Category Archives: Dining

Missing the kitchen… and my baon!

No kitchen in my dorm!
No such kitchen in my dorm! 😦

I don’t like it when I can’t cook, or when I’m staying in a place without a kitchen. Cooking’s always been my “escape”. I cook when I’m happy, when I’m sad, and when I just feel like it.  So imagine if I have to stay somewhere without a spatula or even a fridge?

My life’s been turned upside down for the past month. I started work with this special project, its grown-up stuff… meaning, boring and really, not related to cooking.  I moved back to my old dorm and even though I feel comfortable in it, there’s one thing missing: the kitchen. My dorm don’t allow any form of cooking, well, aside from the instant cup noodles that you just pour hot water in, there’s no way I could sneak in a portable stove without them noticing it, or smelling it.

Every day, I feel like I’m in a scavenger’s hunt for the food that I want to eat and bring to work.  Yes! I prepare my baon because my schedule is weird and when I work, I usually don’t like being bothered.  I live near a university, so food is really abundant.  But I’m also wary of the many possibilities that these foods are not properly prepared.

So, every day I try to look at the food, not caring if the customer next to me is annoyingly tapping her foot while waiting for me to finish my order.  I make a mental note of the food they offer that day, and if I decide to go back the next day, I’ll look at their menu and see if it’s a re-hash of yesterday’s offering.

I’m really not picky, but I do know the look of food when it’s fresh and it’s already been a day’s old.  I remember when I was still in high school. I don’t like bringing lunch boxes to school. I had that period where I wanted to look cool in front of the other students, so I would line-up in the cafeteria and scout for whatever piping hot food they had to offer.

For moms out there, maybe it’s added work if you pack your kids’ lunchboxes, but it’s always better to be safe than be sorry later.  I know cafeteria food is not as bad as it seems, but there’s just too much junk food available to your kids, and you’re not always there to regulate how much of it they take in. So, I suggest give them something nutritious to combat whatever junk they’ll put in their mouths come lunch time.  A packed lunch with some protein, carbs and a little amount of sweet will help your children get through the day.

Don’t worry, it might take time for kids to get used to having packed lunches, and they might even say that “it’s so not cool” bringing lunch kits at school, but believe me, they’ll get used to it eventually.  And if they’re hard-headed, just bring out your “mothers know best” card. I’m sure they can’t argue with that.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

It’s a grilled night-out

Dining out can be taxing at times. It feels a burden sometimes to think of where to eat, and or what everybody wants to eat. We usually end up in the same restaurant, eating the same food almost all the time. We’re often caught up with the idea of settling with our “favorites” instead of trying out something new. Location is also something that we consider, especially here in Pampanga, where there are but a few restaurants that actually serve good food.

A couple of days ago, we were celebrating two occasions, so we wanted to try something different. We’re tired of eating food that’s peppered with so many ingredients and been sitting in marinated sauce for awhile. Korean Barbecue came into mind.

Korean Barbecue or better known in Korea as Gogigui literally means grilling meat. You order whatever meat you want, including fish and seafood and they serve it to you raw. Your table is equipped with a griller in the middle and you cook your food yourself.

My sister likes to do Gogigui because it makes her feel like she can actually cook. I like it too because I’ve always considered grilling as one of the healthiest forms of cooking. In Korean Barbecue, most meats are given to you as is, not soaking in marinated sauce and or coated with so many herbs and spices.

In the Philippines, Bulgogi is one of the more popular forms of Gogigui. But you should know that there are different forms of Gogigui depending on the meat that you’re grilling. I personally love Galbi and Chaldolbegi. The meats are thinly sliced and are not marinated in any sauce.

But I find that the Japanese raised this form of grilling to a higher level, by way of Teppanyaki and Hibachi. I like going to Hibachi places because there’s a chef in front o f you who will do all the cooking while you watch your food getting cooked. If you’re into Japanese cuisine, they also have their own version of Korean barbecue. Theirs is called Yakiniku. There’s actually an ongoing debate on where grilled meat originated: was it really the Koreans who first introduced it, and then adopted by the Japanese, or the other way around? If you ask me, this is like the issue about the chicken and the egg—a debate that will never end.

If you want, you can try this at home. There are personal-sized grillers that are being sold in the market. Prepping is a little bit tedious, but imagine the fun your family will have at the dining table, cooking your own food and eating it straight off the grill.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

A restaurant’s downfall

I was supposed to share with you another recipe, but while trying to write the article my sister stormed inside my room complaining about her experience during dinner. She was attending a baby shower party and they decided to hold it in a decent restaurant. It was a party of 25. I don’t think it was that big of a deal. I should know, because I used to be an assistant cook and front of house (FOH) for four years in a restaurant. This is nothing compared to a party where you actually have to close the whole restaurant.

She was fuming because it took two hours for food to be completely served. Not to mention that the things they ordered are not out of the ordinary. Provided that they did not order in advance, but you can’t make your customers wait for two hours. That’s just awful service.

