Of Mao, Spice, and Komrad

Mao Zedong was once quoted in saying:

In order to speed up this restoration and development [of agricultural production and industrial production in small towns], we must do our utmost, in the course of our struggle for the abolition of the feudal system, to preserve all useful means of production and of livelihood, take resolute measures against anyone’s destroying or wasting them, oppose extravagant eating and drinking and pay attention to thrift and economy.

To “oppose extravagant eating and drinking,” however, is not exactly a hallmark of the typical Chinese restaurant, where extravagance is the norm.  I think that much of what comes to mind when one says “Chinese food” – be it President in Binondo or Chowking – we owe to the oppressive dynasties deposed by Chinese revolutionaries.  After all, things like the banquet and lauriat were built on the backs – and the farms – of the proletariat.  And of course, there’s Mao Zedong the gourmand: his penchant for spicy dishes, particularly red-cooked pork, for example, was as strategic as it is tactical to vanquish… well, capitalist pigs.  But that – the historical notes or remarks devoid of any historical origin whatsoever, are digressions.

Enter Komrad: a Chinese restaurant somewhere in Tomas Morato, where the leitmotif (ding ding ding) is, well, Mao Zedong.

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Esto no Es Menudo, Por Favor

Every once in a while, Filipino fastfood restaurants try to innovate on a usually predictable menu, but a fastfood kitchen isn’t as well-stocked or as well-equipped as Kitchen Stadium.  Save for the fish dishes served during Lent, and the thousand and one ways to cook a burger patty, the kitchen crew make do with what they have.  Like Spongebob Squarepants, during that episode when he was brainwashed by Squidward into thinking that all he knows is fine dining and breathing.

Or, to be more… me, about it, follow the mathematical permutations of fastfood laboratory technicians who have made recipes out of sauce, hotdogs, chicken, burger meat, and the freeze-dried vegetables available in the kitchen.

Enter: Jollibee Chicken Menudo: or Permutation Number #67124.  In a word, disgusting.

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Notes on Fried Chicken

To the casual connoisseur of fast-food fried chicken, the Holy Grail is KFC: Col. Harland Sanders’ mix of 11 secret herbs and spices, gravy, and a side of fries.  Yet Chinatown cravings can get you out of your usual Fun Shot-induced stupor at an American-branded fast-food chain.  Off you go to the trains, the pedicabs, the walking tour of Ongpin’s side-streets to the tune of brass chimes, the sight of ba gua and jade charms glittering by the sidewalks, and the smell of siopao. When it comes to fried chicken, the virtue is Sincerity.

No sauces, no sidings (save for rice and a helping of oyster cake); just the joy of five-spice, batter, and yumminess.  I’m sure that it is served in the same way as its Peking predecessor: a pile of chicken on a plate, condiments not necessary.  It’s just sincere joy, from the hand to the mouth, from the stomach to the heart.  Washed down with a mouthful of iced tea, and you wonder why the place closes at 2 PM on a Sunday.

No more KFC for me, at least.  It’s a shame that they had to close Church’s Chicken at Mall of Asia.

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Tantalizing Tentacles

Little Tokyo

Sashimi, as an experience, is one that treads a fine line between good eating and amoebiasis.  People have eaten raw seafood for ages, but with all the talk of red tide and food poisoning, sashimi is a calculated risk.  Most would take raw fish, but I decided to push the limit a bit.  That’s right: octopus sashimi.

Last week, me and a couple of friends decided to chill out at Little Tokyo, which is a bunch of small Japanese restaurants just along Chino Roces (Pasong Tamo).  There was camphone paparazzi/photographer extraordinaire/pet society guru Fritz Tentativa, and everyone’s favorite blogging impresario-slash-virtuoso Winston Almendras.  Chilling meant salmon sashimi for Fritz and California maki for Winston, but for me it meant something more exotic.  Beer, of course, and octopus.

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Tom Collins

DSC00309I don’t like cocktails, but I’ll always have a soft spot for a nice cold glass of Tom Collins.

The cocktail, long reviled by “purist alcoholics” like myself who prefer to drink stuff straight, has long been polluted by all sorts of concoctions created by college boarders trying to make alcoholic alchemy out of all sorts of drinks and ingredients.  I draw the line at Red Horse mixed with rum and Sprite and grape juice, but there are those memories of tequila “mixes” and bubblegum-flavored lambanog that I still hang on to as promises to quit drinking heavily.

Then there’s the Tom Collins: it goes down smooth, it has a nice taste, and you won’t screw it up no matter how drunk and wasted you are and you’re still forced to make drinks.  Best of all, it’s made with my favorite hard liquor: gin.

That picture was taken at a Chili’s somewhere, but I prefer making my own.

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Arguing Over Tinola

Life can’t be lived in terms of what inspires you in the Chicken Soup series.  After all, a whole discussion over lunch can revolve around what makes a proper tinola.

There’s really nothing to tinola except fresh ingredients and simmering (not boiling: that’s the easiest way to kill the flavor of any dish), but tinola is only as good as what you put in it.  Over lunch today, there was an interesting debate on what should go into this veritable chicken soup.  Papaya or sayote?  Malunggay or sili? Like any recipe, you’ll find a great defense of what is combined into tinola, or what is omitted from it.

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Food Court Garlic Chicken and Gloop


Cubao is a fantastic place for good eats, but there are no surprises in food courts.  The better food courts are up in Gateway, but the food courts downstairs at Farmers’ Market are places I have not visited yet.  Needless to say, the picture above gives you a good idea of at least one meal that costs 81 pesos.

Worst dinner ever?  I’ve had gloop before – mostly in the form of cafeteria food and college canteen food – but Farmers’ Market gloop has to take the cake for perhaps the worst gloop I have ever had in months.  For a place that apparently has something to do with Chinese cooking, the presence of ketchup was enough for me to consider just eating the food and not enjoying it one bit.

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Foibles of Fastfood Inasal


Every chicken-eating culture in the world has a recipe for barbecued chicken, and every mall in the Philippines has an inasal restaurant.  Chicken inasal is the Big Mac of Pinoy dishes; there’s no shortage of inasal in the Philippines that claim to offer a “taste of Bacolod.”  The term “authentic” can be a selling point or a marketing strategy; all too often, though, it’s just a collection of words.

Mang Inasal at SM Megamall is fairly easy to find, but like every restaurant that serves Filipino cuisine fast-food style, it’s a hit-and-miss.  I was taught that inasal is a fairly simple yet flavorful combination of ingredients used to marinate barbecued chicken: calamansi, garlic, salt, sukang sasa, lemon grass, and annato oil.  When this blend of ingredients are turned into a prepackaged mixture that makes life in the restaurant kitchen easier, you pretty much end up with a dish that tastes more like chicken tocino than authentic chicken inasal.

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