Le Sandwich, Pomme de Pain @ Bittersweet Paris

This reminded me of my days in Paris.

Only a few days, but with peace and chaos, romance and angst, bitter and sweet, all rolled into one giant ball of yarn, I must say Paris is something. I think it will be something for everyone, be it what it is that they experience to a degree somewhat.

It is just because Paris has character. You may see it. You may hear it. Or you may feel it. Someone almost always leave Paris a little bit changed by it. At least I did.

You cannot help being fazed by the chaotic way the rues (streets) are structured (though I must say the new looking signs on every street are really helpful when one is staring at the ready to fall apart tourist map), and the crowd that are a mix of local and tourists, mostly tourists, and the same proportion of people who are there to solely earn from the tourists, which kind of anger you especially if they provoke or shows some sort of threat. if you have been there you would know what i mean. This is where Paris can be chaos and angst.

But you also cannot help being overwhelmed by the romance of the city. The feel of things being the way they are, just so. Paris has a sort of foreboding force not to be ignored. River seine. Oh how can one not be almost swept away by it, even though there are no big current. In fact it is the serenity that pulls you along. It brings you to places you always wanted to go, or almost did, and possibly someday will. River seine shows you it is possible. This where Paris can be peace and romance.

And so while I was walking along, almost aimlessly, although I am sort of looking at the map, I am also sort of bumming around, just because I like it that way. I like the random way of things during my travels, yet I could not help wanting to go some of the places that I heard or read beforehand, thus the need for the map to route me once in a while. Suddenly I walked pass this sandwich place that has a long line of queue outside.

I am pretty guilty of the mantra “I want to eat where the locals eat”

My hands shot up to my eyes, I look at the watch, great lunch time! Almost that is, 11.37am, oh well, who knows what is lunch time in this part of the world, for me I say it is. So I happily join in the long queue.

While waiting the line, I was fascinated by everything around me, there are a mixture of students and young working adults. I love the details of their fashion. Their clever layering in the not too cold weather. The working crowd is sort of posh in the way they carry themselves while the youngsters show vibrancy and youth. The incessant chatters between the youths in contrast to the deep in concentration i-want-my-sandwich-fast-so-i-can-go-back-to-work adults.

With all that and I have have yet to even look at the long list of how you can have your sandwich. Ham? Cheese? Plain? Toasted? I can’t remember most of the fanciful stuff but in the end, I chose the most basic of le sandwich I can find. Yes just stick slices of smoke sausages into my baguette and I am good to go. So they did and off I walk with the precious prize in my hand.

Le Sandwich @ Pomme de Pain, Paris
Le Sandwich @ Pomme de Pain, Paris

I pondered a bit at that time. Is it lunch time yet? Should I eat now? Later? Oh well better when it’s hot. But just an excuse of course, for who in the right mind could walk around with a toasty wonderful smelling sandwich in their hands and not eat it? What more this is THE parisian sandwich I am talking about. Yes, le sandwich. So yes, I ate it while walking along the street towards Arc de Triomphe.

When I sank my teeth into it, I moan in ecstasy. Yes it is that good. How can something so simple can be so good boggles my mind. And how I know no such simplicity goodness to be found back where I came from tightens my heart. The baguette is absolutely the way a good baguette should be. It has just the right warmth, toasty with outer crust that crunches and inner bread that is soft and sweet. Ah and the sausages. Slightly salty that cuts through the bread very well, literarily or non literarily.

While enjoying le sandwich, I think to myself “How can I eat another sandwich normally again?” And this is where Paris can be bittersweet.

Pomme de Pain
All over Paris if you keep your eyes open (or nose for that matter)

Best Halo-halo @ Manila, Phillipines : Uniquely Mixed

Most people in the Philippines save the few Chinese that remains with their ancestral Chinese surname or a few indigenous that keeps their own too, have Spanish surnames. A close local friend told me it is because at some point in history, a law was passed during the Spanish occupation that everyone should adopt a family name for easy administrative purposes, thus the names were coined since then, with Spanish influence of course. I personally like their names where one name reminded me of a tycoon, another of astronomy while one about a venturing girl.

