Tres Leches

A few years ago, while on vacation in Montauk, I wrote a blog post comparing the various offerings of New England Clam Chowder at the restaurants we went to at the eastern end of Long Island. (Click here for that review). A few months before that, I posted about the best Lobster Roll I’d eaten. (Click here for that post). Today, while having an impromptu lunch date with my wife, I decided that I’m going to keep track of the best Tres Leches (Milk Cake; a sponge cake immersed in sweetened milk) I can find. The reason: We had lunch at a Peruvian spot in Union, New Jersey for the first time (Don Alex Restaurant) and among the available postres there was Tres Leches. (I’ll do a review of our Don Alex visit soon but, for those of you who can’t wait, go and enjoy. You won’t be disappointed. We had the Red Snapper, Roasted Half Chicken (which amazingly tasted like my mother’s fried chicken from my youth), Fried Yucca, Beans, Rice and Salad.)

My search for the best Tres Leches is going to be both difficult and easy depending on my level of commitment and when I want to declare my search over. You see, in the immediate area, as far as I know, there’s only Tres Leches at Cactus Charly, the Mexican spot in Maplewood, New Jersey and at Don Alex. I haven’t seen Tres Leches on the dessert menus of other/non-Latino area restaurants. There is  Colombian place, also in Union, called Gusto y Sabor, that might also have Tres Leches. So, I can either leave it at the two I’ve had or I can be adventurous and force myself to go out and about, venturing to Gusto y Sabor, visiting Newark’s Ironbound section, taking a short drive to Montclair where I know there’s a Mexican restaurant and a Colombian restaurant and, perhaps, including New York City in my quest.

Having never heard of Tres Leches (a demerit for a self-professed foodie) until I was offered it at Cactus Charly, I found my ignorance of it to be a little odd and concerning considering I’ve enjoyed Spanish food since I was a kid and I’m Filipino and much of our cuisine is influenced by Spanish cuisine. After all, The Philippines was a colony of Spain for three hundred years and we were colonized by Spain en route from Mexico. So, one would think that with so many South American and Latin American countries having been colonies of or influenced by Spain – especially Mexico – that Tres Leches might be a Spanish dessert and that it would’ve found its way to The Philippines. Not so. It has Latin and South American origins and it’s also popular in The Caribbean. The idea of soaked cake, however, likely comes from Medieval Europe and there is even a version of Tres Leches in Turkey called Trilece. So, it turns out, that it makes perfect sense for me never to have heard of or tasted Tres Leches until I moved to the United States, where I have more exposure to Mexican and other South and Latin American fare.

What I like about Tres Leches is its general lightness without lacking flavour and character. It doesn’t sit in your stomach like a lump of coal the way a cheesecake or overly dense chocolate or white cake with icing do. Additionally, as light as it is, the sponge cake in Tres Leches isn’t excessively airy and unfulfilling. For me, when you eat a slice of cake, you want to know that you ate a slice of cake. A too airy sponge cake almost has the same ghostlike qualities as a spoon of Cool Whip and Cool Whip by itself is a complete waste of a culinary experience. Some would say that of Cool Whip, period.

So, take this post as a preview of what’s to come; a teaser to your palate, if you will. I could review the two Tres Leches I’ve had but I’ll wait to post until I have, say, four or five to report on. A review of my wife’s and my experience at Don Alex will be posted soon as well. In the meantime, enjoy your culinary experiences and share any new recipes you try.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Boracay Food Tour

Boracay Food Tour

This wasn’t realty a food tour. By that I mean, there weren’t specific restaurants I’d planned on going to. Instead, this is a report on what I did eat during my brief but utterly enjoyable visit to the Filipino resort island. This was my third time going there and I knew, after the last two visits, that reporting on the food available was a must. So, here goes. And, if you go there, report back on your own experiences.

Day One:

We caught the first flight out of Manila to Caticlan and were at the hotel, Discovery Shores – Boracay, and in our room by about 7:30am. That, in and of itself, was a surprising treat since check-in is usually at 2:00pm. Upon arriving at the hotel–we took a plane from Manila to Caticlan, shuttle from Caticlan airport to the boat dock, boat to another part of the island, shuttle to the hotel–we were presented with fresh Ginger-Dalandan juice. It was the summer in The Philippines (March, April and May are the summer months there) when we went and the country was experiencing a heat wave to boot. My last two visits to Boracay were in July 2007 and 2003 and it wasn’t as hot.

