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The Theoretical Cook


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pochero - Pinoy style

At the outset, must say that this isnt The Complicated Pochero that you see in other cookbooks. Ive seen some Mexican cookbooks with pretty complicated recipes. Although, must also say that nothing beats the complexity of the version written in Slow Food - that's the really complex version. This one's the pretty straighforward version. Just when you want to add sweet stuff to your meal.

Friday, May 12, 2006

TOKDO - Korean Restaraunt along Emil Salas St. Malate

I was bitten by the Korean (telenovela) bug via Jewel in the Palace. That was months ago, I saw two episodes, then I was hooked. I bought a pirated copy of the compressed 70+ episodes and then tucked myself in a room, watching the telenovela straight til the wee hours of the morning. I finished the series in a week, with a little time for review. I liked the first few episodes, especially the cooking episodes. If the telenovela is true to its historical form, then it makes Korean culture truly accessible for us. Ive heard from some sources that the telenovela was really commissioned by the Korean government for PR purposes. Maybe we should also commission something like this: ask ABS CBN to make a historical telenovela that does not reek of juvenile romance.
This is just a winding, tangential introduction to Tokdo, the Korean restaurant which has sprung up in my neighborhood, near my favorite shawarma place along Salas. The other night was our first in Tokdo. A quaint wooden place, reminiscent of a log cabin, with a strong overhanging kimchi smell. The aroma of the fermented kimchi permeates the entire room. This does not augur well as the room has a cave-like atmosphere, thanks to the low ceiling. The wooden structure itself is rather interesting, and sitting on the elevated floor, surverying the low table with the array of small plates, I felt transported in time and place: I was the Queen Maman in the Jewel. The wood varnish, however, did not match the color of the wood and this made for a rather unappealing exterior.
Apart from these slightly disorienting details, I enjoyed my Tokdo experience. We ordered some _____, barbecued slices of pork with fresh green vegetables + sauce. Eating the barbecue was quite a novel affar: you get a slice of meat, slather it with the sauce (chili, sesame, and soya - if I remember correctly), you can opt to add some kimchi, and then roll the entire combo in a piece of green leaf. I dont even know what the leaf was: it didnt look like a lettuce/cabbage relative. It was more herby, and had a tart medicinal aftertaste. So I felt like even if I was eating pork, my meal was very healthy.
My companion had a unremarkable beef topping. But he did enjoy the various side dishes that came with our order. This is what I love about Korean cuisine. So many side dishes: sauteed lentils with sesame, petite potatoes with a very Oriental sauce, and the fresh green leaves (the medicinal one) simply sauteed or was it blanched?
Perhaps because we came in so late in the night, and perhaps because of the uneven light, most of the side dishes taste like warmed left overs. This is not to say that they didnt taste good; just that you have a feeling that theyve been cooked for over an hour and quickly microwaved.
If you can forgive lapses of this sort, and just want to have a simple Jewel in the Palace moment, in a setting more 'authentic' than the Kaya restaurant branches in the malls, then by all means troop to Salas Street's little jewel, Tokdo.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Humble Philippine Adobo in Saveur Magazine

This celebratory blog entry is admittedly late by one year, almost.
The other day I was at my usual haunt - Booksale - when I chanced upon a rare (relative to the other food mags) copy of Saveur -
(According to their blurb: Saveur is for people who experience the world food first. It was created to satisfy the hunger for genuine information about food in all its contexts. With its emphasis on heritage and tradition, home cooking, and real food, the magazine evokes the flavors of food from around the world (including forgotten pockets of culinary excellence in the United States). It celebrates the culture and environment in which dishes are created and the people who create them. It serves up rich, satisfying stories that are complex, defining, and memorable. Saveur is the definitive culinary and culinary-travel magazine of its generation).
Now the amazing thing about the issue (October 2005) that I had stumbled on was that there was an article,under the label "Classics" on - the 'garlicky, peppery, and tart' Philippine national dish - Adobo .
Written by Amy Besa, the article is entitled "Vinegar Stew" and is only three paragraphs long (Paragraph 1 - Adobo and nostalgia for the home country, Paragraph 2 - Spanish origin of adobo = adobar meaning to marinate, Paragraph 3 - How no two adobo recipes are alike).
The article is such a joy to behold in the gourmet magazine. Theres a recipe box in the corner where, among other things, it is indicated that rice wine or cider vinegar may be substituted for the palm vinegar and then theres a very simple photo of the humble adobo (with a quaint coconut serving spoon) and a small bottle of bagoong alamang in the backdrop.
Well, check this out folks. The Philippine adobo in Saveur Magazine. I dont know about you, but I am thrilled to pieces.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Luz Kinilaw in Davao City

As my host put it: if youve never been to Luz Kinilaw, then youve never been to Davao.
I have spent many summer vacations in Davao City as a child. For some reason, I never got around to visiting Luz Kinilaw. I have been to the chicken barbecue heaven Kulasas; Ive enjoyed deep fried crabs at Ahfat, and so on - but I have deprived myself of Luz' delights all this while: bagaybay, panga, grilled squid, and of course, the kinilaw. And what a feast I have missed!
About the kinilaw, I was somewhat taken aback at first. Im from the strong- native -vinegar-with- lots -of ginger- and- onion school of thought when it comes to kinilaw. Like many people, raw fish is raw fish - and the only way I can truly savor it is if I taste that the fish has been 'cooked' by the strong acid of the vinegar (that the texture of the fish has become somewhat rubbery), or if the fish is truly fresh and the attack of the sauce overpowers everything else ( yes I am referring to that green Japanese paste wasabi). Luz' kinilaw was not of the pallid rubbery sort that I was used to - it looked like fatter sashimi with the wasabi nowhere in sight. I was not too excited to partake of it, fearing that it might ruin my appetite for the other orders, but lo and behold, when I tasted it, it tasted clean and smooth. Clean in the sense that I could taste something of the sea, some ginger and onion, and curiously something sour but not exactly vinegar. The strongest taste was that of the sea. Hence, clean to the tongue (like other fresh fresh raw sea food).
Now, having been gone too long from this blog, and having spent most of my waking time 'working' in the real world, what I really feel like talking about is the bagaybay. The wonderful thing about food, especially 'novel' food, is that it restores one's childhood sense of wonder. And I was awed, at the same time, somewhat repelled by the bagaybay. The bagaybay, according to my companions, are tuna gonads. I havent had time to research on tuna gonads - so I will limit myself to a discussion of the taste and texture of the bagaybay.
The bagaybay, like a lot of 'strange' meat, tastes like chicken. At least, thats the first taste that 'attacks' you, and then the taste changes. First, the texture of the meat is very smooth, its like eating something velvety, and theres that melt in your mouth feeling. And the taste is not really fishy, or maybe it was so fresh, or again maybe it was the texture, the bagaybay had an initial chicken attack that was replaced by a more unique taste that reminded me of nothing Ive tasted in the past. There were jokes about it being an aphrodisiac, and one of my companions had a mighty flushed face, which everyone else blamed on the bagaybay. I was left with a befuddled mind, unsure of what to compare the taste with, and yet liking it anyway.
Of course, the tuna panga was excellent, and the inner flesh (the best parts are the inner recesses, moist and tender) were scraped until the fish bone was clean. And we closed with a plate of ripe mangoes.