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August 28, 2017

UNITED IN FLAVORS

I just recently finished an editorial project that will be a part of this week’s ASEAN Women’s Business Conference and related meetings. This year has presented me with a wonderful opportunity to be part of magazines and guides that deal with women’s issues (Women’s Guide to Business), Philippine coffee (The Ultimate Coffee Guide), and for this latest one, on ASEAN women entrepreneurs (AWEN News). The last one is even more meaningful, given that the Philippines is the host for the 50th anniversary of ASEAN.

Working on AWEN News has made me realize how fortunate we are to be a part of the ASEAN Economic Community, in a region that allows us to work together and understand each other despite the differences that may arise due to language and culture. These differences have strengthened our ties, and I look forward to discovering what we can achieve individually, nationally, and regionally while we face these issues together.

Naturally, I connected this thought to how food acts in a similar way. It allows us to experience different cultures through the dishes we taste. Each bite is always a journey as we allow our palates to discover new ingredient combinations and cooking processes, while also delving into what similarities unite our countries. It may be a similar fondness for rice, a tart memory as we compare sour notes, or a story that makes us reminisce about a similar dish we have from our region. Wherever these flavors lead us, it is undoubtedly a trip worth taking.

So please join me on a short rendezvous, as we visit some new places that have offered me a chance to find new flavors just around the corner. And like I have discovered, every new bite can be the start of an adventure to new cultural finds.

 

A MYANMAR POP-UP
GREAT Women Café a different kind of circle to the brand’s museum showcase and café in Makati. GREAT Women (Gender-responsive Economic Action for the Transformation of Women) connects women social entrepreneurs with women manufacturers and producers from indigenous tribes around the country, matching beautiful artisanal pieces with responsible luxury.

GREAT Women Philippines Corporation President and brand lead Jeannie Javelosa discussed the brand concept earlier this year. “There is no hierarchy, only a circle that spirals up and up.”

Last month, the café opened its kitchens and tables for a savory kind of circle, with limited pop-up menus featuring dishes from ASEAN countries. The Tasting Circle highlighted a different country for selected weekends, to a rousing success. I was able to drop by when designer Wynn Wynn Ong presented homemade family recipes from Myanmar.

According to Wynn Wynn, Burmese cuisine loves to play with textures and flavors. “We love to add flavor upon flavor, building on each layer. We have to be patient when we add layers of ingredients, to add complexity.” She related how Burmese would cook onions slowly over low fire to make the sweetness come out, and would simmer dishes the slow food way to let the flavors come out.

The pop-up was a GREAT way for diners to savor these homemade recipes, while also learning more about another country’s culture.

Mohinga, a fish-based lemongrass noodle soup, is Myanmar’s national dish that also doubles as a breakfast staple. The strong salty fish flavors are balanced by lemongrass, ginger, and black pepper for a spicy broth. Fried onions and rice noodles finish the dish, which can be customized further with hard-boiled eggs and lime wedges. Wynn Wynn added that western Myanmar would have a stronger fish base compared to the central region.

Ono Kauk Swe, Burmese coconut noodles, is a savory noodle dish with a rich coconut broth and lightly spiced chicken. Toppings such as tofu, fish balls, cilantro and lime add more layers to the dish. Depending on the region, the noodles can vary from wheat noodles to egg noodles.

Lahpet Thoke (Pickled Tea Leaf Salad) is an intriguing dish not just because of the ignredeitns used, but also its unique historical role. It used to be a peace offering for kingdoms, and is still used at wakes or during prayers to keep them alert, due to its caffeine kick. Fifteen-day old tea leaves from the mountains in Northeastern Burma are used, pickled and fermented to further enhance its flavor. Roasted peanuts, dried shrimps with lime and fish sauce complete the dish. Wynn Wynn described it as a balance of all the flavors and textural components.

 

GATHERING OVER JIAO ZI
City of Dreams Manila recently launched a new dining haven in its retail level. Jing Ting has quickly established itself as a welcome nook, that matches casual dining with authentic Northern Chinese cuisine. For those who can’t get enough of freshly made dumplings and hand-pulled noodles, this is certainly the restaurant that will lure you in.

Jing Ting means a little house or resting place inspired by Northern Chinese “Hutongs.” Originally a “Hutong” is a part of Beijing’s rich history and culture, where the community gathers to catch up and strengthen relations in a lane formed by rows of gray-tiled houses and buildings. At Jing Ting, this concept has been transformed into a similar abode where guests can bond together, while partaking of authentic Northern Chinese cuisine.

Jing Ting showcases Northern Chinese cuisine with its rich, bold, and savory flavors. Its cooler location results in a menu that is mostly comprised of meat, combined with wheat-based dumplings and noodles. A generous use of seasoning and 13 spices such as ginger, garlic, chili, curry, cumin, and salt, results in dishes that are seasoned and balanced.

