Monthly Archives: February 2009

Thoughts on No Reservations, Part 2: Angeles City, Pampanga

Part 2: Angeles City / Pampanga

(end of Manila segment/ Angeles City segment)

So when I last left you, I was lamenting the Manila portion of Bourdain’s trip to the Philippines. But my spirits rose in the next segment, which by far was my favorite.

In this segment, Bourdain meets up with Claude Tayag, Pampangan chef and culinary expert extraordinaire, in Angeles City. Notorious for its red light district (due to the American military presence at Clark Air Force Base, open until 1991), Angeles City isn’t generally thought of as a necessary scenic stop in the PI, unless you’re a US war/colonialism/genocide buff and/or someone looking to get their kicks singing karaoke and bedding a prostitute.

Here are a few thoughts on how the US military presence in the Philippines, and specifically in Angeles, is presented: I appreciated how Bourdain and the producers mention this history, albeit briefly, though it was quickly dismissed as if there are still no real social issues in the Philippines that stem from this US presence. Bourdain says this US military/colonial presence began with the Spanish American War, and for someone like me who researches and writes about US-Philippine political relations, would have preferred he used the more accurate name of the Philippine American War. But hey, some bonus points to Bourdain here for at least making lip service to this history instead of brushing it off completely.

Ok, so, Tayag takes Bourdain to Nancy’s Carinderia, a hole-in-the wall where goat specialties are served. Bourdain tries goat in four different preparations: in papatan (bile soup); kilawan (sp?), which Claude describes as a “gelatinous rubbery skin thing”; sinigang (like adobo, can be made with different proteins. common element is a sour soup base made with tamarind); and finally, the goat head soup complete with eyes and brain.

This menu definitely had the potential to be made into a “weird foods” spectacle but I was happy to see that it wasn’t. Bourdain even enjoyed it all, digging into the goat head with relish to pick out the nasty bits. Claude proved to be an engaging guide here, and the rapport between them seems genuine and not awkward. The episode was looking better so far!

The next scene in Angeles is at night, and is the only real ‘going out’ scene we have in this episode– surprising for Bourdain’s track record in No Reservations, where it seems like he’s hungover half the time. Tayag and several other (unidentified) men are with Tony at Aling Lucing’s, another divey spot that lays claim to inventing sisig, that “symphony of pig parts” best enjoyed with plenty of San Miguel beer.

Is it sad to say this is the only scene were Bourdain really seems to be enjoying himself? Hate on me all you want and say he loved his entire trip… but I never really got the sense of that except for in this scene. Throughout the show, I as a viewer felt that Bourdain was going through the motions. Certainly, he didn’t actively hate his trip (see Romania and Namibia episodes for some real hate!), but his polite deference throughout was a little disconcerting. To see him dig into the sisig and “chicken butt skewers” and chatting with Claude and the other men in this scene was a refreshing change from the stilted conversations he had elsewhere in the ep.

So back to the food: When Bourdain says that this is his “come to mama moment of my trip so far” because of the sisig, I totally believe him. My own first encounter with sisig was at a bar on Timog Avenue, a popular bar strip in Quezon City (Metro Manila area) two summers ago, and the only good sisig I’ve had since then can only be eaten in the Philippines; my US-cooked counterparts hold no weight, perhaps because folks like to gussy it up with nicer pork bits instead of using the head like in the PI. The US military connection to sisig is clear- Bourdain says that Aling Lucing invented sisig to make use of the pig heads that Clark AFB used to give away in the 70s. And though that too is but a fleeting mention, I wish that the Filipino guides in the show who kept on offering reasons as to why Filipino cuisine is unpopular in the US or less “Asian” would remember this colonial history a little better.

That is to say, there is a huge difference between saying
“The Philippines has no identifiable cuisine/culture/personality because there are so many influences”
versus saying
“The long history of colonialism and genocide have impacted many facets of Filipino life, from the Philippines’ political-economic dependency on the US, to its access to good pork products (instead of the ‘dirty bits’), to the large immigrant population who have to leave the Philippines to survive.”

Just sayin’.

Next up: Bourdain bougies it up with Claude in his house/restaurant/ridiculous compound in Pampanga!

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Adobo-licious!

No Reservations this week reminded me that I promised ya’ll my adobo recipe, so without further ado, here it is! Mind you, this is the first time I’ve ever tried to write up the recipe, so forgive me if it’s maddeningly un-precise. Hopefully the photo documentation will help you recreate it at home… and hey, remember what I said before? Adobo’s better when you play around with it yourself!

