Orient Express Part 1

Forkplay gets lost in Binondo

Lech-Get It-On!

Jon goes toe to toe with Uncle Cheffy's garlic studded pork belly lechon

This Diet Ain't Proletariat

Raise your forks to the revolution! Discover Hunan and Sichuan cooking at Komrad

Apple of My Eye

Bianca trades the Big Apple for real apple-picking in upstate New York

Pork Barrel

Roast with the most or hyped up ham? We put the Anthony Bourdain-acclaimed Zubuchon lechon to the test

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Breaking Bread

Written by Jonathan Lansang, Photos by Ryan Fernandez

GOOD BREAD IS A SCIENCE. With just flour and water as a base, one can mix in some yeast and sugar to make it rise, butter and eggs for richness, or even just switch the kind of flour used to produce an entirely different texture. That same bread is itself an element of a greater whole. Though often a side, or a simple vehicle for the filling, the right variety can add just the right texture or flavor that will bring together all the other elements of the dish. Choosing that perfect loaf may be difficult for the layman, but luckily you can get all that and more at Harina Artisan Bakery Café.

Harina in White Plains serves up artisanal baked goods daily. Left: Bread sticks with cheese and chocolate dips hearken back to the Yan-Yan snacks of yesteryear.
Located along White Plains on Katipunan, Harina is a charming little café that radiates the warmth of home. Well, a home with the gorgeous scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the air. Formerly Monsee’s the store has greatly expanded their all day breakfast menu while retaining some of their signature items such as their Spanish bread and breadsticks. Living up to the “artisan” in their name, all their baked goods are prepared in the traditional manner, hand-rolled and baked everyday with premium ingredients and absolutely no chemical additives.

Food is meant for sharing at Harina. Their Bloomin Bread, a fluffy focaccia loaf, is the perfect starter for groups.
Naturally, their menu capitalizes on this same artisanship and features several items with breads and pastries baked in the very same kitchen. Bloomin Bread is a great starter. The gorgeous loaf of focaccia topped with a bit of cheese and basil puree served with balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the side is a classic combination, one made better by the freshness of the bread. The loaf is huge, enough to share amongst your party and will definitely whet your appetite.

 The Chicken Caesar Sandwich is a savory treat combining Cajun chicken with lettuce, bacon, Caesar dressing and a perfectly poached egg on a baguette whose crisp crust is a good compliment to the other ingredients. 

The Waldorf Sandwich is another good healthy option. Like its salad namesake, it is composed of red and green apples, celery, chopped walnuts, joined by a chunks of chicken in mayonnaise all in a flaky pastry.

Perfect pairings: Left: Iced tea is served in adorable mason jars and striped party straws. Right: Harina's chunky waldorf sandwich is loaded with apples, walnuts, and chicken shreds.
If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, Harina has two varieties of French toast which are sure to please. The Strawberry Cheesecake version, as the name implies, has a cheesecake and strawberry preserves filled brioche. As much as I loved it, I’m a total sucker for peanut butter, and the Peanut Butter, Banana and Chocolate French Toast (the name is pretty self-explanatory) take on the timeless combination of flavors in their special wheat honey walnut bread and among their desserts, it’s my top choice.

Toasts of the town: Opt for butter, banana, and chocolate French Toast (left), or a strawberry cheesecake twist (right) for your all-day breakfast cravings
My personal favorite of the their breakfast offerings though was the Breakfast Tart, a puff pastry with a filling of cream cheese, spinach, tomatoes and eggs topped with bacon. The combination of flavors and textures is simply divine and the incredibly rich filling is only made more so by the gooey yolk as it flows out.

Harina's Breakfast Tart - flaky pastry topped with layers of cheese, spinach, egg, and bacon - is rich and savory. In short, it's the perfect way to start your day.

Bread's available all-day round at the bakery corner of the restaurant
As with all great bakeries, they have a selection of breads and other pastries like muffins and Danishes. Of special note though, was that they also had a variety of sweet and savory spreads that they make themselves. While the cookies and cream spread called out to me, I opted for the Bacalao as a take home for my family.

Baker's dozen: There's a lot to be had at Harina both for merienda and parties including muffins, cream puffs, danishes, and cookies.

As a final treat, we were offered a chance to try their brand new cronuts which were being brought out for the first time. Available in varieties of chocolate, blueberry and peanut butter (YES!), Harina has, for my money, produced the best cronuts in the local market in terms of both texture and flavor. I can definitely see people lining up for a box of these babies.

Whether you’re looking for a cozy place for brunch with your significant other; a great meal for your family (including decorate-a-treat cupcakes or cookies which kids are sure to love); or artisanal gifts for the holidays and beyond, swing by Harina. Munching away on some focaccia, you'll be happy you did.

