Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why San Beda is San Beda, and why Mang Roger is part and parcel of the legacy

The time I was kicked out of San Beda high school in '99 was transformative.

I learned that outside of the asbestos-lined walls of the school I grew up in, from preparatory through 3rd year high school, life was different.

Not so much about it being hard. In San Beda of old, we all knew life was hard. There was no sense of entitlement, just a brutal "be great or perish" fundamental upbringing.

Leaving those hallowed halls did not mean having to eat cheap 15-peso lunches. We had even cheaper 5-peso lunches in San Beda, a five-peso cup of rice with free gravy augmented by what you could bully out of your classmates.

The transformation came front he realisation that outside of the Mendiola I came to know, where rain meant standing outside the campus gates to gawk at umbrella-less Holy Spirit College students trying run through the torrent with their thin, flimsy uniforms; where being maarte or sosyal meant more ridicule than being nerdy or fat; more than the rivalry with Baste, Letran or Mapua, outside the Bedan community, school pride was Vulcan to the jocks or pop-culture speak to the nerds. Outside of the cream walls and asshole guards, the sense of school spirit was a deformed, ugly wench.

Yes. I said it.

While most Archers or Eagles founded their school pride in college and the status of their school, San Beda alums never looked at UAAP or NCAA, bar or board, international rank, and testing scores to be proud about San Beda College.

Bedans have always been proud to be Bedans come hell, high water or a 28-year NCAA drought.


Because San Beda is more than accolades.

Bedans are instilled with pride their first second in the school, no matter when.

I could expound on this further, but let us take a look at one shining example.

Rogelio Lagman.

Mang Roger to any Bedan.

He died recently. And all, each and every member of the Bedan community mourned.

Was he a Benedictine monk? Beloved teacher? Esteemed alumni?

No. Mang Roger, to anyone who spent time in SBC before the millennium was balut-penoy-chicharon-fonkard-load vendor who never had much, but was always willing to give. He was that guy who would crack a balut as soon as he saw you meandering towards him and offer you his ware with a hundred percent acceptance rate, the same guy who would give a son of a senator or a multinational executive fare money -- or a scholar who was barely scraping by -- without a second's hesitation. He was the guy who you would not turn to for advice, but had the sixth sense to know that you needed it and the sensitivity to recognise that you did not need scolding, but a trusted elder to confide in. He's the cool uncle who'd slip you a shot of whisky without Dad looking but walk away with a wink and practical advice that drinking did not make a man, but eff it, you shouldn't be deprived.

He was you companion when the school bus left you. He was the guy with whose help you knew you could always call home through. He was the guy that, damn all, will always be there for you, even if he didn't really know your name 'cause thousands of boys come through his stall day in and day out.

He was "Mang Roger, bili mo naman akong yosi, ako muna magbabantay ng tinda mo," he was "Mang Roger, basted na naman ako," he was "Mang Roger, mukhang iki-kickout ako dito".

That last thing was the last thing I said to Mang Roger as a teen, and all that he said was: "Once a Bedan, always a Bedan."

After that short, passing conversation, I knew I was Mediola-bound after high-school.

Bedan pride just had that gravitational pull. I knew I wanted to study Communications, but SBC did not offer it in 2000. I had to choose to be a Management, Marketing, Com Sci, Accounting or Philosophy major. I chose to forego my dreams and go back to Mendiola to pursue the futility of a Philosophy degree for a person so not into being a nerdy bookworm (which I was for 10 years as a kid).

And the first fucking thing I saw going back was Mang Roger being purged out of official college grounds onto the streets.

Mang Roger was, and always in my mind, situated along the dilapidated phone booths that were once gleaming halls to the PLDT Fonkard.

But when I came back to my beloved school, he was being treated like toe scum. He had to leave school premises, because San Beda College, the institution, was too sosyal to have a resident balut vendor, when Bedans, proud and mighty, never even saw him as anything else but a fellow Bedan. But times were, indeed, a-changing.

The two things constant in life are change and death and Mang Roger adapted. So what if he had to linger in the blistering heat, his family was always the Bedans, not he asphalt near the phone booths that he called home for decades. For him, logistics didn't matter. you could never kick him out of the Bedan heart. After getting kicked out from San Beda a second time around and going to nearby FEU, I made sporadic visits to my den, always kicking it with Mang Roger outside school grounds,  I know he barely remembered my name but still he treated me like family, balut purchase or not.

I saw San Beda become populated by vest-wearing socialites. I saw San Beda morph. I never hated that, it was a normal part of life. But more than not hating change, I loved the stability of one Rogelio Lagman.

Putangina magbago man ang ibig sabihin ng Bedista, alam n'ya, tulad ng pagkakaalam natin na magbago man lahat, ang San Beda, San Beda. Ang Bedista, Bedista, ipaglayo man ng panahon o ugali.

