Tuesday, March 25, 2008


"Do you put manure in your rhubarb?"


"Funny, because we put custard in ours."

- Conversation in Anthony Burgess's "The Pianoplayers"


Friday, March 21, 2008

Food Advertising 101

I am ashamed. So very ashamed. I have been working in the food service for a number of years and yet I haven’t made a sale with common sense advertising. Last week I went to the market to buy some food for the three gods who were to judge me on my execution day- they will not let me through the sacred gates if I didn’t please them with my food. Whatever that “execution” was, too dangerous to disclose in the blogsphere… but it did judgment to my being a huntress. Also because of the preparation for that “execution” rite I was intensely busy this page went into dormancy for a few days.

Anyway, passing by the fruit stalls, I was taken aback by these smart fruit mongers and came across the ads that will not really make necessary the billboards on the highway: “Mango, Super Tamis (Super Sweet)” “Fresh Golden Pears- Very Sweet and Crunchy!” “Seedless Grapes Very Sweet & Fresh from USA” Look at that!

Because chefs are supposed to be friendly to fishmongers, butchers, bakers and vendors (consider shifting careers if you’re not), I always make it a point to talk to them- all the time.

“Is this mango really sweet?”
“Yes, ma’m, as sweet as your smile.” Ok, Filipinos, like Italians (according to an American celebrity) are some of the most amorous people on the planet- so expect those lines from a humble market man. Then he will start choosing for you the best of his pack -as though you were some celestial apparition.

You smile. Then that smile bursts into an easy laughter. Subconsciously, you shove your hand in your pocket and get a hundred peso bill.

“Ok, one kilo from you.”

Why pay millions for advertising fees? The fruit vendor strategy to selling is: no supermodels, no visual effects- cardboard and permanent marker and – with a smile, treat the customer like some god – and you hit more than the day’s quota.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lean Back and Sip...

Ode to Wine
by Pablo Neruda

Day-colored wine,
night-colored wine,
wine with purple feet
or wine with topaz blood,
starry child
of earth,
wine, smooth
as a golden sword,
as lascivious velvet,
wine, spiral-seashelled
and full of wonder,
never has one goblet contained you,
one song, one man,
you are choral, gregarious,
at the least, you must be shared.
At times
you feed on mortal
your wave carries us
from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy sepulchers,
and we weep
transitory tears;
spring dress
is different,
blood rises through the shoots,
wind incites the day,
nothing is left
of your immutable soul.
stirs the spring, happiness
bursts through the earth like a plant,
walls crumble,
and rocky cliffs,
chasms close,
as song is born.
A jug of wine, and thou beside me
in the wilderness,
sang the ancient poet.
Let the wine pitcher
add to the kiss of love its own.
My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your nipples are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.
But you are more than love,
the fiery kiss,
the heat of fire,
more than the wine of life;
you are
the community of man,
chorus of discipline,
abundance of flowers.
I like on the table,
when we're speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.
Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine;
and in the ritual of his office,
let the simple man remember
to think of the soil and of his duty,
to propagate the canticle of the wine.

Sometimes, you only have to stop thinking....

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Incomparable Suman sa Ibos Experience

This is the reason why no matter how I jog in the morning with my siblings, I never lose weight. Because after burning off what seemed like 100 calories (yes, I am that lazy), it will be replaced all over again at the ultimate morning destination: Tiya Tinay’s at the market place. Serving barako coffee, pancit and numerous rice cakes, you will be glad you woke up at 5:30 am and will never – ever- regret it. I am talking from experience, recalling those mornings I stood like a hungry wolf at the rice cake maker’s craft: The incomparable suman sa ibos.

A little tedious to make, I reckon, for the leaf wrappings is the tender blades of the coconut. Someone has to climb a coconut just to get this. Then these are shaped into the perfect cylinder, sealed at the bottom by the leaf spine (I don’t know the term for this- but this is where the walis ting- ting comes from). The sizes must be similar to each other to give the suman its uniformity.

Under the skillful hands of the cook, these are filled with sticky rice, lightly salted, and – I don’t know what else others put in it.

