Zamboanga Eats

March 22, 2019 § Leave a comment

A peninsula blessed with pink and white sand beaches,

Beaches

bird sanctuaries, open seas, historical sites, beautiful parks, and abundant marine life;

wildlife

a culture influenced by the Chinese merchants, Tausug traders, and Christian migrants from the Visayas and neighboring Mindanao provinces. Truly a melting pot that turned out a cuisine that is rich in flavor and texture.

white-sand-beach

And despite the negative news that surrounds this beautiful island, I never felt any sense of perilousness during my visit. Zamboanga will delight your senses.

Curacha at Alavar’s

Curacha-Alavar's

Our first meal after a very delayed arrival was at Zamboanga’s iconic Alavar’s Seafood Restaurant. Because you cannot be in Zamboanga and not have curacha smothered in its trademark Alavar Sauce. What is curacha?

curacha

It’s a giant deep-sea crab that is uniquely found only in the waters of Zamboanga. It is a hybrid crustacean with sea crabs and spiny lobster characteristic. Lots of meat mostly found in its massive and tough shell. And of course, the secret is always in the sauce – sweet, aromatic with a hint of curry. Made from coconut milk and their secret spices, this sauce was the culprit to my loving anything with coconut milk.

Baked Imbao

Besides curacha, this beautiful plate of imbao wowed us as well. These are clams found in the mangroves of Zamboanga. Simple but so flavorful, this dish was baked in garlic and butter.

Baked-Imbao

Bagoong Gata

And before we move on, Alavar’s bagoong gata is a winner. It is just that – no explanation needed. Super with green mangoes.

Alavar's Seafood House: Don Alfaro St., Tetuan

Tausug Cuisine

Tausug is part of the broader political identity of Muslims in Mindanao. They live primarily in the Sulu Archipelago, southwest of the island of Mindanao, mainly in the Jolo island cluster. Being so close to Malaysia and that fact that they were not fully occupied by the Spaniards, Tausug cuisine has maintained its Malay origins and appears to be a combination of indigenous and Malaysian influences. They use ingredients like turmeric, lemongrass, langawas (a kind of ginger), chilis like sambal and a paste very similar to the Malaysian prawn paste, belachan.

It is particularly rich because of the heavy use of coconut milk and has many rice cake specialties.

Tiulah Itum

Tiula-Itum

Looks like dinuguan but taste like beef soup. The Tausog dish is made from either beef or chicken, its broth flavored with ginger, turmeric, and what made the soup black, burnt coconut meat.

Piyanggang Manuk

pianggang-manuk

Don’t let the color turn you off because this, my friends, is so good! A chicken dish made of the same burnt coconut meat of Tiulah Itum and coconut milk. A must try.  So popular that you can even find it in pizzas.

Pyanggang-Chicken-Pizza

Piyasak

Piyasak

Least of my favorite. This is beef liver cooked in coconut milk and burnt coconut meat.

Beef Kulma

Beef-Kurma

Similar to beef curry cooked in coconut milk and peanut butter. This can be a dish the encompasses the cultures in the island of Mindanao, a meal enjoyed and prepared by both Muslims and Christians alike.

Tausug Pastries:

Freshly cooked native pastries collectively call Bangbang Sug – indigenous fritters, cakes, and pastries, that originated from the Sulu archipelago.

bangbang-sug

Many are made from coconut and rice, and much attention and details are put into making them. Here are some that we’ve tasted:

Lokot Lokot

Also known as Zamboanga rolls, Jaa… A crunchy, golden brown delicacy produced and served during special occasions, especially during Hari Raya or the feast of the Eid al Fitr – which celebrates the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Daral

daral

It is comparable to a crepe but with sweet coconut filling.

Jualan Saing

bangbang-sug-2

Fried bananas served with a sweet coconut dip.

Pulihmandi

Purple colored balls made of rice and covered with coconut shavings

Apam

bangbang-sug-3

Sulu’s version of a pancake

Baulo

It’s a pastry molded into decorative shapes, a delicacy also served during Hari Raya.

Pastil

An empanada stuffed with togue served with sweet, spicy sauce.

Biyaki

Biyaki-and-jualan-saingBiyaki and Jualan Saing

Steamed corn with grated coconut wrapped in cornhusks. Hands down my favorite.

Where to find these?