After settling in, which included changing into beachwear, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel’s daily breakfast buffet. It comes with the hotel reservation but, being that we weren’t officially checked-in, we had to pay for this meal. But it was completely worth it. At approximately 1,700 Philippine Pesos (PHP) for three people (US$1 = PHP 45.80), we were able to sample fresh tropical fruits and fresh tropical fruit juices, continental fare, Filipino breakfast and other dishes. The special juice of the day was Lychee-Watermelon. In urns at the centre table were fresh guava juice, fresh mango juice, fresh pineapple juice and chilled-pressed apple juice. Among the fresh fruit offerings were Filipino mango, papaya, watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe.

Of the hot items, there were plain rice, vegetable fried rice, tocino (Filipino cured pork), German cheese sausage, fried Bangus, yellow Adobo made with turmeric, pancit bihon (a kind of pork and veggies lo mein but made with vermicelli noodles), an egg station, a station with French toast, pancakes and waffles, and a station that had hash browns, which were perfectly browned on the outside and tender on the inside. They looked more like larger and flatter tater tots that the hash browns I get at my local diner or the oval-shaped variety served at McDonald’s. Regardless, they were good. On either side of the dish of hash browns were plates of bacon. One side was crispy and the other was soft. This offer of different varieties of bacon is something I’ve never seen before. Bacon is usually cooked somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards crispy than soft. Unless you specify with the waiter or waitress how you like it, the chef or cook will prepare bacon according to his or her tastes which, like I said, tends to lean on the crispier side; at least in from my experiences. This option of being able to choose from soft or crispy was a nice surprise since my son and I like soft bacon and my wife likes crispy.

In addition to the juice bar, there was a milk bar. Carafes of whole milk and chocolate milk were available which, again, I found unusual but thoughtful. From breakfast buffets I’ve had in the US, there might be bottles or cartons of whole milk, skim milk, 2% fat milk and, nowadays, some kind of soy, rice or almond milk available for both drinking and using with cereal. Here, these carafes were purely for drinking. There was another cereal station with pitchers of milk for pouring over whatever cereal you might choose. While we’re on the subject of milk, when we got our coffee–nice, full-bodied Filipino Barako coffee–we were given a small pitcher of warm milk. That’s another thing that doesn’t happen often, if ever. Warm milk. I don’t mind it when it’s cold or cool. My wife, however, she was overjoyed since the milk didn’t cool her coffee down too quickly.

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Breakfast buffet at Disovery Shores. Check out the small carafe of warm milk.

After breakfast, we walked along the beach to d’Mall, Boracay’s shopping centre and kick around spot. There are vendors galore selling local crafts, tourist tank tops and t-shirts, double-locking plastic pouches for your smart phones, selfie sticks, postcards, etc. What we came across, however, and took full advantage of was a licensed outdoor massage parlour. In previous trips to Boracay, we stayed at a hotel that didn’t have its own spa services so the massage therapists were allowed to come onto the hotel’s beach front and give you a massage (half hour, full hour, longer, foot spa, head massage) while you sat or laid down on the lounge chair. Discovery Shores, however, has its own spa services so to enjoy Boracay’s signature beach massage, we had to go to look for them. And we found them.

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Chilling after his first professional massage

All three of us got massages and it was my son’s first time getting a professional full hour massage and he loved it. And he’s only eight. He’s truly a de Leon-Bas and I think we’ve spoilt him. We went back the next day and got another massage and why not? I’m not turning down excellent service at dirt-cheap prices. Since I’m a bigger guy and needed the stronger masseuse, my massage was the most expensive at PhP550 for an hour. That’s about US$13. US$13!!! Beat that. My wife and son were in PhP300 range. Where in the US can you get a quality, professional massage for US$13 or less?

Anyway, back to the food report.

That night, we had an early dinner at the restaurant at Friday’s, the hotel next door to ours. My son enjoyed an order of sliders. Nothing special there except they had that unique Filipino burger taste. The burgers were made of fresh ground meat but there’s something in the seasoning that makes it stand out and, frustratingly, I cannot work it out. It might be that there’s Knorr seasoning massaged into the meat. It might be that there’s some other ingredient added–perhaps pork–or maybe the unique taste comes from the burger’s overall simplicity of just meat with a touch of salt and garlic, made into patties and there you have it. And, the Filipino sweetness isn’t acquired simply by adding sugar. As far as the actual taste goes, a Filipino burger is sweet and salty at the same time, but subtle in both tastes, with every bite and Friday’s did not disappoint. My wife ordered a personal Seafood Pizza, which was absolutely delicious topped with fresh fish and shellfish, including scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels and crab. It was on a thin crust with a sauce that tasted more like a cross between marinara and vodka sauces as opposed to a regular red pizza sauce. This was a difference I liked compared to other seafood pizzas that only use a red sauce.

