THEY DO NOT SERVE ADOBO AT THIS FILIPINO RESTAURANT!
For the Filipino or the world traveler, Boracay is a very familiar name. It unmistakingly refers to the world-class resort island in Aklan province in Central Philippines, known for its white sandy beaches, acclaimed to be some of the best, if not the best, according to many international travel groups and publications.
Boracay Garden & Grill in South San Francisco, California, established in 2008, capitalizes on the popularity of the resort island while distinguishing itself apart from many U.S.-based Filipino restaurants in existence, or that have come and gone.
Founder Jun Andres will tell you that whenever people first hear of his restaurant, the first question they ask is whether they serve adobo. Surprise, surprise. It is NOT on their menu. Andres says that the restaurant serves cuisine that is not typical. He asks, “Why serve dishes that everybody can just cook at home?” Sure, Boracay Garden & Grill does serve some of the usual Filipino restaurant fare like Kare-Kare and Crispy Pata, but some of their signature dishes are nothing but ordinary, among them, Seafood Black Rice, Bangus (milkfish) Sisig and Binagoongang (fish paste) Rice. The restaurant also attempts to expand its reach by beefing up its Pan-Asian profile with dishes like “Steak a la Tokyo,” “Hawaiian Oxtail Soup,” and “Pancit Bangkok.”
I was invited to a birthday celebration of a long-time friend and the venue was the Boracay Garden & Grill. I have never been to this restaurant before, so I did look forward to attending the event. Prior to arriving at the restaurant, I looked up their menu on their web site and I knew right there and then that I had to order their Seafood Black Rice and their Bangus Sisig.
Black rice is not a common staple in the Philippines. Sometimes called “forbidden rice,” this sticky rice variety looks like the regular unmilled brown rice (with the husk on) but much darker in color. Some Filipinos might mistake it to be white rice cooked in or mixed with the black ink of the squid. Sisig, on the other hand, is a dish popularized in the Philippine province of Pampanga. In the local Kapampangan dialect, “sisig” means to eat something sour but it is also refers to the process of cooking meat, especially pork, in a spicy and vinegary concoction and usually served as a sizzling dish.
Like in most Filipino restaurants, food at Boracay is served family- style. We were a group of 10 people, so each one was asked to pick a dish from the restaurant menu to be shared by all. We had the usual fare like Fried Calamari, Lengua Estofada, Kare-Kare, Pancit, Pinakbet, Crispy Pata and Soft Shell Crab. I suggested that we try their Seafood Black Rice and Bangus Sisig. Both of my choices were absolutely delicious!
The seafood black rice plate came in a bed of fried black rice with chopped scallions and other spices, topped by a seafood combination of shrimp, scallops, snow crab and crispy fried calamari. The seafood toppings were breaded and fried, but it crossed my mind that perhaps they could also come steamed or sautéed. But that’s for my version of a future posting on MyBayKitchen! My only hesitation about the dish was the calamari topping, not because it wasn’t delicious, but only because we already had fried calamari for our appetizer.
Their Bangus Sisig came on a sizzling platter of an open-faced boneless bangus, topped by minced milkfish sauteed with onions, japaleno peppers and some other seasoning. Just like the regular pork sisig, it had a delightfully vinegary taste and spicy sizzle, making it perfect for the side of steamed white rice.
Customers coming into the restaurant for the first time will be pleased to find that all their menu items are priced at under $15. A party of 10 ordering 8-10 items on the menu will find the dining experience quite surprisingly affordable! As for the ambiance, the dining room may be a little tight for comfort, especially when the restaurant is crowded. On its web site, Boracay boasts of “warm and efficient service,” although the “efficient” part could become a little bit compromised on crowded days. But the good food makes up for any lapse in service. Located along the busy El Camino Real in South San Francisco, arriving at the restaurant is quite stress-free because of its ample parking.
So next time you plan to dine out for Filipino food, think of the resort island. Think of Boracay Garden & Grill for both your usual favorite dishes and then some!
A TASTE TEST: Packaged Chicken and Vegetarian Lumpia
For decades now, expatriates and food lovers have been treated to packaged lumpia all ready to fry – available at their favorite food warehouse chains like Costco or their local Asian grocery stores. What a great convenience it is for lumpia lovers worldwide to not have to deal with the time-intensive preparation of this Filipino version of the eggroll. One inconvenience remains, though: you still have to deal with the messy splattering of the cooking oil from your deep fryer or pan.
Well, there is some bit of good news! Ramar Foods, a Northern California company that manufactures food products that Filipinos remember from home, has come up with a new line called “Kusina ni Maria” (Maria’s Kitchen). It is named after co-founder Maria Quesada.
What’s different about this new line is that the products come already pre-cooked and frozen. All it takes is to pop them in the conventional oven for a few minutes. The items in this new line include the chicken adobo, their Pancit Kit, and their lumpia — both chicken and vegetarian. I had wanted to test all three products but unfortunately, only the lumpia was available at the food store I went to. (The company’s web site lists the stores that carry their product, and it can also be ordered online for shipping)
I’ve always maintained the notion that lumpia should always be freshly fried, otherwise it loses the crisp and crunch and defeats the very concept of this Chinese-inspired egg roll. Those who have tried to re-heat leftover lumpia in the microwave know exactly what I mean. So I was eager to test Kusina ni Maria‘s lumpia, quite skeptical about the instructions on the packaging about heating it in the conventional oven. The instructions specifically mention that in order to achieve the crisp, one needs to preheat the oven to 375 degrees (F).