When I was in charge of FOH, I always tell my servers and cooks to NOT make the customers wait for long, and if the dish they order would really take time to be prepared, you have to tell them in advance so that they could decide whether they’re willing to wait or opt for something else. As an asst. cook, I usually work with an extra cook plus a grill man. But even with two extra set of hands, sometimes you get rattled by the influx of orders, that’s why prepping is very important.

I start my day earlier than the rest. I see to it that all vegetables are chopped, rinsed and are within reach. I also thaw ingredients that needed to be thawed. I had a couple of experiences where I served grilled seafood and it’s still cold inside. I wanted the ground to swallow me whole during those times. Never would I serve anything that would put my and the restaurant’s name in shame again.

Back to my sister’s experience in this restaurant: the manager said that the orders took long to be cooked because they only had two cooks working that night. That’s a lame excuse! Only big restaurants have a lot of cooks and chefs, a typical restaurant usually only have two working cooks at a time. Some restaurants forget the value of kitchen dynamics. They blame everything on few manpower and peak hours.

If you work at a restaurant, you know that there are certain hours in the day that you will be very busy. So, I don’t see the reason why a group of 25 is different from serving people during peak hours? Restaurant owners and managers alike should take into consideration that food will be served fast if there’s an expediter to take care of the business in the kitchen.

An expediter make sure that the orders are announced, food is being prepared, plated and delivered to hungry customers on time. Work will be a lot easier and there will definitely be a system. I don’t believe in quantity when it comes to kitchen staff, it’s always about quality. And I guess that restaurant doesn’t value quality, nor do they even care if people go hungry because of them. What’s even more appalling was the fact that they were asking them for service charge, since they were a big party. If I were the manager, I would’ve given them desserts instead, free of charge of course.

Dining out is supposed to be a culinary experience. A restaurant’s life span is so unpredictable because there’s so much competition out there. And for one restaurant that wasted those 25 customers they had, your guess is as good as mine on how long their doors will be open for business.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Current status: I’m in a food-state of mind

Next week is Holy Week, and for Catholics, it’s the climax of religious worship. But because most of us aren’t at work, we’d usually go home to our provinces or go out of town. Either way, Holy Week is not only a matter of worship, but also a time to be with family.

I used to remember when we’re little kids Good Friday is about food and new clothes. Because my mom would often say that you’re attending the funeral of Jesus, wear something decent. And all our relatives will be coming home for vacation therefore we always prepare delicious food for them.

Ever since I started cooking, I’ve been planning our Holy Week menu. We’ve managed to veer away from meat—anyway, it’s only on Good Friday that there’s fasting and abstinence—but still couldn’t avoid but to over-cook, just in case an unannounced visitor suddenly comes to our house.

Here are some suggestions for your Holy Week Menu… and some great finds that you could try for the first time… (These are not just exclusive to Catholics only)

  1. Fresh Lumpia – If I have time, I make my own “pabalat”-it’s just a mixture of corn starch, egg and water- but “hubad na lumpia” is also acceptable. Try doing a shrimp and fillet of fish version instead of the usual ground pork or chicken. In Pampanga, we accompany our fresh lumpias with osyo. It’s a brown sauce made of flour, soy sauce, water and a lot of fresh garlic.
  2. Kare-Kare – I love this dish. For ordinary Kare-Kare, we use pata ng baboy. It’s soft and chewy. But on big occasions, I prefer using oxtail instead of ox tripe. It takes awhile for the oxtail to become tender, but if you have a pressure cooker, then you can use that too. Invest in a good brand of peanut butter because if it’s good, a little goes a long way. Don’t forget the bagoong. I have Spanish friends who eat Kare-Kare with fish sauce. It’s just not the same! I sauté the bagoong in lots of garlic and oil, I sometimes put a teaspoon of sugar, cayenne pepper or siling labuyo just liven its taste.
  3. Salted Egg flavored Ice Cream – Yes, it exists and it tastes darn good. It’s not too salty, actually it tastes a lot cheese, but the texture is different. It’s made to order, if you want I can recommend someone who makes it, just in case you’re interested in tasting it.
  4. Bringhe – It’s like the Filipino take on Paella. But instead of a tomato sauce, we use turmeric, that’s why we end up with yellowish colored rice. My mom taught me to put in the liver when it’s about to be fully cooked, or else it’ll just melt the liver instead of biting chunks of it.
  5. Ginilo – Our grandmothers have their own takes on this old Filipino drink. In our family, we’re used to sago, gulaman, fresh coconut milk with sugar then top it off with pinipig crunch.
  6. Dinuguan and puto/ kutsinta – My heritage on my mom’s side is all about food. I was exposed to Kutsinta, Tamales, Puto, halo-halo at a young age. No matter how good the Dinuguan is, we always look forward to pairing it with Puto. For beginners, use spare ribs. Cut them into small pieces.

No matter what you serve your family this coming week, make sure you don’t so stressed in the kitchen. It will reflect on the food you cook. Believe me, a happy cook serves great dishes.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Video interview: Adee Caluag on the beginnings of Agahan

Adee Caluag (Agahan, Metropolitan Ave., Makati)Pinay Lifestyle interviewed Ms. Adee Caluag on the beginnings of Agahan, an all-day breakfast place in Makati which opened in December 2011.  Adee talks about how Agahan arose from her own needs and realizations, and about how some items in the menu came from her childhood experiences.