My ingredient list for this batch was as follows:

  • 8 chicken drumsticks, skin intact (Generally, I prefer a mix of bone-in thighs and drumsticks, not breasts. Breasts dry out, and I love that dark meat)
  • 2 yellow potatoes, skin on, chopped into large cubes (all I had left, I usually use at least five or six smallish yellow potatoes. NEVER Idaho, ick!)
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced (I love me some garlic. I usually estimate about 1 clove per 2 pieces chicken.)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbs. whole black peppercorns
  • Silver Swan soy sauce (If this or no other Filipino soy sauce is available, try a Hawaiian soy sauce. Both have slightly sweeter flavor than Japanese soy sauce, but Kikkoman can be used in a pinch too)
  • Distilled white vinegar (nothing fancy, Heinz for me!)

My Cooking Process

1. Prep the garlic cloves and potatoes, and pop into a 6 quart sauce-pot. Add bay leaf and peppercorns, chicken. Stir together so evenly distributed- you don’t want the potatoes getting stuck on the bottom.

adobo1

2. Add the liquids! I told you that I add based on sight and smell, not set measurements. But here’s my rough guide to adding the liquids:

First, I pour in the soy sauce so it covers a little more than 1/3 the chicken and potatoes:

adobo2

Then, I pour in the vinegar until it nearly covers the ingredients, but not quite:

adobo3

I stir and smell- is it too acidic (does it burn my nostrils too much when I inhale in?) If so, I add a touch more soy. Too sticky-sweet smelling? Add more vinegar, but not too much, because the next step is adding some water, which will dilute the soy anyway. When it’s pretty much right (better to be more acidic than not acidic enough– you want to smell a sharpness but you don’t want it to make your eyes water or make you cough too much!), I pour in just enough water to barely cover the ingredients.

adobo4
Now, if you want to, you can omit water altogether, and just play around with the proportions of soy sauce and vinegar. At this point, I’ve made enough adobo to know when I’m ready to add water without diluting the flavor entirely. But if you’re worried you’ll water it down too much, certainly omit the water! Just make sure that you mostly cover your ingredients with whatever liquid mixture you come up with. (Note: If you omit the potatoes altogether, you don’t have to use as much liquid, perhaps only filling up liquids  2/3rds of the way. I’ve found that if I don’t cover with water when I use potatoes, that they suck up too much liquid and it’s a bit dry by the time the chicken is cooked)

3. Cover pot and bring to a near-boil, approx. 10 minutes. You don’t want it to be a rolling boil, but you do want to heat it up enough so it just begins to bubble.

4. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, on medium until cooked, approx. 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I’ve found that when I use 5-6 potatoes (or a # nearly equal to amount of chicken pieces using), that I know when the chicken is cooked by testing the potatoes. If potatoes are ready– meaning they are soft but not yet falling apart– then the chicken is usually perfect too. Really, it’s hard to f- up adobo since you’re cooking slowly over low heat. So, cook until chicken is tender- I like to wait til it comes easily off the bone with a fork.

A well-cooked adobo (like this batch, which was one of my better ones recently, I think!) should have the following qualities: meat falling off the bone, gelatinized fat that melts on the tongue, and a dark caramel color that permeates everything from the potatoes to the chicken. If you get all three, you’re in adobo heaven!

5. Serve over hot jasmine rice and ENJOY!

hot adobo = foggy camera

hot adobo = foggy camera


adobo-cooked

Thoughts on No Reservations Philippines: Part 1

So, I know I’m tardy on my promise to blog my thoughts on the much-anticipated episode of No Reservations in the Philippines, and it’s frankly because I wanted to watch the episode at least one more time before weighing in. In case you don’t stalk food blogs like I do, let me just say there has been quite a bit of controversy about the episode, with the high (or low?) point being renowned Filipino blogger MarketMan’s outburst for the haters to leave poor Augusto alone. So, yes, I am a bit nervous about putting out my thoughts on this episode given the fact I might be torn to shreds for saying one negative thing (and sorry, I will be), and I’ll be taking my time to write up my full review as I rewatch the show, segment by segment.

