A Kamayan Feast – Not Your Average Dining Experience

They always say never play with your food, but I beg to differ because what they also say is food tastes better when you use your hands. In the Philippines, they have something called kamayan. “Kamay” means hands in Tagalog, so kamayan roughly translates as “eating with hands”. However, some also know this style of eating as a “boodle fight” (sometimes spelled “budol”) though this concept is a bit different. From what I gather, a boodle fight is where you literally fight to eat as much food as you can before it runs out (or perhaps a fight to stop yourself from eating so much…the struggle is real). Ironically, this term is apparently derived from the military but the feast is a form of camaraderie as opposed to just a battle.

The concept of a kamayan style meal is pretty simple. Tables are lined with sheets of banana leaves and various types of dishes are spread across on top for everyone to share. An authentic kamayan meal traditionally has lots of seafood and rice, which is no shock seeing as the Philippines is a country that loves rice and is surrounded by water (read: seafood :)). The restaurant offered the following set menu:

  • Inihaw skewer BBQ pork: Inihaw means grilled. The pork we ate had a sweet marinade that was full of smokey flavours. This was absolutely delicious and probably one of my favourites on the table.
  • Inihaw na liempo with atchara: This dish is grilled pork belly (liempo). It was accompanied with pickled papaya (atchara), which is meant to cleanse your palate and was quite refreshing to eat. It also came with cane vinegar, which is used to cut out the oiliness/greasiness.
  • Longanisa: They originally had mussels on the menu, but I asked to swap for these delicious little sausages because I love them so much. We couldn’t do a Filipino meal without longanisa!
  • Grilled shrimp: Naturally sweet and succulent crustaceans with shell and all!
  • Grilled squid: Although we are typically more familiar with larger sized calamari in the western world, Filipinos like to eat the smaller kind. It was a bit strange for us non-Filipinos because the insides weren’t cleaned out, so there was a gooey substance that popped out. However, I was told that this is the typical way of preparing squid in the Philippines.
  • Grilled tilapia: This fish was cooked in a banana leaf, so it came out very moist.
  • Grilled bangus: This is also known as milk fish and it is the national fish of the Philippines. The version we had was topped with tomatoes and onions. Just be careful because it tends to have a lot of bones.
  • Okra: Usually the sliminess of okra is a turnoff for many, but these were cooked perfectly – plain and simple.
  • Talong: This is eggplant in Tagalog. It was grilled, which made it super mushy and stringy. It was a bit strange for me to eat it plain like that and it was also slimy.
  • Lumpia: You can’t go wrong with these rolls. They are pork egg rolls that were deep fried into a crispy, golden-brown and stuffed with veggies. Yum!
  • A fruit mixture of mango and tomato cubes: Who doesn’t like something fresh to go along with their meal? The mangoes and tomatoes were a welcome addition to the meal.
  • Steamed rice: No Filipino meal is complete without some plain white rice to accompany it!
  • Bagoong: This is a shrimp paste condiment. I was blown away by the strong, salty flavours and amazed at how it made everything it touched super tasty. It definitely kicks your plain rice up several notches and it can be easily found in the Asian section of a grocery store.

I remember having a Filipino classmate back in high school that taught me a few phrases of Tagalog and the only one that stuck with me was this: “busog na ako”, which translates as “I am full”. All I can say was after this kamayan feast, busog na ako!!! I really enjoyed the experience. It was unique and different from your typical fine dining restaurant outing. Based on some of my Filipino friends, they said the table should have been overflowing with food to the point where you basically don’t see the table. However, being in a western country the restaurant owner informed me that they spaced out the meal like this for “sanitary” purposes since we use our hands to eat as opposed to the traditional Filipino way of kutsara’t tinidor (fork and spoon). I personally think it’s an economical decision as well because there would be a lot of leftovers and it would be ridiculously costly and wasteful for a restaurant to fill a table to the brim. However, preparing a feast like this at home with friends and family might be another story.

