Because everyone needs gems in their life, especially the edible sort.
I’m in Thai Bistro – not to eat, unfortunately – but to interview Chef Ed Bugia of Pino fame. I can’t eat while I work, especially if I’m the one asking the questions, but I sure don’t mind if the subject does.
Or at least, I think I don’t mind.
“I haven’t had dessert yet, okay if I order?” He asks me as we get settled. Ah, a chef wanting dessert, truly, a like-minded soul! So he orders the Tab Tim Grob, one of, if not the iconic Thai dessert and equally loved by Filipinos as well.
I think the interview is moving along smashingly until Chef’s dessert arrives. Now, I eat many tab tim grobs whenever I’m in Thailand, but this one here in my own country, arrests me. Riveting in its ruby hue, its fiery vibrancy contrasts completely with its cloak of white. The curves of the rubies have even captured clusters of bubbles, coconut milk preening in its sheen.
All conversation stops, and Chef and I stare in total captivation. My mind is a blank and then suddenly, grabbing my phone because my camera is elsewhere, I mumble a hurried, “Mind if I take a picture?” In a synchronicity of movement, I stoop, focus, click, and sit. When I work, and especially if I’ve got a subject waiting to be interviewed, efficiency is paramount.
And so Chef eats his tab tim grob with evident joy. I’m amazed that he still proves to be so eloquent in his replies to my questions. I want to give myself the same credit, I’m striving to keep focused but he’s eating what I desire to be eating, too. At one point, I breathe in deeply, trying with all my might to introduce air into my diaphragm, then I draw it out noisily, an attempt to purge this covetous yearning I have for somebody else’s dessert. Then I down a 10-ounce glass of water in a single swallow.
“Are you alright, Lori?” Chef Ed asks me curiously. I can’t help but notice that his eyes shine like the bottom of his now-empty bowl. “I think you need dessert.”
When I finally get my own bowl of rubies – no, not that day but weeks later – I fall upon it like hunger unleashed. Chew of tapioca coat, crunch of chestnut, a cosset of coconut cream wearing jasmine perfume, and I contemplate how the Thai name for this dessert, tab tim refers to both rubies and pomegranate seeds because of their similar shade.
Some women will want their rocks and stones, but I’m happy with my rubies.
G/F Robinsons Magnolia, Doña Hemady Ave., Quezon City
(02) 703 6910
I adore coconut milk in all its forms: cream or milk, fresh always of course, in savories and sweets, even drinking it straight up on occasion. I like it in my coffee too and thought I was the only one who did until I find out that Bea Misa, owner of Ritual, does too. We talk animatedly about our exhilaration over all things coconut and exchange sentiments about why most Filipinos don’t feel the same way.
Another fellow coconut milk lover is my friend Suzy Lee. She and a few other special Chinese friends of mine are responsible for furthering my education in enjoying the food of their heritage. At Suzy’s restaurant, Spring by Ha Yuan, every meal is memorable but today’s proves exceptionally so.
From out of nowhere, a bowl is set before me and upon sight of this, Sweet Taro Tapioca, I hear an involuntary gasp escape from my mouth. A crown of coconut cream lavishes a landscape pocked by a planet of pearls. Of different sizes, the pearls protrude from corners created by chunks of taro, yet another ingredient I dearly love but which others don’t seem to. Shimmying from the sides are gentle scoops of taho. Slightly warm still, the totality of this treasure equals unrestrained rapture in a bowl.
A scoop proffers pearls of course, and taro and taho, embraced by coconut cream tinged with pandan essence. The leaf’s distinctive character lends a haunting flavor that resonates, ringing through taste, while the overall flavor of the dessert etches itself in my mind.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend but for a food lover like me, I’ll take the rubies and pearls.
Spring by Ha Yuan
For store information, see Facebook page: springbyhy
Back in the Kitchen With A Buko