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Asian in looks, with mixtures of Chinese and Malay with some little Spanish, Filipinos may have features ranging from chinky eyes (as how the locals call for those eye slits that Chinese are famous for – yes like mine), to big round eyes similar to the Malays and mix of brown and yellow skin. One thing which is frequent here though is that most Filipinos have small frames and low in stature, I felt immediately at home here being of somewhat similar, I have to admit. In fact, many here commented I look like a Filipina, and most people I met will converse with me in Tagalog (their local national language) naturally for the first time and I had countless taxi drivers insisting I look deceptively like a local. Maybe that is how I get to blend in easily, something I am quite thankful for.

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“There are Starbucks everywhere here!” I exclaimed as we walk passed one at an obscure highway stop.

“Yes, because we Filipinos,” B started explaining “want to live the American dream”

There is no doubt that many, if not all, Filipinos that have the American dream, and why not? In land of America it seems that anything is possible, it is where dreams go and be realized. It was said that long time ago, Philippines nearly became a part of America, just that war happened and the rest as they say, is history. Nevertheless, I do meet a lot of Filipinos who their heart is strongly rooted in their own homeland, who would willingly stay and grow the country, but sadly there are even more that look at, live by and dream of America.

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As you can see, as how Carlos Celdran aptly puts it, Filipinos are a mixture of sorts – Spanish in name, Asian in looks but American at heart, just like its most famous dessert halo-halo which literarily means mix-mix.

Chow's King Halo-halo @ Manila, Phillippines
Chow's King Halo-halo @ Manila, Phillippines

This icy dessert had reminded me of our Malaysian Ais Kacang, minus the the kacang (no kidding), where there is shaved ice drenched in condensed/evaporated milk or just milk and sugar and then mix in with various ingredients of sorts. The usual suspects are red mung beans, sugar palm (kaong), coconut sport (macapuno), jackfruit strips, purple yam (ube) paste, crushed young rice (pinipig), leche flan and caramelized banana. Some even say that it is not complete without a dollop of ube (yam) ice cream, and only ube flavour for the authenticity!

As we can see even the ingredients are mixtures of culture of red mung beans from the Chinese, leche flan from the Spaniards and shaved ice from the Americans (source from Wikipedia). From my 100 days stay there, I learn that, as ironic as it may sound, being a mixture of sorts and of no distinct identity is what makes Filipinos unique. Just like how the mixture of halo-halo that sort of make you think that the dessert couldn’t make up its mind on what it wants to be that makes it so uniquely delicious.

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One of the best authentic original halo-halo I tried (with nearly all the ingredients mentioned above) turns out to be from one of the famous chain restaurants in the Philippines – Chow King. (first picture above)

Chow King

Razon's Halo-halo @ Manila, Phillippines
Razon's Halo-halo @ Manila, Phillippines

Another variation of halo-halo (picture above), stripped down to nearly bare naked of essentials – leche flanmacapuno (coconut sport) and caramelized banana, was truly a league of its own for its really smooth shaven iced doused in creamy sweet milk and its minimal critical ingredients.

Razon’s of Guagua

Best Pork Sisig @ Manila, Phillippines : The Many Sides of Manila and its Food

“Add 30 peso, heavy traffic!” said the taxi man.

“What?!?” I feign incredulity, this is not the first time I was asked of this.

“Yes ma’am, heavy traffic, taxi cannot make money” he continued.

Somehow this line make me relent, at times some taxi man are rude in asking for more money on top of their meter, but this one just tells me honestly why he needs it. Maybe it is just how frankly he tells me why he needs that extra. So I just said “OK!”

It is not always like this in Manila, I have many times met more kindness than I can ever have expected, once a taxi man said I can pay whatever amount I seem fit since the destination I went to was just so near, it caught me off guard, but I paid as how much I think is right with tips to boot.

