These ribs are real

One of the reasons why I think Big Daddy Jay’s is a favorite right off the bat is the in-your-face, unapologetic scent of barbecue that makes the residential area where it’s at even more homey. It’s a welcome respite, a stone’s throw away from Cubao’s busy thoroughfare.

Barbecue carries with it a universal appeal for good reason: it’s simple, delicious and is almost always associated with family, friends or festivities.
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The resto’s facade is surprisingly familiar. There’s a roadside barbecue stand back home that uses the same tactic of temptation to lure anyone with a nose to do a double take. Growing up, I’d have barbecue from that stand at least once a week. It’s still there and it’s an institution in itself. That’s how good it is.

I’d like to believe Big Daddy Jay’s is destined for a similar kind of following if by some strange reason it hasn’t happened yet. When I arrived, I was greeted by the smell of ribs over a spartan grill and a flaming red smoker, true to form without shortcuts. The fact that it started out as a stall in a weekend food market and has grown into a cozy little restaurant makes it a good success story. They try to keep the recipe within the family. Jay, the “big daddy”, is actually the American brother in-law of one of the owners. The smoked ribs served to us is his own recipe, and even before they started putting it out there, he’s already been feeding the family with lip smacking pork ribs.
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Their specialty, treated with authentic southern American comfort, is a winner. I won’t beat around the bush: it’s really really good.
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There’s no other way to put it. The ribs were treated with love. Meticulous love that goes the extra mile. I’m not exaggerating. The ribs were spiced rubbed twice before being smoked (using locally sourced wood chips) at a really low temperature for a few hours. What that achieves is a slab of tenderness that yields effortlessly to the light pressure of knife. How’s that for a hallelujah?
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It was served with a side of buttered rice. To be fair I never count calories when I eat. There were two dishes served as well, including deep fried chicken wings done two ways (buffalo and honey mustard) and a pasta dish that was good but not really spectacular. But the real star were the ribs.
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People (and by that I mean Yedy and Eugene) told me the photos I take where everything’s blurred are pretty good. I’ll take that as a really great compliment and an impetus to add more of that here. I’m not sure if it’s really art or maybe just a shoddy semblance but either way I’m sticking with it. Here’s a parting shot of Mr. and Mrs. Pickiest Eater with the little one. I like it, and what I did was probably a disservice to them since they’re a good-looking couple but hey, it’s art y’all.
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First feast

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Now it can be told: my days whizz by when I’m in the kitchen. I mean, I could kind of remember the sun hitting my face when I opened my eyes and I found myself on the early morning flight back home. Then…everything was a blur. There were good snippets of course: hosting a dinner for my friends, two charity events with the same people, Christmas lunch, and the micro-feast we had this morning. In between these events I was cooking up a storm, making sure time was blurred. In a few days I’ll be back in Manila and I hope I can make the most of the borrowed time.

A neighbor died today, January 1st. I’d like to believe he died a happy 79-year old man. “Life is too short”, his wife told us when we visited. Amen. We might as well enjoy the ride.

In the thick of things I found myself hitting the stress button more than once this morning when a few things didn’t go my way. But all was well, and I still couldn’t believe I put together almost all of what was on the table. Yay me.

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The spread:

Now I would consider this paella pretty fancy – with the arborio and saffron. But I still crave the one my Mama Eng usually makes with regular rice and malagkit/sticky rice, with that nice color that only cheap atsuete can give! Recipe here. For two years now we’ve had paella for New Year. Not too shabby!
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Chicken Galantina
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homemade ham – recipe here
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The ribs look glorious if I do say so myself.

