Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Family for Comfort

It is crazy. Almost every time my family and I went to One Utama for dinner, we will end up inevitably in Vietnam kitchen. We would always start with some wishful thinking, saying let's go dinner in One Utama. Why? Oh we want to watch movie after or there is something to buy or it is raining, are the usual reasons for a family, especially one with a baby boy (which always serve as the ultimate reason/excuse to everything including being fashionably late).

Sighing, I would then pretend and ask "But where would we eat?"

My dad would pretend to answer "Oh don't know yet?"

As if on cue, I would answer "Alright, we'll see then", with a resign note.

We would then try to act oblivion and with hope that when we get there we will decide on somewhere ‘else’ to eat but in the end we would somehow, someway we would decide on good old Vietnam Kitchen. Not that it is a bad thing because due to the numerous times that we have dined there, it has somehow became a sort of comfort food for us family. It invokes the sort of sense of security where you know what you would be getting anyway and what you would want to order without having to rack your head over the menu with. And almost always that you know what to expect out of the meal. With this, we have somehow minus out the angst that sometimes come with eating out, which instead let’s us focus on the gathering of family aspect itself. Moreover nowayears, with the new addition to the family, we do indeed need a lot of extra focus; it is quite amazing how a little package can bring so much more to what there already is.

It is true that sometimes, something that we have so much off we would actually overlook, thus you can see why the lack of pictures for this place that I have been more times than any other places that I have reviewed here. Nevertheless the food is enough to comfort no matter how many times we have been there. Though I must say it used to be better, bigger portions and better fried spring rolls, but still it is worth to go for affordable Vietnamese food or if you and your family have no idea where to go and need some kind of fall-back plan to keep the peace.

Vietnamese Bun
If I am ever going for a single dish for myself, I would always go for the Vietnamese bun that I find oh so light and easy to eat. It is almost like an Asian noodle salad, rice vermicelli served on a bed of fresh sliced greens (normally cucumber and carrot), topped with either grilled chicken or pork, herbs, bean sprouts and roasted peanuts. This Vietnam Kitchen version comes with sliced fried spring rolls too. Then it is served with the Vietnamese popular condiment - Nuoc cham (fish sauce mix with lemon, garlic, vinegar, sugar and chili), for you to drizzle over the dish generously. Ah, just describing it makes me want to go get one of these refreshing dish for this hot day.

Pork ball noodle soup and Beef noodle soup
My dad on the other hand would always go for his soupy goodness, sometimes my brother in law will follow suit, which is the pork ball noodles, which comes with smooth rice noodles and clear but flavourful soup. Meanwhile, though my dad being a non-fan of beef, there is also the famous Vietnamese beef noodle soup here. It may not be the best of its kind but for the variety that this restaurant is serving, it is good enough for its kind. It is the usual famous Vietnamese noodle soup with thick broth and smooth noodles.

Vietnam Kitchen House Platter

House platter
Besides that though we almost always order the house platter which is a somewhat like my Vietnamese bun but deconstructed and with addition of more meats like grilled shrimp wrap around sugar cane and meatballs. Also it comes with fresh big greens and rojak-like dark sauce for use to roll the fillings together in a rice paper. Yes, it is kind of like the Vietnamese version of our popiah.

Set menu/dishes and
There were few times that we had ordered from set menu before when we are eating in larger crowd but I personally think that the ala-carte dishes are better.

All in all, after the meal each time, everyone would be happy and then get on with their reason for being there, but one thing to give warning to if you are in a similar situation like mine is, do not start walking around with a toddler to entertain him for you might succumb to his/her seemingly innocent big brown eyes which sparkles at a certain thing which would end up with you having a lighter wallet. You have been warned, bout the toddler of course and not the meal, do try it if you are ever in One Utama and like us have no idea on where to eat in there.

Bandar Utama Shopping Centre
S312 2th Floor Highstreet,
1 Utama Shopping Centre
Bandar Utama Damansara
47800 Petaling Jaya
0377241336

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Newember

N is for November. N is for new.

