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Friday, April 24, 2015

Heritage Cuisine - Kamuning Bakery Cafe

Our food, and the way we cook it, will always be part of our history, thus, our culture. It is who we are and may be seen as one of the things that define us. While many foreign food brands have already made their mark on our shores, alongside the strengthening of homegrown fast food chains, it is heartwarming to learn that there is one place which decides to preserve the old practices of Filipino baking.

The Kamuning Bakery was established in 1939 and has remained in the same location in Kamuning, Quezon City. It was set up by Atty. Leticia Bonifacio Javier and her husband Marcelo and has been producing traditional Filipino breads using the pugon, and the long-lost art of floor baking, thus producing pan de suelos. The bakery is very proud to have been visited by people from all walks of life - from Presidents of the Philippines to walk-in pedestrians. But preserving its old methods of baking has its drawbacks, the process itself goes against all present laws of business and economics in maximising profitability- it is more labor-intensive and requires more time and overhead to produce only this much amount of baked goods.

These artisanal baking methods would have been relegated to the history books and the imagination were it not for the efforts of Wilson Lee Flores, a business and showbiz columnist of The Philippine Star, who decided to preserve this cultural heritage. Transition of business operations from the original family to a corporation in 2013 (but retaining the minor participation of Mr. Ted Javier, the son of the first owners) has proved quite successful.

The bakery itself needed a make-over and was promptly renovated, but with care to retain the original design of the house and the bakery, and reinforced the entire structure with steel. When the lease of the space (a dental office) next to the bakery was up, it was likewise taken over to set up the cafe this year. 

It was redecorated to reflect the retention of the original floorboards of the Commonwealth era, furnished with mostly batibot chairs and tables, some of Mr. Flores' art collection on the walls, and cathedral windows to add dimension and light.

Mr. Flores himself was all smiles as he welcomed us when we stepped in for brunch, one holiday. 

This enthusiasm easily spread to the waitstaff and the barista. This made us quite excited to try out their menu options.

There was the pan de sal sampler served with flavourful corned beef and adobo fillings (normally, the sampler includes menudo, but was out of stock at the time of visit). 

The Tocilog (or Pork Tocino, served with garlic rice and sunny-side-up egg). Take note that the bakery's kitchen cured the sweetened pork themselves, thus, you get to taste that extra love that goes with preparing this dish. Even the garlic rice and fried egg deserve their respective arias.

We also got to try their adventurous Chicken Sisig Pasta. Its heated character asserts itself gently. A slow burn, wouldn't mind another serving of that one.

A slice of Heaven, their best selling cake, surely lived up to its name. 

And never pass up the coffee. Their certified barista serves it exactly for connoisseurs. Expect her to ask you whether you want it light or full-bodied. Using a range of beans either local from the Mountain Province or Cordillera, or foreign from Brazil or Kenya, you are assured a cup that is served at the right temperature, at the right time, and the right crema.

Even if you eat in, do bring home some of the baked products from the bakery. It is cheap and you are assured of freshness. Php60 for 2 dozen pan de sal is a bargain, so are their other pastries that sell at Php10-20 per piece like the marble cake taisan or the ordinary ensaimada. 

As of the time of our visit (early April), Mr. Flores shared that they are expanding their menu to include regular Filipino lunch and dinner fare. If one has to measure our recent dining experience, I am inwardly whimpering in anticipation. The new menu couldn't come any sooner. 

Kamuning Bakery Cafe
43 Judge Jimenez cor. K-1st Street
Kamuning, Quezon City 
Tel. No. +63 2 794 5045
              +63 2 411 2311
              +63 2 929 2216

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Seoul Food To Go

If you are on the run and on the cheap, I think you'll survive Seoul. Here's why:

1. The cafe culture here is alive and bursting. Local-brand cafes are a dime a dozen, and all offer free and strong wifi connection. Korean coffee concoctions are on the mild, creamy side and pastries are yeasty and creative, evoking perhaps some Japanese relations. Expect to spend KRW10,000 (Php350/USD7.78) each visit 

To this end, I would think you a dweeb if you will still step into a Starbucks outlet, considering that you have to pay for your wifi connection along with your drink.

