Pinoy Foodie

I was born and raised in the Philippines. Recently, I realized that many of my good memories of life in the country are about food or are food-related. I created this blog to share with you my pleasant memories as well as my random thoughts on food, cooking and eating. Hope you enjoy reading my posts. I welcome your comments.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Happy, Healthy Holidays

Holiday celebrations are orgies. They are occasions to indulge ourselves in worldly pleasures, prominently food. We behave by the credo “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we diet…” add to that, “and suffer from our sickness.” Pass me the insulin injection and the zocor please.

Confucius will say, if he had the culinary skills and the taste buds of a gourmet, that food should be enjoyed in moderation. So reduce the quantity and modify the ingredients.

With careful planning, we can execute an all-inclusive holiday feast. That means Grandma, who is diabetic, can have a dessert like the others and Dad, who has a heart problem, can have a low-fat entrée. Cousin Melissa need not bring her own vegetarian dish. And little Robbie, who is allergic to wheat products, can have a piece of cake and eat it too.

We searched the internet for helpful recipes (and you can too) and came up with some that we thought could make it to the Filipino Christmas table.

For the insulin-challenged:

Chocolate Mousse

(makes 4 servings)

11/4-ounce envelope unflavored gelatin

1/4cup cold water

8packets artificial sweetener

1/3cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4cup nonfat (skim) milk

1/2cup part-skim ricotta cheese

2tablespoons natural vanilla

2tablespoons rum extract

1/2cup frozen non-dairy whipped topping, thawed

fresh strawberries (optional)

In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over water; allow to stand 2 minutes to soften. In a medium saucepan, stir together the sweetener and cocoa. Stir in milk and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is very hot. Add the gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and refrigerate until slightly cold (do not allow to gel). In a food processor or blender, combine ricotta cheese, vanilla, and rum extract. Blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl. Add the whipped topping; stir until well combined. Gradually fold ricotta mixture into the cocoa mixture. Spoon into 4 dessert cups. Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. Top with sliced fresh strawberries.

Here is another one from

Black Forest Trifle

1 (8 ounce) package chocolate sugar-free, low-fat cake mix (such as Sweet 'N Low)

3/4 cup water

1 (1 ounce) box chocolate sugar-free, fat-free instant pudding mix

2 cups fat-free milk

1 (16 ounce) package frozen no-sugar-added pitted cherries

2 drops red food coloring

2 cups fat-free frozen whipped topping, thawed

Sugar-free chocolate curls (optional)

1. Prepare cake mix according to package directions, using 3/4 cup water. Let cake cool in pan; remove from pan, cut into cubes.

2. Prepare pudding mix according to package directions, using 2 cups fat-free milk; chill at least 30 minutes.

3. Thaw cherries, reserving 1/4 cup juice. Combine cherries, juice, and food coloring.

4. Place half of cake cubes in a 3-quart trifle bowl. Spoon half of cherries over cake; spread 1 cup pudding over cherries, and top with half of whipped topping. Repeat layers. Top with chocolate curls. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

For Cholesterol Watchers:

Grilled food (meat and vegetables) are good for people who have to manage their cholesterol levels. The grills that collect fat drippings for easier disposal are excellent. You can also trim the fat off the meat and remove the skin. Cool soups or sauces in the refrigerator so that you can skim off the fat with a spoon.

You can also cut down on fat content by substituting ingredients. This pie crust recipe from Eating Well uses only two tablespoons of butter but has ground nuts and walnut oil. Nuts from oil are monosaturates so they do not produce bad cholesterol. The dough will keep, if tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to two days or in the freezer for up to six months.

Nut Pastry Dough

Small single crust:

¼ cup walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or pecans

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. granulated sugar

½ tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cold butter, cut into pieces

1 ½ tbsp. walnut oil

4 tbsp. cold water

1. Preheat oven to 350oF.

2. Spread nuts in a pie pan and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool.

3. In a food processor, combine nuts, flour, sugar and salt; process until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and process until incorporated. Transfer to a large bowl.

4. Drizzle oil over flour mixture. Use your fingertips to rub oil into the mixture. One tablespoon at a time, add water and mix with a fork until dough is crumbly and holds together when pressed.

5. If making a single crust, gently form dough into a flattened disk. If making a double crust, divide dough into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other, and form each into a disk.