How apt. Cause November is when I need to start anew. A good friend hybrid this name for me when I wrote that November = new, and then told me I should so write a post on it, which I totally agree. This would be the month of renewal for me, the month where I put back the scattered train coaches back onto the tracks. The rail is still going, the journey have not ended. The destination is important but after all, it is the journey that counts.

New is a very positive word. New signifies birth, like a new born child crying when it got to this world in shock and then marvel at all the sights, sounds and smells around him. From then on a child will grow with curiosity where everything is like anew, everything is exciting, everything seem like a big opportunity for exploration. When was the last time you see things from the eyes of a child?

November - autumn, fall, rainy and cooling, depending on where you are in this world. The old would have to go before the new can come in. November had always been a quiet month for me, it is neither the end yet, no that’s for December, but yet it is definitely neither the beginning of the last quarter of the year. It is normally the month where people take the last opportunity to mellow a little, slack a little and wait for the holidays to come. It is just like how in autumn the trees shed the leaves; here human will shed their burdens. As for me, I am throwing in spring for this autumn. I would shed the leaves and grow new flowers. Flowers bring joy.

Life is a long road of journey, don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers.

****

There was a period of time when I had to take care of my dad after his heart operation and I must say cooking for him at that time is definitely mind-boggling. There are many food restrictions, some medically so and some motherly so. Yes my mother in all her Chinese ways manage to come up with lots of things that a person recovering from operation should not consume, never mind that I insist on a scientific explanation, her because-I-say-so shoots every logic into oblivion.

So armed with limited choices, and after rounds of cooking the usual home cooked Chinese food, I was thinking to cook something new, something that I totally pick out of the air for him. Yes new is the theme we are talking about here. Somehow, with whatever I can forage in my sister’s kitchen and what I had bought beforehand, I manage to whip up a Hainanese inspired pork chop.

I must say though this recipe is the typical example of Chinese cooking, it’s a little bit of this, a dash of that, a sprinkle of those and many, many finger dipping tasting into the hot sauce to come up with the right taste, so all the best if you are to attempt this and may you whip up a pork chop ala your own. So do read the following recipe as a gauge on how you may approach this and you go from there. Let your creative taste buds take charge!


Pork Chop ala Rokh

Ingredients
2-3 pork shoulder in slices
1 big onion
3-4 cloves of garlics

Sauce mix
Lots of splashes of soy sauce
Dash of sesame oil
Few dashes of rice wine
2-3 tbsps of tomato sauce
Mix water to taste

Punch the pork shoulder till soft and tender
Marinade with salt, pepper and mixed spice
Cut big yellow onion and few cloves of garlic into slices
Then mix for the sauce: Soy sauce and rice vinegar (few big splashes), sesame oil (few small splash) and tomato sauce (about 2 tbsps) and water add to taste
Pour in some olive oil and then pan fry the pork chop till no longer pink on both sides. Set aside
Using the same pan, throw in the sliced onions and cook till caramelize, add some olive oil if needed. (Do make sure it is nicely browned and caramelized as this would make or break the dish, google for some instructions if you’re unsure)
Next throw in the sliced garlic and stir fry some more till the aroma fills your nose
Then pour in the sauce mix and bring to boil, at same time start dipping, tasting and add on stuff if needed
Turn off the fire and pour the sauce over the cooked pork chop and voila!

****

Yes I know that newember have come and gone, but why is this post only up in January? Let’s just say in my time of recuperating and time of renewal, I kept this post aside as quite a sacred thought to myself. Now that I have been renewed, I find it liberating to post it up. Do not let my idea of renewal be constraint to November, as I believe many of us takes January for this wonderful ritual. We all need it once in a while, so what’s your renewal for 2011?

Monday, August 23, 2010

A Taste of Kampung

Buka Puasa, which means literarily ‘to open the fast’, is done in the month of Ramadhan. Malaysia, has a big percentage of people who are Islam that observes this fasting in the day and break their fast at Maghrib (sunset) prayer time. Being part of this multi-cultural country, the rest of us non-Muslims couldn’t help but also join in the feast that comes with the buka puasa. These elaborate meals are mostly for the community to get together and nurture fellowship. In Malaysia it also tops to nurture the sense of Muhibbah (living in harmony) between all of us. Here for the elaborate meals we can have from the roadside Bazaar Ramadhan (local food market that only opens during these times) to restaurants featuring various promotions to fine dining and buffets that cater specially for this. At these times the feasting was great as various hard to get authentic local dishes will gather in one or few places for us to savour.

