Magic, and Budbod

I drifted in and out of sleep in the shuttle on our way to Angono. I didn’t notice the traffic that might have clogged the streets, nor the landmarks that would help me find my way later on.

We had just come from a hearty meal at a German restaurant. You would think that a pause would be in order. That’s what normal people do. We were impulsive that day.

I groggily stepped out of the shuttle with Yedy and Eugene. I had to regain my bearings for a minute to realize that we alighted at the entrance of a quaint subdivision called Aurora. There weren’t a lot of people on the streets. A guy with his cigarette, a mother with her baby, and a few kids. Walking a good two blocks to our destination was uneventful. Was the journey going to be anticlimactic?

The street we walked into wasn’t a beehive but you could tell it has its own flurry of activity. Then the tarpaulin I saw on Yedy’s instagram was right before my eyes and it confirmed our destination. Welcome to Dency’s. We were in Budbod country.
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What was once a quaint space (a small carinderia with monobloc chairs) is now a larger house (painted yellow!), with an even larger, tiled space that could fit around fifteen to twenty people. It is quite possibly the house that budbod built.
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Budbod is what you call the rice dish that’s been topped/sprinkled (binudbod) with meat, tomatoes, spring onions, sometimes egg, sometimes anything goes. It’s a noun and a verb. A simple rice meal, basically. And the way Yedy and Euge (both of them hail from the surrounding area) gush about it shows it’s rice that tugs a few heartstrings. They grew up eating the stuff. And they took it upon themselves to introduce this small town boy to a little piece of their shared history.

This wasn’t my first encounter with budbod though. My co-intern at the restaurant is from Rizal and one time she brought individually portioned styro packs of budbod and it had beef, lumpia, tomatoes and chives. It’s a family recipe, and I’m not sure how it compares to what we were going to have.

I grew and grew up eating rice with no other name. In their neck of the woods this meal is an icon. But why is it such a big deal? Why the fuss?

“Sago’t gulaman”, Yedy tells the jolly server. It’s the preamble before the main event. The cleanse before the deluge.
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Our order arrives in plastic bowls with a lid on, reminiscent of how Chowking (a fast food chain I unabashedly favor) serves their rice.
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I take the lid off mine and a hint of adobo wafts out. The chopped beef must have been braised in soy sauce and vinegar before it was fried. Fresh tomatoes, chopped spring onions and a smidgen of scrambled egg accompany the meat. It’s a disproportionate ratio – there is definitely more rice. And the rice has been fried and taken on a color that suggests a dash of soy sauce was added. It’s nothing fancy.
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There is no ritual. After staring at my bowl hungrily in between taking photographs, I grabbed my utensils and took a heaping spoonful of rice, beef and egg (I’m not a fan of eating fresh tomatoes with rice so I set it aside.).

I tasted tender beef, with a gentle acidity and more pronounced salinity. In my gut there’s more to it than just soy sauce and vinegar. A little bit of sugar, or Knorr seasoning even? I may be wrong. The rice was seasoned and made the perfect partner.
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There are no bells and whistles. It’s not ingenuous. But it hits the spot for sure.

“Is this it?”, I caught myself asking that question more than once. I admit my enthusiasm wasn’t as overflowing as theirs.

I asked the server for a side order of pork cooked the same way as the beef. At that time I preferred the pork over the beef. Also, a sunny egg.
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It was almost sundown when we were done polishing off our bowls. I was filled to the brim but had this nagging feeling that there has to be something more than what I ate. Rationalizing, maybe the history they share with budbod magnified its appeal. Maybe that was something I couldn’t fully understand. Food and memories, time and space, was that it? Or maybe I should just shut up and just eat.

It was a long ride back home. I drifted in and out of sleep again.

And then there it was. It felt like waves, gently hitting and then receding from the shore before a big one comes crashing down. Or maybe the unnecessary fullness ebbed and I was just hungry all over again.

I craved for it. I craved for budbod like it was nobody’s business. The beef, pork, egg and rice. I wanted to stuff my face all over again.

