Saturday, December 8, 2012

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).
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