Therefore when I was invited to have a Ramadhan buffet review in Paya Serai, Hilton PJ, I knew I would be in for a great feast and thus accepted eagerly. Boy was I right! The buffet spread headed by Chef Noor Hisham definitely did not disappoint as it offers extravagant spread of over 100 local and international cuisines. Apparently it changes every week but at the time that I went is enough for me to think that I covered most of the important dishes in Malaysia. As I walk from the buffet line inside to the outside where they had set up mini stalls, nicely decorated with kampung (village) style and serving local delights had me gush with excitement, mentally noting to taste everything, well almost.

As I was taking pictures earlier before the buka puasa starts, a man was curious to why I was doing the picture shootings thus I explained that I am a food blogger here for review. Then straight away he gushes on with the reason why he came here for buka puasa and it had been one of his favourite choices because here is where you can find the real authentic taste of Malay food. He added that you may find the same dishes in other buffets but none can compare to the real taste here and to top it off the variety we can find here as well. Being suddenly really tham jiak and focusing on what I would eat soon I actually forgot to ask the name of this young man that gave me the secret information, thus I hope if you are reading this and you recognise your praises do drop a comment here!

Armed with this new information, I resolved to taste all the local Malay dishes above anything else. Here you would be able to get all the authentic kampung dishes in one place! I started with the scrumptious appetisers of Buah Jeruk, Acar Rampai, Kerabu Pucuk Ubi, Kerabu Nangka, Taufu Sumbat and Sup Ekor. I am totally a fan of all these acar and kerabu dishes, which are sweet, sour and slightly spicy, it is a delight to the tongue, truly something Malaysian. Honorouble mentioned also goes to the Sup Ekor (oxtail soup) that was so rich and flavourful, I just had to lap it all up.

For the main course I zoomed in on all the Malays dishes again, ranging of Nasi Lemak with sambal sotong, beef rendang, ikan masak lemak (fish curry), assam prawns, lemang, serunding daging (dried beef flakes), kacang botol and satay. At the ‘live action’ stalls that I mentioned, you get chefs cooking and serving you freshly made food Kambing Panggang, Roti Jala, Putu Piring, and Murtabak. Here notably with tham jiak stars was the nasi lemak with sambal sotong (spicy squid) as the sambal was really good and the sotong cook till tender, it was almost perfect except the absence of wrapping in banana leaves. Another noted was the roti jala was done really well too, I had second helpings of it. The satay (barbecued meat on stick) were tender yet crunchy on the outside got the thumbs up from me.


At the end for dessert, time for me to open up the other section of my stomach, we had so many local choices again like Bubur Pengat Pisang, Bubur Durian and many more Buburs in a row, freshly made Apam Balik, Tapai Ubi and Malay Kuihs. From here I must say I love the Pengat Pisang which was not overtly sweet as the usual that I found and the texture of it was just right, and the Bubur Durian, which was also not too sweet and with the pungent taste of this king of fruits that doesn’t overpower but it doesn’t hide as well. A second helping of this Bubur Durian seals my kampung feast of tonight nicely.

Thanks again to Frat and the lovely ladies of Zest PJ for the invite to this wonderful Ramadhan buffet. Indeed it was a scrumptious meal and it made this tham jiak very happy to be able to taste so many authentic Malay dishes at one go. For those who would also want to buka puasa here or just to join in the fellowship as well, here are the information:

First 3-days of Ramadhan
Adult: RM75++
Child (below 12 years old): RM45++
The next one-week
Adult: RM99++
Child (below 12 years old): RM59++
The following weeks
Adult: RM109++
Child (below 12 years old): RM69++

More information at Zest PJ

Paya Serai
Hilton Petaling Jaya
No 2 Jalan Barat,
46200 Petaling Jaya,
Malaysia
603 7955 9122 extn. 4260/1

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time Out KL Food Awards 2010

I’ve always believe that good food establishments will last through the onslaught of economics as we all no matter what needs to eat, some of us wants to eat (yes, like me). We all have our own personal favourites for certain dish or certain cuisine. There are always the go-to restaurants when the cravings strike or when we need to entertain. There are also some place where it had swept us off our feet yet we know we can only go back once in a while, like playing a nice flirting game. Regardless of which, we always have our own love affairs with food and what’s the better way to show appreciation to them than having them crown with award as best in the country?