Pear Tart Tatin

1 recipe small single crust Nut Pastry Dough

5 ripe but firm Bosc pears

3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

¾ cup water

2/3 cup granulated sugar

1 tbsp. butter

1. Preheat oven to 375oF.

2. Place 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap on a work surface. Set dough in the center and cover with 2 more plastic wrap sheers. Roll dough into a 10-inch circle. Transfer dough (still between plastic) to a baking sheet and freeze until ready to use.

3. Peel pears, cut in half lengthwise and core. In a bowl, toss with 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Set aside.

4. In a heavy ovenproof skillet, combine ¼ cup water and sugar. Over low heat, swirl until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and bring sugar syrup to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 minute. Uncover and cook, without stirring, until syrup turns light amber, 6 to 8 minutes. Gently swirl skillet if syrup is coloring unevenly.

5. Remove from heat and add remaining ½ cup water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. (Styand back as aramel may sputter.) Return skillet to low heat and stir until caramel has dissolved. Add butter and stir until melted.

6. Arrange pears cut-side down in the caramel in a tight circle, with 1 pear half in the center. Increase heat to medium. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. With tongs, turn pears cut-side up and increase heat to high. Cook, uncovered, until pears are tender and caramel becomes a thick glaze, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

7. Remove pastry from freezer and peel off plastic wrap. Lay crust over pears, turning edges under to fit. (Let the steam from the pears warm the crust until pliable.)

8. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until crust is golden. Remove from oven. Place a large flat serving plate on top of the tart, quickly invert it and remove pan. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Serve warm at room temperature. Makes 8 servings.

For the Wheat Avoiders:

Noodles made from rice can be digested by people allergic to wheat. So guests who require gluten-free diets can eat Pancit Bijon and sotanghon guisado. They can also eat rice. There’s no problem with entrees unless you prepare something that is breaded or has a crust.

Baked products are a challenge. You have to find substitutes for flour. Peachy Yutangko, a Filipino baker who owns Organic Oven in Brampton, has come up with gluten-free or lactose-free tasty treats. She can even make you a decorated cake. I have tried some of her products and even though I don’t have an allergy to wheat, I enjoyed the carrot cake and the flaxseed and almond cookie. The latter is good for people with cholesterol problems too because it is rich in omega-3 oil.

But if you want to learn to bake a gluten-free cake yourself, esp. if there is a celiac or gluten-intolerant person in your household, here is a recipe I found in

Joanna’s Fruit Cake

3 cups cooked rice

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup demerara sugar (or coarse brown sugar)

2 medium bananas, mashed

2 apples, finely chopped

500g (1 pound) cottage cheese

2 cups mixed dried fruit

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped

1/2 cup mixed nuts OR almonds, roughly chopped

grated rind of one mandarin OR orange

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine everything and mix well. Place mixture in a greased tin. Joanna uses a fancy fluted ring (one with a hole in the middle). Bake at 220 C (400 F) for about half an hour until firm and cooked through. When a skewer comes out clean, the cake is cooked. Allow to cool in the tin.

For the Vegetarian:

We often neglect the protein needs of vegetarians. Don’t limit their choices to salads. That’s probably the reason why they bring their own food --- it’s because you treat them like rabbits.

Prepare pastas and noodles with assorted vegetables. Mix beans with the rice.

If you don’t want to deep fry lumpia at home esp. in winter, try using phyllo as wrapper. You can bake them. Here is a recipe for something close to our lumpia, courtesy of Vegetarian Recipes Around the World. Of course, you can use your own vegetable filling recipe if you want.

Phyllo Baskets with Vegetable Filling

500g packet phyllo pastry, thawed

150ml olive oil

125g mushrooms, wiped and sliced

4 large spring onions, chopped

100ml shredded red cabbage

100ml shredded white cabbage

4 carrots, scraped and chopped

200ml bean sprouts

230g can bamboo shoots, drained

salt and pepper to taste

10ml garlic and ginger mix

12g (25ml) cornflour

50ml dry sherry

25ml soya sauce

Cut phyllo pastry into eight equal squares.
Cover with a dish towel.
Brush between layers of each square with 100ml of the olive oil.
Press pastry squares into greased muffin pans to form eight baskets.

Bake at 160 ° C, 15 to 20 minutes.
(Olive oil tends to burn, so this recipe is baked at a lower temperature)
Remove from oven and set aside. Heat remaining olive oil in a large frying pan, stir-fry mushrooms, spring onions, cabbage, carrots, sprouts and bamboo shoots.
Season to taste.

Add ginger and garlic mix.

