Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

sutukil: now THIS is the way to eat

In places on May 19, 2012 at 9:53 am

when in gensan, this is what we suggest you do for dinner: take a tricycle to tiongson street and look for the sutukil and barbecue stands. we did just that our first dinner there and had a most remarkable meal.

sutukil is an acronym for sugba (grilled), tula (soup), kilaw (raw things soaked in vinegar or citrus). the basic concept of a sutukil joint is you pick out fresh stuff and tell the staff how you want it cooked. these were our choices

it was a dizzying array and we were so happy just being able to make such choices! in the end we had grilled tuna panga (cheek and jaw), shellfish soup, grilled squid and grilled eggplant. everything was so fresh and the shellfish soup was particularly delicious! for this spread plus rice and 4 beers we paid P850.

this is what we mean about having good local produce easily accessible particularly in coastal towns. the sutukil places that night were packed with locals – they knew how to eat right, and we were overjoyed because at that moment so did we.

grab a crab in gensan: there’s actually a way to be let down by crab

In places on May 17, 2012 at 5:32 pm

despite having the privilege of being able to travel around, one place we rarely visit is mindanao. so we were both excited and apprehensive at heading to general santos city. there was little information we could find online as to where to stay and where to eat, but one place we saw being recommended was a restaurant called grab a crab, and so we decided to give it a shot.

there were 2 branches in gensan – one at the robinson’s mall and their main branch along laurel street. we went to the latter one because it was closer to the hotel. the menu excited us because there were so many choices. after careful consideration, we went with the chili garlic crab

let me make it clear from the start that this was not a terrible dish. it wasn’t even perhaps a bad dish. just… mediocre. it was heavy-handed. and the crab itself totally disappeared flavor-wise. admittedly too i was surprised by their prices. P900/kilo. in a city known for seafood in a country as cheap as the philippines, i found it unacceptable.

the other dish we had was the grilled tuna belly. we also had high hopes for this – gensan being the tuna capital of the philippines

camille’s first comment was that the tuna was frozen before it was cooked. if it was, that’s an awful thing in a city whose economy is driven by a fish port. but we actually can’t say for sure. what we do know is that the fish didn’t feel like it was in its prime of freshness. either that or it was just dreadfully overcooked. it was certainly over-seasoned. or, more accurately, over-knorred.

the only really good thing we had at this restaurant was their durian shake

now this was really good. rich, creamy, unadulterated durian flavor. the perfect shake. and at something like P60 (or P90), it was reasonably priced. the waiter asked how we liked our food and we said we really liked the shake. he looked a bit crestfallen.

they also have this weird (ie, illegal) practice of not issuing receipts for purchases under P1,000. i took it as a sign that their business isn’t doing too well.┬áso while this is a generally recommended restaurant, we’re going the other way and saying maybe it’s not the best idea. the quality of the food was just too much of a let down.

cha ca la vong, where we had our top meal in hanoi

In places on May 6, 2012 at 8:21 pm

the streets in the old quarter of hanoi are named after the things that are sold on the street. for example, the street of our hotel was hang chieu for wooden mats – and there are still some mat stores there. there was also hemp street, dried fruit street… a whole bunch. and then there’s cha ca street, named after a famous fish dish. there’s a restaurant on the street called cha ca la vong that has been serving this dish for over a hundred years. to this day, this is the only thing on their menu.

we were totally unfamiliar with cha ca before this meal. reading up on it, some said it was roasted fish, others grilled. well, it definitely looked fried to us.

when you sit, the wait staff with throw down on your table a spread that looks something like this

the following items can be found: a plate of vermicelli noodles per person, a plate of herbs (basil, mint, etc) a plate of dill (a lot of dill) and green onions/leeks, nuoc cham, a small plate of peanuts, a little stove with a pot of fish happily sizzling on top.

the fish is white-fleshed, some say traditionally catfish, and is marinated in a LOT of tumeric and some other spices. it is then tossed into the pot. when served to you, toss in the dill and green onion/leeks and cook it down a bit

to eat, put some noodles in your bowl, toss in some peanuts and herbs, sprinkle in some nuoc cham, then get some fish and dill and all the goodness from that pot, put in your mouth quickly followed by chopstick-fuls of the noodle thing. this dish is out of this world!