The coveted magazine Time Out KL (TOKL) is currently having their annual food awards, whereby thousands of KL-ites get to choose their favourite restaurants according to categories; this year in 2010 they have split it into 13 categories. Nominating has started and will end by September 16th with open fields where you can fill in whatever restaurants you want to and they will do the shortlisting for us. Then polls will be re-open in October 1st for us to vote the shortlisted ones in two stages and then onward to the eventual winner. 

So head on here to the Time Out KL Food awards and submit your favourite restaurants. My trick is to write in the first thought that came to mind cause if I tried to compare with another, my head will burst. After all I am tham jiak.  Fret not if you could not submit all the fields as it is not mandatory so just key in your favourites and cross your fingers. Hopefully by awarding our favourites they will stay in business long for us to continue to savour the food and satisfy our cravings. 

As TOKL says, every vote counts and this is the only food awards in Kuala Lumpur which are free and fair and voted by YOU, the citizens of KL. May the best restaurants win!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Prime Time, Ladies

The Lady in Red
She is the one who you would find packing three suitcases for a one week trip. Someone who would packed in lots of shopping of books and clothes, and sneaked in bottles and packs of chilli paste, spices and what-nots from Malaysia and then get slapped with huge amount for overweight baggage back to Jakarta. She would be the one who knows the best of quality, the right and appropriate thing to do at a time and she makes her decision firm and fast. She is one awesome clear and wonder woman I must say.

The Lady in Green
She is the sweet and lovely lady who will always ever so gently take you into her arms to comfort you in times when you were bawling like a baby. She would be the one listening to you when you need to talk or sometimes cajole you into sharing your heart out in order for her to understand you more. She would always be the one who took effort to keep in touch and to bring everyone together. She is the one who would always ask for your updates and genuinely care for you.

The Lady in Yellow
A no nonsense and down to earth girl, she pursues what she thinks is best and then excel in it. Perseverance and loyalty is her middle name, she works at things single-mindedly without fail be it work or personal. Nevertheless, since when we were still young and in our diapers running around our nanny’s home, she had always have a soft spot for me, letting me do what I want, getting into trouble yet still protect me from harm and even my nanny’s wrath sometimes. She is the best person to go to for a girls' day in.

The Lady in Black
The naughty one and the one who is never on time would be what you use to describe her. She is the one who would make the rest of the ladies to shake their head. She would be the one who would steal a cookie from the jar and forgot to wipe her mouth clean and the rest would process to laugh it off and help her clean it while rolling the eyes. Yes she was the one that feel so blessed to have the three ladies in her life.

The Ladies Meats are not the Men’s Poison
Most recently, the ladies except for the one in yellow, got to meet up after a long time. And it has been a really long time. This time, the ladies in green and black manage took this as an excuse for another extreme fine dining (the first with the lady in yellow), this time we go from middle eastern belly dancers to meat, meat, meat and just meat. Yes you heard it right, meat. Did I mention bloody and juicy?

Oh yes. I am talking about really fine good and dandy red perfectly cooked to medium rare of a perfectly fresh and juicy Wagyu beef. After the lady in black, which you all would have guessed by now is me, hem and haw, and hem and haw some more, over all the amazingly looking menu of red meats, I was pretty sure I would have want to try all if my wallet and waistline had permitted, but in the end I chose her ribeye meat of Australian Certified Wagyu Beef/Kobe Style. This was one of the best steaks I have ever eaten, and yes what a bold statement but true one to make. Not to mention at the same time we keep washing the meat down with the nicely paired pinot noir. Let us all smack lips in unison now.

