Canh Chua Ca: On Cross-Cultural Consumption

Canh Chua

There’s this odd thing we – especially those from immigrant families – do when it comes to tasting new, usually “ethnic” (for lack of a better word) dishes.  After the first cursory sips/chews/swallows, the proverbial light bulb goes off and we say: “Oh that’s nice…but you should taste the [insert own culture here] version of this!”.  It’s annoying and heart-warming at the same time.  On one hand, the fact that someone claims that they make a better “version” of a dish I grew up with is a bit unappetizing.  “Bro…the Vietnamese one is far better”…”I mean…it’s not as flavorful as the Somali version my mom makes”…”Are you high?  Everyone knows the Arab way is the real one”.  On the other, it’s a quick and solid way to connect to one another; gaps bridged by soups, entrees, and confections.

Filipinos embrace the fierce loyalty we have to the Sinigang as the quintessential Filipino soup.  Just about every college student knows how to make one from even the barest of budgets: meat (pork ribs or fish) + variety of veggies (usually radish, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and green beans) all boiled in a sour tamarind broth.  No one fucks with Sinigang.  So when a good friend uttered the words: “I know what this is!  This is just a Filipino version of a really good Vietnamese Sour Soup called Canh Chua Ca!”, best believe I wasn’t going to take it lying down.  The debate ended with me downloading the recipe for this…”Sour Soup” and trying it out with a few of my own twists.

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Sinigang à la Andalusia: Red Pepper-Blood Orange Bisque

(Looks like I have quite the backlog of posts hidden in “Drafts” so while I cook up [pun most definitely intended] some fresh content…I hope you enjoy the leftovers [yup there it is!] from yesterday’s writing.  This is one of the few things I did after finally getting a blender many moons back…]

…this first one is a combination of two different soups: the Filipino Sinigang (a sour tamarind broth with a mixture of vegetables and some type of meat), as well as the Spanish Caldillo de Pero (an Andalusian soup soured by the local sour oranges). It’s got the smoky creaminess of a red pepper bisque but with an appetizing tang. In lieu of the traditional fish and to balance the richness of the soup, I’ve topped it with some fried okra, caramelized oranges, and ginger confit.

It’s got quite a few components (not to mention is quite a liberal interpretation of the two soups since I actually used sweeter blood oranges) but the resulting bowl is complex, balanced, and refined enough to elevate the ordinary to gastronomical suave-ness.  Definitely something to keep up your sleeve for more creative nights (or when you need to make una buena impresión).

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End of Busy Season Rendez-Vous: Rilletes De Saumon

So apparently “crudites” is pronounced as “kroo-de-teys” à la française and not “kroo-dayts”?!  And they’re nothing more than a fancified name for “veggie sticks and dip”?!  Well great…I’ve been misled.  I’ve been walking around sounding like an absolute caveman.  So when my manager at work comes in to plan our final get-together before we end our Busy Season job letting us know he’s making crudités, I stare at him blankly and ask what they are before idiotically exclaiming: “Oh!  Veggie sticks?!”.  Ah the horrors of being a commoner like me.

My manager secretly runs a wine bar in his free time.

My manager secretly runs a wine bar in his free time.

Thinking quickly of how I’ll control this apparent culinary faux pas, I volunteered to make an equally fancily named dish: Rillettes de Saumon (aka “Fish Spread” to us peons).  I had made it during Bastille Day a while back and remembered how everything tasted better when pronounced in French.  So as I walked into his gorgeous apartment complete with a kitchen island, I mentally imagined the soundtrack from “Amélie” as I set about prepping this simple hors d’oeuvre.

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D’avoir Une Fête pt. 1: Warm Grape and Frisee Salad

(Photo cred: William Panlilio)

The door opened and soft candlelight spilled out into the cold, gray hallway.  The low thumping of some European house DJ played in the background and for a moment, as we carried our groceries into the apartment, I thought that I was going to be the rude intrusion that spoiled someone’s carefully planned date night.  But no, this was just another opulent dinner at our friends William and Licelle’s apartment.  The Facebook event was called “D’avoir Une Fête” (or, “to have a feast”).  The cover photo was one of soft, pillowy macarons.  The description: “French dishes, French wine, French desserts —  French kiss?”.  And the menu?  Fit for some dimly lit corner bistro in a quiet street in Gai Paree.

The Hosts...