As a side note, to the shock of the restaurant staff we were a big diverse group. They cooked the meal believing that they were catering to a homogeneous group of Filipinos, so it was a more authentic experience. I’m glad because I would rather have that than some westernized version.

Although I know many cultures use banana leaves as platters for their food, I only recently found out about something called sadhya. I guess I’ll have to try and find a place that does this now. 🙂

Medovik – Honey Cake

There are only a handful of things I know about Russia – those fuzzy hats, Russian dolls, the capital is Moscow, Saint Basil’s Cathedral (I’m not going to lie, I had to Google the name of that colourful masterpiece) and the word “dah”. Suffice it to say, I was shocked when I went to a flea market and randomly stumbled upon something called Medovik in the food court, which is also known as “honey cake”. Sounds good already, right?

In addition to classifying medovik as a delicious Russian dessert, it is also a layered cake. The number of layers differ from recipe to recipe, but I’m going to assume more layers are added to make it appear more grand. It’s not your typical spongy cake, but rather layered with soft, flaky pastry/biscuit-like discs and in between those is a sweet, whipped cream filling. To give it texture, it is coated with roasted and chopped walnuts.

While the lady that made it was actually from Kazakhstan, I would like to think the one I had was pretty authentic given that the two countries are neighbours. She said that it’s a simple cake made with honey, eggs, walnuts, condensed milk, sugar, whipping cream and butter. However, given all the layers I would think she was being modest. There is also another Russian layered cake called smetannik, but it uses sour cream instead of condensed milk (also conveniently known as a sour cream cake). That might be a better option for those who want to reduce the sweetness in their desserts, not that medovic is sickningly sweet in any way! It’s just perfect.

If you have never tried medovik, I highly encourage you to look out for it. Wikipedia claims that the origins of this cake stems from a chef trying to impress an empress, so you know some thought was put into this. Whether it worked or not, I can’t confirm but I was personally seduced by the delicious, creamy layers of this cake. I think I can honestly say it’s one of the best cakes I have ever had. Have you ever tried a slice of medovik?

Dau Fu Fa Syrup (Recipe)

Fresh soybean custard, also known as dau fu fa, is always better than those prepackaged ones. It’s hot, it’s healthy and it’s light.

Although I have yet to venture into the world of tofu making myself, I am fortunate enough to know a place that sells fresh batches for cheap. When you buy it to consume as a dessert, many add a sweet syrup to it. You could buy the syrup from the vendor, but it’s so easy to make at home. Although I mentioned the ingredients in my last post about this, here is an actual recipe for those who may be interested.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 sticks of cane sugar (sometimes the package says brown sugar)
  • 1 inch ginger, cut into thin slices
  • 2 cups of water

Directions:

In a pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the sugar cane sticks and ginger. Simmer for 20 minutes until the sugar completely dissolves or until you get enough of the ginger flavour out. The longer it simmers, the more pungent the ginger.

After that, all you need to do is add it to a bowl with some dau fu fa and you’re good to go. You can also let it cool down and put it in the fridge for later use. It’s great to eat cold with dau fu fa.

Easy peasy, no? Have you ever tried eating this delicious soybean custard?

Mysore Masala Dosa

I know how it sounds, but “mysore” isn’t really “my sore” at all. It’s more like “my joy”, as a delicious chutney filling in a dosa.

A dosa is a South Indian dish that is a paper thin crepe. It is traditionally made of lentil and rice flour batter, but these days it can be made with other ingredients. Similar to a crepe, it is poured onto a hot, flat iron surface and is spread out into a round shape. It is cooked until it has a nice sandy golden colour and has a soft, yet crispy texture to it. Although many doses are frequently rolled into circular tubes, the one above was folded into a triangle like your typical French crepe.

I always choose a mysore masala dosa, which is made with spices, onions and potatoes. It’s so good that I’m convinced it’s one of the most popular types, but dosas can also be filled with paneer (cheese) or be simply spread with a little ghee (clarified butter).