Combine cornflour, sherry and soya sauce, stir into vegetable mixture. Cook two to three minutes or until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat. Spoon mixture into phyllo baskets. Serve at once.


Friday, November 03, 2006

Lasang Pinoy 15: Recycled, Reloaded! (Recycling Leftovers)

A whole chicken can create plenty of leftovers in a two-person household especially if the members have vowed to cut down on meat for health reasons.

But I still buy a whole roasted chicken because it’s cheaper than buying the parts. There is a Portuguese churrasqueira in the neighbourhood so I buy it from there. I request that the piri-piri hot sauce be on the side and for take-outs it is separately packaged and not slathered on the chicken. That’s because I want to be able to use the leftovers to make new dishes.

The first to be eaten are the extremeties: the wings and the leg and thigh. Obviously we are dark meat eaters. I love the back or any meat attached closely to the bones (I gnaw on them --- when I was younger I used to crack open the bones with my teeth so I can get to the marrows, que horror!) so I save that for another meal together with the other leg or thigh. When that get reheated they can morph into adobo or, when shredded, become the sahog for pancit , fried rice or chopsuey.

That leaves basically the breast for the pangat (pangatlo as Mike explained the lingo).

I find the breast to be the most versatile: it can be turned into chicken salad or chicken divan when diced, or chicken schnitzel or chicken roulades when pounded. Unfortunately I can’t think of any Filipino dish that uses chicken breast only. Native chickens were probably small-breasted so that part was not enough for a single dish. Besides, when Filipinos cook, they cook in large quantities since households were big. An entire chicken was needed and it has to be cut into small pieces to feed everybody.

When we make adobo with an entire chicken in our household in Toronto, it lasts for several meals. Adobo tastes better after the flavours have settled so we don’t mind eating it again the next day. We heat only what we can eat, usually in the microwave, because the meat can get tough and dry and malangsa with every reheating. (Tip: If you want to heat on the stovetop, remove the chicken pieces from the pot, simmer the sauce and then put back the chicken pieces just to heat.)

Adobo does not have to be frozen, it can keep for weeks in the ref. Adobo that is packed in lard (we remove the fat nowadays) can keep for weeks unrefrigerated. My mom told me that when she was an interna (someone who lived in an all-girls dormitory) in high school, parents would send adobo in those big biscuit cans to the dorm so that their daughters would not get hungry when they studied late at night or if decided to boycott the dorm food. These cans were kept under the beds and the girls would sometimes just dig in to have a snack. There were no microwaves yet during my parents’ high school days so they ate it straight from the can. If they were lucky they could find a helper in the kitchen to heat it for them (these cooperative contacts were developed with pasalubongs). Some of the girls dangerously had small stoves hidden somewhere it could escape inspection but I wondered how the mouthwatering smell didn’t give them away.

My mom sometimes made adobo like these, without soy sauce. She called it adobong Bisaya or Ilongo since she was from Negros Occidental. I sometimes make it too. My father’s family’s version has mashed liver in the sauce. He called it adobong Tagalog. Our helper was from Bicol so her version had coconut milk in it. Leftovers from these two versions do not convert into new dishes easily.

Leftover chicken and pork adobo, with or without soy sauce make the best sahog so I don’t mind making a big batch when I cook. Then I can be blessed with plenty of leftovers.


Traditional pulled pork is pork shoulder or butt rubbed with a spice mix then roasted and smoked. Modern cooks simply put it in a crock pot to slow cook. When cool enough to handle, the pork is shredded, mixed with a vinegar-based barbecue sauce then made into sandwiches. It is usually served with cole slaw as a side dish or on top of it.

When using leftover adobo, don’t add any barbecue sauce since it will overpower the adobo taste. Since I want to keep this adobo taste, I don’t top my sandwiches with pickles and peppers too. Simply plain, with cole slaw on the side.


Use leftover lean pork adobo. Use your fingers to pull apart the meat.

Return the shredded pork to the pot, be sure there is enough sauce, add chopped onions and sugar. Simmer slowly until the sauce has mixed in with the meat and the onions are soft.

Serve on large, crusty buns with cole slaw on the pulled pork sandwiches or on the side.

Lasang Pinoy 15

Friday, June 16, 2006

Summer and Patios

The patio is the most desirable piece of real estate in Canada in the summer. Canadians just love to hang out in the patio to soak in the sun. Restaurants, cafes and pubs don’t even wait for summer to officially begin to bring out the patio chairs and umbrellaed tables. As soon as the stubborn Old Man Winter bows out, patios begin to mushroom all over the country.