Dennis Coffee Garden: Popular for its brewed coffee but they also serve traditional Tausug pastries and dishes.

Dennis Coffee Garden: Labuan-Limpapa National Rd.

There are more to explore, and a need to return is a must. Many would perhaps ask if it is indeed safe to be exploring this part of the Philippines. Touristy areas are usually safe and well guarded. My advice is to always err on the side of caution and your comfort level. Always check with the local municipal office or tourism offices for guidance. Trips to The Greater Santa Cruz Island and Once Islas has to be coordinated and registered with the Philippine Tourist Authority.

 

 

Hello 2019

February 12, 2019 § Leave a comment

It has been a while, and as you can see on my recent posts, we’ve been traveling. So between trips and work, I’ve had very little time to explore the kitchen. I have to be honest. This recipe has been sitting in my draft box for quite a while. And while I organize my travel notes, let me share this simple corn muffin that is so easy to make and jazzed up with sharp cheeses and spicy jalpeños. This make-ahead marvel is perfect as a side dish, an appetizer, or even a snack. I love that is moist, slightly sweet, delightfully salty, marvelously cheesy, and somewhat spicy.

Cheese-Jalapeno-Corn-BreadCredits: JSprague “The Final Tally” template; papers from Sepia Lane and Sept Blue CT

Cheese and Jalapeño Cornbread

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living October 2014 issue

What You Need:

  • ¾ stick unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for pan
  • 1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsps. baking powder
  • ½ tsps.. baking soda
  • 2 tsps. coarse salt
  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 3 cups) – I combined with Gouda
  • 2 oz. or 50g Jalapeno peppers in juice/syrup

What You Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 200°C. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. In a bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, and eggs.
  2. Pour buttermilk mixture into flour mixture and stir until just combined (do not overmix). Fold in cheese and chilies with juices until evenly distributed. Transfer to baking pan and smooth top.
  3. Bake until golden brown along edges and a tester inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs, 20-25 minutes.
  4. Let cool in pan 5 minutes. Turn out onto a wire rack, then invert onto another rack, top side up. Let cool at least 15 minutes more. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut into small wedges. Serve warm or room temperature.

 

Penang Eats

December 30, 2018 § Leave a comment

My last post for the year has to be the wonderful eating escapade we had in Penang, a food paradise mainly due to its diversity in ethnicity, culture, and religion. Its multi-ethnicity brings variety in Penang’s street and hawker food. The Thrillist named the food capital of Malaysia as one of the best food city in the world. And the food should be one of the main reasons to visit Penang.

street-food

The most highly celebrated Malaysian Food is the street or hawker fare.

roadside

Expect to sit on colorful plastic tables and chairs on the roadside or in open air complex housing many food stalls.

hawker-center

Some of our favorites:

Char Kway Teow

char-koay-teow

A famous dish and a national love, it’s a plate of flat rice noodles, stir-fried in a charcoal fried wok with prawns, cockles, scrambles eggs, crunchy bean sprouts, strips of fish cake and chili paste. The more famous versions will include pork lards and even sweet barbecued pork slices and use duck eggs, which results in a combination of flavors that are pretty unique. The Penang style Char Kway Teow is made special by the flavor of the “wok,” and the freshness of the ingredients.

Oyster Omelette or Oh Chien

oh-chien

Popular in many countries, it’s basically a fried oyster-filled omelet. The use of rice flour in the Penang version, as opposed to potato starch in others gave it a lighter, crispier texture.

Popiah

popiah

This sweet and soft creation is filled with soybean curd, grated turnips, french beans, fried tofu, chopped peanuts, shredded egg, Chinese lettuce and shrimps wrapped in a very thin crepe and served fresh.

Wantan Mee

wantan-mee

It is a delicious serving of noodles in either dry or soup form. As the name suggests, the dish is served with wanton (meat or shrimp dumplings) and char siew (barbecued pork slices). The dry version, my choice, uses dark soy sauce and perhaps oyster sauce and the soup version comes either with chicken or pork stock. Another version that I am very curious but was not fortunate enough to try (because they ran out at the Chew Getty Cafe) is the white version. They say that while it is milder than the soy sauce cousin, it delivers a flavor with more depth. No wonder it is a fast seller. Should this be my reason to go back?