San Beda is San Beda the same Way Mang Roger is Mang Roger. He went through decades of Bedans. And he knew that time, culture or trends may change, but a Bedan will always be a Bedan in the truest form of the word.

Mang Roger died recently, but he will forever be a TKB. A Tunay Kang Bedista who transcended time and generations, was treated to how Bedans could not give a flying fuck about social and economic status. An icon, a kuya, a friend, an inspiration. Because every triumph, loss or ache is... "for San Beda, our country, and God." 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Single child of a broken home

As the single offspring of a broken home, there are a lot of things people will not understand about you.

This maybe a place in the current social paradigm that is not as uncommon as it was before. But as a 31 year old, in my time, it was.

The biggest disconnect you will have with the "world" is that you put more value in stuff that seem trivial to most nuclear family-having people.

I was asked once of the birth dates of both my parents. I said I did not know. To this day, I only know of my cousins' Ronnie and Reynan's birth dates. I barely remember mom and pops b-days even if I tried to remember them. Because of that irregularity, the immigration person at NAIA 1 said, "Why don't you know your parents' birthdays? That's impossible!" (I am being very democratic of their command of the English language, BTW)

I told her to not be judgemental, not everyone has had a perfect family.

She said she was not being judgemental and that she might just change her mind and off-load me to my trip to Dubai. I told her to do so, and I'd take my snorkeling gear to Boracay in the next domestic flight.

She then turned red-faced.

Reality is, my fellow single-children of broken homes, they think we're like them. They think we think like them. They think we value the same things they do.

What they do not realize is that because we grew up alone and bouncing from one faction of the broken family to another each and every holiday... We have no anchor.

What they do not fathom is that we put eternally more value into friendships, memorable places and experiences than they do and that, no matter how how nonsensical it may seem, we MAY favor one parent over the other, given specific circumstances.

Because when they go to some place as awesome as say, Palawan, when they sky dive for the first time, when they finally see a place they only once saw on the telly, they most often do so with people even more awesome than the place or experience: their families. The skiing experience pales in comparison to how their mom - vaunted pillar of the fam - ate ice. The trip to a surfing paradise comes in second to the hilarious ways their sibling wiped out. How the sumptuous food of Singapore became forgettable compared to the awkward way dad first used chopsticks.

Their friends would never come close to their relationships with siblings or parents, no matter how rebellious they may seem to be. Not in the long run.

Us? Our parents barely know us. And past the teenage years of rebellion, our friends still know us better than the people who share our last or middle names. For a kid who grew up with aunts and uncles, its our friends who form the safety net beneath the trapeze as we grow. Sure, the cousins, the aunts and uncles, even the gramps may be there, but without a mom and pop, nothing really sticks as much.

They will never understand how we can think of a place, a vacation, a friend's family more fondly than we think of our non-existent family.

They will never understand that what was neglible for them - a family tied by blood that was always going to be there for you no matter what - was a mere dream for us. A dream made up for with ultra-close friendships and fond memories of times and places that gave us roots that we were always seemingly scrambling for.

 Most people will always look at you as a freak. Most people will never understand your unwavering loyalty to friends, your unabashed sentimentality about places not your hometown, your need to connect with old buddies.

They will never understand that no matter how mature you get, how you patch things up with the "fam", you will always and forever treasure the "family" that was there when the real one wasn't.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pasensya na

Pasintabi, mananagalog lang ako.

Lumayo muna tayo sa pagkain at pagusapan itong dyaskeng Binay issue na 'to.

Pero onting pagbabalik tanaw muna. 2003 noong sayangin ko ang pera ng tatay ko at magsinungaling sa US immigration na nagdadamo ako kahit ayoko ng gulay.

Ayokong umalis ng Pinas noon, kasi, 'di ba, masaya sa Pinas e. Onting kayod lang, ayos ka na, buhay ka na. Enjoy ka pa.

Taong 2012 noong tawagin ako ng nirerespeto kong katrabaho sa pamahayagang pang-kolehiyo na pumarine na Dubai. Halos isang dekada akong namumuhay ng madali at maaliwalas sa Pinas pero, ika ko, "Tunatanda na ko, bakit 'di ko subukan?"

At sinubukan ko. Ay pare mahirap dito. May pera oo, pero para lang sa mga taong may kapabilidad. Nagulat ako rito na may mga taong pumapatol sa kinse mil pesos kada buwan, sweldong hindi ko maatim mula nang 2010.

Pero ayos dito. Wala kang kabang manakawan, wala kang kabang ma-gancho. Takot lang ng mga sira-ulo ritong makulong. Noon una, kapit na kapit ako sa mga paga-ari ko, pero kalaunan, nasanay na rin akong mag-iwan ng cellphone sa kape-han ng walang takot.