As delicious as it is on its own, it is accompanied with several sauces to add a variety of flavours to your tongue. The first sauce is called sambar, which is the soupy one. You can dip the dosa into it or drink it with a spoon. My friend said some even drink sambar when they have colds or eat it with rice (It reminds me of a vegetable soup, so I can see why). The other two sauces are chutneys, where the white one is coconut and the orangey-red one has some spice to it. I actually haven’t had a dosa in so long that this little outing reminded me how good they were. I’ll have to add it back into my rotation. 🙂


In other news, remember when I went to look for cherry blossoms and it didn’t go so well? I tried again a few days later and unlike my second attempt, I found some fully bloomed trees.

I think I can finally deem this a success?!?!?!

Red Bean Tea (Adzuki Bean Tea)

These days, it seems like you can make a tea out of anything. Dandelions, fruit and now red beans. However, I guarantee it isn’t a new product. Red beans have been used for centuries in various desserts, snacks and dishes, especially in Asia.

This little red bean is also known as an adzuki bean. It’s not to be confused with kidney beans, which also goes by the same name as “red bean”. Perhaps I have been ignorant about it’s existence, but my friend introduced me to this non-caffeinated tea. It’s supposed to help make your skin beautiful and who doesn’t want that? I’m also always on the search for non-caffeinated teas and this just so happens to fit the criteria. 🙂

Taking a sip of this lightly flavoured tea, it tasted very much like drinking the liquid form of an unsweetened red bean. It had this roasted, deep aromatic red bean flavour and a golden-brown hue. It’s definitely not your typical orange pekoe or herbal tea!

It’s an interesting tea to have, though I’m sure it’s an acquired taste. I found with this particular brand, it takes a while for all the flavours to come out so I just kept refilling the cup with hot water. However, you can also steep the bag in a thermos too and drink to your heart’s content. There’s also the option of making it into a cold drink with the simple help of a few ice cubes. 

What interesting tea flavours have you had recently? 🙂

 

Tong Sum Fun – Macaroni Pasta Soup (Recipe) & Turkey Leftovers

After having turkey this past weekend for our Easter dinner, we had plenty of leftovers. And with leftovers, comes an endless list of crafty ideas on what to do with those leftovers to ensure nothing gets wasted. Thus, comes Tong Sum Fun – also known as Macaroni Pasta Soup! With a hodgepodge of ingredients, this is simple to make and a great way to clear out the fridge. It’s similar to a chicken noodle soup, only this time it has a bunch of ingredients from our dinner (and then some). Tong sum fun is also what my mom made frequently for us growing up when we were sick. You know how it is, when one kid gets sick, the other gets sick and repeat.

Although you can honestly add almost anything into this type of dish, our standard was always a good soup broth and macaroni pasta with some sort of veggies and meat. Here’s the one we made with our leftovers from Easter dinner.

Ingredients:

Directions:

In a pot, bring water to a boil and cook pasta according to the directions of the package and strain. Set aside. In a second pot, add chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Add all the remaining ingredients in and cook until they’re thoroughly heated. Add cooked and strained macaroni into a bowl and add the hot soup mix on top. Easy!

Of course, you could just make a salad with the leftovers as well. Here, I have a salad made with turkey, nuts, cucumber, tomato, peppers, egg, spinach, mixed greens, wakame salad and a few blocks of cheddar cheese for good measure. I personally hate adding salad dressing, but you could use something like Italian or a nice balsamic vinaigrette.

And then there’s an udon noodle stir fry with some onion, shrimp, cabbage, pepper and turkey.

There’s not much turkey left for this, but it’s there! Enjoy!

Mongolian Style Hot Pot

Have you ever tried eating a Mongolian hot pot? It’s something simple you can do at home or at a restaurant.

All you need is a mobile electric or propane gas stove, a pot, broth and a variety of food. For this particular occasion, we went to a restaurant that had a stove that was built into the table. The broths for hot pot can be spicy or sweet. We got the “yin yang” version, which has a divider in the middle of the pot so that you can have two broths simultaneously. However, when we do this at home, we like to have a satay flavoured broth and a simple chicken broth.

