Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Week #30 Filipino

Encapsulate the cuisine of the Philippines in one brief blog entry? Fat chance! A nation spread over more than 7,000 islands and comprising the influences of countries both near and far--both friendly and conquering--is not so easily characterized. One look at the menu of Manila Sunset on Vermont Avenue at Santa Monica Boulevard reveals some of the myriad influences on the Filipino palate: lumpia and chopsuey are Chinese; adobo, lechón and menudo are Spanish; and bistek Tagalog reveals a blend of Spanish and local cooking styles. The native cuisine itself offers up plenty of pork specialties, including dinguan, a stew made of the organs and blood of the pig.

Himself and I wandered in on a Saturday, when the place was hopping with people who all seemed to know each other. As more and more came in, there were hellos and hugs and the pushing together of tables. We were the only Anglos there, so we felt we'd hit upon a good place to have a Filipino lunch and enjoy the swirl of the community around us.

I'd never heard of milkfish until this meal, but apparently it's quite popular in the Philippines--and throughout Southeast Asia--and on account of its remarkably bony structure, having it served de-boned is a huge deal. What arrived at the table was half a milkfish, grilled and served in its skin which had the consistency of soft leather.
Half of a Milkfish
...the left half!
tasty, tasty milkiness...
Milkfish is milky appearance but not texture. Still, it was moist in spite of looking rather dry, as much white fish does. While it had a delicate flavor, it stood up well to the grilling, as the char enhanced rather than masked its flavor. In fact, it's some of the best fish I've ever had.

Pork is popular on Filipino menus and always a winner with me, so I got the pork skewers.
mmm, pig-on-a-stick...
Like the fish, the pork bore a respectable amount of char. It was caramelized by the influence of fire and a lightly sweet marinade. We made our way through the meal with bite of pork--bite of fish--bite of pork--bite of fish...
 The egg drop soup was good, but nothing surprising. It was made with rice noodles and slivers of mushroom. Not to disparage it at all, but I'm always hesitant to fill up on hot soup when I can smell an amazing entrée heading my way!
Our dessert, bibingkang galapong, is a Filipino favorite that came to the islands by way of Goa on the west coast India. It's a somewhat custardy sort of cake made from rice flour, and it was actually jiggly! Baked and served in a banana leaf, it was topped with a fresh cheese that made the dessert interestingly salty and sweet. The freshly grated coconut on the side helped lighten its richness.
To drink we had (on the left) sago and gulaman, a sweet, syrupy palm-based beverage with soba balls and cubes of an agar agar-based gelatin, and (on the right) cantaloupe juice that was loaded with shreds of fresh melon. It was pretty sweet, so I'm betting there was some simple syrup in there, too. I get a kick out of both eating and drinking my beverage, so these were hits with me.

I'll certainly be back for more milkfish. I even want to try the dinguan (okay, so you don't have to). With a menu filled with options for both meat lovers and vegetarians, it looks like I have a lot left to explore.

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