I’ve been to this restaurant three times in less than a month… or is it four?
Apparently, it’s quite difficult to get Shi Lin’s Noodles with Spicy Sesame and Peanut Sauce (P130) out of my system. I daydream inordinately about this dish in the most inopportune times, and how can I not? Noodles slightly resistant to my nibbling are awash in a sauce that’s got sesame riding shotgun with peanut piggybacking. In its white bowl, it’s a vibrant vista of orange like a sunrise set ablaze tempered only – but just by a little – with a swath of green from a blade of bokchoy and spring onions.
Though sugar is my cocaine of choice, it’s the dish above plus two other dumplings that are the shining new stars in my culinary galaxy. At Shi Lin, the restaurant-temple for all foods Taiwanese, their version of Xiao Long Bao (P108/6 pcs) is a touch soupier than its local counterparts – a good thing – since the slightly salty broth highlights the ground pork filling. Some say that the dumpling wrapper isn’t as delicate as that of a “true” xiao long bao, but whether that’s true or not, I prefer the wrapper this way – it retains its integrity with the other components instead of dissolving into a diaphanous mass.
Shi Lin has been open for about three months, named after Taipei’s Shilin District (also Shih-lin), best known for the Shihlin Night Market, the city’s largest. A tribute to Taiwanese cuisine, the restaurant has chosen what co-owner Carlo Lorenzana describes as, “… a select few items … [It’s] easy to choose, not a complicated menu, and we try to make all our items excellent.”
Taiwanese cuisine originated in the Fukien/Fujian province of southern China. Because most of Taiwan’s immigrants originated from there, Taiwan adopted Chinese cuisine as its own, thus the striking similarities between the two countries’ national foods. Japan’s 50-year occupation of Taiwan also left its imprint on the country, hence the popularity of sushi and miso soup.
Dumplings are the divas at Shi Lin, they must grace your table. The already-mentioned xiao long baos are a given and also consider the Shrimp & Pork Shaomai (P135/6pcs) that often induce gasps for their sheer artistry. Formed to resemble little flowers, the “shaomai’s” swollen bases protect a portion of broth that bursts on bite, tickling the tongue. On top, the single shrimp is a garnish, a crowning touch. I also enjoy the Vegetable & Pork Dumplings (2nd photo from top; P128/6pcs) even if they irresolutely leave a telltale strand of green in my teeth every time. The same filling – I believe – is also used in the Vegetable & Pork Bun (P98/2pcs). A very interesting dish is the Drunken Chicken (P240), one that I lament not having a picture of. Chicken slices are laid out almost fan-like on a platter, the meat sitting in a potent brew of sweet rice wine laced with – what to me tastes like – ginseng, sesame oil, soy sauce, and chili peppers, all elemental ingredients in Taiwanese cuisine.
- Vegetable & Pork Bun
A rather straightforward plate is the Fried Shrimp & Pork Wonton (P110/6 pcs) shaped like tortellini. Dipped in the accompanying chili sauce, they crackle in the mouth before the pork takes over.
While I heartily recommend almost all the dishes in Shi Lin’s repertoire, I urge you to (please!) not miss any of the rice dishes. I for one, have a relentless attachment to the Fried Rice with Pork Chop and Egg (P178), a seemingly simple dish until I’m actually eating it. The pork chop, crisp in its coating is perfection fried, the short-grained rice tumbles about it, a playground where the soundtrack is a chord of umami: big, meaty, can’t-get-enough-go-get-your-own. Truly, the guilelessness of this dish is its steady lure. It’s almost anti-climactic to say it but the Fried Chicken Chop (P165) also gets the job done.
Shi Lin is a fast-casual restaurant. I eat here while taking a break from meetings held at the Podium; another time, I’m dressed to the nines before a frenzied Friday night out. And this is the restaurant I choose for the Jessica Soho shoot. Every time, this is a comfortable, relaxing space. The service is occasionally slow but always accommodating and gracious. Sunlight filters in through the tinted glass during the day; at night, the Ortigas skyline is my backdrop. Naturally, the see-through window where one can gaze at the intricacies of dumpling-making is as always, riveting eating entertainment.
- taro dumplings
Carlo is also the distributor of La Mill Coffee & Teas, my brand of choice for caffeine. They serve them in the Hario Drip Coffee and in the two special iced teas namely, Green Mystique and Passionberry. Have these beverages during meals or pair them as I do after meals. Dumplings for dessert can be had with the Taro Dumpling (P98/6pcs), purple and precious. The Cool Almond Jelly with Lychee (P75) I understand, has quite the cult following. “Some people even have two, “ Carlo tells me.
And of course, the Hot Almond Cream with Sesame Ball (P95). There are shots of me eating this dessert as seen in the segment on the Jessica Soho show. Immediately after airing, I receive texts from various people, variations on: “Never mind you, tell me about those exploding balls!” Eh, lascivious lot they are. But I understand the attraction. This is a hot dessert (in all ways imaginable): glutinous orbs with a shadowy heart, the black sesame center pulses, swims in a liquid warmth of milk, sugar, and flavoring. Sip the soup, bite the ball, midnight dark makes its mark.
3/F The Podium, ADB Ave.
Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City,