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Seafood Pizza from Friday’s

I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, a dish I absolutely love but is hard to find here in New Jersey. PapaRazzi, of The Back Bay group, used to make it but the franchise stopped doing so several years ago. My father used to make it once in a while when he and my mother lived in New Jersey but I can’t have his since they’re back in The Philippines. (Incidentally, I did get to enjoy my mother’s Carbonara when my wife, son and I stayed with them for a few days on this same vacation.) What’s really interesting is that Spaghetti Carbonara appears to be popular and readily available in The Philippines. Friday’s Carbonara was balanced nicely with the sweet-saltiness of the cream and the smokiness of the bacon. It was delicious and a touch oily but not to the point where the dish is ruined. I would order it again but I was glad it was served with some freshly made breadsticks to sop up the sauce.

Later, before turning in, and as we enjoyed the sunset at our hotel’s beach front, my wife and I had a cocktail from our hotel’s bar. I enjoyed a blended Pina Colada, which had enough alcohol to remind me it’s an alcoholic beverage and not to down it like it was a tropical milkshake. It was also ‘coconutty’ sweet, which did a good job of cutting the alcohol without suppressing it. I’ve had Pina Coladas at other places that are too heavy on the rum, and sometimes too light, that they’re not enjoyable. Additionally, neither the pineapple nor coconut overpowered the other. It was blended well and if I hadn’t still been jetlagged from my trip from New Jersey, having only arrived in Manila three days earlier, and dehydrated from the scorching sun and afraid of zoning out, I would have ordered a second one. My wife had a Mojito of which she said it was the best she’s ever had.

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Boracay sunset

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Sunset Pina Colada

Back in the room, with our beds turned down while we were out, a saucer with three two-inch squares of Ube Maja (coconut rice pudding flavoured with purple yam) sat on the little reading/bedside table. The addition of ube gave the maja an interesting taste, tempering the usual overpowering sweetness. The combination of ube and coconut rice pudding was reminiscent of a green tea flavor you get with green tea ice cream or green tea mochi. Discovery Shores’ chef and the hotel management are far classier than I am because, with the closeness in taste to green tea, I might have named this dessert Ube Matcha or Matcha Maja. Whatever you want to call it, it was a nice end to the day.

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                                                                                              Ube Maja

Day Two:

 The second day began much like the first–breakfast buffet with fresh fruits and juices, hot food stations, pancakes and eggs stations and so on. The day’s juice special was a Ginger-Dalandan.

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Fresh guava juice (front) and Ginger-Dalandan juice (rear)

The standouts of the day, however, were our lunch and early (first) dinner. On day one of our Boracay vacation, we went Sea Do-ing. That’s an entire blog post in and of itself so I’ll spare you the details but after getting back to the hotel we arranged with the same guide to go snorkeling the next day–today. So, after breakfast, we met up with our guide, hopped on the banka (mostly motorised now but sometimes still powered by sail, this is a Filipino style mini-ferry boat) and motored out to Crocodile Island.

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On the banka about to head out to Crocodile Island

We went snorkeling in July 2007 and it wasn’t that good of an experience for me. The currents weren’t violent but June, July and August are the stormy months in The Philippines so the current’s pull is faster than in April. As a result of that experience, I was apprehensive about going this time–especially with my son­–but I was pleasantly surprised to find the currents were mild and we were able to enjoy a good two hours seeing all sorts of cool marine life. We even saw a Dory and a Nemo! Naturally, swimming around in salt water, we got thirsty and, as industrious as Filipinos are, there were two men on small rowboats carrying fresh young coconut.

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One of the buko vendors

Buko! We bought two of them, one for my wife and I and for our son to try and one for our guide and the driver of the boat. (We were on a banka and not a ship. Is he the captain or the helmsman?)

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Buko

Anyway, there is nothing like fresh anything so having the fresh buko water and being able to get at some of the soft, gelatinous coconut meat inside was the best and most delicious treat and recovery nutrition I could’ve had.