Not all patios are the same though. Some are more coveted than the others. What is reassuring is that the best patios are not necessarily in the most expensive restaurants, just as the best foods are not always served in the classiest eateries. And, there is no additional charge to the use of the patio, no time limit to its enjoyment.

Patios, I should say like a real estate agent, are all about location, location, location.

A pleasant neighbourhood, one with old trees and especially one that offers a scenic view, can host the perfect patio. That is easily said than done though. Often, neighbours object to the setting up of patios because of the rowdiness of alcohol-influenced guests and the traffic they create. A zoning application has to be filed and a permit to serve alcohol has to be secured.

There are always battles over the opening of patios. It is a conflict that puts most city councilors in a quandary over who to support --- the neighbours who deliver the votes or the business people who bring income and jobs to the neighbourhood.

As I said, patios are all about location. Even within the patio, there are choice locations. This can be the shaded table under the tree. This can be the table where the client can be seen or the one that has an unobstructed view of the scene. Some have secluded areas where couples out on a tryst like to hide.

There are patios with something special. One restaurant patio is known for its tree house. I asked a friend to accompany me there because I was curious about the so-called tree house. It wasn’t a tree house at all but a second-floor patio built to accommodate an existing tree’s branches. I told my friend that in the Philippines, a tree house would sit on a branch of a tree. I was feeling superior until my friend asked if people lived in those tree houses. With the monkeys as pets, I’m sure she thought.

Tree houses don’t belong only in Third World countries I told her. I’ve seen American movies that showed kids playing in tree houses. Remember “Stand by Me”? As a teenager in the Philippines, I thought tree houses were where teenagers in other parts of the world performed the rites of passage.

Patios in the Niagara Region offer views of the vineyard. The restaurants are all classified as fine dining so prices are higher, but why skip the matching of food and wine when you are in wine country? Go all the way. Wearing a summer dress or suit with a wide-brimmed hat would even make the experience extra special.

Lakeside patios are special as well. The sultry breeze and the view of the water, with sailboats on it, simply fill our senses with summer.

Patios are about timing too. One has to experience them while they last. Summer in Canada is short and not everyday is filled with sunshine.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Tea for Two

Imagine a leisurely hour, taking tea at a five-star hotel at five o’clock in the afternoon. This is a small luxury my friend and I allow ourselves at least once a year.

There are only a small number of establishments, mostly English-style hotels, in the city of Toronto that serve afternoon tea, or what is more fashionably known as “high tea. We have been to all of them.

We started the practice five years ago during the holiday season by going to the Café Victoria of King Edward Hotel. We found the experience so pleasant that we pledged to do it again on a special occasion. A few months after, the occasion presented itself --- a birthday! – so we went to Windsor Arms. This hotel in Yorkville has an exclusive tea room that is cozy and private. Seatings are for two or three people only, therefore it is the ideal place to take a girlfriend or two to catch up on what are happening in our lives or to confide in something. I have taken women friends there for intimate celebrations of very special occasions. High tea is perfect for women bonding.

High tea is served in the lobby café of the Four Seasons Hotel. It is an excellent place to rest tired feet after an afternoon of shopping or to ponder on the merits of a foreign film seen at the Cumberland Theatre. It is also the perfect place to catch celebrities especially during the Toronto International Film Festival. The other vantage point for celebrity spotting is the Bloor Park Hotel on Avenue Road. From the window of the Anona Restaurant where tea is served, one can watch the parade of limousines depositing and picking up guests at the hotel.

The tea room of the Royal York Hotel was being renovated when we went there so we did not enjoy ourselves. The restaurant where tea was served overlooked the hallway leading to the Union Station. The wait staff also was not trained on the service and didn’t perform the ritual as it should be. We made a mental note to revisit the hotel after renovations are completed but we have not been back yet.

The Old Mill also serves high tea. Here you can bring more of your friends for company. The tea room is really a hall and several can sit at a table. Service and servings are not as luxurious as in the hotels but the price is commensurate. It is still a pleasant experience.

Three other establishments that serve high tea are the Red Tea Box on Queen Street West, the La Tea Da on Queen Street East and the Victorian garden in Etobicoke. The Red Tea Box serves Oriental tea and food in Japanese lacquered (bento) boxes but the manner by which these are served follow the English style so they can still be called “high tea”.