The lag was very unusual (and funny in a cosmic sort of way). But it doesn’t matter anymore because I fully understand what Yedy and Eugene were talking about. It may have taken me a few hours to get it but I did. What happened? What sorcery is this?

It doesn’t really matter all that much anymore. Rationalizations, excuses, delays, all of it is miniscule. All that matters is that bowl of rice is calling out to me. It’s been more than a week since we went to Angono and writing this made me crave for it all over again.

If my feet and appetite would lead me back to that table again so I could make amends with that bowl of rice so delicious, I’d say every thing is right in the world. Even just for a moment.

Budbod is deceptively simple and unassuming, that much is true. Isn’t the best food of our visceral childhood memories always the simplest?
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There’s soul in soup

If you’re a regular here you know by now that occasionally I’m hit with bouts of homesickness.

I can talk about it all day – how fleeting a week off can be, how it’s always hard give a straight answer to my gramps when he asks me when I’m coming home again, how comfort can sometimes be a foreign concept here in the city, and how food can never, ever, ever compare to what I have back home.

Of course the last bit is subjective. I’m talking about the inherent “soul” a home-cooked meal has. You’re nodding your head, yeah? Food that the goddesses of my kitchen (my mom, grandma and Mama Eng) have been cooking for years in a way, have steered my palate to where it is now.

Yedy, Eugene and I intended to go to Mall of Kitchens just to gawk but it was unfortunate (and annoying) that they were, strangely enough, closed on weekends. But we figured Eugene knew that already. And the ulterior motive was for us to check out Pat-Pat’s, which apparently serves a mean bowl of kansi.

Kansi is like sinigang with its sour broth, but the meat of choice would be beef instead of pork or fish. Their offering is a great hangover remedy and Eugene swears by that.

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It was a familiar sight to behold, arriving at Pat-Pat’s. It was nothing fancy. A few tables and monoblock chairs, electric fans mounted on walls and loud, endearing servers. That kind of fixture will never go out of style in the Philippines. Beyond that, you know that food will never be fancy but will almost always be good and cheap.

Of course we had to order kansi. There were two variants, one served with a big piece of bone with marrow (bulalo), and another with chunks of beef meat (karne). They all came with the same sour broth. It’s not that hard to decide that you need to order both.
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The broth was deliciously sour, but not overpowering. It was fruity, flavored with what we will only assume to be kamias. It’s that kind of natural tang that I love in a great soup because in a way, one cup of rice will never be enough for me to enjoy it. “More rice, more fun”, Eugene always says.

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Now it was time to handle the marrow. It came intact with the whole bone still encased around it. Of course they had to give us a barbecue stick to take it out. It was a challenge, because in a way it felt like a race against time. Marrow is just golden ambrosia made entirely of fat, and when it gets cold it really isn’t palatable anymore. But I prevailed!

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What I did was scoop a spoonful of the marrow and mixed it together with a generous drizzle of soup over the little mound of rice. It was time to dig in. The verdict?

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It was perfect. I was, in a word, home.

I then added a piece of the beef to the mixture but at that point everything else was just a frill. Delicious, mouth-watering frills.

I thought my night couldn’t get any better. Then coconut water came, and was served to me right out of the shell, very cold to boot. I know I’m getting too emotionally descriptive but if there’s one thing that reminds me of home, it’s drinking ice-cold coconut water. I drink it more than water. It was unadulterated, cold and cleansing. The way coconut water should always be.

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It’s natural for us to associate carinderias with good food. 97% of the time, that’s actually true. But there are a few places that raise the bar in their unassuming glory. These aren’t just carinderias but institutions.
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The food isn’t snooty. It is as real as the earth, and as steadfast as tradition. It’s not farfetched to imagine that it has been imbibed with the charm and soul of those who man our family kitchens with gusto and love. And because of that, even their humblest soup fills the soul, ignites the bones and of course, brings us home.