Harina Artisan Bakery Cafe
118 Katipunan Avenue, White Plains, Quezon City
Tel. 352 6721
Open daily from 6:00am to 9:00pm

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


While deciding over what to have for dessert, I heard someone in the near background say – “finish strong” – so I did and ordered all the available desserts half wishing they had more. 

I have been obsessed with desserts in a jar for the past year (particularly cakes in a jar).  I tried baking them in the jar (then holding my breath hoping the jar doesn’t explode), baking the cake in a pan then layering it in the jar, filling them with a variety of mousses, but it never came out the way I wanted it to. 

Apparently, I over-thought it. 
Burger Bar’s line of desserts all in jars plays on the good old flavor combinations that are sure to appeal to most, if not all guests.

Armed with my long dessert spoon (ready to box out fellow Forkplayers Jon and Ryan from the first bite), I watch as they set down the Caramel Vanilla Bread Pudding and the Black and White Banana Split jars in front of us.  It is not what I originally expected.  The first jar was loosely filled with cubes of their homemade burger bun bread pudding, simply topped off with vanilla ice cream and finished with a generous serving of mini chocolate chips.  The second jar had chunks of moist chocolate brownies layered with slices of fresh bananas, caramel sauce, and two scoops of ice cream that stand proud with crown of whip cream and strawberry syrup that just screams out for you to take a bite.  Dessert jars are like your own little treasure hunt, with each bite is a challenge to dig deep and get all the different elements on your spoon, and into your mouth.

Walking away with the diyahe piece/spoonful, I came to a conclusion that good desserts don’t necessarily have to come out all dolled up to hit the spot. Maybe it’s about time I give the glass jars that go through my kitchen a second chance…  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hamburger Heaven

Though most often associated with fast food and caloric content that brings a tear to one’s eye, there’s so much more to hamburgers. Think about it: a hamburger is simple. It’s ground up cow between bread. Then again, a hamburger is complex. The right combination of herbs in the mix, or a touch of sauce gives endless possibilities for preparation to tempt even the snootiest food critics. The hamburger is many things; a paradox wrapped in a mystery, ground and fried up as a puzzle patty between the buns called genius and creativity.

In a lot of ways, that’s what makes Burger Bar such a perfect fit for the food it serves. Despite the upscale status of Greenbelt, the place is a simple, unassuming mezzanine that with a bit of an industrial twist. The overall atmosphere is relaxing. It’s a place where you can just kick back, and drool in anticipation for some awesome twists to some favorites of American cuisine.
Simple, but comfortable.
The place has a fantastic selection of sides. The basic Skinny Fries are pretty good and really affordable on their own, but they've also got a version topped with parmesan cheese and truffle oil which is to die for. Another favorite were the Fried Pickles. The light batter and the sour flavor of the pickles make an excellent first course, and with the speed my group finished them off, I can safely say that we could polish off a bag full of them easily. The Buttermilk Chicken Tenders are another must try. Served with Roasted Jalapeno Ranch and Curried Mango Aioli, they’re a real treat for both kids and adults. Like most American diners, they also have a collection of milkshakes of which the Salted Caramel stood out. Upon ordering, the waiter informed us that we could have it with vodka too! HEAVEN!

Juicy chicken, awesome dip.
Cut the pickle, you get a... 

Of course, a place called Burger Bar should have mind-blowing hamburgers, and it does! You can go for simple classics like their cheeseburger, quarter-pounds of pure beef with that melt-in-your-mouth texture that only freshly ground beef can give, the “Tributes,” however, are the definite must-haves. Available as either single or the recommended double patty, you can choose from some of Burger Bar’s signature toppings which, as the name implies, pay homage to classics flavors from all over while adding a generous helping of their own style and flair. Like mushrooms on your burger? The Rising Shroom is topped with fried oyster mushroom tempura and truffle cream cheese. Bacon lover? You’ll be worshiping The Piggy and its combination of garlic aioili, bacon strips, mozzarella, and bacon jam. BACON. JAM.

Always shroom for more!

If, on the other hand, you fancy yourself a member of the burger-topping-bourgeois, you can try your hand at making your own creation, starting from the bun, toppings, and even the beef itself. What’s that? Choose beef? Yep, besides its signature blend, Burger Bar also offers special blends of ground beef made from different cuts such as The Beef Bomb, a combination of chuck and short rib with a unique nuttiness, or The Big Game, a marriage of hanger and brisket which should have the bold flavor of aged beef. Unfortunately, the other blends weren’t available during our visit, but if the flavors are as unique as the menu claims, they could definitely be one of the biggest game changers in the local burger scene.

Burger Building 101
At only a few days old, Burger Bar has managed to thoroughly impress this old meat lover with the array of flavors and options it has presented. Though the world may never fully understand the burger and all its many layers of complex puzzlery, this is one place that takes a giant leap forward towards bringing perfection; no, hamburfection to the Philippines.