What is the British style? It is a meal of tea and bread (usually scones and crumpets) and jam, savouries and pastries. In the olden times, the British people ate only two big meals a day --- breakfast and late-hour dinner. Anne, the Duchess of Bedford, was said to have invented high tea when, feeling the pangs of hunger before dinner was ready, she filled herself with tea and sweets and sandwiches at around four or five in the afternoon. She then began inviting her friends to Belvoir Castle for an afternoon meal consisting of small cakes, sandwiches and assorted sweets, accompanied by tea, and soon the practice spread.

Another historical note: Tea during Duchess Anne’s Victorian Period was served from low tables in the withdrawing room. But later on, the common people who adopted the afternoon meal set the tea and assorted meats, bread, pickles and cheese on high dining tables so it was called “high tea”. However, the term “high tea” became attached to the ritual because “high tea” sounded more royal, like high society.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Wake me up for Brunch

One of the pleasures of the weekend is the brunch. To wake up late on a Sunday morning, laze around the house, and then have a good meal without cooking, c’est la vie. Include a stroll on the Board Walk near Lake Ontario or a theatre matinee après brunch and life is perfect.

A combination of breakfast and lunch taken as one meal, the brunch is usually served at mid-morning but can extend to mid-afternoon. It is perfectly excusable to linger at the restaurant, to make a slow transition from breakfast to lunch and to take a digestive break by reading the newspaper or delighting in small talk with a companion. Ahhh, the day is mine to spend as I please.

It is this leisurely style that makes brunch so decadent and so seemingly out-of-place in a modern world. A Chinese friend once told me that dimsum was the original brunch. In olden times when life was not as harried as it is now, rich Chinese partook of several small dishes served one after another, feasting almost the whole morning till the afternoon. Many of us still treat dimsum as brunch. A person who loves brunch and variety in life, I sometimes go to Chinatown for my first and second meal of the day. I choose a restaurant which I know would have a very large selection of dimsum, then stick to the steamed dishes that are light on the stomach so I can try as many as I want.

Sometimes, a late, heavy breakfast is enough to double as lunch. Eggs benedict with a green salad and fresh fruits, preceded by a nice cup of café latte or café Americano, and topped by a Morning Glory can make my day.

But the real brunch experience is the buffet. There are standard breakfast things like bread, jams, eggs, sausages, bacon and cereals and then typical lunch items like assorted pastas and salads on the table and I can mix and match them on my plate. I can even reverse the order of the meal. My favourite brunch buffet includes an egg station where I can choose the fillings for an omelet and a staff can cook it for me (can take time) and a roast beef carving station with servers. Dessert --- and that’s another table with a wide selection --- is included in the price of the buffet although coffee and juice are not.

Some restaurants and cafes serving brunch have a live jazz band. This is indeed a special treat. Who would want Sunday to end, especially when the next day is Monday, the beginning of another crazy work week?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Unique Gift for Pinoy Foodie

I received a pasalubong (a present from a traveler) from Cynch, handcarried by a common friend who just returned from a trip to the Philippines. It was a jar of dulong fish packed in olive oil, garlic and other spices.

Dulong mga kapatid!

Let me introduce you to dulong if this is the first time you have heard of it. My internet search yielded very little information about this tropical freshwater fish (there was more about the Chinese ethnic minority or the French family) except for its English name “dwarf goby”and its scientific name “Pandaka Pygmaea”. Now if you’re in America and more familiar with Shark and Marlin steaks, you’ll probably think dwarf is as tiny as smelts or anchovies. But people in the Philippines who are more familiar with anchovies will know how tiny a dwarf can be. Dulong is about 1.1 to 1.5 cm long and is like the alamang in your bagoong--- you can’t see its shape until you look really close and you may need to put on your reading glasses to do this. I see black dots that I assume are the eyes. There must be thousands of them in the small jar (I just noticed that the label doesn’t give standard information like the weight and the expiry date).

I also found a recipe for Dulong Omelet on the internet. But I don’t want to use my precious supply for that esp. if this fish is in danger of getting extinct. The label says it is good for pasta but I may have to use the entire bottle for one pasta recipe so no way. Cynch says she uses it as canapé topping and that was how I tried it. I put some on Finnish crisp bread called Kavli. Then on French melba toast. Then on crackers. It played the role well on all kinds of base. However I thought it needed a little kick. It was subtly spiced which was good but the fish itself was bland. I experimented with pickles, mustard, mango, chili etc. but in the end the best partner was capers, just what Cynch recommended.

