ROSELLE JAM

The other day my mother brought home a plastic bag of roselle seedpods.  Roselle is a variety of hibiscus plant that grows in shrubs. It is characterized by the fleshy sepals surrounding its seedpods, which are candied or made into tea or juice. These roselle seedpods came from plants growing along University Avenue at the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City.  They were given to my mother by the gardener of the Campus Maintenance Office.

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The sepals are removed from the seedpods. To make jam, combine a cup of sugar for every cup of sepals (1:1) and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. The jam is a beautiful magenta-purple, and tastes tart and sweet, similar to dried cranberries.

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Our 4 cups of sepals and 4 cups of sugar produced about six 200g jars’ worth of roselle jam.

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You can also make iced tea from the sepals of the roselle. Roselle products are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. Roselle leaves are also used as a souring agent in sinigang.

My sister wants to try and make a homemade ink from it, but needs more research.

 

 

 

 

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TEA FOR ME

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I love tea, in particular, loose leaf tea. Several years ago, my parents came back from a trip to China with two tall canisters of tea. One was called Oriental Beauty, the other was Dragon Ball. Let me tell you, I was the only one to drink those teas regularly. The rest of my family were not tea drinkers. Oriental Beauty had a rich, delicate flavor, while Dragon Ball was stronger and had more caffeine. Oriental Beauty turned out to be an Oolong tea. Dragon Ball tea leaves were actually rolled into balls.

One day I came to the end of those canisters and looked around for replacement loose leaf teas. A friend from Melbourne gave me two teas from the tea boutique T2, Creme Brulee and Chocolate. They make great dessert teas.

In my search for more loose leaf tea I went to Chinatown in Binondo, Manila, and found at Bee Tin Grocery a pack of Ti Kuan Yin tea.  When brewed too long, it can keep you up awake at night! I also found Waitrose’s Darjeeling loose leaf tea in Rustan’s supermarket. My latest purchase was a kilo of George Steuarts Ceylon black tea (yes, a kilo, and I am steadily drinking it up on a daily basis).  I found it at a Christmas weekend market stall at a mall I go to. I use it to make my own milk tea at home instead of going out to buy it from a retailer.

I think it’s great that there are now more tea salons in Manila, like TWG Tea and da.u.de tea . There are, of course, bubble tea establishments galore, but I mean places where you can actually buy the tea leaves. Of course when this all runs out I don’t mind tea bags, but I’ll keep looking for the loose leaf.

LUNCH AT MAKANSUTRA

It never ceases to amaze me when we manage to get parking at SM Megamall during the holiday season. It only works when we leave the house and get there 15 minutes before opening time, and just wait in line at the entrance of the parking building. At any other time it is practically impossible to find parking, and impossible to escape the traffic around the mall.

We were there today, because my brother-in-law and sister wanted to eat lunch out, and I needed to buy shoes.

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We decided to go to Makansutra, a Singapore/Malaysia-style hawker food center on the second floor of Building A. It just opened last September. We figured that this was organized by the same people behind the recent World Street Food Congress in Manila (K.F. Seetoh’s group). There are about 12 stalls offering various foods. We chose Malaccan-style laksa from Donald and Lily, oyster omelette and fried black carrot cake with dilis (dried fish) toppings from Ah Tee, mee goreng from Alhambra Padang, and duck kway teow from Jin Ji.

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Sorry, no pictures of the laksa. We were too hungry, we ate it already.

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Oyster omelette.

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Fried black carrot cake with dried fish topping.

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Mee Goreng

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Duck kway teow.

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The laksa was all right, but I’ve had better versions. It had yellow egg noodles that tasted of baking soda (I prefer rice noodles). It had a medium spice level – spicy, but not too spicy that you can’t drink the broth. The duck kway teow was served with a cinnamony broth on the side. The kway teow noodles were a little bit greasy, but in a nice comfort food way. The sambal served with it elevated the flavors. The mee goreng was just ok, again, we’ve had better. The best of all the dishes we ordered were the oyster omelette and the fried black carrot cake. They were delicious and full of umami. We washed it down with sugarcane juice (a PhP500 purchase entitled one to a glass of sugarcane juice for an additional PhP20, and there was another promo where you could get the juice buy one, take one for PhP150). It was funny how all the food just vanished. We practically inhaled it.