2. Food centres are not hard to find and serve value meals that range from KRW700-1200 (Php24.50-42/USD0.54-0.93) but a sushi family platter may reach KRW2,500. 

Normally you'll get a Kimchi noodle set, 

a bowl of Namsan noodle soup (less on the kimchi and uses flatter noodles), 

or a plate of Vegetable Tempura.

The Bibimbap, a rice meal that is quite familiar with Filipinos, is of course available. My experience, however, with the real thing is quite different. Yes, it is still the ground-meat-and-vegetable rice topping, but it wasn't served as a rice topping, and it was really more comprised of vegetables and egg strings with just a sprinkling of meat. Very clean and refreshing.

For a serious meal, a usual favourite would be a plate of Pork Katsu with Omelet Rice. The Honey Mustard Sauce is a welcome change from the tonkatsu sauce I am accustomed to. Renders a lightness to an otherwise heavy dish.

3. There's also the ever-reliable grocery store. The more popular place would be Lotte Supermarket. Frozen meals are available that need only to be heated to satisfy hunger.

And from there, you may just have what you need to set up your own afternoon tea. (Various sandwiches sell at KRW2,000/4 kinds; onigiris at KRW1,500/piece; pastries are free samples).

3. But the real deal is the street food. 

Hawkers start setting up along the streets as early as 4 in the afternoon for red bean paste or custard-filled donuts. These morsels are deep-fried and transform the pastry to a doughy consistency. A great treat no matter the weather. Always get them while they're hot at KRW300 for 5 pieces (Php10.50/USD0.23). If you can't finish it off, leave some for home and have it heated in a toaster oven. Not as good as when it was freshly cooked, but tastes a different kind of wonderful.

Aside from donuts, there are the pancakes - very buttery and eggy (KRW500/piece or Php17.50/USD0.39), and my favourite, the fish tofu filled with (you guessed it) red bean paste (KRW500/4pieces). Talk about sweet and savoury all in one bite. 

At 6 o'clock in the evening, down town Myeong Dong is more lively than ever. Along with high fashion brands and their neon signs, food carts abound.

There's the Steamed Mangdu, a dough that's either filled with pork, mushroom or shrimp (KRW10,000/3 pieces).

Grilled everything! - Chicken, Pork, Sausages, Squid or Octopus

That's KRW500/stick, if you please.

5. If you plan on staying in Seoul for more than the tourist maximum of 4 days, I suggest you adopt a neighbourhood bar. Something that is just a hole in the wall and serves cheap local standbys like Kimchi pancakes and grilled Spam with  beer or shoju (rice wine). We usually spend KRW15,000 per visit (Php525/USD11.67).

6. Regardless how you spend your food adventure, I'm sure you will still have room each day for Chimaek!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Emerging Food City - Seoul

The last time I was in the capital of South Korea was during a stop over from a US trip on our way back home. That was a very long time ago though.  The annual Olympics of the World Model UN, however, gave me a chance to take a peak at this once-upon-a-time beneficiary state.

The World MUN, as they call it, is a diverse university conference that started in 1991, founded by several Harvard students who wanted to create a different Model United Nations experience. The World MUN is a platform for students from all over the world to be able to express their views on international issues. This is participated in by universities and colleges from different parts of the globe to converge in one place and perform a mock UN session. Not only will the students become well-versed in the procedural mechanisms of international organisations or conferences in general, but will also be adept at developing networks, diplomatic, leadership and cooperative skills, as if one is in the UN itself as they tackle real-life political, economic and social issues.