My friends are eager for the dinner I am hosting soon hoping that they too can partake of this unique gift for a Pinoy foodie abroad. Shall I grant them the privilege?

But of course because a foodie's joy is in the sharing.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Brown is Beautiful

I had known for a long time that brown rice was healthier than white rice but for some reasons, I had stored this fact at the back of my mind.
Colonial conditioning had made me believe that anything white was superior. And as a post-WWII baby, I grew up in an industrial world and therefore thought that everything should go through machines to be improved.
However, the New Age has made me realize that natural is best. And the nationalist movement has made me aware of the politics of colour and this applies to food as well.

Now that I am more health conscious and prouder of my heritage, I have resorted to eating brown rice.

What is called brown rice is any variety that has been processed only up to the point of removing the outer hull. The bran layer is intact and, with it, the impressive variety of vitamins and minerals, including niacin, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and vitamin E. Pre-cooking may have allowed some packagers to enrich white rice but the other advantage of the bran –-fiber -– is still missing so it is not a good replacement.

It is the bran coating that gives brown rice its beautiful light tan color, delicious nutlike flavor, and chewy texture.

Brown rice is said to contain four times the amount of insoluble fiber found in white rice. Medical research has shown that eating fibrous foods help prevent certain cancer and coronary heart disease. One cup of brown rice is claimed to add nearly 3.5 grams of fiber to the system, while an equal amount of white rice cannot give even one gram. Also, components of the oils present in rice bran have been shown in numerous studies to decrease cholesterol, a major risk factor in heart disease.
What is left when the rice is milled further is starch. Now that carbs, like fat, has developed such a bad reputation, you wouldn’t want to fill yourself with white rice.
The Asia Rice Foundation (ARF), an organization that supports rice educational activities and cultural preservation, reported that Filipinos ate brown rice on a daily basis up to the early 1950s. Before that time (probably in the pre-war years), rice was produced by hand pounding (binayo) using mortar and pestle or stone grinder . Then milling machines were introduced to deliver more rice at a shorter period (larger scale production) to feed the growing population. The result was polished rice which was white because of the absence of the bran.

Soon after, consumer's tastes and preferences shifted in favor of white rice. White rice represented modern society and a classy lifestyle. Brown rice became associated with backwardness, the brown “dirty” colour evoking a muddy paddy.

In 2000, the ARF launched the promotion of brown rice as health food in the Los Banos science community. Called the Los Banos Pinawa (the Tagalog word for “brown rice”), the undertaking sought to revive an earlier effort to promote brown rice as a healthy substitute for white rice nationwide.
Rice continues to be the staple food of Asians but it has become an acceptable grain in other parts of the world. Rice is now part of the diet of people in many cultures but mostly it is the precooked long grained variety that is consumed globally.

Brown rice is available as short, medium, and long grain. Short-grain brown rice has more starch content and is therefore sticky. I like the Japanese organic brown rice with rounder grain, similar to calrose or arborio.
You can shorten the cooking time of brown rice by pre-soaking it in water for at least 30 minutes. I sometimes soak the rice overnight and cook it while getting ready for work --- cooking time is faster. Use double the amount of water needed. In my case, I use two cups water for every cup of brown rice.

Brown rice can replace white rice in any recipe. Try using it for champorado, sushi, risotto and paella. You will be creating dishes that are not only delicious but healthy too.

Vegetarian Meal in a Bowl
1 cup marinated then fried tofu. diced
4 cups cooked brown rice (or 2 cups rice, 2 cups quinoa)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
3/4 cup golden raisins, plumped in hot water and then drained
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoon light soy sauce
fresh ground black pepper
lettuce leaves
parsley or cilantro
*Put quinoa in strainer and rinse in running water before cooking. Soak brown rice in water 30 minutes up to overnite before cooking. The proportion is one cup grain to two cups water when boiling. Start with high heat then lower to medium after water has boiled.
Toss ingredients, chill one hour. Arrange on lettuce leaves and garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Roll Out the Barrel and the Grille

Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Canada now. Statistics show that out of nearly 2.7 litres of alcoholic beverages sold in the past two years, beer sales made up 81 per cent of the total. Wine came in a poor second with 12 % and spirits accounted for only 7 % even with the introduction of coolers in the market.