you must must must eat cha ca in hanoi. you just must. now, this particular restaurant is expensive – a whopping 170,000 dong (P425) per person. for old hanoi street cuisine, this price is kinda nuts. we don’t know if the cha ca is much better in other places (we know it’s cheaper though. in la place, for example, it’s half this price), but paying that much in cha ca la vong is probably worth it once because this is the restaurant that pretty much started it all and is still standing.

and believe us, it’s still standing because this dish is really a true gastronomic delight.

green tangerine, hanoi

In places on May 3, 2012 at 10:31 am

being in vietnam, we wanted to make sure we tried a french restaurant. or at least a french fusion one. there were lots of choices but the most convenient to go to was green tangerine, so that’s where we went. the restaurant is a converted old house with a wide patio, so that was quite charming. as expected from an upscale restaurant, the staff was competent and accommodating.

the thing is, we were too full for dinner so we decided to have two starters and some wine instead. i suppose that was a good thing because the prices were really on the high side. more expensive than the french restaurants in manila and i really found that both strange and disappointing. heck, green tangerine made antonio’s seem inexpensive.

i tried the scallops carpaccio

this was, obviously, a beautiful dish. great color and plating. the squares were pineapple, mango and beet. my main concern about this dish was the beet. i couldn’t see where the flavor fit, or what it was supposed to do. it dulled the brightness of the other fruit. all in all not bad, but perhaps not something i’d recommend.

camille went for the duck liver mousse

served as a parfait, this was actually quite delicious. and with the crunch on top, texturally full. very nice. camille made a comment that it was too heavy to serve in the warm weather – and she was right. considering green tangerine changes its menu seasonally, this was an odd choice. for those who want to give it a try, a word of advice – share it. the dish is rich and heavy and perhaps should not be consumed by one person alone. this can easily serve 3 given its richness. but yes, flavor and texture wise really good.

so for these two starters and a glass of white wine (mapu sauvignon blanc, not an expensive one), we paid 500,000 dong (P1250). in a manila-based restaurant like, say, champetre, that amount can get you a main course and a starter. so yes, on the pricey side. but still we’re happy to have given it a try. there’s always something new to learn food-wise.

more la place

In places on May 1, 2012 at 9:51 am

it was too hot to eat on the sidewalks so we had lunch in la place one more time. having seen the menu from the last time, we knew exactly what to order. first up, fresh spring rolls

even if we could imagine what good fresh spring rolls must taste like, these were still surprisingly delicious. is there a word that means “a notch above fresh”? that’s the word i’d use here. sharp and cool and crisp. and that wrapper – it was so fine we thought it was a layer of plastic to protect the roll. it was that clear and firm. inside with the vegetables, a little bit of pork and a shrimp that was (again) so fresh it could’ve jumped out of there.

the other dish – recommended by my brother – pho bo

i read an article once about the importance of the stock to pho. that one should never eat pho unless you can see the pot boiling. another article also said that the broth of pho should be murky – because it’s the result of a lot of goodness (beef bone, that sort of thing) boiling for a long time. well, this pho was murky and – outside of bulalo – the beefiest tasting broth i’ve ever had. it was a revelation. and the flavor couldn’t have come from the beef strips in the bowl because that was obviously newly placed – still pink and very tender.

this was the only pho bo we had in hanoi – so i honestly can’t compare it to legendary sidewalk pho bo. but i seriously can’t imagine how much more spectacular street pho bo could be, especially given the no MSG rule of la place (i also read somewhere that vietnamese aren’t shy with MSG). this dish was full of flavor – perfectly walking the fine line between long boiled stock and fresh everything else. and at 45,000 dong (P112) – it isn’t priced much more than sidewalk pho. another must try.

we have so much more to learn about vietnamese cuisine (and to think this is just one city!) but we are really happy we had la place as a venue for our beginner’s course. if we ever manage to return to hanoi, we will eagerly throw our bags and head off joyfully to la place