Ayos na? Naipinta ko na ba 'yung pagkatao kong ayaw umalis ng Pinas pero napagtantuang OK din naman pala sa ibang bansa?

Ayos na no pre?

Ayos nga talaga pre, sana lang, hindi ko nababalitaan yung mga kaululan ng mga taong namamahala sa Pinas.

Pards. Bikolano ako, galing ako sa Typhoon Strip ng Gubat, Sorsogon. Batak ako sa baha at sakuna. Pero, ewan ko pre, iba 'yung Yolanda e. Halos dalawang buwan akong hindi mapakali kahit ayos naman lahat ng kamaganak ko. Hindi ako napakali kasi, peste, pinakamalakas na bagyo 'yun na lumapag sa lupa. Hanggang ngayon hindi ako naglalagak ng pagkaing post sa Facebook kahit linggo linggo akong nagluluto.

Tapos, mababalitaan mong 'yung bise presidente mo, nagrepack ng relief goods na me mukha n'ya? At namulitika muna ng DILG secretary bago tumulong, kasi hindi n'ya maalis ang mga labi n'ya sa tumbong ng presidenteng walang political will?

Me mukha at selyo n'ya men.

Wow naman.

So ayos, nagmaktol ako sa Facebook, nagpakalat ng mga kahunghangan n'ya, pero una kong inisip, makatulong. Ayos, sige, bahala ka na Kokey, trip mo 'yan e.

Lumipas ang ilang buwan. Ayos na, naka-focus ako sa relief operations eh, bahala na lahat ng gahaman. Tulong na lang.

Tapos, ito. 'Yung anak ni Kokey, dahil hindi pinalabas sa gate ng isang subdivision na tinitirhan ng mga alte-de-cuidad na mga politiko at celebrity, dinuro-duro 'yung mga walang kalalabanlabang mga sekyu na ginagawa lang ang mga trabaho nila.

Pards, ako man, ilang beses na nabadtrip sa mga sekyu.

Pero pards, hindi ko sila pina-aresto.

Ang siste kasi rito sa UAE, isang bansa sa gintant silangan, kahit sino ka pa, mananagot ka sa batas. Putek, mga pulis dito pards 'pag nakita kang susuray-suray sa kalsada, hihintuan ka para ihatid ka sa bahay mo.

Tapos ikaw pards, mayor ka pa lang, walang isangdaan at kalahating metro sa gate na pwede mong daanan, magtatawag ka na ng mga bata mo para hulihin 'yung mga taong ginagawa lang mga trabaho nila?

Tapos, kinabukasan, sasabihin mong sinisiriaan ka lang nung publikasyong naglabas ng kaangasan mo?

Pero pards. sa totoo lang, ngayon gasgas na 'tong tono ko eh.

Alam naman na naming lahat na ganyan talaga sa Pinas.

Pero pards, alam mo kung ano ang sanhi ng "brain drain" sa Pinas?

Alam mo ba kung bakit 'yung mga pinakamamatalino at pinaka-skilled mong mga kababayan eh hindi sa bansa natin nagt-trabaho?

Dahil sa mga tulad mo pards.

Hinding hindi gagawin ng mga OFW ang ginawa ng South Korea na bumalik sa bansa nila para pagyabungin ito.

Babalik kami d'yan tapos ano? Pagkakakitaan n'yo mga paghihirap namin nang wala man lang kaming nakikitang pagbabago?

Hihimukin mong magbalik-Pinas iyong mga doktor, arkitekto, inhinyero, siyentipikong naninirahan sa Saudi, UAE, Qatar, USA, Canada, Singapore, Kuwait, Honk Kong atbp. na bumalik sa Pilipinas para kumita ng kakarampot kumpara sa kinikita nila habang pinapayaman ang mga pulitikong namamahala sa bansa?

Pards, alam naman namin e.

Alam namin na hanggat hindi naeeduka ang karamihan ng Pilipino, walang pag-asa ang mga tulad naming basang basa mga banat n'yo para baguhin ang bansa.

Na hangga't may nagbebenta ng boto sa halagang dalawang-daan, hangga't hindi maintindihan ng otsenta porsyento ng bansa na hindi si Erap ang kasagutan, hanggang Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr atbp. na lang kami.

Pero pards, masakit 'yung kaalaman na 'yun.

Ubusin man namin pera at oras namin, hindi kami mananalo sa inyo, kasi, kayo ang perpektong ehemplo kung bakit PUTANGINA LANG PINAS.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bachelor's Fridge: Bastardized Southern Style BBQ Ribs

Wow, it's been a long time.

I have probably 15 dishes I have wanted to post since last year that I haven't been able to because of the adjustments I've made to my move here to Dubai last December.