I followed the instructions to the letter and tried both the chicken and vegetarian lumpia.
I give the product a thumbs up in as far as achieving the crisp and crunch that I always look for in lumpia. Kusina ni Maria delivers on its promise of “no mess” from frying.
The ingredients for both the chicken and vegetarian lumpia are exactly the same, except the addition of, well, chicken, in the chicken lumpia. The dominant taste in both products was the yam, which for me was fine for the vegetarian version. I had wanted to taste more of the chicken in the chicken lumpia, and if I didn’t know which version I was eating, it would have been difficult for me to tell the difference. Ingredients listed for the filling include cabbage, yam, bean sprouts, carrots, onions, garlic, salt, sugar and black pepper; with chicken added for the chicken lumpia.
Instructions also recommend that the product be served with vinegar and chopped garlic with a dash of black pepper for the sauce. I purposely did not use any sauce for my taste test to make sure the sauce did not influence my taste of the product.
Despite my initial disappointment, I wouldn’t mind keeping the lumpia in my freezer as a backup meal when I can’t find the time to cook. It’s quick and easy to prepare. I most likely will stick to the the vegetarian lumpia more than the chicken version.
You can visit the product web site HERE.
MEMORIES OF PHILIPPINE KITCHENS
One often wonders why Filipino cuisine hasn’t gone “mainstream” in the U.S. and other countries, just like Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese food have. Filipino restaurants in many cities in the world are mostly confined to fast-food type of establishments. “Presentation” is always a challenge when including Filipino dishes on the restaurant menu. The hodge-podge of ingredients in many family-style cuisine makes those unfamiliar with Filipino food err on the side of caution, perhaps even skepticism.
Understanding the essence of Filipino food, I think, is key to its better appreciation. Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan provide the vehicle for such understanding in their book, “Memories of Philippine Kitchens.”
“The cultural roots of Filipino food run deep,” the book says, adding that, among other things, one must consider the importance of the Filipino traits of hospitality and generosity in order to fully understand and appreciate Filipino food in context. The way to a loved one’s or a guest’s heart is through the stomach, so to speak.
There are many nuances that helped shape Filipino cuisine, historical as well as geographical. Filipino food has been influenced by hundreds of years of colonial experience under Spain and the United States, its history of trade with China and Mexico, as well as its association with its neighboring cultures in Southeast Asia.
Yet, the Philippines was able to maintain its indigenous foods that today, coexist with foods borrowed from the West.
Armed with amazing photographs by Neal Oshima, the book intelligently lays the whole gamut of Filipino food on the table: “Food That Was Always Ours,” and “Food That Was Borrowed and Made Our Own,” while highlighting such repertoire with treasured family recipes from the various regions of the Philippines.
This book is a true treasure. Who needs to dream about a Filipino menu in an upscale mainstream restaurant when you got it right here in this 200-plus page keepsake? More than just the recipes, one will truly experience the essence of Filipino cuisine and learn about the Philippines’ rich culture and tradition along the way.
After reading this book, one’s concept of Filipino food will no longer be limited to pancit, lumpia and adobo, but also sinigang, kinilaw, kakanin, bibingka, escabeche, pinakbet, laing, tinola, sinacugan, inasal…
THERE’S MORE TO SINGAPORE THAN THE BAN ON CHEWING GUM
My one and only visit to Singapore was 30 years ago, and two distinct memories from that visit continued to be the sole basis of my overall impression about this intriguing country — tall buildings and the ban on chewing gum. I knew little about its history, culture and food – until I read Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s “A Tiger in the Kitchen.”
When I started reading the book, I expected to see pages and pages of recipes – linear listings of ingredients and cooking directions. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to read about poignant accounts of family relationships, ethnic roots, and interesting facets of a culture that seamlessly intersects with those of its Malay and Asian counterparts – all told within the confines of kitchen chatter, and within the delightful context of, what else — food. In addition, narrations of long-held traditions surrounding marriage proposals and holidays like the Lunar New provide some humorous moments in the book.
I learned most of my cooking from my late mother, just watching her in the kitchen. She had no recipe books or cheat sheets, just the skill and knowledge probably passed on from my grandmother and my grandmother’s mother. So it was a personal relief for me to read in Tan’s book that the best dishes are probably the ones that are passed on by word of mouth and practice, judged not by measuring cups or kitchen timers, but by intuition and the pouring of one’s heart into the cooking. “Agak-agak,” as the book suggests.
You will enjoy reading the book once for its memoirs, and you will want to keep it among your treasured kitchen library collection. You will keep going back for the memories … and the recipes imbedded in them!
50 FOODS THAT DEFINE THE PHILIPPINES
Click HERE to see a list of the 50 most popular Filipino dishes — from the adobo to halayang ube.
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