To go with our meats, we all have the same array of side dishes. There was the baked honey cinnamon pumpkin wedges which I must say was my favourite, the honey was simply divine, not overtly sweet yet have this strong scent of sweetness that almost make me thought that it was sweet potato instead. Another top favourite of the sides coming in closely was the charcoal grilled Australian Portobello mushrooms with its smoky flavour mixed with its moist and strong mushroom taste. The only thing that would make this even better would be to top it with some caviar. Then there was also the creamy spinach with garlic which is unique and I didn’t know that spinach can go so well with cream and so now I do. Also at meantime, we have the luxury to also accompany our meats with specially concocted sauces, served in copper pots (which I simply love), that is the truffle sauce and wild mixed mushroom sauce. . 



While waiting for our meats, we had start to work up the appetite with some refreshing dishes like Classic Caesar salad and I must say this one holds true to its name of classis, simple and nicely mixed together with only the core ingredients of this famous salad, definitely make me rethink again how I have been misjudging it all these while. Another was the prawn and avocado with special sauce which was pleasant to the palate. The lady in red also wanted to have some soup to line the stomach for the onslaught of meats to come thus the order for the rich lobster bisque that came with a baked puff pastry top that makes one feel the joy of cracking it to get to the delicious orangey goodness inside.

Since at same time, prime was having a limited feature of Blackmore Wagyu beef, that are apparently prize as one of the finest meat, the lady in green suggested to order it and we definitely was glad she did. We had it ala salad style in order not to fill us up as we all each have individual servings of more meat. One bite into the soft buttery meat have me wishing we should have ordered more from this fine selection and who cares if we have more of other great meats too? In this matter, the more the merrier quote rings so true.

Not to forget, with honourable mentions, are the awesome hearty breads – wholesome walnut bread and enticing black pepper crusted elemental cheese bread, I was torn between the two and end up just helping myself to loads of both of them. This helps with the accompanying special homemade butter spreads of few versions – spicy, black pepper and plain. I believe they will rotate the flavours of these now and then. But I must say, the plain one won me over with its supreme real butter taste with real buttery texture, are such things even possible for a butter? Yes I think it does.

We started pleasantly and then climax at the supreme meats, the lady in red showed that she enjoyed her Australian black angus gourmet ribeye very much to, we will know end with a sweet note, or maybe few notes. My favourite was actually the simplest down to earth dessert of rich hot chocolate cake which came with chocolate sauce and the really smooth and rich stracciatella ice cream which I believe brought this dessert up into the sky. Then there was the everyone’s favourite of pecan mud pie with chocolate sauce which have a nice mix of ice cream with cake, pecans and biscuit crusts. Lastly was the crepe suzette with preserved orange zest which was good but I would have love more kick as I am more of a booze person, still it was alright.

The Ladies Palette of Colours
Mixing the ladies together will always produce loads of colourful antics. You will see them painting many canvases of wonderful memories. They already have a gallery full of colourful arts that depicts their adventures and love, especially for the ladies in green and black which virtually grew up with the rest of them. We are who we are because of them in some ways and we truly appreciate it. Most of all we must not forget the queen lady who brought us all together (two which she brought into this world), which is my nanny. I love you ladies!



Prime, Le Meridien
Kuala Lumpur Sentral
Kuala Lumpur 50470
Malaysia
603 2263 7888

Monday, August 02, 2010

Good Food, Great Company

Planning a holiday is no easy feat, what more planning a budget holiday. But a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, and so she had been buried in planning for holiday. Don’t envy her, instead go out and plan your holiday now! Besides that, I had been settling back down in Malaysia, after my short but great stint in Manila, though I would say settling down had been amazingly quite smooth, it is almost as if I had never left. But I did, because I can remember vividly my wonderful time in Manila, it’s like a happy and adventurous chapter in the journey of my life, which I would say have warrant another post, or many posts on another day! For those my dear reader, I am sorry that you would wait cause now the focus is that tham jiak is back in town and being blessed that she is, not shortly after she got back she had been invited to a wonderful food review! This time she gets to dine with duo Frat and FBB, and at same time she finally got to meet the famous Aly. Nothing beats a nice dinner with a nice group of people.