Ground Floor, Greenbelt 2
Twitter: @burgerbarph
Instagram: burgerbarph

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Off Tangent in the Orient

“You’ll have to try the coffee braised beef hot pot. But don’t forget the buchi; it’s got Reese’s chocolate filling.” These were words alien yet familiar; the usual suspects found in a Chinese restaurant’s menu. As Chow Fun’s owner Danio Caw did his roll call of dishes each came into sharp focus, wheeled in on the Lazy Susan of my mind. The hotpot, when brought in, was a bubbling bowl of dark caramel-hued stew meant more for the small, amazing eateries I imagine lining Beijing or Taipei’s side streets. Instead, it’s off Wilson Street, flanked by a Chinese herbal drugstore and facing a Buddhist temple.

Forget Starbucks, get your caffeine jolt from Chow Fun's Coffee Braised Beef. Right: Modern art - Chow Fun style

Free Zen meditation classes at the Ocean Sky temple facing the restaurant
Like other neighbourhood favourites Ristras, Chicken Charlie, and Kanzhu, Chow Fun is casual modern. Instead of red and gold decor, productions Yue Minjun’s grinning paintings hang on concrete walls. Chairs are deliberately mismatched, and so are the overhead lamps, which crowd above each table.

Chow Fun's modern interiors by designer Gwyn Guanzon
As with interiors so with the menu too: Expect a cross-section of China’s food map that delightfully goes off-tangent. The tender braised beef could nearly, effortlessly slide down your throat, but it’s the robust, assertive coffee flavour that makes it stand out. Duck spring rolls are crisp and oily, kind of like pulutan begging to be hand with a cold bottle of Tsing Tao. While a mildly gamey taste will coat your mouth, the dish is served with three sauces – orange, chilli, and vinegar.

A duck! Precisely!: Fowl-filled spring rolls with three kinds of sauce
Bigger portions include a Lechon Macau on hefty mound of fried rice. It’s a meal on its own, and while the pork is crisp enough, you’ll want it crunchier if possible. There’s a pork bun version too for merienda stop-overs. 

Lutong Macau: There's no secret to Chow Fun's hearty Lechon Macau with rice
While most dishes are good, a few are more stellar than most like Chow Fun’s House Fried Chicken. Don’t let the pedestrian name fool you – this amazing chicken could be enough to wean most off of their Bon Chon addiction. Without anything else, it could be the dish most fried chickens could aspire to: juicy white meat under a crispy skin with excellent texture.It comes coated in pepper and dried plum powder – think champoy – that reels you in with sweetness, then becomes peppery, and finally back to sweet.

The House Fried Chicken comes coated in powdered plum, and a vinegar dip on the side
And the buchi? A molten, gooey Reese’s core left us weak-kneed and pining for more!

Chow Fun's buchi comes in two versions: Dark chocolate and Reese's filling. Lord have mercy
And more there ought to be: Despite not being over six months old yet, and still refining a fluid menu, Chow Fun shows a lot of promise. Dynamic and slightly unhinged, upbeat and creative instead of staid, it puts its own stamp on what Chinese cuisine can and should, proving to us that bending rules are often fun.           

CHOW FUN Modern Chinese Bistro
Ground Floor, 103 J. Abad Santos Street, Little Baguio, San Juan City
Tel. 6241009 / 5700826

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Korean food - Gangnam Style

I have many dreams in life - and after watching Korean rapper's Gangnam Style music video for the seventy sixth time, I'm adding another one to the list: Being able to do Korean rapper PSY's horse-dance with a flash mob in the middle of Edsa. Because really how awesome would be to spontaneously break into synchronized fake galloping in the streets of Manila?

Also, because of K-Pop fever, my hair kind of looked like this for six months:
Thanks Tony & Guy! That was a poorly made life decision.
Fortunately there's not much to be confused about with a steaming bowl of bibimbap. With Filipinos' ongoing infatuation for all things Korean, it's no surprise that Korean food - hearty, exotic, and often spicy - have many smitten. From family-run groceries that make their own kimchi to barbecue dens all over to chains like Bon Chon, Sariwon, and Bulgogi Brothers, the culinary floodgates are wide open.

Chef's Noodle, one of Korea's celebrated restaurant chains has finally arrived in Manila. Taft Avenue to be exact, and pioneering it is no less than the founder, Chef Choi In Sun:

Why does Chef Choi In Sun always wear a fedora? I'd like to believe it's because he moonlights as a gumshoe detective. Or archaeologist. You'll know him because he also shows up in your tamago.