Mabuhay ka, Pat-Pat. Mabuhay ka.
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Roasted Garlic and Tomato Risotto

I’d like to believe I’ve come a long way since my first botched attempt at risotto. If there’s one nugget of wisdom cooking school has given me (actually I’ve learned so much in three months!), it’s how to cook risotto the right way. It’s actually a simple process, albeit a little meticulous. Tasting the rice via random sampling to make sure everything is cooked al dente is essential. But it can be done. I don’t think I’ll botch it ever again.
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I never realized we had a box of arborio sitting in the pantry here at home until we used the exact same stuff in school for our kitchen lab. Hey, everything was in Italian and I was too lazy to google a translation so I never attempted to use the stuff. I’ve been known to buy and keep a lot of useless stuff, or things that I only use once. Fortunately, that isn’t the case with the arborio.
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I hit two birds with one stone today. Roasted tomatoes are a treat: sweet and tart and definitely great. I had it with pasta once and it was a home run. Today I had it with risotto and of course, another home run. Roasted garlic and tomatoes add a nice depth of flavor to the risotto, and finishing it off with parmesan is the icing on the proverbial cake. This plate of risotto will accompany a savory meat dish (preferably beef) pretty well but today I just had it as it is and I’m not complaining. It doesn’t take much to make me happy, especially when I’m given a plate of something as good as this. I had it with ice-cold coconut water, and oh man, that worked for me. It really works.
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Roasted Garlic and Tomato Risotto (serves 2)

  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 2 – 4 cups warm chicken stock
  • half an onion, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the tomatoes and garlic
  • 1 garlic bulb, top part sliced open
  • 5 tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh basil, chopped, for garnishing
  1. Preheat oven to 180 C/ 350 F. Arrange the garlic bulb and tomatoes in a pan (optional: with a silicone mat). Drizzle generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Place it in the oven and allow to bake for 45 minutes – 1 hour, or until tomatoes are shriveled at the sides and the garlic has softened. When done, remove from the oven.
  3. Remove the garlic from their skins and mash with a fork. Reserve around three pieces of roasted tomato for garnish if desired.
  4. In a pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and allow to sweat. Add the rice and mix well to coat everything with the oil.
  5. Add the stock one ladle (around one cup) at a time. Allow the rice to partially absorb the liquid before adding in the next ladle. Stir everything together with a rubber spatula. Repeat the process until the rice is cooked to desired doneness (al dente).
  6. Add the garlic and tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes and mix everything together. Add the parmesan. Stir and season with salt and pepper. The risotto must still be creamy.
  7. When done, remove from heat and top with more parmesan, the roasted tomatoes and the chopped basil. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Rice Day in Black and White

Here are some random shots of yesterday’s rice and vegetable lecture & demonstration. Apart from most of us bringing digital cameras to take photos of the food (I’m the only food blogger in the group though!), our tasting spoons were put to good use as it became a full-blown feast for 12 when the paella was done. True to form, Filipino are voracious voracious voracious rice eaters.

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It still feels weird sometimes, to peruse my photo roll and look at photos of this new life that I stepped into. It’s really surreal. There’s not a lot to say about these photos, except that it’s during these moments that I know what I live for. (Rice, of course!) The experience may be stressful, physically and emotionally draining, but I’ve never felt so alive.

One-Pot Pork Asado Sticky Rice

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I know I’ve been quiet lately, but I have a perfectly good excuse (!): NCIS Los Angeles marathons have kept my mom and I up until 12 midnight, and my body clock is as functional as a log, which means I usually wake up late. I wake up so late that I can’t even process what I want to make for lunch, and thank god for the people living next door, because they’ve never failed to feed me. But there are plans, here and there. Sometimes before I sleep I think about what to make for the following day. I juggle a few recipes that have been sitting on my to-do pile for months now. Months. But…plans get lost in translation, life gets in the way and the real world needs me. Well, I need to get a hold on the real world. Am I being cryptic? Sorry, it’s just been a crazy couple of weeks.

When one of my best friends told me twice that she’s wondering why I haven’t posted anything in a while now, that’s when I know it’s a cause for concern. I was on the phone with her when we had the conversation. But after she told me that, I looked over my shoulder and there it was: a medium-sized pot with steam trying to waft out. Rice was cooking, slowly taking in the different sauces that made up the liquid, the tender pork cubes (YES EVERYONE I’M POSTING PORK AGAIN!) becoming even more tender, and that tiny hint of five spice wraps it all together.
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I was inspired by the smell and taste of pork asado, the filling that I like in my siopao. While watching NCIS, sometimes I also blurt out what I’d give to have a nice bowl of adobo rice with me, so it’s been on my mind lately.