I find that I actually enjoy tipping, after living a life of an ‘expat’ (some of them refer me as that though I don’t feel such as that word makes one think of extravagance life but trust me it is not),but still new habits are learnt when one is in a foreign land. I never tip when I was in Malaysia, I guess somehow it doesn’t seem like the culture to me then but as the saying goes, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. I have learnt here that not many are that well off, many earn their wages through sheer hard work and many of them are in the service industries. So if the restaurant does not charge for service (most of them do not), then I would leave some tips so that the servers could earn a more decent income. Besides, at most places the service is good, I am always greeted with a smile, and they are mostly attentive and genuine.

Food I must say though there are hits and misses, but who am I judge when I have only been to only so few of them, many good ones still uncovered I believe. In the metropolitan area which are dominated with few chain restaurants, it is quite hard to avoid them (being one who always think that chain restaurants are just a small step away from ‘fast food’), some did disappoint but many does surprises you with their good food and how they have maintained the quality despite the huge expansions and the some for even the longest time of existence. I guess this is just how Filipinos show their fidelity, if the food is good, they will keep returning to it religiously, thus allowing a selected few chain restaurants to boom across the metropolitan faster than you can say “Sarap!” (means delicious in Tagalog) This is after all the country where their home-grown fast food chain, Jollibee (just love the catchy name) out beats McDonald by a seriously high margin; at nearly every corner that you turn, you will see the happy bee with a chef hat smiling at you.

Nevertheless, I have in fact tried quite a number of local dishes, many times in various restaurants, just to find them differ slightly (sometimes widely) from one another, and then on to find my favourites among them. So let me introduce you to them slowly, each food that the locals here enjoy day in and day out and where to get the best of them and what varieties you may just find (mind you some or most of them would be coming from the said chain restaurants, I guess they are a chain for the same reason?). First let me start with a dish, as you all know me, the one who praises the pork relentlessly, would of course start with one which is the pork sisig.

Pork Sisig @ Manila, Phillipines
Pork Sisig @ Manila, Phillipines

Pork sisig is one of the well known pulutan (food to go with drink), where normally people order when they are out having a beer or some alcohol. It was said to reduce the impact of alcohol on the stomach and the name itself actually meant to be ‘taken in small quantity’. But as for me, I ordered it anyway as appetizer or main meal even, because I simply love it. There are two groups of pork sisig lovers, those who love the crunchy ones while those on the vice versa, for me I belong to the former group. I just love to have a crunch on my pork sisig but nevertheless I do enjoy the other types too. Pork sisig would serve better to those who don’t really know what it is made of, but just if you are brave enough read on now else skip to the next paragraph, you have been warned! It is made of chopped pig’s head (hair removed and tenderize and yes entire head!), then boiled and grilled/broiled then finally fried with chopped onions and served on a sizzling platter with vinegar and kalamansi juice (Asian lime).

Normally they like to serve the pork sisig at the last cooking part where they would ‘fry’ the mixture in front of you on the sizzling pan, even sometimes cracking a raw egg over and cook it along. Once served, you can then squeeze over the kalamansi to taste yourself and voila, you would have a perfect crunchy pulutan or simply a good dish to  go along with your rice.

For my favourite crunchy pork sisig:

Krocodile Grill
Greenbelt 3
Esperanza St., Ayala Center
Makati City, Metro Manila

A cross between the crunchy and the soft, a lot of people’s favourite:

Gerry’s Grill
Glorietta 5
Level 2, Ayala Center,
Makati City, Metro Manila
(02)856-4443, (02)856-3544
Sunday to Thursday 11am – 12midnight
Friday and Saturday 11am – 2am
Other Branches

Another pork sisig with a twist, added with mayonnaise but nonetheless uniquely tasty:

Giligans ‘s Island Restaurant and Bar
Greenbelt 1
Esperanza St., Ayala Center
Makati City, Metro Manila
Other branches

Bangkok: Cooking School

types rice thailand
Various Types of Rice @ Thailand

I finally succumbed to it. I went for a cooking course in Bangkok. The idea had flit through my mind on and off, whenever I read through a blog, browsed through a food site or flipped through a magazine. I would be not fair to myself and my blog readers if I do not go and learn the secrets of Thai Cooking right?