First, though: Who’s Augusto? What’s the controversy? Let me break it down for you real quick. Augusto, the Filipino American man who came in second place in last year’s fan contest (winner gets to take Bourdain to their location of choice for a taping of No Reservations), was brought back in as one of Tony Bourdain’s ‘local guides’ when they finally decided to shoot an episode of the show in the Philippines. Augusto, raised in Long Island, NY and having only spent a total of one week in the Philippines prior to this episode, did not, let’s say, “perform” his knowledge or love for the Philippines properly, or so the critics claim. Battle royale ensues.

Before I weigh in on the Augusto situation, let me share some thoughts on the other segments of the episode before he really enters the picture: the segments filmed in Manila and Angeles City/Pampanga. And before we get any farther, I should let you know up front: this episode made my soul hurt, and not necessarily in a good way.

Part 1: Bourdain in Manila

Tony Bourdain starts the episode in Manila, guided by Ivan Man Dy, proprietor of Old Manila Walks and professional foodie tour guide for primarily non-Filipino tourists. As most of my family that still lives in the PI live in the Metro Manila area, and it’s the part of the country I’ve spent the most time in, I was super excited for this segment. The two began in Binondo (the “Chinatown” of Manila) and are shown in the famous food market (dampa) in Cubao. They eat, they chat, it’s business as usual on No Reservations.

First thought: for a foodie tour guide, Man Dy’s factual statements on Filipino cuisine seemed a little… different than how I’ve learned about Filipino food from my family, from cookbooks, Filipino chefs, and other sources. For example, his definition of adobo as “anything that’s cooked with soy sauce, garlic, peppercorn, and onions” just had me shaking my head. I’m wondering if they cut out the first part of his list of ingredients, because the KEY ingredient to adobo is not soy sauce, but vinegar. As the existence of adobo puti attests to, and the writings by folks like the authors of The Adobo Book I reviewed a few posts back corroborates, you can certainly have adobo without the soy. Oy.

My second thought was that as engaging as Ivan is, I can’t get over the fact he’s calling nearly all the food items not by their proper Filipino names, but instead listing their ingredients and likening them to American/Western dishes. Taho, the breakfast treat of the masses, is simply referred to as “tofu with tapioca syrup.” Now, when those taho vendors are walking down the residential streets in the early morning, they’re certainly not yelling out “tofu with tapioca syrup” to entice the people to buy… they’re calling out “TAHO!” The pancit (“which can mean anything”), the “chicken balls” dipped in “spicy sauce,” and the “pork rind” (chicharron) are similarly treated, and I can’t stop cringing every time a new dish comes on screen.

I’d like to believe Ivan knows better, and maybe this is how he makes Filipino food palatable to the ‘average’ non-Filipino/Western tourist, but c’mon. This is a foodie show! It would behoove the viewer, and Bourdain, to learn what the names of some of these foods are… so when you (the ‘average’ US-based viewer trying out Filipino food for the first time) are in a Filipino joint in Daly City or Queens, you’ll know that pancit means a noodle dish and that bagoong is the ‘shrimp paste’ Ivan refers to. I mean, if you went to an Italian restaurant, you wouldn’t just ask for “the starch with the red sauce,” now would you? Why should Filipino cuisine be flattened out to a few banal descriptives unconnected to the actual names of any of these dishes or ingredients?

I mean, even the famous jeepneys, those brightly-painted former US military trucks now used as public transport for the majority of Manila’s citizens (at least those who can’t afford drivers and armored cars…) are called “jeeps.” Can we call things what they are, please?

I don’t mean to hate on Ivan, but as the first “food ambassador” to Bourdain in this episode, he got me worried as to what would be following. While I loved his enthusiasm and clear love for Filipino cuisine, I wish he would have given Bourdain (and the viewers) the benefit of the doubt and called just the food by its local names. Is that too much to ask?

But moving on… In this introductory segment, Bourdain begins sharing a quick-and-dirty summary of 500+ years of Filipino history, emphasizing the cultural/ethnic mix of Spanish/Mexican, Malay, Chinese, and US influences on Filipino culture, particularly the cuisine. Ok, valid claim. As you’ll see as the episode progresses, this will become the refrain of the show, with any and everyone featured proclaiming this hybridity. Unfortunately, the ultimate take-away from all this lamenting/praising of the ‘mixed’ Filipino culture is that this is perhaps the reason why 1) Filipino cuisine is not popular in the US, and 2) why Filipino/American people have no discernible identity or culture. !!!