We’ll be returning to Makansutra. The prices are about fair for the size of the dishes and the airconditioned mall location. There are lots of other dishes to try!

Photos by Joy Abara.

Daily Prompt: Vanish

FRUITCAKE

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Till Westermayer from Freiburg, Germany, Bremer Klaben-01, CC BY-SA 2.0

On a whim I bought a fruitcake from the supermarket yesterday. It wasn’t to give away; I specifically bought it to eat. It’s the early days of Christmas, but I didn’t want to wait until we were inundated by holiday foods, to be able to appreciate the boozy, nutty, glazed-fruity goodness of a good fruitcake. Obviously I hadn’t had a good fruitcake in years. Our friends have sort of stopped giving away fruitcakes because 1) the fruitcakes were probably being re-gifted endlessly, or 2) the fruitcakes weren’t very good. The last time we were gifted a fruitcake, it was a beautifully decorated one from Cafe France which had a horrible texture. I hated it. To prevent us from being given the same thing the next year, we had to drop heavy hints that we appreciated another delicacy for a change.

I wanted a fruitcake like the ones we used to have when we were children. My father’s former secretary used to bake them, and we received one every Christmas until she got married and moved away. I loved the naughtiness of eating rummy cake when I was too young to drink alcohol. Bernie’s fruitcakes were rich and dark, and DRY. No crumbly wet messes of improperly aged fruitcake. That was my gold standard for fruitcake; the memory of it would echo in my mind each time the holidays came, and I would crave the taste.

So did the supermarket fruitcake measure up? Thankfully, it did! It was not as dark as I thought it would be, but that’s a minor quibble. It was DRY, the glazed fruit were evenly distributed throughout the cake matrix, it smelled good, and the texture of the cake was just right. It was nicely priced, too. I’m sorry there are no pictures. We demolished that cake in two sittings. I’m going to buy another one next week.

Daily Prompt: Echo

FISH SAUCE

[I’ve been remiss in blogging. In the last 3 years I’ve blogged only once each year. I’m trying something new, using a daily prompt. Hopefully that will keep me writing again.]

I was in graduate school in Australia and was living in the international students’ dorm. To save money, we would cook all our own meals, and so we bought the condiments we were used to, back in our home countries.

One of the most prized condiments was Thai fish sauce, the one with the squid pictured in the label. It was of very high quality, better than what I could get back in the Philippines. The only thing about fish sauce is that when you are cooking with it, the entire building begins to smell of it – there’s a pungent smell hinting of salty, fermenting, decaying fish that’s so overwhelming you’ll need to open the windows. This would awaken the salivary glands of those who grew up in cultures where the smell of cooking with fish sauce was commonplace. But it would most commonly drive Westerners out of the building, choking and gagging. Knowing this, I never cooked with it, just served it on the side, with lemon. It did not smell when used as a dipping sauce. Despite the trauma of the cooking smell, our Western friends would return and happily partake of the dish, whose flavors had been transformed and melded into an umami-rich delicacy.

It’s the same with cooking dried fish. The smell can cause landlords overseas to discriminate against Asian tenants. I never cooked dried fish in the dorm in Australia, as it wasn’t sold in the neighborhood, but the craving would occasionally haunt me until I got back home again.

I’ve heard of this phenomenon called the “yum-yuck” contrast, a term used by judges on cooking competition reality shows. You intellectually don’t like the ingredients used in the food someone made, or think they don’t go together well, but in reality, you can’t help but enjoy eating the dish. The smell has something to do with that. Or it’s a culture thing. Smell is memory, they say. I think of fish sauce and dried fish fondly.

Daily Prompt: Pungent

CHINATOWN FOOD TRIP

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Manila’s Chinatown dates back to 1594, and is the oldest Chinatown in the world. The area is called Binondo, and I’ve only been there exactly four times in the past.  All four times involved visits to restaurants and delis.  Each time I discovered something delightful and new.  This weekend’s trip was no different.

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My brother-in-law Tristan has a favorite pay parking area near Binondo Church (the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz).  When we got there at around 10:30am, nearly every parking slot was already taken.  Our friend Elma had Ivan Dy’s Binondo Food Wok map from when she went on the tour.  We only had until 2pm to walk around and eat, so it was great to have someone lead us who’d done it before.

