Gina Lopez and I have a special foodie friendship. We call each other “Food Bud,” short for “Foodha Buddha.” The term is Gina’s doing, evidence of her lively personality. Indeed, she’s one of the most cheerful people I know. When I’m with her, I can actually feel my mood lifting into the stratosphere.
Which is why only someone who looks at life with such glee could come up with something so cheeky. And edible at that. Two Christmases ago, Gina gifted me with these cutie piggies, “pig breads,” she called them. But she asked me not to write about them yet because she was still perfecting them. It feels good to finally scratch this two-year itch.
These pigs, piglets really, are made from a regular bread dough but a special technique prevents them from rising too much in the oven, allowing them to retain their immensely appealing “piggy” look and shape. They taste like monay, very dense and tightly-crumbed, making them the ideal vehicle for something Gina calls bekon.
It’s pronounced “BEK-on,” impossibly thin strips of pork belly that are dredged in a secret ingredient and pan-fried. Food genius that she is (must be her medical training), she’s also figured out a way for her bekon to remain crisp even after several hours. It’s a triumph. “But how do I eat this?” I ask her when she comes to my house with it. “Eat it like pulutan,” she replies simply. “Or eat it like this.” She slices rounds of the pig breads, smears a slice with lechon sauce, layers a mustasa (mustard) leaf atop, and then crowns it with bekon.
Biting into it, there’s a thunderous crrrunch! followed by pulses of porcine flavor on the palate. Pork lovers will recognize this as the characteristic oil and fat that is unmistakably pig and unmistakably eyes-to-the-sky divine. The crunch is soon muffled by bread and from out of nowhere, the zing and bitterness of the mustard leaf booms forth. And in the middle of it all, the lechon sauce strums its subtle yet distinct soundtrack. When bekon is around, there’s no room for restraint. No way.
I’ve barely recovered from my first bekon bun when Gina beckons (unintended pun there) to me. “Here, try it with my homemade tskolate sauce, made with tablea.”
“Are you out of your MIND?!” I screech. “Isn’t that a bit much?”
“But you’ve tried bacon with chocolate before, haven’t you? Or bacon cupcakes?” She asks matter of factly.
That I have, I think.
Bekon with chocolate is almost too much of an already good thing, the singular sweetness of a pure chocolate hit high-fiving it with a posse of pork and bread. Tremendous. Truly. And Gina tells me that she’s making some chocolate-dipped bekon for my party. Good lord.
For dessert, Gina is offering carrot cake cupcakes. These are precious little things cloaked in cream cheese wearing a glittering crown of candied carrots. I adore them for their moistness and bursting flavor.
It also goes without saying that Gina’s trademark dessert, her cruffles, will make their presence at the party. Her cruffles are unlike any other; midway between chocolate crinkle and chocolate truffle, their moist middles impart a chocolate tang that cuts a swath on the tongue then implodes with hints of smoke. There’s a repercussion of powdered sugar that litters edges of mouth, betraying exactly how many you’ve eaten.
Because it’s impossible to stop at just one.