Wha? Yes, dear readers, if you know anything at all about me, you’ll understand when I say that this constant refrain of cultural assimilation and dilution had me absolutely fuming. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In the next post, I’ll share some thoughts on Bourdain’s next stop: Angeles City / Pampanga… so hold off your flaming of my review just yet, please!

Midnight Popovers

popovers2

How lucky am I? I’m hitched to a guy that will, on a whim, decide to try out our new KitchenAid mixer (the one I begged for and still haven’t learned how to use) and make popovers from our ancient copy of The Joy of Cooking. Did I mention how this happened at midnight? Yeah.

Midnight popovers are best enjoyed topped with shaved asiago or parmigiano-reggiano cheese, and filled with sweet or savory jelly and butter. They should be eaten in one sitting, for maximum absorption of the deliciousness.

popovers

Monday Worries: what will Bourdain say?

Filipino table

Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on the Philippines is premiering tonight, and I must say I’m pretty nervous. I’ve read a little bit about the taping from Market Manila and from Bourdain’s food blog on the travel channel. But all I can think of is the one line they keep playing in the trailer for tonight’s episode, where Bourdain asks why the food of the Philippines is “such a blank page.”

A blank page to whom, Tony? To US-based chefs and consumers who haven’t ‘discovered’ the Philippines yet? While I’ve been championing Filipino food for years, I’m not sure I want it to be ‘discovered’ on No Reservations just yet… I guess it’s better it be Bourdain’s show and not that horrifying “World’s Weirdest Food” show or whatever it’s called. Maybe Bourdain’s fetish for Southeast Asian cuisine will carry over to the Philippines. But still, I can’t help but feel irritated that it’s 1) taken him this long to visit when’s he been to (what I think are) some really random countries, and 2) that apparently he’s never had Filipino food before. He’s from New York! All it takes is a quick subway ride to Jackson Heights, or downtown to Elvie’s in the East Village, to get a taste of good Filpino food. No excuses, dude!

But I get ahead of myself. I’m saving judgment until after the episode airs tonight and will blog my thoughts on it ASAP. Maybe I’ll even live blog it…. hrm.

Before I go, I must thank my dear buddy A., whose parents were in town this weekend and cooked up this scrumptious feast of fresh prawns and crabs, green mango, and (not pictured) the most amazing sinigang I’ve had in years. It brought me right back to my Lolo’s kitchen, and I’m so envious of friends who can have Filipino food home-cooked on the daily here in SoCal. Sigh. East coast familia, come west please, ok? I’m hungry for homemade Pinoy eats!

for the love of sushi

I’m on a roll lately (excuse the pun), so I thought I’d share some pictures of the last fantastic sushi I had at San Diego’s own Sushi Ota. It’s generally accepted knowledge that this is the sushi joint to go to in San Diego, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The Mister and I went here on my birthday last month, and I gorged myself accordingly.

Typical starters: miso and seaweed salad. I knew I’d be getting a lot of fish, but damn if I can’t resist a good seaweed salad.

ota-miso

ota-salad

Silly me, I didn’t think to sit at the bar and order the day’s specials from Chef Ota himself. Next time, next time.

What we did have: chirashi for the Mister, a nigiri sampler for me. The toro and blue tail tuna were magnificent, melt-in-your-mouth out of this world good. The salmon roe was literally bursting with flavor, and from the presentation to the preparation these dishes were perfection.

chirashi-ota

sushiota1
(Pardon the lighting in these pictures, it was quite dim inside!)

And the uni… where do I start with the uni? Another picture– ignore the rest of the washed-out photo, and take a look at that bright yellow gorgeousness:

uni

I don’t think I’ve ever really enjoyed sea urchin before; there are just too many bad examples of it in most Japanese sushi joints, and most of the time I would never bother. But here, it was exactly right: full of that ocean taste without the briny-ness, with this pillowy texture and mouthfeel I can’t even begin to describe properly. Oh, I will dream of that uni for many days to come.

Best of all, the bill at Sushi Ota was incredibly reasonable for the quality– under $120 for the sushi, starters, and a bottle of Mukku sake (delicious and well balanced, by the way) including tax, before tip. It was hardly more than any other sushi restaurant here in San Diego though it is leagues ahead. And you know we would easily have spent twice or three times as much for far inferior product if we were still living in New York. Some days it really is good to live in Southern California.