Not all the meals I’ll have this year will be grand (I might even skip a meal or two). But I intend to enjoy this year in the company of good people and even better conversations. Let’s put ourselves out there! Happy New Year everyone. 🙂

The ‘Turo-Turo’ Barbecue Experience

Our first night in idyllic Dipolog – Dapitan – Dakak saw us at Dipolog’s boulevard looking for a place to eat just as the sun was about to set.
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Fast facts: I’m from Zamboanga city, a relatively large city that is part of the Zamboanga peninsula, at the western tip of Mindanao. Dipolog city is the capital of Zamboanga del Norte, and a 6 – 8 hour drive from Zamboanga City. In order for you to get to Dapitan city, you have to pass through Dipolog. I once assumed that Dapitan is a part of Dipolog, only to be mistaken. Dapitan is famously known as the place where the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, was exiled. Dakak is the beach resort where we stayed, and you have to pass through Dapitan to get to Dakak (say that really rough: Da-Kak). You seriously need transportation to get you from one place to another – walking won’t cut it.
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People flock to Dipolog boulevard to enjoy the really great view of the sunset without any impediments from rowdy crowds, trash dotting the shoreline, and the fishy smell that the sea can sometimes have . The people sure know how to keep it clean and orderly.
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When night falls and there’s not much of the sunset left, people also flock to the nearby barbecue ‘plaza’ for dinner. The perfect word to describe it was ‘beautiful chaos’, similar to the vibe you get from hawker stalls in Hong Kong. You know what to expect: it’s nothing fancy, it’s not always clean, but the food is always good.
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Barbecue vendors call out to you to choose their stall, each one declaring that their barbecue sauce is better than the rest. It’s probably the only thing that will give them an edge..because observing stall after stall, nothing really sets their barbecues apart – they all have the same items, same tinge on the meat, and you would assume that they’ve been marinated in the same way.
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The skewered meat items are still raw, and this is where the ‘turo-turo’ comes in. ‘Turo’ can either mean ‘teach’ or ‘point’. In this case, customers choose or ‘point’ at the meat they want grilled. The fare includes the classic pork (skewered or belly slices) and chicken, innards, hotdogs (yes, hotdogs!), tocino (cured pork), longganisa (ground cured pork in sausage casings), and – wait for it ——- taba ng baboy/pork fat! Yes, you read that right, cubes of pork fat. It’s absolutely delicious when grilled. I’m not ashamed to say I love eating it, though not everyday. (I might be lying)
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Each cup or half-cup of rice is individually wrapped in dried woven coconut leaves, and is called pusô. You absolutely can’t eat barbecue without rice!

Once your order has been taken, taking your seat can be a challenge because the place may be packed. Customers can sit wherever they want to, and each stall has a ‘little helper’ that can act like a homing missile that can easily locate you when they serve your order. I call them little helpers because when we were there, they were all children! I assume they were family members of the people manning the stalls, so no harm done (I hope).
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The place isn’t really well-lit – just a few incandescent and fluorescent bulbs here and there, but that’s part of the experience of (almost) ‘dining in the dark’.

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Now, I assume that their pork and chicken barbecue have been marinated with the usual ingredients: soy sauce, vinegar/calamansi juice, ketchup and sugar. The savory – sweet barbecue arrived and we attacked it with a ferocity that only hungry travelers can have. I don’t like calamansi (native Philippine lemon), but I couldn’t resist dipping the pieces into a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and calamansi juice because they went well together.

They offer the optional eating utensils, because let’s face it, the Filipino habit of eating with your hands just makes food taste so much better. Not every Filipino dish should be eaten with the hand (some may disagree with this!), but grilled food just begs to be eaten ‘kamayan-style’ (kamay=hands).
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I might have just died with pleasure.
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When you’re hungry, food tastes so much better. That was the case here. But I’d suspect that even if I’m not that hungry, I might wolf down more than one (or five) sticks of barbecue with the same gusto.

Where do you wash your hands? Each vendor has a portable water dispenser that their customers can use to wash their grubby hands after eating. You might be uncomfortable doing this, but suck it up – the food was great after all.

