Balikbayan Express: My 2 Weeks in the Philippines

It’s been roughly 12-13 years since I had gone back to the Philippines. My family and I immigrated when I was younger and every time we had a chance to visit back there was something that prevented me from going. When my grandfather died, I wanted to make it up to him and the rest of my family to be somehow connected to our roots. Learning about my mom’s side of the family a little more made this trip that much more personal unlike any other trips I went to. It was interesting to see places my grandparents and great grandparents lived at and peoples my mother and her siblings grew up with. Sharing stories about their childhood shenanigans and later on realizing the significance of food in their lives was just the cherry on top.

wet marketA few days after landing at Manila we made our way south to the Visayas region at the island of Bohol. We visited the local wet market to buy fish, fruits and vegetables. This market, or mercado, is how I remember markets being; local farmers and fishermen selling their freshly caught fish and homegrown produce for everyone to enjoy. Granted the area has gotten more developed over the years with the introduction of malls and other commercial stores in the city centre, yet it was incredible to see that these parts of their cultural food traditions survived.

Another treat while visiting Bohol was getting to experience one of their unique traditions. A month long tradition of fiestas hosted by a different town every day in the month of May. Family, friends and strangers are welcome to dine in one another’s homes and engage in casual conversations. It’s a time to get reacquainted with people or meet new people by sharing experiences/stories over a meal. Going to different houses and meeting my mom’s childhood friends gave me a glimpse of who she was growing up. It’s really cheesy for me to say this, but it was nice seeing such happiness in my mom’s eyes. I can tell that she felt relaxed and at home where she was. Rightly so, she was home.

After a week of storytelling, sightseeing and more eating we made our way back to Manila for a quick stop before heading north to my dad’s province, Pangasinan. The first this I remember when I think about our visits there growing up can be summed up in one word-puto. They make the best little putos hands down! Our road trips to our grand parents house always ended with bags full of those little putos in the back of the car and some tupigs!

Along the way, I also noticed that more people have built fisheries. Famous for the milkfish, bangus, locally abundant in the province, they celebrated a bangus festival just a day before we visited the area. Spending a day at Pangasinan was definitely not enough. We didn’t get a chance to lounge around the beach longer and absorb the mythical healing powers of the sea or go island hopping around the Hundred Islands.

Try it! It's better than you think!
Try it! It’s better than you think!

Now, if you don’t have as much time as I did make sure that you check out the BBQ scene regardless of which province or island you go to. Yeah okay, it might look a little scary, and I don’t think I’ll ever try BBQ chicken’s feet (‘adidas’), but there are plenty of other items on the grill! I definitely had a handful of ‘isaw’ or BBQ chicken intestine. It doesn’t sound appetizing but with some vinegar (with onions and chili) it tastes pretty damn good. If you’re not feeling that adventurous, we have some grilled fish of multiple varieties, especially if you visit the coastal provinces, or traditional BBQ pork (sliced, marinated and put on sticks). Here’s a tip, if you’ve picked the province you want to visit make sure to research or ask what is grown in the area. Different regions have their own delicacies dependent on what is abundant in that region.

Anyway, I will have more pictures of my adventures at the Philippines posted on my Food Journal page! 🙂

Gobble-Gobble!

Because I missed writing a post on our (Canadian) Thanksgiving, this post will be a multi-purpose post! Besides, I got tired of writing my final term papers for this semester 😛

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Growing up in North America, it’s really hard to think of Thanksgiving without thinking of apple pies, apple crumbles and of course turkey! Since I’ve been using my mason jars a lot lately, I wanted to incorporate that in this post as well. I find mason jars extremely versatile and cost effective. I actually use mason jars instead of plastic re-usable containers to store my lunch when I have to bring some on campus. They come in different sizes and and doesn’t spill easily because of the twist-on lid. Anyway, this is my mini (American) Thanksgiving post: mason jar apple-cranberry crumbles!

Apple crumble is one of my all-time favourite desserts but I could never seem to get enough of the crumble part! For me, it just tastes substantially better when you get some crumble and filling on every bite. So, as you may notice, I decided on using layers of crumble in between layers of apple-cranberry filling. You would use the same methods to prepare the crumble and the filling but instead of putting the crumble on top and then baking it in the oven, you would bake the crumble separately for 20-25 min at 350 F. Halfway through make sure that you shake the tray so that it bakes evenly and end up with those little golden nuggets of goodness 🙂 hmmm! Also, I sneaked in some flax seeds as I was making my crumble to add a boost of fibre to my dessert. Once you finished making the filling and the crumble baked be ready to assemble. As a garnish, I just dusted some powdered sugar but you could also put some whipped cream or ice cream as well.

Just a disclaimer since some people have asked me personally when they see me eat out a mason jar, it’s not that hard to eat on. I think most people would think that it is but it’s really not. I mean I wouldn’t put a steak to cut in there or a piece of whole chicken breast, that would just be incredibly foolish in my part. That being said, of course you would need to cut some food out in smaller pieces because they wouldn’t be able to fit in the opening anyway.