But man, this barbecue just deserved posting. Why? Because it's perfect for Bachelor's Fridge and Bastardo, two ideas I've wanted to expound on here.

First, I've been a true independent guy since I moved here, doing everything on my own around the house, so I have less time than I had back home, so I've really had to adjust my cooking, and this barbecue recipe, although far from the classic slow-cook, smoked original, is perfect people who have a lot of time over the weekend to prep stuff for quick cooking on weekdays.

Secondly, I have craved for and loved, true Southern-style barbecue since the first time I saw them in US food shows. So much so that I have watched all of the barbecue specials of my favorite food shows. But alas, in this crowded metropolis, there is no space to erect a smoker, and to have the smell of barbecuing pork waft around the neighborhood can spell serious trouble. The time factor also played in, as true southern barbecue is all about slow cooking. So again, I had to adjust.

But let me shut up and go to the meat of the matter:

Bastardized Southern Style BBQ Ribs


What you'll need:

Pork ribs, cut to desired length
Fish sauce
Whole peppercorns

For the sauce:
1 part vinegar
1/4 part chilli sauce (I used regular Tabasco)
1/2 part ketchup (I used Heinz)
1/4 part brown sugar
1/2 part ketsap manis (or regular soy sauce, just adjust the brown sugar)
1/4 part steak sauce (I used A1)
Paprika to taste
dash of cracked pepper, garlic powder and cumin
dash of liquid smoke (optional)
Sage, thyme, oregano
How to do it:
Boil (yes, I know, the blasphemy) the pork ribs with ginger, peppercorns and fish sauce 'til tender. 
Set aside and freeze ribs and use the boiling liquid for Sinigang (I used it for Molo soup).
Or... if you have time and confident in your measuring skills, add all ingredients together and boil til the sauce is thick and clings to the pork. That's much better, but as I said, I prepped the meat in the weekend froze and cooked it on after work two days after.
If you froze it, you really don't need to thaw it before prepping the sauce.
Put vinegar, tabasco, brown sugar and steak sauce into a pan, let simmer.
Add in frozen pork and when properly thawed, add all the remaining ingredients. 
Add water if needed.
Make sure to cook down the sauce 'til it clings to the meat and acts like a barbecue sauce and not like a thick soup.

Done. Or as is said here, khalas. Have it for dinner and pack some for tomorrow's lunch.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Diet? Ano 'yun?: Deconstructed Bicol Express and Bagoong

My mom hails from Gubat, Sorsogon, in Bicol. I wish I could lay claim to being a full blooded Bicolano, but I cannot. I can speak our version of Bicolano, called Gubatnon, but I still speak Tagalog in Legazpi and Naga. I barely understand the cooking outside of my hometown too, but I take pride in the recent trips I've taken to visit Gubat on my own to learn more about the food and places thereabouts.

I feel more in tune with my Tagalog side, really, but man, there's a flair for gata (coconut cream) and sili (chilies) that rages within me and I guess I am learning, albeit slowly, the ways of Bicolano cuisine. Because man, sorry Pampanga, my Luzon gastrnomic epicenter is Bicol, with Ilocos a close second.

I have always loved Bicol Express (a dish named after the Manila-Naga train line) but only learned that what I knew as Bicol Express was the Tagalog version in my college days, when I met students from Bicol University in the YMCA Student Conferences in Baguio. I was cooking Bicol Express in one of our inuman sessions in Baguio once (sorry, FEU) and a full blooded uragon  whom I befriended asked if he could cook side by side with me and present his version of Bicol Express. I said sure. So while I was loading mine up with pork belly, he was chopping up tomatoes and loads of siling pansigang (long green chili). I offered up what one would usually see in the streets of Manila, pork belly stewed in coconut cream with a healthy amount of chili. He served what was basically tomatoes and chili sauteed in bagoong (shrimp paste) and accentuated by crisp chicharon (rendered pork rinds). I was shamed man. An uncle also told me that Bicol Express is basically chilies stewed in coconut cream, where the coconut cream is reduced enough that it separates into oil and cream, as this makes it easy to pack and longer lasting and that the spicy veg dish was a favored travel and peasant food as the kick of the chilies made one consume less of the dish and more rice, fuel for the tiring day ahead. The addition of pork was rare back in the day, as pork was expensive. If pork was present, he said, it was in minute quantities. Also, the use of patis (fish sauce) as a flavoring agent is a Tagalog reimagination, and that the weak white color of carinderia (street food stalls) Bicol Express is unacceptable to Bicolanos.

So when Marvin, Boj and I opened the ill-fated St. Bede's Kitchen, we made sure we'd have signature dishes. Boj had his magnificent Mechado (flank steak stewed in tomatoes), Marvin his line of pancit recipes, and I had Tokwa't Baboy. But I wanted to come up with my own take to Bicol Express. So I experimented. This is the Bastardo recipe that melds TradIsRad techniques with my own twist.

