MANILA, December 2009 — Someone told me a long time ago that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I never gave that much thought until recently, but I reworked it a bit so it goes something like this: a way to mend a broken heart is to tuck into favorite foodstuff enjoyed when growing up. What’s more, a food trip is always a happy trip to be on.
First is caramel cake with butter icing flowers. The entire Garcellano clan swears by it and no celebration is complete without a huge caramel cake gracing the feast table. In fact, there was –there still is – a race on who gets one of the four corner slices of the cake. That’s a slice of awesome soft chiffon cake smothered in smooth, creamy caramel icing! Only one bakeshop has been baking the best caramel cake in the Philippines since 1946, and my late grandparents were one of its loyal customers. This loyalty is strictly observed by my parents, aunties, uncles, cousins and, naturally, my sister and me. The bakeshop was called Estrella’s made-to-order cakes back then and was located somewhere in Manila, in a building called Laperal. It has since been renamed Estrel’s and has moved to 54 Scout Tobias corner Scout Limbaga in Quezon City.
Caramia Gelateria, the gelato-pastry arm of Amici, which is located at Bellagio Square on Tomas Morato corner Scout Fuentebella in Quezon City, offers caramel cake too called Caramella Premia. Honestly, I can’t bring myself to try a slice because it would be the highest form of betrayal. But Amici is an ideal meeting place for a little high school reunion. Over pasta (aglio olio and linguine Genovese), pizza (thin crust margherita), a liter of ice lemon tea (it’s literally in a liter-bottle) and dessert (slice of tiramisu cake, scoops of blueberry and turrones gelato, and choco sans rival gelato cake), it was like high school all over again as we three talked and talked and talked, catching up on what we missed through the years.
Pancit na Taga Malabon is also on the list and the outlet I frequent is at the corner of EDSA and Timog. This rice noodle dish is laced with shrimp-crab sauce and topped with sliced boiled egg and squid. I sprinkle kalamansi-soy sauce over it for that combined tangy-salty taste, but it’s just fine naked too. At our celebrations, pancit malabon is generally served with lechon manok (roasted chicken), which is hearty meal enough to satisfy even those with bottomless pits.
Speaking of roasted chicken, Baliwag lechon manok is the third favorite food on my list. This Philippine equivalent to Kenny Roger’s Roasted Chicken is cooked over charcoal and best eaten right away to savor the flavor and succulence of the chicken. There’s a gravy dipping sauce for it, but it’s fine on its own, too. A dish of achara (pickled vegetables) adds a nice sweet-sour contrast to the grilled taste. Andok’s is another choice for grilled chicken but Baliwag wins hands down because of taste – am partial to Baliwag – and geography. Baliwag has more rotisseries where I live at. [Aside: Baliwag also offers an array of pork dishes ranging from crispy pata, or deep-fried pork leg, to chicharon, pork crackers, to satiate the cravings of pork eaters. I haven’t had a bite of pork for more than 20 years.]
The next one can’t be bought in restaurants because it’s cooked by my mum. Part of our Christmas feast is her home-cooked molo soup. It’s been a while since she cooked it due to her hectic schedule, but this Christmas 2009 my sister and I were at the table filling wrappers with ground chicken while my mum took care of the broth. Preparation is a little long with the broth and dumpling preparation nevertheless it’s worth digging into a bowl or two of piping hot molo soup.
Moving away from the savory dishes, Better Than Ice Cream (popularly known at BTIC) is one of my favorite sweet treats. It’s an excellent substitute for regular ice cream because it uses less sugar –sometimes none at all – and is wonderful for those who are lactose-intolerant. The kiosk at SM North Edsa is still there. The counter behind the ice cream freezer just needs a little paint job but the taste is still yum-may.
Another sweet treat I tuck into is ube cake (yam cake) from Red Ribbon. The problem with having a slice is a slice is not readily available these days. They won’t cut a slice for you; you have to buy the entire ube cake if there’s no slice available. Word of caution: one too many slices of ube cake is cloying.
Goldilocks pastries complete the list of my favorite foodstuff. You can’t miss Goldilocks – a tubular box either contains an ube roll, chocolate roll (sweet gooey chocolate goodness!) or the famed brazo de mercedes while a square plastic package can only mean any of the pastries – mamon (with or without cheese), ensaimada, cinnamon roll, chocolate marble cake etc. Then there are the polvoron (my favorite flavor is cookies and cream) and pastillas. The taste remains the same Goldilocks goodness I grew up with although the packaging has changed with the tubular boxes now sporting a yellow-reddish-brown color.
To get your man or to get over your man, food can work wonders – just don’t think about calorie-counting. That’s another heart-breaking issue altogether.