And yes, if you’re wondering…I did order more for takeout: a few sticks of grilled hotdogs and a stick (or two..or three..I’m not telling!) of pork fat. I finished all of it in the car even before we arrived at the nearby grocery to replenish our water supply. That’s how much I love barbecue.

You may or may not know this but I hate (with a passion) road trips..but sinking my teeth into experiences like this one made the trip worth it and probably offset whatever ill-feelings I might have had on the way. Yes, the taba ng baboy saved my day. And I cannot be swayed to believe anything else.

Now..if I would rank the barbecue I had in Dipolog, it would probably take the third spot on my list. Where is #1 and #2? Here in Zamboanga of course! I’m not being biased here because seriously…there’s gold in them hills. Stay tuned, I might feature my favorites one of these days. Trust me, I’m just getting started. 

Pork Barbecue

I’m still reeling around what we had on the table for our New Year’s lunch. I promise, this’ll be the last post about decadence. In a few days, I’ll be posting healthier recipes – like grass salad, steamed grass, grass on a bed of lettuce and more grass, plus a grass smoothie.

I take that back, I haven’t really tested the waters of healthier eating yet. And I’m operating around the forces of procratination and the love of all things pork. You get the idea. But what I do to make up for all the fat I consume is that I jog. I try to jog regularly and I’m proud to say that for three consecutive days I’ve devoted time to jog. Yeah I know it’s not much of a stretch but at least I’m trying to offset the guilt.
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Well, it’s not really guilt. It’s simply that bad feeling I get after eating a whole lot of everything. But I don’t want to dwell on the bad. After all, food is meant to be enjoyed, savored and loved. Sure, sometimes you wish you had another external stomach to digest what you’ve eaten lest it adds to your already expanding curvature. The mantra “all things in moderation” came a little too late.

But at that precious moment of biting into your favorite dish, the universe doesn’t matter. That probably happened to me more than once during lunch when I had pork barbecue.
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What makes this barbecue special, aside from the taste, is that it’s skewered.
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You must be scrunching your brows right about now. You see the only time we get to eat/make barbecue on a stick is during the New Year. That realization came when my dad and I had a conversation of why I needed to cube perfectly good solid pork. I told him that it’s the New Year, that’s the only time we get to do this. A  long second later he realized where I came from and said “Oo nga nuh?” (That’s a “yeah, that’s right” or something to that effect).

Now you hopefully understand why some laws of the universe don’t matter so much to me anymore.
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This recipe is meant to feed a reasonably sized crowd. I mean it. I couldn’t really account how many sticks were produced but the point is it’s meant to feed a family of 12 with leftovers to boot. But you can easily cut this recipe by half and adjust the taste of the marinade to your liking.

I recommend buying whole cuts of pork and if your butcher can help you cube it, the better. Buying the pork whole gives you more control over the amount of meat and fat you want in your barbecue. A typical pork barbecue stick has around 4 – 6 pieces, 80% of which is lean meat while the rest is delectable fat. I used a combination of lean (shoulder) and fatty cuts (belly).
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I’d like to believe this is really a Filipino barbecue. It’s sweet and salty the way our barbecues should taste. The usual components of a marinade include a mixture of ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar/kalamansi juice and sugar but I added a few other things to tweak the traditional marinade a bit.

The resulting pork-on-a-stick is full of flavor. Apart from the strong marinade to begin with, it was alternately brushed with garlic and ginger flavored annatto oil and a sweetened reduced version of the marinade to keep it moist.
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This is so special I wouldn’t really think of doing this at any other random weekend of the year. This is a New Year’s barbecue. Enough said. But since you’re not me, you might want to try it this weekend, or the next, or the next time your father, mother, son or daughter comes home. Either way, this is great stuff. I hope you’ll love it as much as we did. And please, don’t feel guilty after eating a stick, or eight.