Deconstructed Bicol Express

What you need:

Liempo (pork belly) cut into large strips
Gata (Coconut cream)
Siling pansigang (long green chili)
Siling labuyo (bird's eye chili)
Cayenne pepper (optional)

for the Bagoong
Uncooked bagoong
Cane vinegar
Small pork rinds
Siling labuyo
Brown sugar 
Dried bay leaves


How to do it:

There are three components to this dish, because, well, that's what deconstructing a dish means: you break down a recipe to different parts. 



This is an integral part of the dish because this is what gives it flavor. I planned to write about my take in bagoong on a separate post, but I'm just reusing a recipe I wrote before. It's a long and tedious process that is well worth the effort. The recipe is based on the super sweet bagoong I enjoyed green mango slices with, the one in a big tub that a man on a bike contraption carries around, along with large glass jars of water filled with green mango and singkamas (jicama) slices. This recipe was first posted on, a  friend's food blog when I guest posted there with my laborious take on Kare Kare.

First, start with chicharon, cabron.

There are two ways of going about the chicharon (pork rind crackling) part of the bagoong, you can do it the old school and simple way: boil fat and skin in a bit of water and let the fat render over low heat ‘til it gets crispy and golden brown (really, this process works better if you want to store the bagoong and not use it up all of it in one go).
I bought fat and skin trimmings from a nearby supermarket, but if you can’t find some, just have your butcher separate the fat and rind from pigue (pork butt/shoulder) or kasim (foreshank) and cut them into medium sized cubes. Add them to a deep sauce pan and do not add water, add oil halfway up the trimmings. Do this with everything at room temp and turn your stove to the lowest setting you can get it to. I had to turn the knob counter clockwise to get the flame as small as I had to get it. Now, this will take time and attention. Wait for the fat to simmer, there will be a lot of oily froth, small bubbles that tell you that the drying out process is working. You don’t want to crisp up the fat too fast, you want to dry it out as much as you can without actually air drying out in the sun.

Be patient with this, and I promise, the rewards are going to be awesome. Mix it up regularly, as leaving it to its own devices will mean that the bottom layer’s temp will rise and crisp up the rinds before you dry out the top layers. You should end up with something like this:

Doing this in a large batch gives you two options: you can re-fry some in very hot oil and get home-made chicharon (you can even freeze this at this stage, think: instant chicharon) and you can use some for the bagoong. Put them aside and not snack on them. This is a test of will.

Sauté garlic in oil until golden brown, add onions and caramelize (a fancy term that simply means to cook on medium heat ‘til translucent and soft). Add bagoong and bay leaves and sauté for a while. Once you’ve evaporated most of the liquid, add chilies, sugar and vinegar and leave alone ‘til it boils, uncovered. Add cayenne pepper powder, now lower heat to the bare minimum and let all of the liquid simmer out. This is crucial, if you want to keep the cracklings you will add to it crispy and not soggy. When you simmer out all the liquid, which will take, again, time and attention so that you don’t burn the bagoong, you can add the cracklings, which will then soak up all the flavors of the bagoong and keep it like a tight, crispy bagoong flavored crouton. Most people tell me my bagoong looks like corned beef. I say, “Yes, exactly how I remember the bagoong I so love on the green mangoes I ate as a kid”.

In this one, I added popped chicharon. But I'd advise you don't pop them when you add them.

Now that you have your bagoong ready, let's tackle the meat then.

Lechon Kawali

This one's tricky. Real tricky. I have tried many ways to get the pork skin to pop the way I want to. As you can see in the picture, the one I made recently was more traditional Lechon Kawali (fried pork). But I've tried popping liempo in many ways. 

Here's one I did not boil and slow-dried in the oven before frying in super hot oil.

Here's a three kilo monster that I stuffed and handed over to the local pugon (wood fire brick oven).

But for this recipe, I just used the quickest way I knew. Boil the large pork belly strips until fork tender. Dry them out as you cook the bagoong, in enough cold oil to cover them at least half way and low heat, color them 'til deep dark brown. Let rest for a bit as you heat up the oil and add them one by one so that you don't lower the oil's temperature. You need the heat to get maximum poppage. See, when you boil the pork, you work the skin and it gets thicker. When you brown it over low heat, it contracts again, but it's already been expanded, so when re-fried in hot oil, it re-expands and pops. Just how much is dependent on two things: just how dry you got it on the first fry and the temp of the oil in the re-fry. You can omit the boiling part if you can slowly dry it out in an over as the initial stages of cooking will mimic the expansion brought about by boiling.

Now, let's move on.

