 and the most recent was last year. Coincidentally, in 2010, we’d just discovered Lobster Roll and when we were planning our first Montauk holiday, naturally, people recommended that we go to Duryea’s for theirs. We did and we enjoyed it so we’ve been back since. This time, however, I made it a point to try their New England Clam Chowder and, unlike with their Lobster Roll, I wasn’t thrilled with it. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. Immediately, just looking at it, I was on the offensive when I got my bowl. A good New England Clam Chowder should, generally, be white in appearance but it should possess some kind of graininess and even a hint of off white or even greyness to its color due to one of its flavoring ingredients. A hint of curry powder or turmeric, for example, would give the broth a touch of orange and a subtle kick. The New England Clam Chowder at Duryea’s, however, was milk white. Perhaps, milk is the broth and not an added ingredient or even the base of the broth. As a base, you’d add clam broth, white wine perhaps, a little water to make the soup. In some cases, I believe there are variations with sherry added. In this case, it tasted as if the solid ingredients and barely a touch of clam broth was added to a quart of milk. The soup did have large chunks of clam, however, including the siphon, and diced potato giving it some body. Drinking the soup, I could taste the freshness of the ingredients but, from this untrained blogger’s palate, Duryea’s New England Clam Chowder is the closest one can come to making canned soup from the day’s catch.

I’m glad to report, though, that everything else I’ve had at Duryea’s has been more than satisfactory. In fact, everything else has been outright delicious. Their Lobster Roll is, so far, the second (or third; see The Lighthouse Grill review below) favourite I’ve had and their Cole Slaw is, according to my wife who is a self-proclaimed Slaw expert, the “best in the world.” This post, however, is about the soup I tasted and, unfortunately, while I will return to Duryea’s again, I won’t be having the chowder.

Chowder Rating: 1/2 bite

4. Inlet Seafood Cafe (www.inletseafood.com)
541 East Lake Drive, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-4272

Although not strictly a New England Clam Chowder, I decided to include Inlet Seafood’s Montauk Chowder in this review since it’s a blend of New England and Manhattan Clam Chowders and I have to say I enjoyed it. The blend of the two versions was well balanced, overall, resulting in a light soup that served its purpose nicely as an appetizer. The lightness was also a welcome touch being that I’d just come off the beach, in 90 plus degree heat. In fairness, though, I have to say that all the chowders I’d had up to this point on this trip were on the light side and none of them sat, overly starched or too creamy, in my stomach. The combination of the two versions of clam chowder allowed for the lightness to happen – the consommé effect of the red Manhattan version cutting some of the heaviness from the New England – but the influence of the Manhattan was more noticeable in appearance and taste than I would have liked. Like I said, the balance was well-proportioned, but I would have preferred a tad more New England influence.

On a side note, Inlet Seafood’s Kani Salad was absolutely sublime. It wasn’t overly ‘mayonnaised’ and it had a spicy kick most Kani Salads I’ve tasted don’t possess. The spice, though, didn’t overwhelm the salad allowing the crab (albeit fake crab) and the cucumber to compliment each other perfectly. Lastly, it had Panko, not just sprinkled on top of the salad as a garnish, but into the salad. Other varieties of Kani Salad also have a little roe sprinkled on it, each bite crackling in your mouth with an explosion of moist fish taste; an accent, if you will. Sometimes, though, there is too much roe added which takes over the subtlety required of a Kani Salad. The Panko, however, added the crunch
needed without altering the overall taste.

Chowder Rating: 1 bite

5. Lighthouse Grill
1900 Montauk Highway, Montauk, NY
(631) 668-2058

From the outside, The Lighthouse Grill looks like a sit down restaurant with wait staff and white table cloths. Once you go in, however, you discover an easygoing souvenir shop with a counter, complete with a bar, and a one cook/one station kitchen. There are also a gift shop, a sofa and some round tables that made the single room make me think of the gift shop cafe at the Caticlan Airport in the Philippines where I waited to board my plane back to Manila from a week in Boracay. Outside, there’s a veranda that offers one of the best views of the Atlantic Ocean. It was extra exquisite when I was there because the sun was setting. In addition to the view, there are tables and, on this particular night, The Lifeguards, a trio of men ranging from late 30s/early 40s to 50s, were performing. They offered some acoustic bluesy/soft rock/country entertainment.

Anyway, back to the chowder. The soup was a little too hot when it was served, burning my tongue just slightly, but the taste was spot on. Offering a near perfect balance of the soup base and the cream, the Lighthouse Grill’s New England Clam Chowder, had just the right amount of celery to give the green’s flavour without bossing what touched my taste buds. Additionally, the amount and size of the clam pieces were very generous. What I liked best about this chowder was that it – or rather its creator – gets it. Some New England Clam Chowders are too involved, their chefs trying to hard to be different and trying to do more than what is asked of a New England Clam Chowder. This version was humble – simple even – without being unsophisticated. It felt like it came from a mother’s kitchen.

At this meal, my wife had their Lobster Roll, which I got to taste, and, much like the chowder, the Lobster Roll got it. Some Lobster Rolls I’ve eaten have either too much dressing or are too seasoned that the taste of the lobster is dominated by the other flavours. The lobster is always evident – the chunks are usually pretty large and it’s cooked just right so you can enjoy the shellfish’s texture – but at The Lighthouse Grill the lobster remains the star of the dish. Here, the dressing is minimal at best, offering the slightest hint of enhancing flavour, but what you get here is a true Lobster Roll.

Chowder Rating: 1 1/2 bites

I’ve never made a New England Clam Chowder – although after this trip I vow to give it a go – and my introduction to it came in 1985 from, I believe, a diner or the Chunky line of Campbell’s soups so, for some of you, my opinions here are without foundation. On some level, I might agree. I’m not a trained chef and I have no sense of what making a New England Clam Chowder entails. I am, though, a consumer who has taste buds and likes to enjoy a good meal. In no way have I intended to offend any of the chefs or establishments whose New England Clam Chowders I’ve written about. What I hope I have achieved is give a reader or two, with a palate similar to mine, a hint of where to find New England Clam Chowders he or she will enjoy in Montauk.

Thanks for stopping by and, if you try one of the chowders I’ve reviewed, come back and give your review. I might have missed a subtlety and need to retry it the next time I’m in Monauk. Or, perhaps, you’ll agree with me.

Rating System:

0 bites = Don’t bother, I suffered for you.
1/2 bite = I enjoyed it enough – I had to eat something, after all – but I wouldn’t recommend it.
1 bite = Good. I’d have it again but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.
1 1/2 bites = Very good/super tasty. I’m definitely going back and I’m bringing friends. If iI weren’t married, it’s somewhere I’d take a first date to. That’s how good it is.
2 bites = Unique, I’ve never had (and probably won’t ever have) better that this, this is what I want if I were going to be executed and I could have whatever I wanted for my last meal, Epicurean Orgasm!