To say it was humid that day was an understatement. Having to walk 15 blocks to the supermarket in a polo and jeans, walk back with several bottles of patis and coconut oil, and then proceed to cook in a sweltering kitchen with an industrial size oven and gas range on full blast? Yeah…humid my ass. It was in these conditions that I first met Sarahlynn of Filipino Kitchen (and a few months later, her co-conspirator Natalia) as I sous chef’d (is that even a verb?) for my friend Yana Gilbuena of the SALO Series (covered said dinner here and a previous one here). We didn’t speak much. Just a few pleasantries and some polite commentary on the bangus that was dripping its guts onto my arms.
It wasn’t until several semi-chance encounters here in NYC and in Chicago when the thought of collaborating came up. I’m an automatic supporter of food bloggers and side hustlers and when we got into a conversation around Filipino food culture in the middle of a loud beercade in Lakeview, Chicago, I had a feeling we were going to be working together soon. Well that soon is right now and without further ado, I’d like to introduce our first post in this #FKEDUP series care-of the Filipino Kitchen gals featuring the best Pinoy eats of 2014. (Disclaimer: this list is neither comprehensive nor definitive…that’s where you come in! Think anything’s missing from this list? Let us know!) Let’s get to it!
Hungry for More: Best Eats of 2014
(originally published on Filipino.Kitchen)
by: Sarahlynn Pablo & Natalia Roxas-Alvarez
Though all our meals of 2014 were amazing in their own right, a select few dishes stood above the rest. Whether the dishes were new-to-us Filipino dishes, interesting twists on familiar classics or the classics done masterfully, certain ones we replay in our memory with a genuine desire to experience those dishes again and rejoin with friends, new and old alike.
Crab Fat Fried Rice by Sunda, Chicago
Do we need to say more than CRAB FAT FRIED RICE?! (No!) At Chicago’s Sunda, Executive Chef Jess De Guzman’s brunch menu offers an ‘assemble yourself -silog’**… with the crab fat (or aligi in Tagalog) fried rice as an option to the standard and much-beloved sinangag, garlic fried rice. The aligi imbues the rice with a reddish-orange tinge and the sharp taste of the crab with its concentrated umami, even as the sweet, tender torn chunks of crab meat are nestled within. Sarahlynn and I had our first taste of this amazing dish during brunch at Sunda for Filipino-American History Month and since then we’ve been hooked!
** Explainer! -Silog is the latter half of the portmanteau used to describe a Filipino breakfast combination dish. For example, tapsilog is tapa (thin-sliced, cured steak), sinangag (the garlic fried rice), itlog (eggs). Tapsilog = TAPa + SInanag + itLOG. Other -Silogs include longsilog (with longganisa, a sweet spicy sausage), bangsilog (with bangus or milkfish), spamsilog (yes, it’s what you think it means!).
Grilled Eggplan Kulawo by Purple Yam, NYC
KULA-WHOA! According to Chef Romy Dorotan of Purple Yam, kulawo [burnt coconut cream], pronounced koo-lah-WUO, originates from San Pablo, Laguna. Said Natalia, “It is such a shame that my maternal side of my family is from Laguna, and I didn’t even know about this! I was a picky eater.” Kulawo is not a well known Filipino dish, but we think it should be. Who says Filipino food is all about meat?! This tasty vegetarian dish will not leave carnivores wanting. The savory appetizer takes the smoky flavor of grilled talong (eggplant) and cuts it with the creaminess of the coconut. How to burn coconut cream? Take freshly grated coconut flesh and place the embers of burnt coconut husk directly on top. With a cheesecloth, squeeze the milk from the mixture. The burned coconut cream is served as a warm dressing to the grilled talong, thinly sliced ampalaya (bittermelon), cherry tomatoes and greens. Brilliant.
Maja Blanca Pancakes by Rice and Shine
Chef AC Boral’s amazing reinterpretation of a Pampangan holiday dessert is a creamy, sweet, coconutty corn kernel syrup on a stack of warm, fluffy pancakes, with a perfect counterpoint of blueberries. Trust me, we wanted to lick the pot clean after Chef AC gave us a sample. Chef AC’s traveling Filipino brunch takes American brunch classics and puts a special Pinoy twist.
Smoked Bangus by Milkfish, New Orleans
When in Rome… or New Orleans, in this case. When a chef/owner stakes her name on a single ingredient or a dish, that is what you have to get. In some restaurants, it’s a bit of a gimmick to get customers to order the house special, which is sometimes overpriced and not that special. Not in this case. You will order the eponymous bangus [milkfish] from Chef Cristina Quackenbush’s restaurant in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood, and you will love it. A whole bangus is smoked to a pearlescent gold. The firm, tender meat [hardly} is so well-flavored, it’s transcendent. Add some drops of the thai chili vinegar sawsawan (dipping sauce), to level everything up. You will eat the skin, too. Nothing was left for the cats (as my late father used to joke) except the fins, a little pile of the bangus’ fine, long bones, and the skull. Take the streetcar from the French Quarter to Milkfish. You will thank me.
Sinigang by Milkfish, New Orleans
Rich and layered like the way of a great jambalaya built on a dark roux and great andouille. Soured so good, it hurts so sweetly. These are the words that come to mind when I think of Chef Quackenbush’s pork rib sinigang at her New Orleans restaurant, Milkfish. Heavy on the tamarind, the dark broth packs a punch to your pucker. Quackenbush’s childhood at the apron strings of her mother on her grandmother’s Indiana farm, where she learned how to grow and raise product and livestock and the practical, frugal ways of agriculturalists. No waste of the scraps from the butcher’s table or the vegetable cutting board. In they go, into the stock.