Nasi Lemak

Begin your day with Malaysia’s national and traditional dish. A staple especially for breakfast, it is coconut rice served with a hot spicy sauce (sambal), fried crispy anchovies, toasted peanuts, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh cucumber slices.

Sambal is the soul of tis dish; it brings together all the various toppings and completes this iconic dish.

nasi-lemakI had this superb dish at Cafe Mews with Japanese mackerel and prawn sambal.

Crispy Duck

crispy-duck

With the Chinese having such influence in Malaysia, it is to no surprise that Crispy duck is a popular dish served everywhere. Baste in sweet and spicy sauce and served with rice, this duck dish is deliciousness on a plate. Try it at Café Mews.

Nyonya Cuisine

The island’s claim to fame, however, is their Nyonya flavoring in the local Chinese dishes. The term Nyonya refer to the Straits Chinese immigrants who settled in Malaysia and adapted Malay tradition, customs, and cooking ingredients. The result is the Peranakan cuisines otherwise know as Nyonya.

Kebaya Restaurant

At Penang’s gorgeous Seven Terraces Hotel is a Peranakan restaurant serving an excellent repertoire of Nonya food under the leadership of creative head chef, Christopher Ong. Outstanding modern Nonya Cuisine served in a stylish dining room.

kabaya-restaurant

A four-course meal comes with large portions of an appetizer, vegetables, main and dessert.

Kabaya

Located on Stewart Lane, Kebaya Restaurant is the best bet to sample the authentic taste of Peranakan food within Georgetown.

Indian Cuisine

Because Malaysia is a multicultural country blessed with food from the Chinese, Malay, and Indian, it is to no surprise that Indian cuisine has melded its way into its kitchen. One such dish that has become a Malaysian staple is:

Roti Canai

Roti-Canai

It is an adaptation of the Indian paratha roti (Indian flatbread), which made its way to Malaysian soil when the British brought South Indians to work in British Malaysia. It is one of the most basic rotis and is served with chicken curry. It is a favorite breakfast dish, but it is also served as a snack or quick lunch.

Little India

One of the most engaging side of Georgetown is the bustling, colorful Little India. It covers about 4×4 streets and is packed with shops selling beautiful saris, Indian pastries, and jewelry. But more importantly, Georgetown is home to quite a few authentic Indian restaurants.

Little-India

Walking around Little India after a visit to the Pinang Peranakan Museum a few blocks away, we found ourselves in Dindigul Biryani.

Indian-food

Also known as Bite N Eat to non-Indians, it is a local eatery serving Southern Indian food in a friendly and clean environment. The staff are friendly and helpful, they will help you with the menu tablet, which includes photos for the appreciation of non-Indian diners. Try their chili gobi (A spicy cauliflower starter), mutton and vegetable biryani, paneer butter masala. Portions are significant and a good value for money.

Penang’s Desserts

Also famous for its diverse range of desserts, most of which are made with local ingredients such as coconut milk, palm sugar, red beans, bananas, sweet corn, and grass jelly among others. Penang’s desserts come ranges from piping hot to refreshing. Here are some of my favorites:

Cendol

cendol

Regarded as Penang’s signature dessert and is sold almost everywhere. It is a bowl of shaved ice filled with chewy green rice flour jelly (cendol), red kidney beans, fresh light coconut milk (or condensed milk) and sweetened with a splash of palm sugar syrup. A refreshing treat on a hot day.

Ais Kacang

Ais-Kacang.jpg

Another refreshing dessert that’s similar to cendol. Literally means “ice beans” and pronounced “ka-chong” and sometimes referred to as just ABC, it is a bowl of shaved ice comes with a serving of kidney beans. However, the number of ingredients has grown to include sweet corn, grass jelly, different fruits, and is served with coconut milk, condensed milk, or even ice cream.

ais-kacang-variant

Apom Balik (turnover pancake)

apom-balik

Apom Balik is a sweet Nyonya-style pancake that’s stuffed with shredded coconut, sweet corn, sliced bananas or peanuts folded over and topped with a sprinkling of sugar.

Nyonya Kuih

kuih

They are bite-size gems that are soft, almost pudding-like in texture. With appealing colors dominated by flavors of coconut, pandan and palm sugar, these dainty bites are a Peranakan delicacy that has been handed down from generation to generation.