Meanwhile, I found that card to the lefthand side of the picture on my out of class about a week ago. I had a lot of things on my mind at the time and decided to keep it. And so, if you could say two things, what would it be? In light of Thanksgiving and the Holiday season gradually making its way, if I could say two things, the first would be to cherish present moments. I don’t want to sound like a Hallmark card or a cliche but, “yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift and that’s why it’s called present.” Less than a year ago, my first grandfather passed away from an illness. Now because we grew up far away from him we never really got a chance to get to know him as our grandfather but more importantly as a person. To be honest, his death affected me more than I anticipated. I always expected on going back to the Philippines (specifically at Bohol) and being able to visit and spend time with our family there. I could beat myself up and continuously say that I should have called more, visited sooner or put more effort in developing a strong relationship with him. Although, that wouldn’t change or help the situation. I chose to learn from it. Ergo, the second thing I would say is to not make plans and just do it. Granted, for some instances you need to make plans. What I mean by that is, to not look too far ahead. Life will assert itself into your plans and when it does what will you do? Have goals and aspire to do something; be something and go somewhere.

I’m going to add a third and final comment and that is to expect less and hope more. Going along with the first two things, I’ve learned to expect less or really to have no expectations but not because of something cynical like ‘I’m just going to be disappointed anyway’. I find that when I don’t have any expectations I appreciate things and people a lot more. Perhaps it’s because I find that when I or someone do something it’s because they genuinely want to do it not because they have to. Having that desire, to me, is more important than the act itself. It involves thought and action.

If you could say two things, what will they be?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! 🙂

Turon: Deconstruction of the roll.

Growing up in two different parts of the world, I’ve always thought of reconfiguring this popular Filipino treat. Turons are made of a particular kind of bananas called saba bananas and lanka or jack fruit, then wrapped around a sheet of spring roll wrapper before fried. A generous coating for sugar or brown sugar is sprinkled soon after the rolls are taken out of the pan. These banana rolls are something you can eat sitting down perhaps with a bowl of ice cream or walking around similar to street food.

Let me just talk about the saba bananas quickly. I’ve tried using regular bananas, plantains, and of course saba bananas for the roll just to change it up a bit. But, there is nothing like sticking to the traditional ingredients. The regular bananas would get too mushy once they’ve been fried despite of being wrapped while the saba bananas are able to hold there shape. Admittedly, the plantains are an okay substitute if you can’t find any saba bananas around (you can purchase them like regular bananas in tropical countries or at a Chinese grocery store in a pack frozen) because they also hold their shape if there aren’t too ripe and are relatively sweet. Although, there is a subtle difference in taste, particularly sweetness between the saba bananas and plantains. The heat brings out the sweetness in both cases but you don’t get a more banana flavour equivalent to the authentic taste of a turon. For me that was important; I didn’t want to take away from that taste because it was something nostalgic and comforting. Living half of my life at the Philippines, the joyous childhood memories I had growing up there is something I can repeatedly duplicate through taste. That’s what makes that subtle taste significant in this dish.

It’s easy to make ingredient substitutions but in the process you may lose something so integral about a dish that it becomes unrecognizable. So instead, I decided to compose a reconfiguration of this dish while upholding its cultural and personal integrity; it may not look like the same dish but the spirit of it is one and the same.

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I used the same ingredients that would compose a turon before frying it and added a little bit more decadence to it. First and foremost, it is NOT a roll. I didn’t really like that when you eat turons in a roll the wrapper something doesn’t get crispy enough all the way inside, I thought there should be a textural contrast. So, I took the wrapper laid it flat on a baking sheet and let it crisp up in a 375 F oven for 4-5 mins (depending on your oven; for even crisping place the baking sheet at the bottom rack closest to the heat source). Also, sometimes the banana and jack fruit inside could get a little dry and so I took some butter and sautéd the bananas and jack fruit in it until it starts to soften. Once it has started to soften, I added some brown (2/3 cup) and white (1/3 cup) sugar, cinnamon (1/2 tsp.), pinch of salt and a dash of cocoa powder. Keep sautéing as it caramelizes. When you see that the bananas and jack fruit are caramelized add a splash of some almond milk (or cream or milk; I only had almond milk at the time so I just used it). You’ll see it start to bubble up and develop a caramel as it continues to heat up. Make sure that the bananas and jack fruit pieces are well coated by the caramel. This eliminates having dry banana and jack fruit pieces while the caramel coating adds a little sweetness and lush. Now take those spring roll sheets that crisped up in the oven and break them apart in pieces with your clean hands. Sprinkle them on top of the bananas and jack fruit pieces. I sprinkled some cocoa powder and powdered sugar in top but really that’s just to make it look pretty. You could do without it.

When you’ve finished making the dish, make sure that your first bite has all the components. It delivers that similar crunch (if not more) as you would get having it fried while the banana-jack fruit infused caramel elevates the existing flavours of the banana and jack fruit pieces. But you know what the best part is? Aside from licking your spoon because the caramel is just that good… this dish, among many others I will soon enough share, is a collaboration of the East and West; Eastern ingredients meets Western culinary techniques. It’s my past and present in one bite. It’s a glimpse of myself.