How egg-cellent! . . . Shutting up now.
Their specialty, the aptly-named Chef's Noodle (P150) gives a potent kick of flavors with every slurp. This salty and peppery broth is chock-full of tender beef slices, tofu puffs, scallions, and beansprouts (giant togue that's a recurring theme in Korean cuisine). The noodles themselves have good 'bite' - not too flimsy or soggy. For most, a bowl is more than enough, but then again, there's more to Chef's Noodle than - er - noodles.

Chef's Noodles by Chef's Noodles
What makes it the restaurant's bestseller? Until Chef Choi tells us, we'll just have to assume only the most delicious of ingredients...

No, Po's father. Just no.
For starters, the Wanja Steak Jun (P175) reminds us of breakfast, the hearty kind had by high schoolers who pound their tables for more rice and egg in their meals. This Korean-style burger steak is topped with egg and cheese and comes served in a dimsum basket. Imagine a a deconstructed cheeseburger sans the bread buns. The meat as you'd expect is tender but with crisp, burned edges. It's slathered with a salty-savory-syrupy sauce that goes well with rice.

You've also got Ddukbokki (P150)- a dish that sounds like a special martial arts move in Street Fighter. But it's in fact a Korean favorite. And while sapin-sapin drenched in chili sauce gives me pause, it is in some ways the best description of Ddukbokki. Tube-shaped chunks of chewy rice cake will give your jaw muscles ample exercise. It looks and tastes spicy, but the heat is steady and never reaches scorching levels. Fruit juices add some measure of sweetness too.  

(For the stubbornly ravenous among us, Chef's Noodle has a Ddukbokki-eating challenge. Eat the most, and you can be part of a meet-and-greet with Chef Choi and Grace 'I-dated-the-president' Lee. Plus you get some sweet swag and bragging rights. I imagine a shirt that says "I Ddukbokkick Ass!")

Left: Hearty Wanja Steak Jun. Right: Ddukbokki rice cakes
Though Korean, there's sushi to be had too including raw beef on rice. Your order comes in a neat row of glossy, pink Australian strip sirloin and - because anything on fire is double the fun - is subjected to a constant flame by someone wielding a kitchen blowtorch. (Also, this is a bad ass method for lighting cigarettes.)  Dubbed the Starking Fire Sushi (P160), Chef Choi demo'd this first in South Korea's Star King talent show.

Several seconds under the flame renders the meat medium rare while leaving it raw beneath. The glutinous rice has a vinegar element that perks up your taste buds.

Fire: It makes everything taste better.
Seafood Pajun
Filipinos will find two other dishes surprisingly familiar: Torta's distant Korean cousin, the Seafood Pajun (P99), is an omelette pancake filled with chopped squid and vegetables. Leek Shrimp Twigim (P99) are crunchy, deep-fried shards of shrimp and leeks in tempura batter somewhat like ukoy.

Exotic yet homey, comfort food with a touch of K-Pop coolness, Chef's Noodle just might be Taft's answer to students craving all things Korean.

Oh, and it's almost as addictive as that Gangnam Style song.

Chef's Noodle
2nd Floor, University Mall, Taft Avenue, Manila (facing College of St. Benilde)
Tel. 09328715560

Sunday, July 22, 2012

7107 Eats at Eastwood

Head to Quezon City this weekend if you're looking for your fair share of food fairs. (Hey, that rhymed! Sort of.) As if the debut of Mercato Centrale's new expansion in Ayala Techno Hub - the aptly named Mezza Norte night market - isn't enough, Eastwood Mall will be holding its own food festival in their outdoor plaza on Sunday.

7107 EATS by Asian Food Channel promises to be an afternoon of gastronomic galore with specialties from the country's colorful culinary heritage. Plus expect top chefs to demo cooking ideas with clever twists on Filipino favorites. Sous vide adobo with truffle oil anyone?

We're loosening our belts already.       

PS. What's more Sky Cable subscribers get in for free. Huzzah!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Steamy Stories at the Mind Museum

Science geeks rejoice! There's much to be giddy about with the newly opened Mind Museum. While we imagine a dimly lit gallery of brains floating in glass jars, The Fort's brand new science center is somewhat more cheerful. Spanning two vast floors and containing a plethora of exhibits, the Mind Museum brings concepts in biology, geology, physics, and chemistry to life. (The dinosaurs however stay disappointingly dead.) But even for the rest of us who shy away from the joys of memorizing the periodic table of elements, there's still reason to have a blast: miniature tornadoes, faux fossil digs, and a 20-minute 3-D romp through the history of life on planet Earth. 
There's more than a grain of truth to the history of rice
Mind Burst weekends provide quirky, hands-on activities including t-shirt dyeing and sandwich-making. Coming up is Extra Rice Please!: an exploration of rice's grainy history from ancient Banawe Rice Terraces to today's infatuation with Unli-Rice. During the event, the culinary experts from The Cookery Place will also provide creative rice meals. Guess we all have a good reason to go carbo loading...

...except this kid.