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                                                                                                                         Rehydrating with fresh coconut water

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My son trying buko for the first time and my wife eating the coconut meat

After snorkeling, we ventured to Puka Beach, named for its sand that is made up of naturally crushed and washed up puka shells mixing in with the natural white sand of the island. This was my third time having lunch at Puka Beach. The first two times we went to a no frills spot a little inland of the beach. This time, the eatery was just at the inland end of the beach in a nicely constructed open area with a thatched straw roof, long tables and benches and sand beneath our feet. To round out the ambience, there was the cutest askal (short for asong kalye which means ‘street dog’ although, in this case, it might be more accurate to call it a ‘beach dog’).

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Askal 

What we ate for lunch was, without question, the best meal I had on this trip to Boracay. And, again, the key word is ‘fresh.’ We had garlic-cooked crab, a dish of Inihaw na Baboy (grilled pork), Inihaw na Pusit (grilled squid), Sinangag (white rice either lightly friend with chopped browned garlic or steamed rice with the chopped browned garlic sprinkled on top) and plain rice for my son. The Inihaw na Baboy was good but it’s a Filipino staple so, unless it’s totally charred or the cook doesn’t know what he or she is doing at all, it’s not going to be bad. The crab, however, was something else. It came with a sweetish, yellow glaze and with each bite you could taste the garlic and the butter it was cooked in. Moreover, upon cracking open the shell, there was an abundance of meat for the size of the crab and there was also an abundance of the delicious aligi (crab fat, which is actually the crab eggs).

With each bite, the crab melted in my mouth and I was tempted to order a second one. The pusit came out perfectly as well. It wasn’t rubbery or slimy the way overcooked or undercooked squid, respectively, turns out. The pusit we got gave off its natural flavour with each bite, without being fishy, and combined nicely with the sinangag, crab and pork. In fact, the two inihaw dishes were almost like a Filipino surf-and-turf that, coupled with the rice and, perhaps, the addition of a vegetable would’ve made a perfect meal. To accompany the meal, my wife and I each enjoyed a bottle of San Miguel Light and our son had his first taste of Royal Tru orange soda.

As we were enjoying our meal, another Filipino family arrived. One of the family members was carrying a metal bucket and, as they walked in and secured a table, the matriarch of the group bantered back-and-forth with one of the employees of the eatery in Tagalog. They discussed how to prepare their meal and negotiated a price for doing so since they’d come with their own ingredients. With each sentence, the employee pulled a fish out of the woman’s bucket. Each one looked meatier than the one before it but what really stood out for were the colours. The first one had blue and black and yellow stripes on a silvery grey body. The second fish was, I think, a red snapper but it was the fattest, brightest and most delicious looking snapper I’ve ever seen.

Later that day, after returning to the hotel and enjoying some time in the pool and on the beach, we took the hotel shuttle to d’Mall and had a late afternoon massage.

From there we made pasyal. This is a Tagalog word for ‘stroll’ but it connotes more than simply going for a walk. It has a cultural meaning to it. Yes, you’re literally going for a walk but it’s also social time during which you talk and catch up with the friends and family you’re with. You may or may not actually be heading for a particular boutique or eatery but you will, invariably, enjoy some window shopping and browsing. You may even try clothes on. On your walk, you may be trying to decide where you’ll have merienda (mid-afternoon snack). At the end of your pasyal, you may not have made it to that boutique and you may have decided to snack at home because, like I said, it’s bot the actually walking or the destination that’s important. Instead, it’s the catching up and the being together with your family and friends that takes precedence.

On our pasyal, renewed from our massages and our considering that our early lunch was super early, we got hungry and stopped into another fresh fish joint for a late merienda/early dinner. The restaurant is called Paradiso Grill and it can be found in Station Two.

My wife ordered Grilled Scallops, which turned out to be a total invasion of my taste buds. Served in a half shell, it was grilled with garlic and served with the scallop roe. This was definitely unusual and something I’d never had before. Add to that, the scallops were rather large (I forget if that means they’re ocean scallops or bay scallops) which made for a hearty mouthful with each bite.

The scallops were perfectly cooked with a little crust to the exterior but completely creamy inside. The roe melted in my mouth and tasted like a cheese fondue made from Port Salut or Brie infused with red pepperor some other sweet colourful inredient. For this dish alone, I will return to Paradiso Grill on my next trip to Boracay.

Even though it’s a Filipino staple and hard to ruin, I decided to order Paradiso Grill’s version of Pork Barbeque.

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Filipino Pork BBQ

It was okay–not outstanding or unique–but still tasty. My son was in the mood for something more filling and non-Filipino so he ordered their Spaghetti Bolognese. In true Filipino culinary fashion, it had a unique sweetness to it. It was like the sweet spaghetti of my youth but, again, nothing to go bonkers over. It was more than edible and I would order it again myself if I were in the mood for that taste but it’s not something I would search out at Paradiso Grill. Also, in true Filipino fashion, my wife and I complimented our scallops and pork with sinangag.