Chef de Cuisine Yang Chen Fei, also known as Chef Allan, recently joined City of Dreams Manila to helm Jing Ting’s kitchen. Chef Allan brings with him more than 15 years of culinary experience and his expertise on Northern Chinese cuisine. The young and dynamic chef trained under the famous Chinese Master Chef Cheng Hui, the chef of China’s former president President Hu Jintao.

Chef Allan began as a pastry apprentice and rose up the ranks as head chef for various 5-star hotels and premium Chinese restaurants in China. Eager to introduce authentic Northern Chinese cuisine to Filipinos, he can swiftly prepare a bowl of hand-pulled noodles in only two minutes, as well as create 600 dumplings in an hour.

Chef Allan recounted that they normally use around 25 kilos of noodle flour in one day, to make 200-300 orders of noodles. Guests can also see the team prepare this, through an expansive open show kitchen that enables diners to appreciate the preparation of hand-pulled noodles and freshly-crafted Northern Chinese cuisine prepared a la minute.

Some of the enticing Northern Chinese dishes on the menu include Fried Rice “Beijing Style” with Cabbage and Pork Belly, Pan-Fried Grains and Bacon Pancake Roll, Pan-Fried Pork Bun with Onion and Sesame, and Sweet Soy Noodles with Pork and assorted vegetables.

“Genghis Khan” Roasted Prime Beef Short Ribs which can be seasoned further with cumin powder

“Xinjiang Style” Spicy Lamb Skewer with Cumin Spices

Hand-pulled Noodles in Beef Broth has a rich broth complemented by the taste of freshly made hand-pulled noodles.

Beijing Pork Jiao Zi Dumpling, which Chef Allan revealed is one of his favorites. In northern China, the fillings will usually vary depending on the specific region it comes from. The one served at Jing Ting is typical of the ones served in Beijing. Jing Ting also offers a Poached Pork and Kimchi Jiao Zi Dumpling, with a spicier finish.

Jing Ting’s menu is a delight to discover, with dishes that are meant for both the curious and the conservative eater alike. There are more than enough selections that are also priced well, for a different taste of Chinese cuisine.

 

THE POWER OF THE IRON PLATE
Teppan Okochi is another hidden gem in the midst of Bonifacio Global City’s sprawling complex. Owner Daniel Labudahon II and Grand Chef Akihiro Okochi are two of the partners behind this restaurant, that seeks to offer their customers a taste of the traditional culture of Japanese dining, from the way the food is served to how they take care of their guests.

The dim entrance opens up to private rooms and the star of this restaurant, an elongated teppan grill, behind which Chef Okochi usually entertains his guests and shows off his skills. For those who feel that Japanese restaurants have nothing new to offer, a visit to Teppan Okochi will definitely change their minds.

The first thing I noted as I sampled their prepared dishes was how almost the entire menu revolved around the teppan.

A Tomato and Grilled Camembert Salad is served with the Camembert freshly grilled on the iron plate.

His assorted sushi is topped with items that are prepared from the grill, such as foie gras, abalone, oyster, unagi, jumbo prawns, and scallops.

Chef Okochi is also attentive to the quality of ingredients he uses. Most of the seafood are from Japan from king crab, Miyazaki caviar (with the blinis cooked on the iron plate, of course), Omi wagyu beef and even the sake served with the appetizers.

Meal service is highlighted by an array of fresh produce displayed by the grill, which includes giant scallops, oysters, fresh mushrooms, asparagus and king crab.

In a surprising revelation, Chef Okochi and Daniel disclosed that the unagi is actually grown locally, with a Japanese partner. The quality rivals that which we would normally purchase from Japan.

Chef Okochi mentioned they are the only ones serving this kind of sake, which was a refreshing pair for the meal.

Personally, what I appreciated the most was the food and drink pairing that was offered. There was a curated selection of Napa Valley wines, which Chef noted would suit his menu well. I happily concurred with this.

A Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc was paired with the seafood portion of the menu. This included a Grilled Abalone with Garlic Butter, and Grilled Lobster with Black Pepper.

A 2014 Shafer Merlot paired well with the 1.2-inch thick Omi wagyu beef, expertly cooked by Chef Okochi.

Even the okonomiyaki, Chef Okochi’s specialty from Osaka, is one of the best that I have tried in Manila, with a generous portion that will satisfy even the most discriminating gourmet.

A final taste to end a wonderful meal. Normally, desserts are overlooked in Japanese restaurants. But Teppan Okochi offers assorted Japanese sweets, such as matcha, sakura and peach mochi.