Express Sauce


Take bagoong and saute it for a bit. Add chopped siling labuyo and gata. Let gata reduce over a gentle simmer. Add loads, and I mean loads of chopped siling pansigang and reduce further. You can take it to the point where it breaks into oil and cream, but it really won't look good, so I just thicken it up to a sauce.

To serve, chop pork belly to cubes, line 'em up and top with the sauce.

Some notes:

The pink tinge of the sauce is because of the cayenne pepper I added and the color of my bagoong. I found that deconstructing it like this sates the craving for something crispy that a lot of people have while keeping the traditional flavors of the dish. It also makes it more presentable and delectable. And oh, this is Pulutan Tayo Diyan-perfect. Also, if you're out of the country and cannot get hold of uncooked bagoong... OK... fine... use the bottled crap from Barrio Fiesta and other providers that are exported. Sigh.

Juandering: Pares for the Ages

Beef Pares is a Filipino staple of Chinese origins that is a favorite of every hard working, low to middle class Pinoy who swears by his or her favorite joint. A joint that offers Beef Pares as its main draw follows a template: the cooking area is at the center, open to the diners who are seated around a table that frames the cooking area. Tables are often laid out outside of this main setup and most Pares joints use 'The Original' or other variations of a claim to being the inventor of the dish. Why this is so, I have absolutely no idea.

But one thing is certain. If you are of the middle class or lived in an urban street-centric community or barangay, then you most certainly have a love affair with Pares. I know I do. Now, I am not one to make superlative claims. I certainly will not say where the best 'this' or 'that' is, except for three things: Pares, Tokwa't Baboy and Pancit Malabon. We can debate about Bulalo, Sisig or any other Filipino mainstay, but when it comes to former three, I will stand my ground. I mean sure, chefs may whip up versions of these that are gastronomic wonders, but when it comes to the best, readily available and cheap Pares, Tokwa't Baboy and Pancit Malabon, I grew up eating the best.

So before I even write another lett --

Damn. Aint that a beaut.

The best Pares you will ever taste is located in Retiro, specifically, on N.S Amoranto cor. Dr. Alejos. We call it simply, Pares Retiro. Here's the map.

Along with Beef Pares, joints like this often serve different kinds of pancit, fried chicken and many other Filipino food staples. But I only really go to this one for two things: Pares and Bulalo. I grew up a short jeepney ride away from Retiro and the place is home to many great growing up memories. My childhood friends and I would troop to Retiro for a pig out to celebrate something or when we just want to stuff ourselves silly with awesome food. This place is integrated to almost all facets of my life as many of my school friends know and love this joint as much as I do. And I have taken new friends and relatives to this place. I have a personal record here of eight... 8 extra servings of garlic fried rice. A friend of mine, downed 11. ELEVEN EXTRA BOWLS of garlic fried rice. I have been paying my respects to this place ever since I learned to commute on my own, man.

To illustrate, here are before and after pictures of a visit recurring characters in this blog Marvin, Bojji and my visit here in 2009.

Before. Sorry, Marv (left). LOL

The chaos after. Actually, this was at a point in time when we collectively ate less, and thus, the poor showing.
The term "Beef Pares" is actually not the name of the dish, but refers to a partnership (pares translates to 'a pair' -- don't we just love stating the obvious?). Much like Fish and Chips mean fried, battered fish fillet and friend potato wedges or fries, Beef Pares is actually beef (camto or flank steak) asado (Chinese stew) paired with garlic fried rice. There is Chicken Pares, fried chicken paired with garlic fried rice. I have tried replicating their beef asado for years. Years man. And so have Marv and Boj. But the balance of sweet, anise-y and salty flavors of their version still escapes us. Boj, who lives near the joint and thus clogs his arteries with glorious stewed beef fat and sinew more often, says he's seen evidence of black bean paste in some of his beef asado orders. The basic flavor profile of the asado relies on soy sauce, acid that is either vinegar or kalamansi (Philippine lime) juice, anise, clavo de comer or clovas (cloves) and oyster sauce. I've tried adding chinese cooking wine, Sprite and a bunch of other stuff, but still cannot replicate the caramel and distinct salty undertones of Pares Retiro.

Through the years, after experimenting with accompanying orders for the pares (they have a great stuffed prawn and passable embotido), I, together with Marv and Boj, have settled into a default order:

Clockwise from top right: bulalo, chili sauce/kalamansi/toyo, lotong, garlic fried rice and beef asado.

Let's break these down, shall we?



This is not the meaty version which showcases the beef shank. This one uses the lower leg, from the foot to the start of the meaty lower leg. It contains little to no meat and is often labeled Batangas bulalo. Its soup is rich and heavy due to the collagen in the joints and skin. your protein here comes fromt he skin and the boiled-til-they-jiggle cartilage that are so sinful you should not dare this if you have cholesterol problems. Boiled slow and low, the soup is unctuous and has deep flavors because of ginger, onion leeks and all the bones that are in the dish. A dish redolent of fat and bovine, this is as sinful as it gets man.