Pork Barbecue

  • 50 – 70 pieces bamboo skewers
  • 5 kg pork cubes (we used 2 kg skinless boneless pork, 2 kg shoulder, 1 kg pork belly, cut into cubes)
Marinade:
  • 1 ¼ cup vinegar
  • 1 ¼ cup banana ketchup
  • 1 ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 240 ml/1 can unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons chili oil
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic paste
  • 1 cup brown sugar + 3/4 cup extra for the sauce
  • 1 whole garlic head, minced
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup warm water (for the reduction)

Annatto oil:

  • ½ cup margarine
  • Half a head of garlic, minced
  • one ¼ – 1/2 inch ginger slice
  1. Put the pork in a large colander and clean it by running it through tap water. Allow the water to drain and set aside.
  2. Combine the marinade ingredients (except the cornstarch and water) together in a bowl large enough to hold the pork.
  3. Adjust taste to your preference.
  4. Add in the pork and mix well. Leave it covered in the refrigerator preferably overnight.
  5. A few hours prior to grilling, skewer the pork pieces. Make sure not to overcrowd the skewer (We had around 4- 5 pieces per stick).
  6. 30 minutes prior to grilling, make the two basting sauces.
  7. For the annatto oil: in a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the margarine. Do not allow to burn. Add the garlic and ginger and toast until the fragrant aromas are released. Set aside.
  8. For the marinade reduction: In a medium saucepan, add the marinade and cook over medium heat. When it starts to boil, add the sugar and the cornstarch slurry. Cook until marinade reduces. Be sure to constantly watch over it because the boiling marinade might spill out of the pan. Set aside.
  9. When the grill is ready, add the pork skewers and grill until both sides are evenly cooked, slightly charred but not totally burnt.
  10. Alternately baste the pork with the reduced cooked marinade and the annatto oil, every 5 – 10 minutes. We baste only when one side starts to brown and sizzle.
  11.  When done, remove from the grill and baste with the remaining sauce. Serve warm and enjoy!

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My favorite things

In my little corner of the world, the school where I spent my best years in (Ateneo de Zamboanga, run by Jesuits) celebrates a week long “fiesta” (aptly called the Ateneo Fiesta) that squeezes in games/competition between the different departments/schools, alumni homecoming and lots and lots and lots of food booths. Basically students and teachers get a week to bum around, spend their money on street food, henna tattoos and become fiercely competitive in supporting the college/department/school they belong to.

Honestly what makes the Ateneo Fiesta what it is, is really the food. Well, that among other things (like the infernal heat). But come on, who can resist the smell of burning meat on a grill or the sound of ice being crushed in a blender to make a satisfying shake?

One of my favorite booths during the Ateneo Fiesta has got to be this one. I never paid attention to the name, but since time immemorial I’ve called it the Porkchop Place and my friends have taken to call it that as well. Their porkchops are amazing – salty, sour served with a scoop of rice. You can’t help but order another scoop because it’s so satisfying that way. Their booth is as iconic as the fiesta itself. Ever since I was in high school, I’ve been their regular patron during the fiesta. My fiesta experience isn’t complete without it.

Now this fiesta’s breakout star would have to be this one:

Zensonita – milk tea among other things. I’m a sucker for milk tea. I tried Gong Cha in Hong Kong and Chowking’s Nai Cha, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. Now their milk tea “formula” is pretty straightforward: tea + condensed milk. The plastic cup needs to be shaken to mix the components before being punctured with the straw.

On a very humid morning, my first sip of it was magic. No joke. After my first sip, it convinced me to order two more for take out. Then the next day I ordered two more. I am that hooked. I never even read the things below line two. The milk tea and coffee are bestsellers. They have been doing business for a while now (for more than a year I think) along Nunez extension, but it was my first time to try their milk tea during the fiesta. And I’m glad I did!

If you’re wondering where’s the picture of the product, well, I forgot to take a picture of it. It was good enough to make me forget.