I researched the net for the cooking school that would suit me, finally settling for Silom Cooking School because it has the most reasonable price with good review as well. Extra bonus is that it includes local market shopping beforehand.

My cooking instructor, N, a really sweet guy, guided me to his place and paid for the fare as well as he could not pick me from my busy hotel at Sukhumvit road.Once there, I joined up with a family from Hong Kong, a lady with her husband, daughter of six and mother (or in-law, I’m not sure). They are really a nice bunch and it was great fun learning cooking with them.

The first session was we head straight to a small local market near N’s place. First thing we bought is freshly grated coconut for our curries. Then N proceeds to explain the various kinds of curry paste used in Thai cooking. He says that there are 3 common curry pastes: green, red and yellow. All are nearly the same except that green paste is made from fresh green chillies while the red paste is from dried red chillies and the yellow paste added with turmeric for color. It does sound simple the way he said it.

types of curry paste in thailand
Various kind of Curry Paste

Then we head out to the vegetable stall, where it seems like N’s usual place to go for the students as the lady at the stall knows what to get for him straight away. She was also oblivious to N poking at her vegetables while explaining to us about it. N explained various Thai herbs to various gingers as well as various eggplants.

Types of Thai Herbs
Types of Thai Herbs

Each of us had a little basket to do our market shopping. Here is my bountiful basket herbs and spices:

thai herbs basket
My Thai Herbs basket

After that we lug our basket of treasures back to his place. I was impressed by the beautiful cooking place setup.

silom cooking school
Silom Cooking School

Everything was nicely plan, with one room for wet preparation, such as pressing coconut juice included with a place to wash the vegetables.

thai vegetables
Thai Vegetables

Another room was for the dry preparations such as cutting, pounding and so on. At the dry preparation, we are all rationed from the tray with what is needed to cook our one-portion dish. Then N showed us what to do with it.

Then we head out with our tray and do some cooking. Here is my final own cooked version of Tom Kha Gai (coconut milk chicken). It is my first time eating this dish so I can’t judge with the authentic ones out there, but this soup is definitely a filling one. I could not finish the coconut milk.

tom kha gai
Tom Kha Gai

Next I dished up another one-person portion of Gai Pad Med Mamuang (Fried Cashew Nut with Chicken).

Gai Pad Med Mamuang
Gai Pad Med Mamuang

Then N explained on various Thai rice and how each is cooked and consumed. Then he proceeds to show how they traditionally steam the sticky rice.

Thai Steamed Sticky Rice
Thai Steamed Sticky Rice

Next N showed us how to make Yam Wun Sen (Spicy Mungbean Noodle Salad). It is served nicely presented with the now-cooked sticky rice.

Yam Wun Sen (Spicy Mungbean Noodle Salad)
Yam Wun Sen

Next we shared make Thod Mun Pla (Fried Fish Cakes). The process was a bit messy but the finish product, once again nicely presented by N, was definitely a delicious sight and delicious to eat as well. We also get to make the Thai Sweet Chilly Sauce to accompanied it ourselves.

Thod Mun Pla (Fried Fish Cakes).
Thod Mun Pla

Next we prepare the red curry paste and then dished up Kang Phet Gai (Red Curry Chicken).

Kang Phet Gai (Red Curry Chicken).
Kang Phet Gai

Finally, courtesy from N as I requested, he taught me how to make Som Tam. How can I missed this beloved dish right? I get to pok-pok the salad together. Turn out it is really simple, now I am going to go against what I preach, and make one for myself at home soon.

som tam young mango salad thai
Som Tam

So that’s the end of my experience in Silom Cooking School. I had tremendous fun and would like to thank N for the wonderful dishes and expanded waistline. N also gave us his own compiled recipes before we leave, how thoughtful. So what is the secret of Thai cooking? The secret lies in fresh local ingredients. That’s all really. Everything else is really simple and easy, especially if you know Asian way of cooking. Now when am I going to make these dishes at home as I promised to J?