Want to know if the pares is good in a pares joint? First, ask the waiter if they serve lotong. If he or she gives you a puzzled stare like you're talking gibberish, leave.

Lotong is the sauce of asado. Basically an extra kick to quiet your jonesing for more asado. Often it is served on the side with bits of fat and cartilage. I never claimed that this was going to be about healthy food, have I?


Garlic fried rice

Why even expound on this? Because if it isn't served in an orange bowl (reminiscent of its Chinese origins as a bowl is the most chopsticks-friendly vessel for rice), then it is not Pares. Period. No erase.

Stacking these guys up to personal towers of achievement was a sort of hobby/contest me and my childhood buddies had going when we were voracious teens who burned away all the carbs through small-ball street basketball with ice-water on the line.

There are, of course other offerings that you could try when you go to this place. And go there you must. I kid you not, getting parking space during any meal time (they're open 24 hours) is a challenge. Be it a heavy lunch or a drunken food binge, they are ready for you mate. Here are two things we tried the last time we went there.

Camto Soup

Yes, sirs and ma'ams, that is a soup of beef intestines. Explaining the very unique and bold flavors of beef intestine to someone who has never tasted it is like explaining the high of any red neck activity: you have to try it and you either love or hate it.


Sizzling Sisig

This one, honestly, is a "meh" at best. It's unimaginative and reeks of commercial, MSG-rich flavoring powder. Stay away from this if you go there.

I honestly have to say that you have not had Pares unless you go to this place man. It's unpretentious, but is flocked by people from all walks of life in all hours of the day. Want more proof that this is a must-visit place? Here's a friend's post about it on her blog. If you don't like their Pares, as Bojji once said, "Wala kang taste buds," (You have no taste buds).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Juandering: Quattro + Nation

Often, people go to trendy restos, bars, distilleries and other hangout places because of the name, location or simply because everyone seems to be going there. I went through that phase, the clubbing and binging on expensive drinks phase. But these days, I am more about finding good food. Sure, new restos with the promise of new food experiences excite me, but I don't know, I am allergic to 500+/plate places. I scour the metro for more honest food in accessible places. I found a place recently, at the corner of Kamuning and T. Morato: a hole in the wall that offers the triumvirate of highly marketable Ilokano fare: Ilocos empanada (glad it's finally becoming a trend), Bagnet (Lechon kawali++) and Vigan longganisa. I'll write about that place again and feature it here. Just need to bring my camera next time.

So I go on food hunts, but when it comes to places to share a lot of beers with people you care about, the old tradition of "inuman". Where I go for drinks is not dictated by trend or cool factor, not anymore. Where I choose to drink is not even really dictated by cleanliness, to be honest with you. I have this place I have been going to for years now, and it does not get its patronage because of it's certifications from the health bureaus. When my friends and I drink, we have to have good food.

Main bar area

My oldest and most trusted bar in the Timog area is Quattro. It started as a kick off point for night outs back in college and has evolved into a trusted bar I can always bring new friends to, or meet old ones in. I even developed friendships with a few waiters there and am still recognized when I walk into the joint.

The owners of Quattro have opened Nation in Sct. Borromeo, near Flight. It's an offshoot of my old fave but has entirely different look. While Quattro has that homely, cozy, bohemian vibe with it's old wood trimming chairs and eclectic decor, Nation is more modern, with well planned seating and minimalist decor and furniture.

Outside seating (front)
Indoor seating
The place is trendy modern Pinoy, in the spirit of Tides, chill out places with open spaces with a draw that you really don't understand. Why are people flocking to these places when the offer nothing of note in terms of food, are not really pocket friendly and are hard to get to?

With Nation, I finally understood the draw: the exclusivity of these places not being accessible to public transportation outside of a cab means that the straddle the line between exclusivity and accessibility. In these sorts of places, young and youngish people get to hang out without having to a., worry about the hoi polloi of people who can walk into, say, Quattro without b., having to spend as much as they would in places like Distillery or the many bars in The Fort.

What I love about Nation is that apart from the cool Pinoy pop art that lines it's walls, it meshes old traditions with new design. From the indoor seating ventilated by ceiling fans that remind one of old homes and lit by modernist lighting framed by abaca decor, to the outside seating accentuated by plants and antique looking furniture, to the patio-like outdoor area with the cloth umbrellas, the styles mesh well and lend the place a unique and classy look that sets it apart from the more jam-as-many-people-as-we-can style of Tides.