Durian

Last but definitely not the least for durian lovers, where else can you find the best durian but in the island of Penang – the haven of hybrid durians.

durian

At the time of our visit, it was pretty much the end of the season, and our Grab taxi driver brought us to Leng Durian at Anson Road, the few stalls still selling the fruit albeit at a very high price.

musang-king-durian

Durian, for those unfamiliar, is one of the world’s most exciting foods. While many associate it with its odor, it is a fruit that is a strange combination of savory, sweet and creamy all at once. And for durian lovers, it is one of the reasons to travel to Penang.

And with this, I wish you all a Blessed 2019.

Where to Eat in KL: Jalan Alor

October 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

Decked out on Jalan Alor is an impressive collection of roadside eateries and street food vendors. Plastic tables and chairs adorn a good portion of the street.

jalan-alor-2

If you are looking for the perfect example of Malaysian food, look no further. This strip running parallel to Jalan Bukit Bintang is best known for its budget-friendly street food eateries.

Jalan-Alor

Wander around, choose the stall/s that piqued your fancy and enjoy the gastronomic journey.

oysters-and-chicken-wings

Fresh oysters. We chose Dragon View Restaurant for its oysters. Along with it sitting by the roadside, we had a feast of Fried Garlic Prawns, Chili Crab, Sweet and Sour pork and an order of Won Ah Wah’s famous BBQ chicken wings.

crab-and-prawns

“Sometimes, the simple things are more fun and meaningful than all the banquets in the world.”

― E.A. Bucchianeri

 

Fried Couscous Salad

September 4, 2018 § Leave a comment

Fried-Couscous-SaladCredits: Quick Page template by retrodiva {designs}; crochet element by KaBoks

I was introduced to couscous on my trip to Morocco and Spain five years ago. Before that, it was really out of my radar and had no interest whatsoever. But having tasted some amazing couscous dishes/salads while on that trip, I am now an occasional fan. I say occasionally because I have moods for it and when I do, this is my go-to recipe adapted from Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe.

The flavors go so well together—saltiness from the cheese, sweet and peppery from the basil, sweet and tart from the sun-dried tomatoes and the lemon dressing. The cucumber ties it all together with its crunchy freshness.

What You’ll Need:

For the Couscous:

  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 (10-ounce) box (1 1/4 cups) couscous
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 4 ounces Havarti or Quesong Puti, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 small or 1/2 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

For the Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice from 1/2 large lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

What You Do:

For the couscous:

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken broth and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the couscous. Cover until the liquid had been absorbed and the couscous is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Using a fork, fluff the couscous and break up any lumps.

In a large, nonstick skillet heat 1/4 cup oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the garlic and discard.

Increase the heat to high and add the couscous. Cook, constantly stirring, for 6 minutes. Continue to cook the couscous, stirring every 5 minutes, until toasted, about 25 minutes.

Transfer the couscous to a large serving bowl and cool for 5 minutes. Add the Havarti, cucumber, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, and basil.

For the dressing:

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper until smooth. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss until the couscous is coated.

Easy Going in Taipei

July 4, 2018 § 1 Comment

taipei-eatsI fell in love with Taiwan and vowed to return and explore the other parts of the island. Well, it took us seven years (unbelievable but true), this time with parents in tow. And so we didn’t venture too far away from Taipei.

Fushan-Temple-Juifen
Fushan Temple in Jiufen
Honeycomb-rock-formation-Yehliu
Honeycomb rocks in Yehliu

The itinerary was loose and relaxed with only 1 full day outside the capital. A family of foodies, the natural thing to do as soon as we landed was to enjoy a bowl of Beef Noodle Soup, Taiwan’s pride. While there are several recommended spots for this, we chose Yonkang Beef Noodle.

Yongkang-Beef-Noodle-Restaurant

Founded in 1963, this small family run, 2-level restaurant serves up signature beef noodle and tendon soup.

Yongkang-Beef-Noodle-Soup

It’s Sichuan style hot and spicy soup with huge chunks of tender Australian beef – cooked to perfection and best with a bit of their fantastic chili paste.

Yongkang-Beef-Noodle-side-dishes

Besides having a large variety of side dishes, the restaurant also serves steamed spare ribs and steamed intestines – something to try next time.

