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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Upgrade Your Ramen: Red Snapper Ramen (Busy Season Dinners)

So I finally rolled off a client last week so inside I’m all like…


But in reality I look like…


And then I realize we’re about to work late nights yet again so I’m all like…


But if Busy Season has taught me anything, it’s to live every last free unscheduled second like it’s Mardi Gras, Christmas, and the World Cup all rolled into one (ie. lots of running around yelling at the top of my lungs and emptying my wallet of its contents).  But since we’re all still broke out here….how bout I just make a nice dinner?

As a little celebration, we’re gonna do something a little bit more upscale.  Ramen is still trending out here in NYC with the likes of Ippudo and Yuji Ramen still being popular spots and newcomers Bassanova continuing to expand diners’ options past the usual Tonkatsu, or worse…*dun dun dun* the instant Maruchan variety of our college days.  Alas, the wait at Ippudo averages 2 hours (unless you’re funemployed in which case you can hit the odd hours when it’s dead in there) and there’s no way you have energy to ride the L Train into Brooklyn to find that mythical hole-in-the-wall.  No matter.  Our versions gonna be better using the last pieces of the Red Snapper we’ve had for 2 prior dishes (the Tea-Steamed version here and the Filipino Sour Broth here) as well as a minimal number of ingredients and of course, some homemade broth.  Again, simplicity is key.

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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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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”.



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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