Sushi Ota
4529 Mission Bay Drive
San Diego, CA 92109
858.270.5670

A Love Letter to Mr. Andrés

There are few things I love more than Spanish food. And for at-home Spanish cooking that is both beautiful and ridiculously easy, there is no better guide than José Andrés. I’ve been slowly making my way through his Tapas book, and so far everything has been beyond excellent.

At my bougie birthday/cocktail party last month (the first I’ve hosted in our new digs!), one of the night’s biggest hits was a small bowl of conservas featuring oyster mushrooms and lots of garlic:

fungi

What is beautiful about this tapas is that, since the mushrooms are kept in the highly flavorful oil blend with herbs and garlic, you can keep it nearly indefinitely. Such a fantastic dish, however, will quickly go that same night, or, in our case, can be repurposed as part of a pasta sauce or other mushroom preparation to great effect:
penne-vodka
(a vodka sauce over spaghetti I made out of leftovers from the cocktail party.)

Oh, but back to Mr. Andrés. I know his star’s risen considerably since he’s been appearing all over TV land– as host of Made in Spain, and appearing everywhere from Top Chef to (just this week) Bourdain’s No Reservations. And I hate to be a fan girl, but damn if the man doesn’t deserve it. I love that despite his great success as a DC-based chef and restauranteur, that his food writing is still accessible for the average home cook. I’m quite tired of picking up a ‘celebrity chef’ cookbook and having it be nothing but foie gras, truffle oil, razor clams, and the like– you know, things that are nearly impossible to get a hold of unless you live in New York, or that are just out of the price range of the average broke grad student (aka, me).

My favorite of his recipes yet are the dishes that the Mister and I made last night for our Valentine’s Day dinner. The first was a lovely paella made with chicken, chorizo, and shrimp that we modified from an Andrés recipe featured in Mark Bittman’s The Best Recipes in the World.

paella-cooking
(cooking in our new stainless steel paella pan- love this thing!)

I love this variation because it’s loaded with pimenton and has this beautiful dark red color, a little different than the bright yellow most associate with paella. My big paella tip would be to definitely use Arborio rice as it adds this great, almost creamy texture not too dissimilar from when you use it for risotto.

I had been planning on making two tapas to serve as side dishes for the paella, but since I had gorged myself snacking on olives, Zamorano cheese, and membrillo while waiting for the paella to finish, only could muster making one. But, oh, what a dish it was!

spinach-and-paella

Again, this spinach dish was adapted from Andrés’ Tapas book, with the only thing missing from his recipe being apple cubes since the Mister is allergic to it.

This dish is so incredibly quick, easy, and delicious I can’t not share the recipe with you. Here it is!

Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins, adapted from a recipe by José Andrés

1. Heat 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil in medium sauce pan until very hot.
2. Add 1/4 lb. (or less) of fresh pine nuts to pan, and continually stir until golden. (You *must* move the nuts constantly or they will burn!)
3. Add 1/4 lb (or less) of seedless raisins and salt to taste, stir together well.
4. Immediately after, add 10 oz (or 1 prepackaged bag) of baby spinach to pan. Stir well together until spinach starts to wilt. Turn off heat and continue to stir- spinach will continue wilting from heat. When spinach completely wilted, serve immediately.

See what I mean about ridiculously easy?!

So, yes. If you’re not an Andrés convert by now, you are really missing out. If you’re in DC, get out to one of his restaurants and send me an immediate reportback- it’s been years since I’ve been there, and sadly haven’t had the chance to sample his cooking firsthand. If you’re like me and stuck outside of the José Andrés orbit, get thee one of his cookbooks and start playing. His recipes are great fun and (here I go again) SO EASY.

On this day after Valentine’s Day, I have but one love letter to send (sorry, Mister!).

Dear Chef Andrés,
Thank you for making it easy to have a taste of Spain every night of the week, you kind, wonderful, funnily accented man.

xoxo,
Words and Steel

paella-place-setting

Tardy!

I am a tardy, tardy blogger and for that I am truly sorry. So much to tell you about! My bougie birthday/cocktail party with recipes from Jose Andres and Jacques Pepin! Amazing dinner at a local Abyssinian restaurant! More adventures in home cooking! My love of obscure condiments!
Soon, I promise. But until then, a comic strip to tide you over. Top Chef doesn’t tell the truth about the biz the way this Achewood strip can.

achewood

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