There’s this heavy snack/meal (notice how I can blur the lines between the two), called “Matchang” (not to be confused with matcha green tea powder) that is essentially sticky/glutinous rice (malagkit), flavored with soy sauce and other chinese spices, with meat and a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a banana leaf.

I think what I made is like matchang, without the banana leaf, and I’m more generous with the pork. Of course that makes sense. But anyway, this is just to remind all of you that I’m still here, and I’ll always be around. With lots of pork recipes in tow.
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Pork Asado Sticky Rice (serves 4 – 6)

Remember to cook the rice in a pot that can easily hold double the amount of rice you put in. Rice is crazy like that.

  • ½ kg pork belly, cubed
  • 1 ½ cups water, to boil the pork
  • 1 – 2 chinese canton sausages, sliced
  • 6 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
  • 1 286-gram can shiitake mushrooms (or use fresh ones), halved
  • 2 cups uncooked plain rice
  • 1 cup uncooked glutinous rice (malagkit)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • 5 cups water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a pot, place the pork, sausage and add the water. Allow to boil on medium heat.
  2. When the water has almost evaporated and the pork is tender, add the shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, rice wine and oyster sauce. Mix to coat the pork with the sauces.
  3. Add the rice, five spice powder and the water. Sprinkle it with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  4.  Cook over low heat, covered, for 30 – 40 minutes or until rice has absorbed the liquid and has cooked through. Serve warm and enjoy!

Nasi Goreng

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Quick disclaimer: although the title says Nasi Goreng, I’m not sure if what I made does qualify as Indonesian fried rice since I haven’t tasted the real thing yet – hence, there’s no benchmark. Note to self: eat nasi goreng when I’m in Indonesia. For it to be authentically Indonesian, ingredients have to be authentic as well. Case in point? This has pork in it. Despite all that, I can imagine that this is a close approximation.

But what’s interesting with this recipe is that I got to learn new things: belacan (Malaysia) or terasi (Indonesia), a common ingredient used to flavor the rice, is simply called bagoong here in the Philippines. So that’s one ingredient that didn’t give me hell. Next, most of the recipes I read online require the addition of ‘kecap manis’. Interesting fact: ‘kecap’ is pronounced as ‘ketchup’, and this is where the ketchup we know of today got its name from.
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Because we didn’t have kecap manis lying around, I decided to make my own. Once again, I have no idea what real kecap manis should taste like, but based on what dear old internet has given me, it’s sweetened soy sauce. How hard could that be?
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I’ve always been a sucker for good fried rice – hot and toasty with a light coating of oil. When it’s studded with other ingredients like egg, fried pork bits, peas, cabbages, carrots… (I could go on), it’s a complete meal in itself. On the other hand, there’s the simple, rustic fried rice whose only accompaniment are little bits and pieces of garlic and spring onions. This Nasi Goreng doesn’t go overboard with the toppings  (only pork and egg), but because of the flavor – intermingling sweet and salty tones, this can be a stand-alone meal.
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Nasi Goreng (serves 4 – 6; loosely adapted from Rasa Malaysia and this site for the kecap manis)