Despite this growing trend, Canada still does not have a beer culture, although this may be changing. There are more imported beers in the market now and small breweries are crafting quite distinctive beers for local consumption. Beer is, however, still generally consumed at home in front of the TV and outside in pubs and sports bars. In the summer, there are beer patios and at festivals, there are beer tents. But many of these drinking places still do not have the right menu to complement beer drinking, so foodies like me have nowhere to eat and drink beer.

Last summer, my friend and I went to the Distillery District for a stroll and decided to stop in the patio of a restaurant to try the different products of an onsite brewery. We ordered the organic lager, the hemp beer and the coffee porter all at once. It was five in the afternoon and we were a bit hungry and wanted something to eat with our beer yet we were not quite ready to have supper. We were given the menu and there was nothing we could order from it except lunch and dinner items. I went for the mussels (listed as appetizer) but I found that heavy for the time of day. Salad was light, but Caesar salad with beer? No way. We spent two hours sitting there and could have spent more money if we had something to nibble on.

The upscale restaurant could have struck a goldmine with a separate patio menu, drawing inspiration from the city’s multi-culturally diverse population, with tapas or mezes and even dimsum providing variety and excitement. I noted that the restaurant had a grille outside but it was used to broil hamburgers and sausages mainly. Think of how that could have been used to broil inexpensive squid, skewered pork and chicken, sardines, like they do in Manila and in the beachfronts.

Comparatively, pubs do more justice to beer than restaurants do. They have bar chow that go well with the beverage. But even in pubs, the variety of bar food is very limited: chicken wings, nachos, deep-fried appetizers that come frozen in a box. Peanuts (except at Armadillos and East Side Mario’s) are no longer free and are not even on the menu. Instead calorie-laden nachos with cheese are the offering. At 150 calories average, beer does not need more calorie-rich food to accompany it. I support the claim of beer advocates that the beer belly is a myth --- it’s what one eats with beer that causes the bulging stomach.

Establishments that serve beer and other alcoholic drinks are encouraged to promote eating with drinking. Food helps to absorb some of the alcohol. Starchy foods slow the alcohol absorption. The consumption of beer also has to be paced and the so-called bar chows, like nuts for example, do this job well. I can see why mussels and wings are good bar chows ---- they are fussy and take longer to eat.

But please, make eating with beer pleasurable too.

Beers can be perfectly matched to dishes in exactly the same way as wine. There is one basic principle, and this applies to wine as well, that is “the combined flavours of the food and drink together should be better than either sampled on its own, and each should enhance the appreciation of the other.” The technique is to complement or contrast. When complementing, the intensity of the flavours should at least be equal. There is always a problem with really hot and spicy food since that is at the far end of the scale. A well-respected British beer writer, Michael Jackson (not him, I said British!) argues that in this case, geographical matches work. That means, for example, that a dry, hoppy, flavourful lager like Singha is a fine match for spicy Thai food.

With so many styles of beer in the market these days, food matching should be an easy task.

Industry analysts predict that food can be an important growth area for most pubs where beer still represents about 60% of the business. It’s time to bring the two together. Ihaw-ihaw sa Toronto?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Something "Cultural"

One really hot summer, I joined my officemates at a walkathon from Nathan Phillips Square. The walkathon ended at the same place close to Chinatown. Tired and hungry, I asked my friend and her partner to lunch at a Chinese Restaurant on Dundas Street. After being seated by our server, I immediately asked for pop (or soft drink to the Philippine-born, soda to the Americans). I was brought a can and a glass. No ice.

I summoned the waiter to bring me ice. In the sweltering heat, and after an hour-long walk, this request didn’t sound strange. And yet, to my non-Filipino friends, it was. I explained that in the Philippines we always drank pop refrigerator-cold, if not icy-cold. I went on to explain how hot the weather could be in the country and how thirsty people could become. Pop without ice simply couldn’t quench one’s thirst. The ice not only made the drink colder, it also diluted it. My guess was that diluted pop was less sweet and therefore better at quenching thirst.

I informed them that Filipinos are recognized consumers of pop (or soft drinks). The Coca-Cola Company annually releases marketing data that show which country leads in the consumption of their product. The Philippines and Mexico seesaw for the first place.

My companions were amused. And they concluded: it’s cultural.

Ambeth R. Ocampo, a young historian-researcher, relates his experience in Germany while on a Goethe-Institut grant. The Germans were always surprised whenever he asked for “water with ice’” especially in winter. He said that whenever he asked for ice for his pop, he was always given one ice cube. When he asked for more, the Germans thought he was crazy.

Filipinos do not drink tepid water. Before electricity, and with it freezers and refrigerators, came to the barrio, water was cooled in earthenware called “tapayan”.