 

Agahan

G/F Buma Bldg.
1012 Metropolitan Avenue
San Antonio Village
Makati City

 

**UPDATE **

Agahan’s store closed on June 29, 2012, but it continues to entertain catering requests. Please contact Agahan via their Facebook page.

Pre-Valentine brunch… Korean Style

I’m the kind of girl who thinks that Valentine’s Day is overrated. It just feels like everybody is forced to be sweet and extra generous on this “special” day. I appreciate it more when I receive gifts randomly, just because that person thought of me that day. I don’t need an assurance on the 14th of February that someone loves me or is thinking of me.

Our pre-Valentine brunch

But my family finds this as an excuse to get together and dine outside. Any excuse to be able to dress up and eat in a fancy place is always good on my book. So we decided to eat at our favorite Korean restaurant. Disclaimer: I’m not mocking this special day, because I know a lot of people are really looking forward to this, but my family and I are game on anything so we all wore red that day.

I love Korean food. Actually, I love spicy food, but contrary to popular belief, not all Korean food is spicy. And even if it’s spicy, you can still taste the different ingredients in it. My favorite part in eating Korean food is that they have tofu in almost all their dishes. I love tofu. It literally melts in your mouth.

I like Sundubu-jjigae, which is spicy stew with soft tofu. I love how it’s served in traditional clay pot and it’s really piping hot. I like having it with rice and some kimchi. Of course, Korean food wouldn’t be complete with their array of side dishes, including the famous kimchi.

My mom likes Japchae, but we didn’t order it because we often eat stir-fried noodles. We opted for the clear beef broth with transparent noodles. It’s good in clearing the palate, especially when you’re eating spicy and oily food.

I would’ve loved some Tukbokki but they don’t offer it (I wonder where I can buy my own rice cakes so that I’ll just cook it myself when I feel like having some!). Bulgogi is an all-time favorite of my family. We always order it, as Pansit is always ordered whenever we eat in Chinese restaurants. I know, it’s just four of us in the family, but we love to eat.

And for our protein, grilled pork wrapped in lettuce leaves. I don’t know how much lettuce leaves we consumed that day but it was so delicious. I don’t get it? I grill pork belly all the time, but the taste is different. Maybe because of all the side dishes, and the dipping sauce, but grilled meat is something to look forward to when you crave for Korean food.

We’re too full to even order dessert, so we decided to walk it off and do some grocery shopping. Lunch was not just about the food but also the company that made it so much fun. So, maybe I do celebrate Valentine’s day, if that means spending it with the ones you love.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Great food finds for January 2012

I’m very proud to say that this January, I went out with quite a number of friends and family. That’s a real accomplishment for this introvert 😉 And of course, while we enjoyed each other’s company, we also enjoyed some great food. Here are my personal favorites:

Hummus at Persia Grill, GF Eco Plaza

I like the flavor and texture of hummus. It has garlic, but the one I had in Persia Grill only had a mild dose of it. I really do like garlic but I can’t have too much because of my allergies. This was just right.

Believe it or not, this was just my appetizer 😛

Spring Onion Pancakes with Sausage at Toast Box, GF Trinoma

Spring Onion Pancakes with Sausage at Toast BoxJust like most Filipinos, I grew up with pancakes that taste sweet, and that probably came from a box of pancake mix. I enjoy trying non-mainstream pancakes once in a while, like Korean kimchi pancakes. These spring onion pancakes from Toast Box was a happy sight when I needed a quick fix.

Paella Negra at Barcino, GF Greenbelt 2

Paella Negra at BarcinoI’ve only once eaten in an authentic Spanish restaurant, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Barcino’s at Greenbelt 2 is wonderful. They give a discount at lunch time, which means you get a whole lot of bang for your buck. This Paella Negra was just exquisite. We knew it had squid ink, but this one wasn’t going to scrimp on it.

Noodles with Sesame and Peanut Sauce at Shi Lin, 3F Podium

Noodles with Sesame and Peanut Sauce at Shih LinI love kare-kare and anything else in peanut sauce. I know Shi Lin is known for many other things, but I’ll remember it for this dish. To my friends, it was just a shameless noodle version of kare-kare. But the peanut lover in me went to heaven with this thick, semisweet, creamy peanut sauce. Noodles never tasted so good.

Waffles at Red Mango, 3F Greenbelt 3

Blueberry Waffle at Red MangoBanana Waffle at Red MangoRed Mango has great yogurt. But I was surprised to find out that they also have waffles. I love waffles! And these were really pretty ones. They have two variants, blueberry and banana, and you can choose to have yogurt on top or not. Great for a relaxing merienda.

Trail Mix at Bo’s Coffee, 5F Megamall

Trail Mix at Bo's CoffeeNope, this isn’t your average mixed nuts. Trail mix is healthy energy food if you’re on the go. And by the way, they’re not meant to be popped into your mouth one at a time. Take a small handful and chew them together. The flavors go together really well 🙂

I’m out to meet another set of family and friends this month. Would you have any suggestions on where we should meet and eat? 🙂