Sinigang by Purple Yam, NYC
There is nothing more comforting than a bowl of sinigang (lobster, leeks, gourd, lemon, tomato, guava) with steaming jasmine rice on a cold day/night. Purple Yam’s sinigang is clean, sour, fresh and educational. At least for me, as all the sinigang I have ever known is out of a packet, while this was made with fresh ingredients to develop the sour taste instead of relying on freeze dried seasonings. This delicate balance of flavors was very refreshing and comforting.
Adobo Bao by Kuma Inn, NYC
To anyone who needs an introduction to Filipino cuisine, you will always — and I mean ALWAYS — be served adobo, usually a chicken or pork adobo, to be your first ever Filipino dish. Kuma Inn’s adobo bao is just a party in your mouth with some tender shredded pork adobo nuzzled in between a steamed rice bun and topped with shredded pickled carrots. Just writing this makes me want to have some. Thanks, Chef King!
Tapa Nori Taco by Purple Yam, NYC
As I type this, I am salivating for one! — Tender garlicky beef tapa, with heritage rice from the Cordilleras mountains in the northern Philippines, pomelo, orange, persimmons and spring greens on top encased with crispy fried nori, seaweed instead of tortilla. This is a taco that I can definitely eat a lot and all the time.
Bibingka by Maddy’s Dumpling House
Nothing spells Christmas more in the Philippines than bibingka (a type of rice cake made of rice flour, and coconut milk). The only reason I love going to church during the yuletide season is I look forward to eating after it. During Chef Chrissy Camba’s pop-up dinner last December 15, 2014 we were served some bibingka, leche flan and her lola‘s (grandmother) fruit salad for dessert and I wanted more…a lot more of it!
Longganisa Scotch Eggs by Rice and Shine
If Voltes V were actually Voltes II and instead of an evil fighting robot collective it were a breakfast food collective, that would be longganisascotch eggs. (You 70s and 80s Pinoy dub anime peeps feel me.) Chef AC Boral of so good and delicious and Filipino Kitchen (ahem!) is the auteur of this slightly sweet & spiced pork sausage encasing a soft boiled egg, panko-breaded and deep fried.
Adobo Ramen Burger by Lumpia Shack, NYC
Here is another variation of adobo in form of a ramen burger. The ramen burger phenomenon started two summers ago in Smorgasburg byKeizo Shimamoto who also supplies Lumpia Shack’s ramen buns! This tasty burger partnered with sinigang chips (made of kropek, shrimp cracker made out of pulverized shrimp and rice flour, and sinigang powder flavor dusted on the chips) is a craving that will never be sated until I go back to NYC.
Bellychon by Maddy’s Dumpling House
If you can’t have a full pig, well why not buy the best part and roast it just like how you would roast a whole one — introducing Pork Bellychon! (belly + lechon = bellychon) This dish, which we enjoyed at Chef Camba’s recent Filipino Pork Christmas dinner, doesn’t take away any flavors of a traditional Filipino whole-pig lechon.
Sunda Sundae by Sunda, Chicago
GAME-CHANGER! The Sunda sundae is the holy grail of Halo-Halo outside the Philippines. We have tasted our fair share of halo-halo and came to a conclusion that Sunda’s version is just simply divine. Layers of calamansi granita, flan, red mung beans, nata de coco, jackfruit strips, condensed milk, 3 scoops of ice cream (avocado, ube, maiz con queso) … I do not care if it is in the dead of winter, I want it.
Crispy Pata Fries by Lumpia Shack, NYC
My heart says ‘no,’ but my tummy says yes! The crispy pata** fries are a perfect beer-match on a hot summer day. It is decadent, crispy and succulent. Just make sure you follow the motto: “Sharing is caring”
**Crispy Pata = Filipino dish consisting of deep fried pig trotters or knuckles
Uni Palabok by Maharlika, NY
Pancit palabok, my favorite noodle dish, is staunchly, unabashedly fishy. Normally it’s a multi-layered dish, with head-on shrimp and tinapa or dried fish flakes, annato or poor man’s saffron, chicharron (fried pork skin) and some sliced hard boiled eggs for garnish. But sometimes less is more. From the kitchen of owner Nicole Ponseca and Chef Miguel Trinidad at New York City’s Maharlika, palabok takes on the very sumptuous uni, theyellow-orange gonads or sex organs of a sea urchin. It’s briny fishyness combined with its peanut butter-like creaminess, as the palabok sauce that covers the round rice noodles, is something either you love or hate. The uni palabok is garnished with more luxurious whole uni and a dusting of tinapa and microgreens. For me, it’s love.
WHERE TO FIND THE HUNGRY FOR MORE LIST
Sunda, 10 W. Illinois, Chicago, IL 60654. (312) 644-0500
NEW YORK CITY AND SURROUNDS
Purple Yam, 1314 Cortelyou Road, Brooklyn, NY 11226. (718) 940-8188
Maharlika, 111 First Avenue, New York City, NY 10003. (646) 392-7880
Kuma Inn, 113 Ludlow Street, New York, NY 10002. (212) 353-8866
Lumpia Shack, 50 Greenwich Avenue, New York, NY 10014. (917) 475-1621
Milkfish, 125 N. Carrollton Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70119. (504) 267-4199