The Hosts…and socks.

 

 I have this love-hate relationship with French food.  On the one hand, it’s luxury, romance, class that elevates the dining experience and makes everything from family Sunday brunches to romantic soirées that much more elegant.  On the other is this stuffiness (so I can only make the mother sauces this…exact…way?), the pretentiousness (why does my waiter have to turn up his nose and squint when he pronounces the dish’s name?), the uppity, my-haute-cuisine-beats-your-lasagna vibe.  I always wondered how French cuisine, by simply naming something in French, makes a dish sound like a million bucks.  Fattened duck liver?  How about Foie Gras.  Braised chicken and apples in brandy sauce?  How about Poulet Vallée d’Auge.  No other ethnic cuisine makes food just sound so…damn…sexy.

The spread.

The spread.

But when you’ve just gone through one of the most harrowing client engagements yet.  When you’ve felt the horror and seen the quiet desperation that I have, French cuisine is one of the few that envelops you in some soft, seductive embrace and says “it’s OK to feel again”.

For tonight’s French-only dinner, I made two dishes: a warm grape and frisée salad drizzled with a light and spicy dressing, and Poisson à la Meunière (Pan-fried fish in lemon butter sauce…recipe in future post).  Also on the menu was Boeuf Bourgignon (Beef braised in red wine and cognac with pearl onions and carrots) by William and a flourless Chocolate cake topped with a frozen meringue and raspberries by Bianca.  Suffice it to say that this indeed was a dinner of the senses.

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The Return of Rosendo: Sinigang (Filipino sour broth for Busy Season)

What makes a good Busy Season dinner?  I was thinking about this the other day while attempting to decipher a particularly troublesome client spreadsheet (I mean…that’s what normal people think about when they do that right?).  But really, what IS a good Busy Season dinner?  Is it one that’s cheap, quick, and simultaneously healthy to make?  Most would think so, but I beg to differ.  After all, you can make a salad and we all know if that’s all you were going to do, you might as well have gone to Chop’t and contemplated the end of the world or something just as melodramatic.

No…I think an amazing Busy Season dinner has 2 other components:

1) It should have the power to comfort you.  Just as a plate of perfect fried chicken can do the soul good, a good Busy Season dinner must be one that can erase the burdens of the day from an unruly client to a Partner nitpicking one formatting error too many.  Of course there’s a fine line between “comfort” and “indulgence”, the latter being driven by a sort of quiet desperation and involves a trip to McDonald’s.

2) It should be eaten more than once.  The warm feeling of reheated pizza, last night’s roast chicken dropped onto a plate of fresh rice, dishes that are good enough to just be put back in the pan straight from the fridge and reheated while you boot up your laptop for another late night session are better the second time around.

For me, one such dish was Sinigang: a soup with a protein, vegetables, and usually soured with tamarind or mangosteen and a a staple of every Filipino’s culinary repertoire.  I still have vivid memories of weekend nights with the family when family dinners were still a thing and conversations were yet to be tainted by talk of politics and how the job market is screwed.  I remember exciting times when my mom would find a giant salmon head to make the Sinigang with and we’d happily split the fatty cheeks between us.  For all you of weaker stomachs, consider how disgusting the pink slime in your burger is before you turn your nose up on a perfectly good fish head.

To me, it was comforting, and after a long day, all I had to do was toss the pot on the stove and reheat.  This version is a simple one, fit for those quick dinners and uses the most basic of Sinigang mixes.

To a comforting night…

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Gettin’ Tail: Tea-Steamed Red Snapper Tail…Busy Season continues

Rosendo's

Rosendo’s

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That sign looks trustworthy…

For the past few weeks now, I’ve been stopping at this hidden gem of a grocery on 22nd and 2nd after the weekly yoga session.  Seemingly out-of-place among bagel shops and vintage clothiers, Rosendo’s Fish Market offers fresh fish, organic meats, and free range chickens.  So of course when I see a fish with clear eyes, some good weight to it, and doesn’t look like its malnourished, zombie-fied cousins in Chinatown, I had to buy one.  Forget the fact that the behemoth set me back $40 or that this red snapper was bigger than my forearm…fresh fish at an affordable price in Manhattan?  Sounds fishy (har har har).

Considering where I found him...meet Rosendo.  You'll be seeing more of him...literally.

Considering where I found him…meet Rosendo. You’ll be seeing more of him…literally.