So on with the food review of today, we started off nicely with garlic bread. I for one have never been really crazy about garlic bread, especially those dried hard ones with some miserable hint of garlic, but for this one, Monte’s did it really well. The bread was soft with crunch at the right parts and it has been generously lather with creamy garlicky butter. It is good enough to even eat it on its own, which I nearly did finish it till I hear there are soups coming, so I restrain to leave a bit for sake of dipping, I just like the act of it, for sheer habit or what not but I do. The soups came and did not disappoint in the dunking part, especially for the Oxtail soup that was really flavourful albeit a bit on salty side (but be forewarned I have low tolerance for sweet or salty either way) and as for the carrot pumpkin soup it was creamy and with subtle taste of both.

Then on came the appetizers to whet our appetite of course, I was already gearing up for more after a good dose of garlic bread. The escargot turned out to be good, kind of a pleasant surprise as I had few bad ones before, though I wouldn’t say that this was utterly authentic but it was whetting my palate for sure. Then next was the Juice Scallop and living up to its description, it was juicy and oh so tender. Though I would prefer to have more flavourful sauce, the pumpkin puree that they were resting on was alright with complementing texture.

After that came my new found favourite dish to eat nowadays – salad, and yes I am on a diet so there, but this one is not your ordinary salad per say. This one is a warm salad, with nicely cooked prawns, eggplants and topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and some greens. Certainly a nice twist to my usual cold salad repertoire though I wouldn’t say it was my favourite.  

Finally then came the real deal, our main course to fill up the remaining space of our stomach (not inclusive of the special compartment for dessert of course, who among you dare to say that you can be so full from food you cannot fit in dessert anymore).  First up was one of the two favourite of the lot that we had which was the pan-seared cod. I may be bias because I was always a fish lover, but still I must this one is really delicious, as the cod is fresh, cooked just right and the sauce was a flavourful companion. The next favourite, though I cannot decide which I liked more was the 8 hrs lamb, and as the name says, it was carefully braised for 8 hours in a special sauce and thus producing a dish where the meat is about to fall off itself and which literarily melts in your mouth, no kidding! I must say this is definitely one dish I would recommend to order if you are ever at Monte’s.

The rest of the main meal were the spaghetti marinara which was a classic dish that we all know but I would say that I like this version much, mushroom chicken which was served with herb rice and was indeed really paired well together thus not a surprise that this was one of the bestselling lunch dish due to its value in money while filling one up for the day and lastly the prawn and fish combo which I only manage to get hold of some big prawns that were freshly grilled.

With the stomach now filled up nicely, now came the part to fill up the secret compartment that was always reserved for desserts!  We had classic desserts which always seem to please many people for generations like bread and butter pudding, Hershey’s chocolate cake and carrot cake. I must say though the bread and butter pudding looks quite dry at first, it turned out that those thick dry crusts are the key part of this dish that gave it an interesting mix of flavour and texture, salty and crunchy in contrast to the rest of the sweet and fluffiness. While the chocolate cake (something I find hardest to take picture of next to a slab of steak) didn’t wow, it also didn’t disappoint and would certainly fulfill any chocolate lover (yes I am one) in need of a fix. The carrot cake was what I normally would make at home, crumbly and moist but most importantly not overly sweet, which of course please me very much and which also spur me to make one myself soon, though the icing was not the cheesy type that I would have preferred as the perfect pairing.

Oh and I just realize we have another mini secret compartment that was always there to be filled up with after meal drinks don’t we? Normally I love to wash down with a nice cup of coffee (if it is still early in the day as I have a coffee curfew so that I wouldn’t stay up late into the night) else tea or even alcohol will have to do. For this time, Susan Lee, Monte’s owner insisted that we tried a new special drink that she had discovered by chance – Green Tea Café Latte, which of course pique my interest as I am an avid fan of coffee and green tea! Who would have known these two can go so well together, kind of remind me of my favourite ‘cham’ (local coffee and tea mix) but with a Japanese twist instead! Certainly a good drink to end the meal and it was well worth breaking my curfew for.