Outside seating (back)
But enough of this aesthetic nonsense. I am not an interior designer or architect. Let's talk food. Quattro grabbed me by offering competitively priced beers and generally above average bar food. With its Baked Fished Fillet, it has marked itself in my list of go to places forever. By chatting with Orly (a longtime Quattro waiter and the sole reason we even learned of and ventured into the place), we learned that the stuff we love in Quattro is essentially being ported into the Nation menu, with some additions. Now, I really don't take pictures of food before I eat it, not unless it's noteworthy, but often, even though. So let me just describe them to you.

What I absolutely do not like about a lot of bars out there is that often, they hire crap cooks who belch out bland, oily and overpriced dishes that no amount of beer would make me enjoy. But Nation is essentially Quattro v2, so order a Baked Fish Fillet for me when you go there. Enjoy the foil wrapped Tanigue fillet swimming in oil and its own juices, topped with a mayonnaise based sauce. Then go for their Gising Gising, a mixed veggie dish mixed with fish and squid pieces, drenched in peanut and oyster sauce. Or get the Crispy Liempo Bits that my friends love and the surprisingly enjoyable Crispy Bangus Belly. Now, they've glitzed up the menu with some additional fare, and I have tried their Sinuglaw and improved, crunchy Sisig, but I have my old faves and they will always show up in my table.

So check out this new chill out place for the food. Good enough and cheap enough for you to enjoy the night out while laughing uncontrollably at your friends' or your own drunken antics. The service is great, I guarantee it, as many of Quattro's waiters have been with them since I started going there in 2005. And my main man Orly's in Nation, so I know you'll be treated to attentive and warm service.

To get there, here's Google maps.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Comsat Cooking: Sinampalukang Manok and the strength of culinary roots

People will always have a special connection to the food of their childhood. Be it a favorite summer snack to break the sweltering summer heat filled with fun and adventures, or the hot soup you were always served when you were sick and had to be doted on. That is the power of food, it stays is with you and accents, if not defines, a lot of important memories. Much like music, once you taste an old favorite, you are taken back to the comforts of childhood or a fond memory.

For cooks and passionate foodies, this connection becomes even more intense.

Sinampalukang Manok: cure for both hangovers and fevers

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comsat Cooking + Gracie Diet: Lex's Tinapa Cream of Pumpkin soup

I auditioned for Pinoy Master Chef and failed. I blame no one but myself and would like to keep my scathing comments from bubbling out of my oft-uncontrollable mouth. Let's just say that I over reached and was found lacking a back story. But I liked how a friend of mine who accompanied me to the auditions got in with a very simple dish. One that, upon initial tasting, fell flat for my taste buds, but after the long hours we spent waiting for our dishes' turn to be judged, developed deeper notes and thus became richer.

That just shows how simple food can be elevated and how some dishes are best reheated. It's healthy and simple, so I'm including it in my Gracie Diet line and because it aint mine entirely, it's also Comsat Cooking. So here is a soup from Lex's concept and a few tweaks from yours truly.

Lex's Tinapa Cream of Pumpkin soup

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Six Dishes and a Musing: Cooking for a crowd + Heartbreaker Porkchops + Pinoy Pesto + Tomato Cream Pasta + Mike's Pinaputok na Tilapia + Bulalo Steak au Poivre

I could never cook for myself or for two. There's just something about me that makes me cook a lot more than I intend to. This means I'm always more comfortable cooking for a crowd. 10 people? Easy. 20? Sure. But when you get to 30 people or more, that is when it becomes challenging. I've never had a great experience with catering, I have yet to remember one dish I've had in a wedding or a birthday party or any other catered event. Aren't you tired of the same roast beef in mushroom gravy? Of mixed buttered veg that are just "meh"? Of dry fish fillets with an overpowering and overcompensating sauce?

But man, is it easy to understand why caterers fall back on these dishes when you try to cater to more than 30 people.

I am always in awe of Bravo's Top Chef episodes where the contestants have to cater to hundreds of people, with exacting judges expecting excellent quality while putting contestants in the most challenging circumstances. The flops and miscues in these episodes are often memorable and enlightening (remember this Betty Crocker faux pas in season 1?). The moments of triumph, often glorious and magnanimous (see the season 6 tearjerker Thunderbirds episode, where Michael Voltaggio touched on his difficulty in cooking for a buffet line). But if there's one thing I've noticed in the ten plus years I've been watching the show, it's that the one difference between the caterers whose food I've had the dismay of eating and the top ranked chefs in the show is the way they attack the service.

When serving a considerable number of people, there are so many things you have to consider that one mistake can ruin the entire service. The most important part, I think, is timing. You can have the best dishes planned out, the freshest ingredients and the skills to tie them all together, but botch the timing and everything would be wasted. Let's look at catering an event from the vantage point of a town fiesta: when you cater, the goal is to cook everything in advance and be able to keep it warm enough so that your guests can enjoy it without having to wait for it. That, cabron, limits your options so much that you think up your menu considering the pre-cooking as the most important part.