I got home and cut the whole thing in 3 parts: the head, tail, and fillets, drenching myself in blood and fish guts in the process (note to self: have the fishmonger dress the fish for you next time).  For the head, I was able to cook Sinigang, a Filipino sour soup, of which I’m still debating if it’s worth posting about since the meal I just made with the tail-end far surpasses it.

Tonight’s Busy Season Dinner is a Tea-Steamed Red Snapper Tail drizzled with hot sesame oil infused with ginger and spring onions.  Typically a Cantonese or Teochew dish, steamed red snapper is not only cheap ($8.99/lb.), I managed to cook the whole thing (while cooking the next day’s breakfast at the same time mind you) within half an hour.  Plus, with a minimal number of ingredients and the healthiness of fish compared to that gut-bustin’ burger you must be chompin’ on, you’d be a fool not to make this dish (or you’re on a particularly difficult audit that doesn’t let you leave until 2 AM in which case, you’re excused).

Onward to epicness!

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Two Dinners with the Same Ingredients: Spicy Chicken Salad w/ Summer Squash Pappardelle & Chicken Lugaw w/ Summer Squash Chunks

Aaaaannnddd we’re back with the next couple of Busy Season Dinners!  And since we’re all extra broke this week (don’t lie!), I’m sharing TWO recipes!  Just so happens that these two dishes share almost exactly the same ingredients so to stretch our wallets (and the last vestiges of our dignity), why not make double the variation?  The first is a twist on the buffalo chicken salad and/or a regular chicken pasta with red chilli flake-dusted chicken breast and summer squash “pappardelle” (more on that later) over some greens.  The second, for those colder nights (y’all heard about yet another storm coming in this weekend?!  Apocalpyse is nigh!), is a plain Lugaw, or rice porridge (similar to congee), topped with chicken breast that’s seasoned a little bit differently and summer squash chunks.  They’re similar enough to share costs yet different enough so that you won’t feel like you’re eating the same dish day in, day out.

Note that the first set of ingredients covers both dishes (ie. They’re in double amounts so if you only want to make one type of dish, split the measurements in half).  It’s probably late by the time you’re reading this and being offline for this long has your Senior missing you more than the significant other you forgot you had so, double time (pun well intended, poorly executed)!

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The One Dish to get People to Eat Their Veggies

Just read this horrifying report (well at least to me) released by the CDC last year that stated that over a third of Americans reported eating vegetables/fruits less than once a day.  The full report has some even more terrifying statistics (how scarce healthy food programs are, how little support farmers get, etc.) but boy…when the government advises us to eat at least half our daily intake in fruits and veggies, less than once a day is pretty damn bad!

Nice cover, terrifying content.

Nice cover, terrifying content.

More facts: we are in the midst of an obesity crisis.  Kids are up in arms against the newest onslaught of soggy broccolli casserole and none-too-subtly disguised celery cut into misshapen bunnies.  Beleaguered moms are desperately searching for the next guerrilla tactic to hide peas into their picky eaters’ next meal.  America, you are losing the proverbial battle in getting kids to eat a more balanced diet.  We can go on and on about the reasons from poor distribution of food, food deserts in inner cities, and yadda yadda…….but I am here to offer one humble suggestion as to how to get people, especially young ones, to *whisper* “eat more veggies”.

#Troof

#Troof

No, your next carrot doesn’t need to hide behind Kardashian-proportion cosmetics.  No, you don’t need to bribe your the little brats with another iPad (or Kindle if you’re that kind of parent).  The solution is simple, elegant, and downright brutal.  You ready?

Here it is.  The secret to getting youngsters to eat more veggies is…….

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The Power Pre-game: Spicy Sausage Gravy, Eggs, and Homemade Buttermilk Biscuits

To the few readers I have in the States (and that one random one from Myanmar): I’m currently vacay-ing in the Philippines.  WiFi sucks.  This blog post is long overdue!  Hopefully I can write a little more frequently once we transfer from our hotel to our actual house.  Till then….

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(DISCLAIMER: The author’s views are simply his own.  All opinions regarding the consumption of alcohol are merely anecdotal, have absolutely no scientific basis, and if you’re the type who would turn your nose up to such opinions and think “Hmph!  Kids these days”, then you good sir/madam, are in need of a very stiff drink.)