Well who would have known then, tuck in a cozy little corner of the Bangsar Shopping Centre (BSC) would be a family sort of restaurant that would certainly have something for every members of every age. I would say, with its new chic décor, it also in some ways to penetrate into the younger market where it can be a nice meal reunion or celebration of sorts place. Did I also mentioned really value for money? Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Bangsar Shopping Centre,
F112, 1st Floor, West Wing 
03-2094 1112

Fellow tham jiak kaki reviews:

P/S: Much thanks to Susan for being such a gracious host, Dinesh and FBB for the invite, Frat and Aly for the lovely company.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Uniquely Mixed

Most people in the Philippines save the few Chinese that remains with their ancestral Chinese surname or a few indigenous that keeps their own too, have Spanish surnames. A close local friend told me it is because at some point in history, a law was passed during the Spanish occupation that everyone should adopt a family name for easy administrative purposes, thus the names were coined since then, with Spanish influence of course. I personally like their names where one name reminded me of a tycoon, another of astronomy while one about a venturing girl.

****

Asian in looks, with mixtures of Chinese and Malay with some little Spanish, Filipinos may have features ranging from chinky eyes (as how the locals call for those eye slits that Chinese are famous for – yes like mine), to big round eyes similar to the Malays and mix of brown and yellow skin. One thing which is frequent here though is that most Filipinos have small frames and low in stature, I felt immediately at home here being of somewhat similar, I have to admit. In fact, many here commented I look like a Filipina, and most people I met will converse with me in Tagalog (their local national language) naturally for the first time and I had countless taxi drivers insisting I look deceptively like a local. Maybe that is how I get to blend in easily, something I am quite thankful for.

****

“There are Starbucks everywhere here!” I exclaimed as we walk passed one at an obscure highway stop.

“Yes, because we Filipinos,” B started explaining “want to live the American dream”

There is no doubt that many, if not all, Filipinos that have the American dream, and why not? In land of America it seems that anything is possible, it is where dreams go and be realized. It was said that long time ago, Philippines nearly became a part of America, just that war happened and the rest as they say, is history. Nevertheless, I do meet a lot of Filipinos who their heart is strongly rooted in their own homeland, who would willingly stay and grow the country, but sadly there are even more that look at, live by and dream of America.

****

As you can see, as how Carlos Celdran aptly puts it, Filipinos are a mixture of sorts - Spanish in name, Asian in looks but American at heart, just like its most famous dessert halo-halo which literarily means mix-mix.


This icy dessert had reminded me of our Malaysian Ais Kacang, minus the the kacang (no kidding), where there is shaved ice drenched in condensed/evaporated milk or just milk and sugar and then mix in with various ingredients of sorts. The usual suspects are red mung beans, sugar palm (kaong), coconut sport (macapuno), jackfruit strips, purple yam (ube) paste, crushed young rice (pinipig), leche flan and caramelized banana. Some even say that it is not complete without a dollop of ube (yam) ice cream, and only ube flavour for the authenticity!

As we can see even the ingredients are mixtures of culture of red mung beans from the Chinese, leche flan from the Spaniards and shaved ice from the Americans (source from Wikipedia). From my 100 days stay there, I learn that, as ironic as it may sound, being a mixture of sorts and of no distinct identity is what makes Filipinos unique. Just like how the mixture of halo-halo that sort of make you think that the dessert couldn’t make up its mind on what it wants to be that makes it so uniquely delicious.

****

One of the best authentic original halo-halo I tried (with nearly all the ingredients mentioned above) turns out to be from one of the famous chain restaurants in the Philippines – Chow King. (first picture above)

Chow King


Another variation of halo-halo (picture above), stripped down to nearly bare naked of essentials – leche flan, macapuno (coconut sport) and caramelized banana, was truly a league of its own for its really smooth shaven iced doused in creamy sweet milk and its minimal critical ingredients.

Razon’s of Guagua

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Many Sides of Manila and It's Food

“Add 30 peso, heavy traffic!” said the taxi man.
“What?!?” I feign incredulity, this is not the first time I was asked of this.
“Yes ma’am, heavy traffic, taxi cannot make money” he continued.