So if you’re lucky enough to be in Zamboanga during the fiesta, don’t miss it! 😀

 

Inasal

What do you do when it’s the first week of November, you have a ton of Christmas lights and a reasonably tall tree? – Hang the lights on and around the tree and grill like you’ve never grilled before of course!

We (my family and I) get to celebrate our first real Christmas this year in our new home so we wanted to make it special. Yes, this is how excited for Christmas we are. In our household, barbecue is special.

There’s barbecue and there’s barbecue. I’d like to believe what I did falls under the latter because I didn’t make the run-of-the-mill barbecue (meat+ketchup+soy sauce+vinegar+brown sugar)………..I made Inasal. *Cue gasp*

It was a lightbulb moment for me when I was juggling ideas for my barbecue. I really like the taste of Inasal – salty, sour, smoky, with a hint of sweetness. Mang Inasal’s variety is smoky and sweet and I enjoy drowning the chicken thigh (my all-time FAVORITE chicken part) in soy sauce, vinegar, chili and atsuete/achuete/annatto oil. Pure bliss.

I’ve always been curious how they make authentic Bacolod Chicken Inasal. I was perusing recipes and blog posts and it turns out, Market Man and Jun Belen have their own recipes for Chicken Inasal. They have the same components, albeit in different proportions: citrus juice, vinegar, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, sugar and lemongrass.

Market Man swears that authentic Inasal (from Bacolod) is basted with a mixture of Star Margarine, achuete oil and pepper. One thing that’s striking with Inasal is the absence of soy sauce in the marinade. I guess it’s reserved for the dipping sauce then.

What I did for my version:

1. I went crazy with the garlic and ginger. And yeah, that’s one long lemongrass stalk.

2. I toasted the garlic and ginger from the marinade with the melted margarine, and then I added the achuete oil and the pepper to make the basting sauce. I alternately basted the meat with the achuete margarine mix and the marinade while it was grilling. Liquid gold.

3. I used chicken and pork

And let me tell you…..It tasted amazing.

Holy mother of god it tasted amazing!

I kid you not – I think I started a whole new family tradition when it comes to grilling. It was everything I could ever look for: salty-sour, smoky, succulent meat. The lemongrass imparts a fresh, citrus-y scent to the meat that makes it all the more indulgent. I didn’t even see the need for a dipping sauce.

Will I ever get to truly taste authentic Bacolod Inasal? Well writing this made me realize I should put that on my bucket list. Or better yet, make a totally new bucket list devoted to food! But for now, I’ll gladly settle for this recipe. And I say that with the most satisfied smile in the world.

Chicken (and Pork) Inasal (serves 6 – 8 )

because we have huge appetites, adjust as needed

6 – 8 pieces chicken leg and thigh + 1 kg pork belly

Marinade

  • 3 bulbs garlic (minced; you can use a food processor)
  • a 3 inch knob of ginger (minced; you can use a food processor)
  • juice of 4 lemons
  • 3 / 4 cup vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons rock salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 lemongrass/tanglad stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  1. Mix all the marinade ingredients together and adjust taste to your preference.
  2. Add the meat and marinade for at least two hours or overnight.
  3. Grill the meat, alternately basting with the achuete-margarine mix and the marinade. Be careful not to let the meat burn.
  4. Serve with a steaming cup of rice. Dipping sauce (soy sauce, vinegar, chili) is optional. Enjoy!

for the Achuete – Margarine mix

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3-4 tablespoons annatto/achuete seeds
  • 1 small tub Star Margarine (get the smallest tub out there)
  • two spoonfuls of the garlic and ginger used in the marinade
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly cracked pepper
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil. Add the achuete seeds and allow oil to color. Once the desired rich orange color is achieved, remove from heat.
  2. Strain the oil into a cup to remove the seeds.
  3. Using the same pan, melt the margarine until hot and frothy.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and allow to toast. Add the pepper.
  5. When done, remove from heat and use it for basting the meat.