On its 24th year, it is a great way to experience Seoul. For a country that was devastated due to the Korean War in 1950 and lasted for 5 years, it has truly been focused in regrouping its resources to what is now a cosmopolitan city.  Rebuilding the country as a whole was intensive between the 70s and 80s and the results are laudable. Transportation and tourist facilities are very accessible despite the fact that not everyone here can speak English. Public safety is not an issue. One feels secure even if travelling alone or walking the streets at night in the downtown area. The locals generally let you alone and keep a polite distance, which as a visitor, one can appreciate well. Seoul turns out to be a very visitor-friendly place.

Billeted somewhere in downtown Myeong-dong, Seoul here gives a European feel, complete with really cold spring weather (-2 to 6 degrees). For accommodations, between 3-star and swanky hotels on one hand, and guesthouses or backpacker inns on the other, I suggest one takes the latter. 

The rooms may be small, and breakfast limited to bread or instant noodles, but it is cheap and clean.  Expect that one will have to pay cash upfront though, but this will make checking out a breeze later.

If going to Seoul, aside from it being a great convention or conference venue, one goes there to shop for clothes, fashion accessories and electronics. If neither of these are a consideration for travel, then there’s the food. They’re usually cheap and quite a variety. (At the time of visit, Philippine Peso is 0.035 Korean Won).

My favorite is what they call Chimaek, it’s an amalgamation of Chicken and Maekju, or Beer, in Korean. Every few shops you see along the streets offer this but my go-to place is Two Two Chicken in Myeong Dong.

Servings are good enough for 2, or if you’re just in for a snack, then 3-4 people can share. Nevertheless, one of our student delegates wolfed down 1 serving all by his lonesome. It was that good.

In fact, for our entire one week stay in Seoul, my husband and I would have Chimaek once a day either as dinner or heavy afternoon snack. Anytime is a good time to get some chicken and beer. (Expect to spend KRW10,000/ Php300/USD6.)

This is usually eaten with pickled radish which they serve first to cleanse your mouth, and then later, to balance the deep-fried flavours of the chicken. 

One can also ask for 2 flavors in one serving, the most common being the regular flavored fried chicken combined with the chili garlic. Either way, great with the local brew.

Another dining option will be the grill. If on a budget, one kind of meat is enough since most Korean grills will serve it with a variety of banchan, also known as their numerous side dishes that include a variety of kimchi, salad greens, and something sweet to balance the other flavors.

For our part, we chose 2 servings of pork belly, seasoned with the sauces served, and wrapped in lettuce leaves.

Another very Korean dish that shouldn’t be missed is Grandma Chicken. This is a whole chicken stewed in ginger and ginseng and said to revitalize and envigorate many a local. The chicken is stuffed with sticky rice and stewed tenderly; a comforting kick to cold weather.

After a good meal, try out any one of their dessert bars. There’s the Korean version that serves flaked ice served in a variety of flavours. 

Most of these shops are attractive to the female populace, and if ever you see one or two guys here, it’s probably because their girlfriends dragged them there. For my part, my husband was obliging and shared with me the bar’s bestseller, the Snowflake (KRW5,000/Php175/USD3.89).

A bowl carrying a big mound of flaked ice was brought to us flavored with milk and honey, on a foundation of almond jelly cubes, covered with ground sweetened almond powder, and sprinkled with almond flakes. Even if I eat this on my own, the icy flakes is very light, fluffy, and had just the right amount of sweetness. In fact, when I get the chance to eat this dish again, I’ll leave the husband at home. 

Another version of the dessert bar here is the Taiwanese one. This time, the ice is shaved and embellished with chunks of fruit or cake and drizzled with syrup. We got the one with the chocolate flavor. It was brought to us as one chocolate hill with brownie chunks, cherries, chocolate pudding and dressed in chocolate syrup just to show they mean business. This shaved ice bowl is heavier than the Korean one, but hey, I’m not one for complaining. They also serve this in mango or strawberry (if in season) flavours.

South Korean cuisine is an endless adventure. There’s their street food culture to consider too, but that is another story entirely. Stay tuned.