Yongkang Street

We walked off that fantastic noodle soup in Yongkang Street, Taiwan’s cuisine mecca. It is not a very long street, but one can spend an hour or two just browsing. Not to be missed when visiting Taipei.

yongkang-Street
Old-school-eateries-Yongkang

Initially owning fame for its traditional cuisines such as Din Tai Fung’s xiao long bao, Yongkang Street and its neighboring lanes and alleys are now dotted with old-school eateries, coffee shops and dessert shops, clothing and souvenir shops, tea shops and some quirky cafes.

Kao Chi

And speaking of xiao long bao, we found another gem just around the corner from Din Tai Fung serving a similar menu but is far less crowded. Perpetually overshadowed by its heavyweight competitor, Kao Chi has been serving Shanghainese dishes since 1949, about 8 years earlier than Din Tai Fung. The 3-story flagship store is quiet, though somewhat a favorite among the affluent locals. Signature dishes include their Shen Jian Bao – pan-fried pork buns, Xiao Long Bao (of course) – Steamed Pork Dumplings, and Steamed Crab Egg and Pork Dumplings, among a wide array of dishes on the menu.

Kao-Chi-XLB

Still full from the massive bowl of Beef Noodle Soup, we opted for an order of Xiao Long Bao, not knowing then about the pan-fried pork buns (later on recommended by a local friend). I find that the XLB was equally good, and we didn’t have to wait in line for it. Another option to keep in mind for XLB fans.

Tu Hsiao Yueh

Another noteworthy restaurant not to miss is Tu Hsiao Yueh. Highly recommended by a Taiwanese friend, we didn’t waste time to go check it out. Established in Tainan in 1895 with an interesting story to boot. The name means “survive a month” or “living through the bad months” referring to the hardship endured by the fishermen in Tainan. In those months, a fisherman named Hung would go to town and sell Dan Tzai noodles in front of the local temple to make ends meet.

Tu-Hsiao-Yueh

Fast forward to present day, Tu Hsiao Yueh has evolved into a modern restaurant chain serving traditional Taiwanese fare and still specializing in the same noodles that is now a Taiwan staple.

Dan-Tsai-Noodles

The signature dish is a small bowl of noodles topped with minced meat, dried shrimps, and black vinegar. One can choose between egg noodles, rice vermicelli or bihon, or flat noodles, and if you want it with or without soup. We decided on the dry bihon just because I love bihon that way. I was pleased with our choice, but I heard that the soup was exceptional and elevated the dish. That gives me another reason to go back.

Tu-Hsiao-Yueh-dishes
Fried Oysters, Stir-fried Tomiao, Minced beef topped rice (reminds of my youth…)

Fried oysters with white pepper and salt on the side was another remarkable dish that we enjoyed so much that we placed a second order – A definite must try!

Bubble-Milk-Tea-Ice-Monster

We followed it up with a bowl of Bubble Milk Tea Sensation – shaved ice dessert likewise made famous by the Taiwanese. Ah… another must.

Useful Info:

Yongkang Beef Noodle: No. 17, Lane 31, Section 2, Jinshan South Road, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Kao Chi Branches:

No. 1, Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei City

No. 150號, Section 1, Fuxing South Road, Da’an District

Tu Hsiao Yueh branches:

No. 9-1, Yongkang Street, Da’an District, Taipei City

No. 12, Alley 8, Lane 216, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Da’an District, Taipei City

Ice Monster Zhongxiao Flagship branch: No.297, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Taipei

Simple Pleasures

May 8, 2018 § Leave a comment

Do you sometimes crave for something as simple as a cheese sandwich?

IMG_4248

Last month was a crazy month that kick-off on the week of the Easter break. It was a series of packing and unpacking as we took short trips in and out of the country. Some family and some work obligations. On those trips, we ate well, but of course—more of those in the coming posts.

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谢谢 台湾. It was more than a food trip!!

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Too well in fact that I craved for familiar and straightforward. This Panini-pressed jalapeño Fontina cheese sandwich hit the spot.

IMG_4251

IMG_4257

Ah… pure pleasure indeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I will never tire of traveling but checking in and out of airports and hotels can wear out a travel enthusiast as myself too. As they say, too much of a good thing is a bad thing. I’ve decided to stay put for a while but only for a little while. I actually spent last weekend planning for another short trip in August. A food trip, no less. LOL! Three months is enough rest, don’t you think?