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Our first stop was Dong Bei Dumplings (624 Yuchengco St., behind the church), home of the best steamed dumplings in town.  When we got there, the place was already full!  Ivan Dy had a walking tour group already booked, and they took up all five tables.  Elma and my sister Joy ordered packs of dumplings to bring home, since they sold out pretty quickly.  We said we’d return when Ivan’s group was done.

We thought we’d have coffee and snacks at Cafe Mezzanine, the Volunteer Firemen’s Cafe.  Chinatown’s brave Filipino-Chinese firemen are usually the first to arrive at any fire in the city (yes, ahead of the neighborhood firemen, sometimes).  The cafe supports all of their activities.  It’s located above the Eng Bee Tin deli along Ongpin St., next to Binondo Church.  Their eye-catching purple fire truck is usually parked alongside, colored after the deli’s famous ube hopia (pastry filled with mashed purple yam).

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Firemen’s hats and other gear decorate the cafe.  We ordered espressos and a variety of savory snacks, among them kiampong (fried rice topped with sauteed peanuts), machang (glutinous rice filled with stewed pork and wrapped in a banana leaf), fried radish cake, and crab cake (actually crab balls, served with sweet and sour sauce).  People who try only the kiampong are sometimes not impressed; they just do not realize that it is probably meant to be eaten with another viand for a contrast of textures and flavors.

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Yes, it looks like a light lunch, but these are actually small servings shared by the four of us.  The coffee was quite good.  Our bill came to a total of P550 (about USD 13.50).  One added plus for us girls was that the cafe had a very clean toilet.

We walked back to Dong Bei, and ordered a plate of steamed pork and kuchay (chive) dumplings, and a plate of fried pancakes stuffed with the same mixture.  Wanting more, we later ordered another plate of steamed kuchay-only dumplings.  Each plate was P100 (just over USD 2) – there were 14 steamed dumplings per order, and four fried pancakes the size of coasters, sliced into quarters.

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These were the absolute freshest dumplings I’ve ever had in my entire life.  The dough was soft, yet strong enough to hold the tasty filling either while being steamed or fried.  They were served with Chinese black vinegar.

Both the steamed dumplings and the fried stuffed pancakes were made right in front of us, at the next table.

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The packs of frozen dumplings we ordered each contained 31 dumplings at P200 (roughly USD 5) each.  We bought 3 packs and received one pack free!  The instructions were to boil five minutes or steam seven minutes directly from the freezer.  We also received small containers of the black vinegar to go with our order.  The very kind owner agreed to keep them in her freezer until we were finished with our walk.

We went to Bee Tin, a traditional Chinese grocery on 735 Ongpin St.  We bought two kinds of kiamoy (salty red, or sweet black preserved plums), preserved sweet olives (P75) and 250g of Tie GuanYin Oolong loose leaf tea (P150).  Elma was looking for White Rabbit milk candies, but there were none to be had.

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We moved to another grocery down the road, Shin Tai-Shang, which specialized in Taiwanese food products and assorted dry goods.  We bought fruit tarts with salted egg yolk inside them (green tea and plum, red bean, pineapple, and lotus – P40 each).  The owner described the filling as somewhat similar in consistency to that of moon cake.  We also bought a couple of curried chicken turnovers (P45 each, quite good).

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After North Ongpin bridge we came across Salazar Bakery, where we bought fortune cookies (P78).

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We then went looking for the corner of Ongpin and Bahama St, where the Shanghai Fried Siopao stall is.  They sell steamed pork buns (P16 each) browned on a griddle, among other food items.  As soon as we got there a line began to form.  We bought some to take home with us for Sunday breakfast (delicious!).  As we were waiting for our change, I saw a pedicab pass by with a barking chihuahua in it, riding like a queen.  I wish I had taken a photo, but I didn’t want to get accidentally knocked down by a car.

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By that time it was just around 1pm and we needed a pick-me-up.  In front of us was Sa Lido restaurant (839 Ongpin St.), which was famous for its siphon coffee and roast pork asado.  We walked into the place, and saw from an autographed photo that it was a favorite hangout of Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.  There were groups of old men relaxing and chatting, and ladies enjoying noodles.  Since we were still full from the dumplings, we opted for iced coffee (P80; a happier price than at Starbucks).  They also had a nice clean toilet.