Unusual, at least in my experience, is to find New England Clam Chowder on the menu in The Philippines. For the first time ever, I found it on the menu at Paradiso Grill and, as a fan of New England Clam Chowder (check out my review of the NECCs at Montauk; click here) I had to order a bowl. It wasn’t like the NECC one would find in the US. It was less creamy but starchier. It wasn’t starchy to the point of being pasty but it lacked the smoothness that cream or milk offers. The best bites were the ones with a clam in it. Without it, there wasn’t much flavour. The soup included largely chopped carrots and potatoes and diced onions. The clams were served in their shells, which is something I’ve seen before but not something you see all the time. Overall, the soup was good enough but there was no spark. Unfortunately, it’s not something I would order again.

For drinks, my son had an orange Mirinda, which is originally a Spanish brand of soft drink that has lingered in The Philippine. (Paradiso Grill wasn’t serving Royal Tru Orange.)

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Mango Shake

 

My wife had a Mango Shake, which was outstanding. It wasn’t as thick as a milkshake so it wasn’t heavy after consuming it and what they put in it (ice, milk, whatever) didn’t make the shake candyish or take away from the freshness of the mango–and if you’ve had a Filipino mango you know how unique and delicious it is. The closest mango I’ve had outside of Asian to the Filipino mango is the yellow Mexican Ataulfo. For me, I had a Frozen Iced Tea. It came out with a frothy head and tasted like it was sweetened with some kind of honey and had the consistency of a thin slushy. To complete the drink, it wasn’t accented with lemon. It was accented with kalamansi! It was truly one of the most unique iced teas than I’ve ever had and, without doubt, one of the most delicious as well.

Later that night, as I wrote in the hotel room and my wife and son hung out on the beach, I got a little hungry and I decided to order our hotel’s Spaghetti Carbonara. I might have mentioned it earlier in this post but Carbonara is one of my favourite dishes–much like New England Clam Chowder is one of my favourite soups and Monte Cristo is one of my favourite sandwhiches–so I might have to dedicate a separate blog to the Carbonara dishes I come across.

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Spaghetti Carbonara from Discovery Shores

The Spaghetti Carbonara from Discover Shores’ kitchen was tasty, creamy and had a nice touch of smokiness much like Friday’s. It was, as can be expected, a little heavy but not all carbonara dishes I’ve eaten have left me with that ‘brick in your stomach feel.’ This one, while yummy–yes, formal culinary terms are used here)–could easily be shared by two or three people. One thing that made it different and, in a way, better than Friday’s was that it was less oily.

Like the night before, the turn down service left us some sweet samples to enjoy. Instead of Ube Maja, this night we were treated to Chocolate Biko (coconut glutinous rice cake). Regular biko looks like chocolate anyway, since it’s sweetend with brown sugar, so when I bit into my piece I was expecting to taste regular biko. I was surprised when I discovered this was chocolate-infused. It was tasty and I enjoyed my piece but I can’t honestly say if I liked it or not. As a combination, it was good but I think I was expecting and anticipating the regular biko taste, especially since I hadn’t had biko of any kind in years.

Day Three:

On our final day of our Boracay holiday, we had another breakfast buffet at our hotel. The offerings were very much the same as days one and two but this time they had individually wrapped squares of Anchor butter. This is a brand of butter we used to buy when I was growing up in Hong Kong so I definitely got a couple of squares to eat with the freshly baked pandesal (Filipino bread rolls).

Also new this time around, was the inclusion of slices of Yellow Watermelon at the fruit station.

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Yellow Watermelon

I’d never tasted it before and I was intrigued to see what it was like. Well, for those of you who haven’t tasted yellow watermelon, it tastes exactly the same as red watermelon–sweet, juicy and refreshing.

Our flight back to Manila wasn’t until 4pm, the last flight out of Catilcan, and the hotel let us do a late check out so we were able to enjoy some more beach and pool time before having to pack up. We also had a final lunch at our hotel’s restaurant. We weren’t super hungry so my wife and I shared an order of Lechon Kawali (deep friend pork sliced into cubes), served with suka (vinegar) with chopped bits of red and green silis (Filipino chili), and Bistek (strips of beefsteak marinated in soy sauce and kalamansi juice).