  • 7 cups day-old rice
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons shrimp paste/bagoong gata (a sweet-salty version of bagoong which is cooked with tomatoes and coconut milk)
  • 2 pieces pork shoulder or belly, sliced into small cubes (you can use chicken or shrimp)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Cabbage (optional; I didn’t use this but looking back it would’ve been better if I did)
kecap manis:
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • A dash of five spice
  1. In a frying pan, over medium heat, add the eggs and cook to make an omelet. When set, using your spatula, shred the omelet into smaller bits. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, using the back of a spoon or fork, break the rice that might have clumped together. Set aside.
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  3. In a wok/pan that is large enough to hold the rice, heat oils over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and fry until fragrant and lightly toasted.
  4. Add the bagoong and sauté for 1 minute. Add the pork. Sauté the pork for 1 minute. Add the water, cover and allow pork to cook. Stir occasionally to prevent it from burning.
  5. While the pork is cooking, make the “kecap manis”: in a small bowl, combine soy sauce, molasses and five spice.
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  6. When the water has evaporated, pork has become tender and fat renders, sauté and allow the pork to brown. Add the kecap manis, and chili oil.Photobucket
  7. Add the rice, and mix everything together to coat the rice with the ‘kecap manis’.  Stir the rice to allow it to fry some more, but take care not to burn the bottom.Photobucket
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  8. Add the shredded omelet and mix well. When done, remove from heat and serve warm. enjoy!
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And you ought to meet my new recipe notebook which doesn't like to stay open. Moleskine this isn't, but this'll have to do.

White Rice Pilaf

I think it was when I saw a little kid on television make pilaf that I told myself that I desperately needed to make it as well. Junior Masterchef has that effect on you.
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You might be wondering, what the hell is pilaf and how different is it from risotto and even paella? Well, risotto uses arborio rice, so it’s more temperamental. Proud paella uses malagkit/sticky rice and saffron (or if you’re cheap like me, annatto seeds). Pilaf is the simpler relative, it isn’t high maintenance, and if you’re a hardcore rice eater (hello, my fellow Filipinos), it hits close to home.

The way I see it: replace the water used to cook rice, with broth, add at least two vegetables, season with a herb of your choice, cook it the way you would cook regular rice, and ladies and gents, you have pilaf.
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My take on the pilaf is, dare I say it, really accessible (read: anyone can cook this; which is part of my goal as a food blogger after all). The tricky part is the water-to-rice ratio. General consensus is, 1 cup of rice:2 cups of water.

Remember that there are a lot of varieties of white rice out there, but the ratio is almost always consistent. But I would usually reduce the water by 1/8th to 1/4th of a cup because   I always have this perpetual fear that my rice would turn out mushy, but that’s just me.
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Recipes online would make use of wild rice, even brown rice for their pilaf. Since we don’t have it here, white rice is here to stay. Instead of the canned chicken broth, I just replaced the cooking liquid with bouillon cubes dissolved in water. I didn’t go crazy with the vegetables because I just used carrots and Baguio beans. Plus, this dish has no meat.

I think this is pretty budget friendly and a great weeknight, quick fix meal.
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The pilaf doesn’t overpower whatever main course you have, but it’s still pleasantly flavorful. In my case I had it with estofado, a thick tomato-based pork stew, and I ate mine with gusto. Filipinos have the propensity to look at rice not just as a side dish but really, part of the meal itself. If that’s the case, then the humble pilaf seamlessly and effortlessly joins the party.
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Simple White Rice Pilaf (serves 6 – 8)

broth:

  • 3 1/2 – 4 cups water
  • 1/2 tbsp dried rosemary
  • 2 (around 20 grams) chicken bouillon cubes
  • a dash of pepper
  • a slice of ginger
for the rice:
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 2 tbsp olive/canola oil
  • half a bulb of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 medium sized shallots/red onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into minute/small cubes
  • 5 – 8 pieces green/Baguio beans, sliced into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 lemongrass leaves (around 10 – 12 inches)
  1. Make the broth: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, broth cubes, rosemary, ginger and pepper. Stir until broth cubes dissolve and liquid is warm but not boiling. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a saucepan large enough to hold the rice with the broth, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the onions and saute until onions are translucent.
  3. Add the carrots and green beans, and stir to coat with the oil.
  4. Add the rice and stir to coat with oil. Continue cooking for 1 minute.
  5. Add the broth, stir well. Add the lemongrass. Cook for 20 – 25 minutes, covered, over medium heat. Resist the urge to frequently open the lid of the pot, this won’t help cook the rice thoroughly. It helps if the lid is transparent. You may check on it once in a while. 
  6. When rice is cooked through, remove heat and remove the lemongrass. “Fluff” the rice using a fork (run a fork through the rice itself as if you’re lightly scraping it; don’t scrape the bottom though!!!) and serve hot with your main course of choice. Enjoy!