Homemade Cheesy Bacon Buttermilk Biscuits w/ Sausage Gravy and Eggs.

Homemade Cheesy Bacon Buttermilk Biscuits w/ Sausage Gravy and Eggs.

 Pre-gaming.  It’s an art.  Or at least it should be.  One cannot simply take an indiscriminate number of shots a la college frat party and there are various other factors to take into account.  Do you start with dark liquors?  Beer?  Does it matter?  Should you consume as much as you can now and sober up slowly throughout the day?  Or should you slowly increase your rate of consumption to ensure you make it to the afterparty before knocking out in a blaze of glory (or shame)?

To be honest…I don’t know.  As long as the everyone’s happy (not sloppy), I guess it doesn’t really matter does it?  BUT…us gastronomes and food lovers know that the food at the pregame is just as important!  Such was our focus last weekend at the annual sh*tshow   slopfest   drunken revelry  Festival known as SantaCon.  An all-day pub crawl where hipster Brooklynites link arms with bro-tastic bankers, don red suits, and attempt to get their faces to match colors with said apparel.

It was going to be a good pre-game (our friend Tia even brought quiche…who do you know eats quiche at a pregame?).  What with this being my last day cooking in NYC before flying back to the Philppines, the first time I cooked with my friend Ricky in a long time, and Chelsey of baking blog Little Paula Deen fame (and collaborator on a previous post on Filipino-style pork belly sliders) coming back for a second collaboration.

Beats beer-soaked Doritos any day.

The quiche: beats beer-soaked Doritos any day.

On the menu: homemade cheesy bacon biscuits topped with spicy jalapeno sausage gravy and Mediterranean-style eggs.  This was a strategic and carefully thought out plan: absorbent carbohydrates from the biscuit and gravy, sausage fat to line the stomach, filling protein, and dehydration-preventing sodium.  Elements to ensure that every mimosa, beer, and questionable liquid intake was enjoyed and not squandered on a dingy dive bar bathroom.  The recipe is simple, quick to make, even quicker to consume, and wards off the New York cold (term used loosely) like no other.  Let’s get started.

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The Errant Diner x Little Paula Deen: “The Manny” (Pork Belly Adobo Slider)

I’ll admit it.  I’m one of those guys who loves office potlucks.  In the age of Seamless deliveries, it’s very rare to taste home-cooked food at the office (or at least for those who take the effort of bringing something home-cooked).  It used to be that people brought casseroles or roasts to the office or made large platters for office functions.  Even worse, with 2 of our 3 meals being takeout during Busy Season, a departure from the mass produced is a welcome break.  And yes, I’ll also admit to loving the opportunity to show off a bit and attempt to feed people other than the roomies.

The Canvas

The Canvas

 “+”

The Filling

The Filling

Our department just held its Annual “Best Ethnic Recipe” cookoff and I couldn’t pass up the excuse to throw down in the kitchen.  Problem was, Filipino food isn’t exactly the prettiest food out there.  Plus, how to introduce people to concepts beyond the usual Lumpia and Pansit (more Chinese than Filipino…but I digress)?  To put my own spin on “Fusion Food”, I decided to make a Pork Belly Adobo Slider topped with some home-made Achara and sandwiched in a fresh-baked Pan de Sal.  And since boxing legend Manny Pacquiao was about to fight Brandon Rios (I know we all wanna see Mayweather but again…I digress) a few days later, I dedicated this flavor powerhouse to the Pac-man.  

What better way to get the powerful flavors of Pinoy cooking into the mainstream than through the popular slider?  The pork belly was braised in a soy sauce-vinegar adobo sauce and then broiled to crisp the skin.  To help cut the buttery fat, I pickled carrots and daikon radishes to make Achara, the Filipino take on the usual slaw…except sweeter. But the real kicker was the bread, the blank canvas, the foundation of this epic meal-to-be.  I wanted a fresh baked Pan de Sal, the ubiquitous Filipino roll.  Soft, simple, goddamned comforting.  Problem was…I hated baking. I just can’t bake (probably stemming from some deep-seated trust issue but that’s another story).  So I called up my friend Chelsey who happens to work some real baking magic and asked if she can bake a batch.  Not only did she agree, she insisted on baking it the morning of.  If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

The Errant Diner x Little Paula Deen

The Errant Diner x Little Paula Deen

Check her recipe (and her amazing baking blog!) out here.

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