 

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Busted from Discovery Shores

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Lechon Kawali

Lechon Kawali is another Filipino standard that’s difficult to do badly and, as expected, the variation at Discovery Shores was delicious. What made this one stand out from others I’ve had were the large cloves of roasted garlic that were served on the plate with it. Oh my! What a treat! Place a piece of garlic on the pork, smear it over the meat and eat it with a spoonful of sinangag. Perfection. The Bistek was tasty as well managing a good balance between the saltiness of the toyo (soy sauce) and the tart of the kalamansi. It also came with large pieces of roasted garlic.

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                                                                             Garlic Rice

 

 

 

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Large delicious piece of roasted garlic that is served with the Lechon Kawali

On our way out, one of the waiters who served us on various occasions throughout our stay, gifted us with a box of Discovery Shores’ homemade chocolate chip cookies, handing it to my son. Such is the generosity of the Filipino.

This was a fantastic, albeit short, vacation to Boracay for so many reasons, not least of which was the food. If any of this blog post inspires you to try something when you’re at Boracay, let me know. It might even inspire you to give Filipino food a shot. I hope it does. And, if you discover anything new and tasty, share that as well.

Thanks for stopping by and happy eats!

My ratings:

Discovery Shores restaurant – 2 bites

Puka Beach eatery – 2 bites

Paradiso Grill – 1 and ½ bites

Friday’s restaurant – 1 and ½ bites

 

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 I 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 than 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!

Guisado

Guisado

Ingredients

1 lb ground beef
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium sweet onion, diced
3 small potatoes, peeled and chopped or diced 
3 Bay Leaves
1/4 - 1/2 cup (according to your taste) of soy sauce (preferably sweet)
1 cup of raisins
Salt and Peper to taste
1 teaspoon Oyster Sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon Sesame Oil (optional)

Method


1. Over medium a flame, heat the olive oil in a two-inch deep skillet.
2. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until the onion becomes translucent. Do NOT brown the garlic.
3. Add the beef and mix it in with the onion and garlic. Season with the salt and pepper and continue to cook the beef starts to brown. 
4. Add the Bay Leaves and stir.
5. Add the soy sauce and stir. 
6. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes soft enough to eat but do NOT let them get mushy. 
7. If you like a little Chinese touch to it, add the sesame oil and oyster sauce. If not, continue to stir until all ingredients are cooked to your liking and servewith rice.

Enjoy!

Spaghetti Longanisa

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Ingredients

Spaghetti* (about 1 cup cooked)

3-4 cloves of chopped garlic

2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1-2 cooked, Sweet* Longanisa (Filipino sausage)

*Other varieties of pasta and longanisa can be used. I like sweet longanisa over hot so I’ll use sweet. My wife, meanwhile, who enjoys spicy things might choose the hot.

Method

1. Cook the spaghetti the usual way (boil water, add the pasta, cook for seven minutes, drain)

2. Sautee the chopped garlic in the olive oil until it just starts to turn brownish from its original yellow

3. Toss the spaghetti into the garlic and olive oil and mix

4. Chop/mash the longanisa and toss it with the spaghetti.

5. Add grated cheese of your choice to your taste.

Recipe: Chicken Afritada

Chicken Afritada

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Ingredients

8-10 Chicken Thighs*
1 medium sized tomato, diced
1 medium sized onion, diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
About 3 bay leaves
1 package of frozen peas, thawed and separated
2 large bell peppers (1 red, 1 green), cut into into 1 inch pieces (seeds and stems discarded)
3-4 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large tin of tomato sauce (approx. 30 oz tin)
1 cup of water
1 teaspoon of peppercorns
Salt, to taste
1 cup of green beans, cut into 5 or 6 cm pieces

* In some variations of Afritada, pieces of pork and liver are added.

Method

1. Dice the tomato and onion and chop the garlic into very small pieces. Sauté all three ingredients in a pot with some oil over medium to high heat. At the same time, you can add the bay leaves.
2. When the onion starts to brown, add the chicken thighs and water (about 1 cup).
3. Season with salt and add the peppercorns.
4. When the chicken begins to lose its pinkness and starts looking beige, add the bell peppers and potato. Cook until the potatoes begin to develop a translucence on its edges. Turn the chicken, as well, to even the cooking.
5. Add the tomato sauce and stir. Cover and cook for about 45-60 minutes, checking periodically to turn the chicken and to add water, if needed.
6. With about a quarter of an hour left to cook, add the green beans and peas.
7. When the chicken is cooked (180 degrees F inside and/or, if pierced and no blood/red liquid oozes out), serve with steamed white rice.

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.