From there, you have a bunch of dishes that are raw/uncooked. When the broth boils, you can start adding a few items into the pot to cook. Items range from all sorts of thinly sliced meats, vegetables and seafood. The world is your oyster….and you can add oysters too. 😉 You can also cook noodles, Asian meatballs, dumplings, tofu and fungi. I wish I got a better photo of the variety of food that we had, but this was the best I could do. You can also have multiple dipping sauces on the side, like soy sauce, sesame oil, chili, etc. to enhance our cooked items.

When the food is done, you use a strainer to scoop the food out and then add more food into the pot. This restaurant only gave two communal strainers, but at home we like to have enough so that everyone has their own. Just remember which utensils you used to touch the raw foods. You don’t want to use those for eating! And if you find your broth is starting to get low, just add some water or chicken stock to it and continue cooking.

To me, the purpose of hot pot is to have an intimate social or family gathering. While you can technically just dump everything into one pot, boil and serve, hot pot is a meal that takes time because you gradually plop several items in periodically. The whole process is meant to be very gradual and relaxing. It’s also good for those who get a little fidgety just sitting around a dinner table. For me, the best part about hot pot is saving the noodles for last. By then, the broth is so rich in flavour that adding soup to it makes it so tasty! Have you ever tried a hot pot?

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot

Various locations in the U.S.A, Canada, China and Japan

Popcorn Gifts

This is a very random post, but I’ve noticed that my friends have been bringing me gifts/souvenirs from around the world and there has been a common theme – POPCORN! Not that there is anything wrong with popcorn, I just found the trend interesting. The first being popcorn flavoured candy from Taiwan.

These little square, yellow candies come in these tiny boxes. Oddly enough, it actually tastes like buttery popcorn – only in the form of soft, chewy candy like taffy. I guess you could say the flavour reminded me of those jellybeans that are used in that Beanboozled game or those Bernie Botts beans for those Harry Potter fans out there. It was interesting to eat.

Another friend of mine came back from Disney World, Florida, and she bought me a bag of kettle popcorn that was Sriracha flavor.

While the popcorn itself wasn’t shocking, it was the flavour. I was also happy to learn that it was GMO-free popcorn. While it didn’t exactly have “Sriracha” listed in the ingredients (more like sugar, sunflower oil, organic apple cider vinegar, salt, natural garlic flavor and chili pepper flavor, paprika powder, citric acid and lecithin), it was surprisingly good! It had a contrast of sweet and savory flavors with some spice to it. I might be the only person in the world that doesn’t really care about going to Disney World (more than once, anyway), but the popcorn may be worth a visit.

Although I never expect my awesome friends to buy me anything when they come back from a trip or for a visit, I wonder if I’ll be seeing another popcorn treat in the near future? Have you noticed any popcorn trends or received/given any popcorn related gifts?

Izakaya – A Loud but Delicious Experience

I love Japanese food. Although a majority of people may only be familiar with sushi and teppanyaki, there are many other delicious dishes too. Thus comes Izakaya – a type of Japanese bar styled restaurant that typically offers skewers and tapas. It’s a very informal setting where people come in for drinks and food.

I went with a friend and upon entering the restaurant, the staff shouted “irasshaimase!!!” at us, which means “welcome” in Japanese. Other than giving customers a mild heartattack upon entry, it’s normal at an Izakaya as a way to greet customers. When we sat down and looked at the menu, there were so many options to choose from. Instead of going Ă  la carte, we decided to go with an eight course set menu which had many of their most popular dishes.

First up, a blanched spinach dish called gomaae. The rolled up ball of greens were topped with sesame seeds and a black savory sauce filled with the aroma of sesame oil. To my shock, the dish was cold but it was an interesting starter.

Japanese-Food-Spinnach-Gomaae

Gomaae

Then came the deep fried brie cheese balls. It was packed full of gooey cheese, just the way I like it.