If you’re seeking a different Japanese dining experience, Teppan Okochi may offer that distinct flavor you are looking for. Apart from the teppan offerings, there are also a number of a la carte items that will appeal to every Japanese food lover out there.

 

A TASTE OF ASIAN STREET FOOD
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of ASEAN, Novotel Manila Araneta Center launched an Asian Street Food Festival from August 17 to September 3 at the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant Food Exchange Manila.

Culinary treats from eight Asian countries including Thailand, India, Korea, Japan, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and China showcases the bestselling street foods, prepared by notable Asian chefs for both lunch and dinner.

For celebrity guest chef Sau del Rosario, the focus on street food highlights the heirloom recipes that are passed through the generations. The recent World Street Food Congress held in Manila has made him embrace our local street food even more. “It made me appreciate street food more, when you see the love and passion you put into food. It’s a story, an emotional and personal thing for us. Unfortunately, the street food culture has become commercialized. It is time that we go back to its origins.”

Chef Aof Suwannalert from Thailand prepares her Pad Thai, stir-fried rice noodle with scrambled egg, napa and red cabbage, citrus, peanuts, Asian sprouts, green onions and cilantro, Kha Moo Palo, an all-time Thai favorite pork stew with eggs and mushrooms, Tong Muan Sod (Thai Fried Crepe), freshly rolled wafer of coconut cream, eggs, sesame seeds and tapioca flour, Tom Yum Goong, a popular Thai hot and sour soup with shrimp and prawns plus more Thai street food favorites.

Chef Michael Kim features Korean street food hits like Seo-Galbi Jin, a mouthwatering beef stew with mushrooms, radish, carrots and Gingko nut, Jjimdak, a popular Korean braised chicken, originated in the city of Andong, Korea with savoury, mildly salty and sweet with a subtle spicy kick, Braised Mackarel with Kimchi, Japchae, number one sought after dish during Korean festive holidays of stir-fried glass noodle with meat and vegetables, Kimchi Pajeon, Mayak Kimbap, Mandoo, Sigeumchi-Namul, Miyeok Muchim, Miyeokguk and more.

Celebrity Chef Sau Del Rosario handles the Singaporean, Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisine with dishes of Penang Rojak, Vietnamese Fresh-Spring Rolls, Gado-Gado with Spicy Peanut Sauce, Laksa, Bakuteh, Beef Rendang Padang, Hainanese Chicken, Char Kway Teow, Bami Goreng and more.

Indian Chef Rajan Veeranan from Madras showcases his hometown’s famous street foods like Papri Chaat, a crisp fried dough wafers with boiled chick peas, boiled potatoes, yogurt and tamarind chutney topped with chaat masala and sev, Pani Puri, round puffed balls filled with potato mixture and served with sweet and tangy pani, Somasas, Mumbai Vada Pav, an Indian street food made by stuffing deep fried  potato fritters in lightly toasted buns and served with spicy chutneys, assorted Pakodas and more.

Chef CJ Takajama handles the Japanese section with assorted sushi and sashimi, authentically made soba, freshly made Takoyaki and more.

Chef Edwin Infante creates heirloom Filipino recipes such as Grilled Chicken Inasal, Sisig, Crispy Lechon Belly and more.

To top it all, diners of Asian Street Food Festival at Food Exchange Manila from August 17 to September 3 can win 4 days 3 nights stay in participating AccorHotels’ Asian properties such as – Novotel Singapore Clarke Quay, Novotel Saigon Center, Novotel Bangkok Platinum Pratunam, Mercure Tokyo Ginza, Novotel Ambassador Seoul Gangnam and Novotel Manila Araneta Center, plus round trip air fares for 2 to Incheon Korea courtesy of Cebu Pacific, terms and conditions apply.

 

***

Jing Ting’s 92-seater restaurant with an open kitchen is open daily from 10 am to 4 am and situated on the upper ground level at City of Dream Manila’s retail area. For inquiries and reservations, interested patrons can call (632) 800-8080, email guestservices@cod-manila.com, or visit www.cityofdreamsmanila.com.

Teppan Okochi is located at One Central Building, 9th Avenue corner 31st Street, Bonficacio Global City, Taguig. For more information, call (63) 917 795-0051, (63) 998 539-0051, (632) 813-0051; email teppanokochi@gmail.com.

Asian Street Food Festival at Food Exchange Manila buffet rates are Php 1,299 nett during weekdays for both lunch and dinner and Php 1,499 nett for weekends and public holidays. For more information and reservations, please call (632) 990-7888 or email H7090-RE@accor.com. To know more about Novotel Manila Araneta Center, visit www.novotel.com or www.accorhotels.com.

 

 

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