Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Seriously, Japonais

The demeanor… the demeanor!

A primitive food hunter that I am, I had to descend from the mountains to work on an assignment: to get as much information as I can on Japanese food as ordered by the tribe chief. Submissive to orders as always, what choice have I got but to say yes- even if it meant refining my coarse jungle ways. Dress up appropriately- like a lady, for gods sake, and take that kitchen look from off your face.
As my habit has always been, I live in a world that is entirely my own making. Whether it is dozing/ sleeping/ daydreaming of erotic things during board meetings or getting lost in the same thoughts while chopping onions, I do have an honest tendency to divert my thoughts from the reality I live. This Japanese assignment for example, I had to live in that ‘zone’ where you could really feel the ‘soul’ of the cuisine you’re working at. Apparently I wasn’t thinking of samurais and geishas nor Morimoto nor cherry blossom showers… but… but with my very loyal sidekick/personal assistant/sister along, I was thinking of the Sadako genius, as my companion started clicking away in the infinity of the mirrors.
More than anything, I start to wonder what the relationship of Japanese food is to the ultra- creepy horror flicks. No gross bloodshed, no monsters, but, like the stair apparition below - they scare the brains out of you just the same. Any relationship with the sharpness of the bocho? Nah. Norman Bates isn’t a Japanese staple. Should I, then, make another thesis on the correlation of sashimi , donburi and mochi to the Japanese influence on the world’s imagination?
And while you wait for your Japanese coffee (which kicks Starbucks’ a**), you suppress laughter as your companion gives you that creepy stare. She’s looking straight into you as if you’re an empty mirror- and you start to feel a little uncomfortable. Damn, am I going a little too far in playing out this script that – what if the person staring at me is not really my sister? You distract yourself with the menu. The person sitting in front of you continues to stare anyway.
Then from behind, someone nudges you and asks, “Hey, is our coffee here yet?” WTF! “Where have you been?!”

“To the washroom. Why?”

With ashen face, you look across… and the seat was empty.


Stop all the pretending. Smile while the matcha is hot. This is what Japanese food does to you after all- making you really hungry beyond sanity.


Shot on location (yup, our crazy modeling stint, it is): YURAKUEN Restaurant, Diamond Hotel, Manila

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Real Green Rice

My cooking activities for the last few weeks have been full of marrying Japanese and French cuisines together in a desperate struggle to arrive at more acceptable fusion dishes. While I slouch at the steel table holding my twelve- inch knife mirroring myself on the stainless thing (this is a personal habit, by the way, to check my lipstick on my knives), my thoughts wander from one thing Japanese to another thing French. Bouillabaisse laced with dashi stock? Salad Niçoise with…what? How do we Japanize crepes suzette?

So as I rest my head on my arm stretched out on the kitchen table, I started to think of food curiosities- why wasabi is that neon green, and why, the green tea tiramisu I tried from a hotel café a few weeks ago was… that neon green. I haven’t done my research yet, but are there still other things (food to be exact) in nature- besides leaves, honey dew melon and insect blood- that are really naturally stark green?

I confess that in the kitchen I am not a big fan of artificial food coloring, nor MSG nor pre- mixed sauces. Therefore, as I stumble upon this curious ‘green rice’ at an organic market… I had to look closely. There’s brown rice, red rice, black rice, immaculate white rice – but this green rice, sold by a lady from a faraway province, is something not usually encountered in the daily supermarkets.

Now, my food intuition dictates (not yet 100% sure) that this green rice happens to be a pre- harvested rice: before the rice grain ripens and turns gold, it is naturally green first. Then, that rice is hulled, and the emerging germ is not the white we know but green. It is then cooked giving off a very fragrant rice-y scent. Drizzle a little sugar, some toasted – or freshly- grated coconut and reach over that tempting brewed cup of coffee. When I indulge over mouthfuls of green rice, there hardly flashes a thought of creating a fusion dish or masking the food’s natural taste with foreign whatnots. Leave the green rice alone! (Chomp, chomp, chomp…)

By the way, ah… has Pablo Neruda ever written an Ode to Rice?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Of Hunters and Giants

As I have always believed, there are gnomes and witches and fairies and giants out there in the wilderness. That's me on an Asian Food Expo with a true giant who seemed to have walked out from a basketball court to party on a Mardi Gras event - and- ended up with food people. I have following this fellow around in between eating bratwurst and sipping miracle teas. Drat! And with all due honesty, I do feel a little uneasy walking around in my cooking jacket because people keep staring at my breast pocket reading whatever is embroidered there. But this giant, you see, he doesn't care. He didn't bend down to read titles and positions but with that swipe of a hand, gestures, "The world is wide enough for you to enjoy."
Found this somewhere in the wilderness...
Nobody seems more obsessed by diet than our anti-materialistic, otherworldly, New Age spiritual types. But if the material world is merely illusion, an honest guru should be as content with Budweiser and bratwurst as with raw carrot juice, tofu and seaweed slime. ~Edward Abbey

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chunky Style Peanut Butter and a Dash of Gunpowder

I must confess that besides real good food, both fancy and rustic, still some of my gastronomic weaknesses are those little packets of food we find anywhere: sandwich from the airplane, teabags from hotel rooms, little butters, cream cheese and marmalade packs from café breakfasts, even little packets of sugar and creamer from McDonald’s on a road trip– pass! I don’t know, but you see, I like that feeling that when I rummage through my bag, I find such little stuff that I was talking about. I really like it.

Now this food feature is not precisely in praise of the little food stuff, but… can you really shove in your bag , without deforming nor spilling them, real gourmet food that could keep forever- Thai chicken, penne pasta, dried cranberries, crackers, peanut butter, pineapple upside- down cake, and even Tabasco sauce bottle? And having all these in your backpack, hike up the mountains for an eternity? Yes, you can! Impossible is nothing, isn’t it?

When my sister went home bringing these MRE’s from the war zone, I couldn’t contain my joy. I was clutching at the brown bag like a school kid eager to wrestle with any bully who’d lay a finger on my lunch. Why, what’s in that precious little brown bag? Thai chicken, penne pasta, dried cranberries, crackers, peanut butter, pineapple upside- down cake, and even Tabasco sauce bottle. And more! Like wet wipes and silica.

Seriously, these MRE’s are what the American troops have to offer to the local soldiers. The Philippines’ love affair with the United States is I-hate-you-I-love-you / Go-away-Can’t-live-without-you crap that I still wonder sometimes what truly are the American troops doing here in the Philippines. And while American soldiers have the tendency to think that they are the saviors of the world (Don’t they??) and though they have this penchant to do armament business with us (which I hate), the American government is such a looming giant we cannot ignore. My sister has been married to an American but that 6’4” officer would worry- more than being killed at war- if his wife’s youngest sister doesn’t like him. Oh well!

Therein lies the ultimate difference between the Philippine and American troops and the reason why they are in a constant passionate love- hate friction: their food. A Philippine soldier would risk his life getting hit with a shrapnel while catching chicken in the mountains while the American would be content munching on a calorie- loaded- laboratory- engineered crackers under the shade of a tree. Inside their backpacks? Ten kilos of goods- rice and sardines and a kaldero for the local soldier while four kilos of microwave for the foreigner, plus megatons of MRE packs. And while the Philippine soldier fans his little campfire as his rice simmers, the American most probably spends the whole night looking for a socket to plug his microwave in. The MRE says, “Microwavable”. Follow instructions. Or you’re fired.


Hey, it’s really good- the MRE pack. The perfect peanut butter (which I sucked right from the tube), a Tabas-quito (little Tabasco sauce), sliced cranberries…. Ah, God bless Americans!