In a roundabout way: Bilo-bilo

My family and I went for a weekend getaway to visit some relatives close by and of course my sister. Initially, I planned on writing about local eateries and writing reviews about their food and my experience, but we didn’t really end up going to as much restaurants as I anticipated. Obviously I was disappointed that I didn’t go to all the places that I wanted to go to, but I think I wouldn’t have the same perspective as I do now and for that I am thankful for not going through with my plans…at least this time.

My aunts and uncle came over the U.S. early on. I remember receiving packages from them containing huge bars of chocolate, soap, some shirts or shoes ever so often. They had good jobs and worked extremely hard for the things that they have now. It’s common in Filipino culture for relatives to send these packages as gifts or even go to the extent as paying for one or two of their nieces’/nephews’ education. Growing up, I depicted them differently. I thought, because they came to the states and because of all the things that they were giving us, that they were very financially endowed. Despite of that having some truth or not, what I should have concentrated on was the fact that they were sharing their good fortunes with most, if not everyone in the family. They could have kept their earnings to themselves but they chose not to. The keyword here is choice. I genuinely believe that we can have all the things that we could ever want with just some good honest work, but to choose to share it among others just says a little something about one’s character and humility. Materialistic and financial gains come and go, but the sentiment that accompanies the knowledge that you made someone’s life that much better because you made the conscious decision to share what you have, is something often unrecognized and undervalued. Having the privilege to see this is priceless in itself and it’s something that will most definitely fortify my values as a young person. So, I’d like to dedicate this to them and anyone or everyone who made that difference in someone’s life. It is much appreciated.

Needless to say, they were more than willing to open their homes to us during our visit. They cooked meals for us and made sure that we had more than enough to eat. Those restaurants I wanted to visit may have had a completely different cuisine or service or whatever, but I shouldn’t be complaining I didn’t get to go because I got to have home cooked dishes. More importantly, some of the dishes I rarely had growing up in North America. Particularly, this warm dessert called bilo-bilo. I remember my mom making it maybe once or twice and it was always a treat when she does make it, so of course I was more than delighted to see that my auntie made it for us.

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Despite of the dish’s multiple components, its simplicity as a whole is quite comforting and elegant. Bilo-bilo actually refers to the rice balls in the dish. Bilog in Tagalog means round and so the literal translation of the name of the dish might be “round-round” (they just cut off the g from the word I guess?). I know that the meaning isn’t really as interesting, but at least it makes sense! Making these bilo-bilo is as simple: glutinous rice flour and water. You know what the best part is? There are no exact measurements for it. I love that! You want to know why? Cooking doesn’t require exact measurements. Most of the time measurements are just approximate guidelines for ingredients. I mean how many times have you tried to make someone else’s recipe(s) but you just cannot make it the same way they made it? Cooking is one of the only activities that require for you to use all of your FIVE senses. Why not exercise these sense?! So, how do you know that you’ve made the rice balls right? Consistency. The safest way to tell is to add a little bit of water at a time. My auntie says that when you can mold the mixture into a ball and it holds its shape, then the consistency is good enough.

What else could you have in this dessert? Often you’ll see some purple yams or sweet potatoes, saba bananas, round kaong (sugar palm), lanka (jack fruit) or even small pearl tapiocas as toppings aside from the bilo-bilo. When you have all of these or some of these ingredients prepared for cooking, in a pot pour in some coconut milk. Let the coconut milk boil before you put in the rest of the ingredients. Once the coconut milk is boiling, reduce the heat to medium and add in the purple yams and wait a few minutes before adding in the bilo-bilo. If you do decide to have the purple yams, you’d need to put them ahead of the bilo-bilo because it won’t cook all the way through if added later on. Anyway, you know that the bilo-bilo is done when they surface the coconut milk. When they do surface, you can go ahead and add the saba bananas and kaong (all of it with the syrup so you wouldn’t need to add sugar later on). Both of which won’t need as much cooking time so make sure to check before they turn into mush. You can add some pearl tapiocas if you want, but those need to be prepared separately then added in the mixture at the end (when you cook the pearls stir them constantly and make sure that there’s enough water for the pearls to soak in the water; you’ll know when they’re done when the middle part of the pearl is no longer opaque and hard, but more transparent).

After everything is cooked all the way through, that’s pretty much it. You can wait until it cools down a bit or you could eat it while it’s hot. I’ve had it hot and cold; the consistency of the coconut milk does change when it’s cold but it doesn’t completely solidify, more like a soft melted ice cream texture. I do prefer eating it warm because you can distinctly taste how harmonious the dish is while still being able to taste each individual component. It’s such a simple dish to make, but the taste is quite complex. It is not an overly sweet dessert but it’ll also satisfy a sweet tooth. The sweetness of the coconut milk and kaong syrup resonates throughout your tongue, yet it is also used as a vehicle for the savoury flavours of the bilo-bilo and purple yams. Meanwhile, the bananas unify the savoury and sweet components into a well-balanced spoonful of layered flavours.

I mean really, after that, would I want to go to a restaurant? Maybe, next time.

Ottawa weekend!

Fruits, fruits, and more fruits!
Fruits, fruits, and more fruits!

Between school and work, taking some time off to visit some awesome friends was definitely much needed. We had some delicious food and strolled around the infamous Byward Market located at the heart of downtown Ottawa. I didn’t quite appreciate all the things that the city had to offer when I lived there over 2 years ago, but I’m glad that I did this time around. These pictures only give a glimpse of some of the things you can experience visiting Ottawa; I concentrated more towards really absorbing the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables sold every summer time at the Byward Market as well as dining in some restaurants.

Visiting the market was great, especially meeting the local farmers and speaking to them about their products. Particularly, when we were in the hunt for sweet strawberries (for a recipe I’ll post later on) one of farmers had some green gooseberries. I’ve had some gooseberries before but there were a light orange colour and usually enveloped inside some leaves, similar to tomatillos. These gooseberries were green, and perhaps he took off the leaves from the fruit itself, the taste was different from regular gooseberries. They were sweeter rather than tart and citrusy. Most of all, I could really feel the excitement in his voice when he was telling us about these green little berries. He had so much passion about the product he’s selling. Often, that is exactly what we miss when products are mass produced and sold commercially. The interaction that you have with the product’s maker gives you comfort in knowing that if he/she takes pride into his/her product then it is a product of quality. Although, that is not to say that you can’t have good quality produce in commercialized grocery stores, because you can. Some people would say that those produce have been grown with some added chemicals and whatnot and perhaps they have been (I’m sure there are a bunch of documentaries you could watch about this around). For me, it’s the pride. These farmers have pride because they know that they’ve taken care of their products the same way they’ve been doing so for decades. That, to me, is the difference.

 

Always,

K