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We started walking back towards Yuchengco St., and passed by a sugarcane vendor.  We bought one pack (P60) for my 7-year-old niece to chew on.  Along with the sugarcane he sold cogon grass roots, which are apparently made into a medicinal juice.

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We finally claimed our frozen dumplings and walked back to the car.  We spent only P320 each (not including tips and other take-home food), although you could easily spend less than that and still be quite satisfied.

In case you’re planning on a Binondo food trip this summer, please wear light clothing and comfortable shoes, wear lots of sunblock, and bring reusable shopping bags, your camera, and cash in small bills with you.  You can buy your mineral water along the way.

There’s still so much of that food map to cover!  We’re planning to return very soon.  One day I’ll take Ivan Dy’s tour, to be able to appreciate not only the food, but Chinatown’s history and culture as well.

COFFEE SAFARI

Today I went with friends on a coffee safari.  No, we didn’t hop from one coffee shop to another!  We were invited to a coffee-tasting at a friend’s home.  The coffees, however, came from exotic locales – where the best coffees grow.

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I had no idea my friend Dante was a member of a local coffee club.  As you can guess, he doesn’t have coffee at coffee shops because he enjoys making his own at home.  He has a collection of coffee gadgets, ranging from grinders, to roasters, to French presses and espresso machines!  He buys international single-origin coffee beans from a trusted source, and only roasts 250g of beans at a time.  He grinds his beans just before making his coffee, in order to take advantage of the beans’ freshly-released flavor and aroma.

We had, in order:  Peruvian, Ethiopian dry-process (where the coffee berries dry in the sun naturally, as opposed to wet-process where the berries are hulled and the beans are dried separately), Jamaican Blue Mountain, Panama La Esmeralda Gesha and Ethiopian Harar coffees.  Plus an Ethiopian dry-process Americano (1:1 espresso and water).

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Dante used the hand drip coffee method.  I was wondering if the ceramic dripper was available locally, and found out it was being sold at Craft Coffee Workshop along Broadway Ave. in New Manila, Quezon City.  It’s also available in different sizes , along with other coffee accessories, on Amazon.com.

The coffees all had a wonderful aroma, each different from the other.  The aroma of the ground coffee was much stronger than that of the whole roasted beans.  I wish I had taken tasting notes, but I don’t know the terms.  Dante arranged the progression of flavors in terms of complexity and body.  I guess it would be like how a sommelier arranges wines to complement a dinner.  We tried each coffee black, then with some muscovado sugar, then with non-dairy creamer.  All the coffees were very good, but the Jamaican Blue Mountain and Panama La Esmeralda Gesha were particularly delicious.  Sublime.  (Jude, to me:  “So, did you hear the choir of angels yet?” With my mouth full of coffee, all I could do was nod and smile.)

Yes, we had a LOT of coffee, in small cups, not the big American-size mugs.  We were served pan de sal (soft breakfast buns), with our choice of filling – butter, strawberry jam, peanut butter and Spanish-style sardines.  We also had a lot of water on the side, to cleanse our palates.  You would think that all that caffeine would render me into a quivering mess, but I checked my hands and they didn’t shake.  Dante explains that when coffee has been made properly, you get the flavor of the coffee without too much of the caffeine.  To prove his point, he served me and Christine an Americano each, made of the Ethiopian dry-process beans.    My sixth coffee, but in a tiny double espresso cup.  I felt extraordinarily alert, but I felt great!  No palpitations.

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Of course, this isn’t something I’d do on a daily basis.  I don’t think I’d ever get to experience that in a commercial coffee shop, or even in a hotel.  It was such a treat (thank you so much, Dante)!  I learned so much about coffee that I never knew before.

I like to support Philippine coffee bean producers.  My usual coffee at home is Arabica from the Cordilleras or Liberica from Batangas (“barako”), so Dante suggested I try the local coffee brand Monks’ Blend.   It’s produced by Benedictine monks from the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon.  We have an active Philippine Coffee Board, so maybe one day I’ll work my way through the different local coffees, which I see being sold in organic weekend markets, food trade fairs and sustainable lifestyle stores like Echo Store.