You know North Park. Now meet Ma Chicken Mami House.
Hong Kong is an olfactory onslaught.
I love the weather lately: gales of cool air intersperse with sporadic bursts of sunshine interjected with protests of rain that come in spurts, sometimes in showers. The food I eat is closely related to my moods, and rainy days (and Mondays especially), call for comfort. Cooler days call for food that sit well in the soul and stomach, and why not? With a full stomach, one can rule the world.
One damn good sandwich
In this case, it’s a sardine panini. It’s not often that I crave for sardines, but when I do, I like the ones that come in a spicy tomato sauce. My cousin taught me a nifty trick: heat them up in a shallow pan with some cheese; the cheese melts, lending a richness to the sardines that you can’t quite get from a can. Some onion slices, tomatoes, a good crack of black pepper, and of course, salt. Of course, it also goes without saying that the quality of my sandwich is nothing unless the bread is stellar. I’ve resorted to atrocious supermarket loaves from time to time, but when I have it my way, I like bread from the Village Gourmet and Lartizan, as well as old style pandesal from Pan de Manila.
Other sandwiches that I make for myself at home include: grilled cheese on good white bread, roasted vegetables with kesong puti on whole wheat buns, egg and mayo, and a ham sandwich with mango chutney and goat’s cheese drizzled with balsamic syrup.
Ma Mon Luk siopao
This is one of my fondest foods of memory. My dad introduced Ma Mon Luk siopao to me when I was a kid and I still think of him whenever I eat one. Though a break-away branch is now called Masuki, for me, it will always be just Ma Mon Luk. I love the bigness of this dough ball, its heft in my hand. Unlike other people, I don’t peel off the first layer ”“ I have a constitution of steel, and what a waste of the bread, my favorite part. The first bite, that characteristic chewiness that only a siopao has, I’ve learned is attributed to bread flour and egg whites. I lose myself in the dough’s mild sweetness, my nose brushing against its pillowy softness. It’s the perfect foil for the abundant sweet-salty meat filling, ample with surprise nuggets of fat. Sometimes, when I put too much sauce on my siopao, it squirts out the side as I bite; a most unceremonious way for a lady to eat. But I don’t care.
I don’t get to eat Ma Mon Luk siopao as often as I’d like, probably because I don’t go to the one remaining branch along Quezon Avenue. For some reason, I get sad when I’m there. It may be because the place is old and rundown, crying out for a coat of paint or perhaps a good dusting. On the rare occasion that I’m in Makati Med (hospital), I rush to the Floating Island restaurant on the 3rd floor even before I head for my doctor’s clinic. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to nab one of the siopaos from the heated display counter of the tiny makeshift stall. I think it’s from Ma Mon Luk. But most often, they’ve run out.
Ma Mon Luk
408 Quezon Ave., Quezon City
712.3560 / 732.8756
Biscuits, the soft, flaky kind, and not the British term for ”˜cookies’. A type of quick bread (i.e. muffins) leavened by baking powder/soda, biscuits are high and fluffy, often savory ”“ I hesitate to use the word ”˜cakes’ ”“ with golden brown tops. A bit knobby looking, there are a million ways to make them, chief of which is the less they’re handled, the softer (and better!) they’ll be.
Most biscuits have a “delineation” on the side where, if I break it open, I’m rewarded with a warm kiss of steam, a tangy aroma that sends my mouth into full salivatory mode. Slapped with a pat of butter, it melts into a golden pool upon contact. One bite and the butter oozes down the sides of my mouth, the soft crunch of the biscuit its soundtrack. This is the kind of food that “Love Me Tender” was written for.
The Biscuit That Thinks It’s A Cake
A pasta dish made by someone you love
The early years of marriage often saw me and my Bin alone at home without our cook. I was quite the non-cook at the time, so it was either cook to survive or rely on takeout, the latter of which wasn’t always the more palatable option ”“ I can only eat pizza and burgers for so long, you know.
Fortunately, my Bin is quite the man in the kitchen. Always has been. It’s how he “nabbed” me (but that’s another story altogether). Anyway, he’s good at scrounging around in the fridge for leftovers and making something edible from them. One night in particular, all he had was a can each of tuna and tomato sauce, (a man and his cans!) and a pack of noodles. Voila, tuna pasta! So simple but just the thing to tame the irritable mood I was in that night.
Over the years, this dish has seen countless permutations depending on our moods and what we’ve got in the fridge and the pantry. Sometimes it’s got olives in it, sometimes meat, and like in the photo above, shrimp. My Bin sometimes likes to experiment with the sauce by adding dollops of oyster sauce or whatever marinade happens to be around. But when I’m the one making it, I stick to what I know, so it’s just plain tomato sauce. And plenty of hot pepper flakes to go along with it.
Siphon coffee from Han Wok (aka Panciteria Lido)
I became aware of Panciteria Lido when I read about it in Kapihan (ArtPostAsia 2007), Nestlé’s tome celebrating their 75th anniversary in the Philippines. I’m tantalized by the row of siphon coffee pots lined up on the counter, the most gripping photo of which showed a pot whose deep amber contents appeared to be under pressure: full strength coffee, similar to the one I had at In love with sweets.
The original Panciteria Lido has been around for a long time and is in the bowels of Binondo, an area where I become a tourist in my own city. I’m hesitant to go all that way so I’m overjoyed when I find out that it has branches in Ortigas and Quezon City. One day, I’m nowhere near the former location, but I make my way there and find out that…
… Panciteria Lido has become Han Wok. The guard laughs at the puzzlement so evident on my face and assures me that yes, Panciteria Lido has had a name change, but not to worry, they still serve siphon pot coffee. (Only the original branch in Binondo retains the Panciteria Lido name).
Though I own several coffee brewers, I’m fascinated with the siphon pot method of brewing coffee, partly because I don’t own one. (You know what they say ”“ always want what you don’t have…) A siphon pot (otherwise known as [a Cona] vacuum pot) is a method of brewing coffee in a lower carafe by immersing the coffee grounds in water for a few minutes. When the water boils, it moves to the upper funnel, it’s stirred briefly, and when the temperature has dropped sufficiently, a vacuum is created that sucks the coffee back down into the lower carafe. It’s riveting even just to watch; a strikingly visual demonstration of the laws of physics in full effect.
And the brew? A resultant mix of darkness, potent with caffeine, and (depending on how one drinks his/her coffee) swirled with light. Han Wok uses a special kind of liquid creamer that contributes its own creamy finesse. It’s coffee to savor appreciatively, and depending on my mood, good to brood over.
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Han Wok (aka Panciteria Lido)
Madison Square, Ortigas Ave., QC
724-4051 / 721-7479
Open Mondays-Sundays, 6.30am-10pm