Somehow this line make me relent, at times some taxi man are rude in asking for more money on top of their meter, but this one just tells me honestly why he needs it. Maybe it is just how frankly he tells me why he needs that extra. So I just said “OK!”

It is not always like this in Manila, I have many times met more kindness than I can ever have expected, once a taxi man said I can pay whatever amount I seem fit since the destination I went to was just so near, it caught me off guard, but I paid as how much I think is right with tips to boot.

I find that I actually enjoy tipping, after living a life of an ‘expat’ (some of them refer me as that though I don’t feel such as that word makes one think of extravagance life but trust me it is not),but still new habits are learnt when one is in a foreign land. I never tip when I was in Malaysia, I guess somehow it doesn’t seem like the culture to me then but as the saying goes, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. I have learnt here that not many are that well off, many earn their wages through sheer hard work and many of them are in the service industries. So if the restaurant does not charge for service (most of them do not), then I would leave some tips so that the servers could earn a more decent income. Besides, at most places the service is good, I am always greeted with a smile, and they are mostly attentive and genuine.

Food I must say though there are hits and misses, but who am I judge when I have only been to only so few of them, many good ones still uncovered I believe. In the metropolitan area which are dominated with few chain restaurants, it is quite hard to avoid them (being one who always think that chain restaurants are just a small step away from ‘fast food’), some did disappoint but many does surprises you with their good food and how they have maintained the quality despite the huge expansions and the some for even the longest time of existence. I guess this is just how Filipinos show their fidelity, if the food is good, they will keep returning to it religiously, thus allowing a selected few chain restaurants to boom across the metropolitan faster than you can say “Sarap!” (means delicious in Tagalog) This is after all the country where their home-grown fast food chain, Jollibee (just love the catchy name) out beats McDonald by a seriously high margin; at nearly every corner that you turn, you will see the happy bee with a chef hat smiling at you.

Nevertheless, I have in fact tried quite a number of local dishes, many times in various restaurants, just to find them differ slightly (sometimes widely) from one another, and then on to find my favourites among them. So let me introduce you to them slowly, each food that the locals here enjoy day in and day out and where to get the best of them and what varieties you may just find (mind you some or most of them would be coming from the said chain restaurants, I guess they are a chain for the same reason?). First let me start with a dish, as you all know me, the one who praises the pork relentlessly, would of course start with one which is the pork sisig.

Pork sisig is one of the well known pulutan (food to go with drink), where normally people order when they are out having a beer or some alcohol. It was said to reduce the impact of alcohol on the stomach and the name itself actually meant to be ‘taken in small quantity’. But as for me, I ordered it anyway as appetizer or main meal even, because I simply love it. There are two groups of pork sisig lovers, those who love the crunchy ones while those on the vice versa, for me I belong to the former group. I just love to have a crunch on my pork sisig but nevertheless I do enjoy the other types too. Pork sisig would serve better to those who don’t really know what it is made of, but just if you are brave enough read on now else skip to the next paragraph, you have been warned! It is made of chopped pig’s head (hair removed and tenderize and yes entire head!), then boiled and grilled/broiled then finally fried with chopped onions and served on a sizzling platter with vinegar and kalamansi juice (Asian lime).

Normally they like to serve the pork sisig at the last cooking part where they would ‘fry’ the mixture in front of you on the sizzling pan, even sometimes cracking a raw egg over and cook it along. Once served, you can then squeeze over the kalamansi  to taste yourself and voila, you would have a perfect crunchy pulutan or simply a good dish to  go along with your rice.

For my favourite crunchy pork sisig:
Krocodile Grill
Greenbelt 3
Esperanza St., Ayala Center
Makati City, Metro Manila


A cross between the crunchy and the soft, a lot of people's favourite:
Gerry's Grill
Glorietta 5
Level 2, Ayala Center,
Makati City, Metro Manila
(02)856-4443, (02)856-3544
Sunday to Thursday 11am - 12midnight
Friday and Saturday 11am - 2am

Other Branches

Another pork sisig with a twist, added with mayonnaise but nonetheless uniquely tasty:
Giligans ‘s Island Restaurant and Bar
Greenbelt 1
Esperanza St., Ayala Center
Makati City, Metro Manila
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