Here is fascinating trivia about the history of ice in the Philippines, researched by Ambeth and included as a chapter in his book “Aguinaldo’s Breakfast.”

Before the ice plant at the foot of Quezon bridge was built in 1898, Manilenos made sherbet, ice cream an sorbet from ice shipped all the way from Boston. During that time, ships were a lot more slower and the trip took more than 100 days. How much of the ice melted along the way? Ocampo came across information that said that of the original 160 tons shipped to India, only 38 tons held its shape. That is a loss of about 76%, Ocampo calculated.

Also interesting is the fact that the ice came from frozen Boston lakes. This dirty ice was called “slush” and used only for cooling food. However, ice from Westham Lake was believed to be so pure that is was suitable for mixing with food or putting in a drink.

The Philippines only got the shipment of ice because it was on the route to Calcutta, the main destination.

Can you imagine how bereft our culture would have been if ice did not make it to the Philippines? We wouldn’t be asking for ice for our pop and maybe not drinking pop at all.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Breakfast at Lek's

What started me on an epicurean search for the perfect croissant was breakfast at Lek's. "Lek’s" is not a breakfast or brunch place. Lek is the nickname of a friend who is a Paris denizen.

On a visit to the famed city of lights, my friend and I were privileged to have stayed in Lek's parents-in-law's studio apartment, in a 150-year-old building on the summit of Butte Montmarte. This building, with the apartment's window on the second floor, was seen in the movie "French Kiss", in the scene where Kevin Klein was giving Meg Ryan some money after her personal things were stolen. The ground floor of the building was also the setting of a scene in a recent French comedy film titled "Le Nouveau Jean Hide" which we may never get to see in North America.

Lek, her husband and son live about a hundred steps down, at a midpoint of the hill. Every morning, Lek insisted that we go down and have breakfast at her place, a charming vintage apartment that she has filled with art deco. This apartment building has appeared in a postcard in the 50s, featuring a photograph from the series on Les escaliers de Montmarte (The Stairways of Montmarte) by Rene Jacques. Lek's apartment also would have been the setting of a class B movie. The production designer had scouted the place and had discussed rates with the residents. One scene would have involved two women running naked in the apartment — this was a warning because Lek happens to have a young teenager with exploding hormones. Fortunately or not, the filming did not proceed because of lack of funds.

So every morning without miss, my friend and I would go down to Lek's. That would mean walking around the lively Jewish creche, past numerous touristy restaurants, the famed Basilica de Sacre Couer, the viewing deck where tourists witness the lighting up of Paris, and the funicular station. Beside the station are the hundred and more steps leading to a small park with a carousel, the one that you saw in the French film Amelie, and the subway station. Going down was easy and we were glad that the invitation was for breakfast and not dinner. At night we took the funicular right to the top (there are no other stops).

Breakfast always consisted of croissants and they were the best that I have tasted — buttery and flaky. I could tell that they were good by the multi layers of crust that peeled off and dropped as crumbs on the table, if not the floor. Lek lectured that good croissants were made with pure butter, not with margarine as substitute. And they should be light, never having the texture of bread. Lek said that after tasting her croissants we would be asking for them all the time. But we didn’t have to --- ask that is --- because she served them everyday.

Lek, like the croissants, didn’t disappoint. One day, we had crepes; another time, baguettes and pain du chocolat. But the croissants were always present. With the plain croissants we also had marmalade and sometimes eggs and bacon or sausage.
She called them "my croissants" although she didn't bake them herself. She bought them. Every morning, before we appeared at her door, she would go down the stairways of Montmarte to the boulangerie Le Gastelier (her discovery), then go up to her home. We commended her efforts. But to her the early morning trips were her exercise.
It didn't worry Lek that there was too much food. Still a typical Filipino, she would pack the leftovers for our baon so that we wouldn’t have to spend more money for lunch. Wherever we went --- from Versailles to Champs-Elysee, on the Seine, in the Louvre --- we carried a lunch bag, courtesy of Lek. Her hospitality was well-documented in some of our photos, showing us holding that bag.

On arrival in Toronto, I searched for a similar croissant. Not one has yet passed the mark. Perhaps I shall ask Lek to Fedex me my supply. Or better still, revv up my spending on my air miles card for another trip to Paris.

(Note: a few French-style bakeries have opened in Toronto since 2000 and I have judged the croissants from two of these bakeries as the best.)