Then sealed again, they are boiled afterwards. The rice softens. The leaves change in color. The flavors develop.

But the best part is - what else - the eating.

To eat: Like a lover, undress the delicacy, gently removing the strings, peeling away the covering. It offers itself for you.

When naked, let it lie down on the plate. Best served warm topped with cold mango scoops, and a hasty (read: really quickly- while hot!) glaze of raw, wild honey or coco jam. Or, of you’re a little impatient, just dip in sugar. Chew gently. Savor the sweet- salty- generous warmth inside your mouth. Forget the outside world. Forget your job. Live the moment. Then sweep with a hot barako coffee. Ahhh. Smile. Another round.

When satisfied and adrenaline goes back to normal, wipe the perspiration at your brow and, feeling sinful, you start to ask yourself: What the hell have I been doing? Is this really serious? This… this weight loss pursuit?

You stopped caring. Start feeling happy. Happy about the rice, the salt, the honey- you can almost taste the soul of the fields. Happy about the coconut- climber. The dedicated cook. Doesn’t matter when all worries seem to fly out the window, the moment you taste the incomparable…

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Blood Stew: The Real Kitchen Murder

One, two, three…. Eeeeeewwww!

Sorry to disturb your appetite, but those with a weak stomach, hematophobia, vegetarians, religious beliefs… skip this page. This is not for you. My sister was even cringing in the background as I write this down - "It looks like... massacre!"

Blood stew. Midnight stew. Dinuguan. This dish will not exist without bloodshed. This is not an exotic dish. Anywhere in the Philippines- from barrio fiestas to carinderias or commercial restaurants – it is as common as hamburger in the United States. I am not sure these days if the Catholic church will call me blasphemous for posting this on a cuaresma season, but hey, with due respect and hands down honesty, this dish is highly present in high school reunions popularly celebrated the day after Good Friday or even Easter Sunday.

Not made with the gentle pork belly, ribs, back, not even ham nor knuckles…but pork’s most unlikely parts: blood, intestines, face, snout, ears… But since pork intestines require a long process of cleaning, it is easier to use the pork face. The cartilage of the ears and the soft snout is just so yummy when they’re cooked.

Pork blood can be purchased from the wet market – not even purchased- because the butchers give them for free…

One very important thing to consider for the cook, is to make sure that the spices are complete. Makes use of ultra- fragrant spices so common of Asian cuisine, lemon grass, bay leaves, red ginger, etc.

Blood Stew

1.5 liters pork blood
1 kg pork face (snout, cheeks, eyes, ears)
2 liters coconut milk, squeezed with the pork stock
2- 3 cups vinegar
3 T fish sauce
1 bundle lemon grass
1/3 C chopped ginger
½ C chopped tomatoes
½ C chopped onions
1/3 C minced garlic
5 pcs bay leaves
1 T crushed peppercorns
3 pcs jalapeno pepper
2 T oil for sauteeing

1. In a pressure cooker, cook the pork face for over an hour or until very tender. Do not discard the stock.
2. You can do the chopping of the other ingredients : onion, tomatoes, garlic, etc. while that is being cooked.
3. When pork face is done, remove from pressure cooker, let cool. Cut it afterwards into small pieces.
4. In a large wok or kawa, sauté garlic, onion, tomatoes, ginger, pepper, toss in bay leaves, crushed peppercorn, lemon grass. Let the spices bring out their flavors.
5. Place the cut pork face. Stir. Add the vinegar and fish sauce and simmer.
6. Combine pork blood and coconut milk on a separate container. (What we do at home is we extract coconut milk from grated coconut, already combined with the pork blood and stock, then pass them through a strainer altogether.)
7. Pour the blood-coconut mixture into the simmering pork face. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. The red blood will turn dark brown as cooking is prolonged. Warning: don’t ever make the mistake of tasting the stew when the blood is still red.
8. Cook thoroughly. Season with salt.
9. Serve with native rice cakes or rice.

But the traditional rice cake is really good with this:

Personal statement. Blood stew and steamed rice is damn good… damn good… good. Just don’t go to the kitchen if you don’t want to see how it’s made.