Japanese-Food-Cheese-Balls

Cheese balls

The crumb coating was quite chunky, but it came out super crispy. It was accompanied with a fusion of two fruit sauces underneath – the yellow being a mango sauce and the purple one being a berry sauce. It was definitely an interesting mix and tasted so good. Besides, cheese and fruits usually pair well together. 🙂

Japanese-Food-Cheese-Balls

Fruity sauces to go with the delicious cheese balls

We barely touched the second dish, but the plates were flying out of the kitchen so quickly we had to ask the waiters to slow down! Perhaps it’s because time is money and the restaurant was filling up fast. Despite this, the third fish was a typical Japanese style salad with lettuce, radish, noori and tofu cubes. It had a wafu (Japanese style) soy-based dressing. Refreshing!

Japanese-Food-Style-Salad

Japanese style salad

The forth dish was a hot stone pot rice dish. It came out sizzling hot piled up as a pretty display, but the server mixed it up in front of us so quickly I wasn’t able to get a shot of it. The bowl was so hot that the rice was still crackling well after the dish was mixed, but the purpose of the bowl is to make the rice burn a bit to give it a nice and crispy texture (similar to a bibimbap).

Hot-stone-pot-bowl-rice

Hot stone pot bowl rice

My friend didn’t enjoy this dish as much as I did. It was a sweeter rice dish filled with rice, mushrooms, cheese and seaweed. Perhaps the cheese threw her off, but I liked it! The following dish was karubi, which is similar to Korean kalbi. These delicious short ribs were flavoured in a soy sauce marinade and came with a side scallion-oil dipping sauce, lemon and lettuce leaves. Very tasty, I must say.

Japanense-Karubi-Ribs-Grilled

Karubi

Next, although they called it carpaccio, I’m going to assume it’s because a majority of people wouldn’t know what beef tataki is. Although similar, the former is completely raw whereas the latter is slightly seared. It is also topped with a ponzu sauce, wasabi mayo, daikun, green scallions and garlic crisps. Given that the garlic was dehydrated, it was quite potent but I love garlic so it worked with me!

Japanese-Beef-Tataki

Beef Tataki

The seventh dish was chicken kaarage, a Japanese style fried chicken that is marinated in soy sauce, battered and deep fried to a crispy golden brown. Of course, we had some sake (a Japanese rice wine) to go with this as well. 🙂

Japanse-Kaarage-chicken

Kaarage chicken

And no meal is complete without dessert, but can you believe I forgot to take a photo before I inhaled it? It was a simple black sesame ice cream. Usually I find restaurants tend to pre-scoop and leave it in the freezer until it is needed, but I found this restaurant had it freshly prepared – meaning no frozen icicle bits on my ice cream! An Izakaya restaurant is quite the experience. It’s a lovely place with plenty of food options, but it may not necessarily be great for those who want a nice and quiet dinner. Just be prepared for an evening with lots of yelling and delicious food 🙂

Kinka Izakaya
398 Church Street,
Toronto, ON, M5B 2A2
Canada
416-977-0999

Polvoron – Filipino Style Shortbread

I love shortbread. It’s such a simple treat that only requires a handful of common ingredients that can be found in most homes – butter, sugar, flour and salt. So, when a colleague of mine asked me if I have ever tried the Filipino Style Shortbread called Polvoron, she had my full attention.

Since the Philippines was once colonized by the Spanish, there are many language and cultural similarities. For Polvoron, the word is derived from the Spanish word “polvo”, which means powder. This makes sense, given that one of the ingredients used is powdered milk. However, the packaging also indicates that it uses wheat flour, cane sugar, vegetable shortening, milk fat and sweet whey powder.

Polvoron can come in a variety of flavours like ube, coffee and peanut, but my coworker let me try Pinipig. When I bit into it, I was amazed at the textures and flavours.

It was creamy, it was powdery and it just melted in my mouth. It was sweet, but not overly sweet. It was a good shortbread! And the kicker for this particular flavour? Puffed rice (aka Rice Crispies). Wow! That’s what Pinipig is and it gave this crispy crunch texture to the shortbread. Polvoron comes individually wrapped in small little packages, so they’re easy to bring around. My Filipino friends tell me it is sold in Canada, so I’ll be sure to look out for them! 🙂