A true Filipino Christmas is never complete without the beloved bibingka.
Bibingka is a native rice cake topped with cheese and salted egg baked over hot coals in a clay oven and served with butter, sugar and grated coconut. It is very popular during the Holidays but it’s virtually available back home anytime of the year.
I grew up enjoying this sweet treat, which brings back so many memories of Christmases past. Since I have this strong urge to indulge and, disappointingly, I could not find a decent place in the city that makes them, I decided to make bibingka myself. It’s technically not from scratch since I planned on using store-bought rice cake mix but I figured, I would use banana leaves, which would bring the level of complexity a few notches higher.
And so I drove to Manila Oriental Market, my newest discovery in the city. It’s a huge Filipino supermarket that sells pretty much all things Filipino, from notorious duck eggs to freshly baked pan de sal. I got myself a White King bibingka mix, eggs and butter. We had confectioner’s sugar at home and so I was fine. And I also bought frozen banana leaves for under a buck. I thought about getting salted eggs and coconut to grate but I decided to keep it simple for now.
Here are the ingredients.
1 250 g pack White King bibingka mix
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup water
4 tbsp melted butter
Beat 3 eggs, add the rest of the ingredients and mix until smooth. Pour the mixture into ramekins lined with banana leaves. Top with slices of cheese. Fairly simple, right? I used four 5-inch ramekins and topped the cakes with a really sharp cheddar cheese.
Preheat the oven at 450F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. The White King box says it’s okay to broil but don’t. I broiled my cakes on my first try and burned them! Apple pie déjà vu!
Brush with some butter and serve hot.
I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted, seriously. Dennis enjoyed it a lot, too. He got a kick out of the banana leaves, which I must say made it even better. Well, next time I want to try it with salted eggs and some grated coconut. Or better yet, I want to try the real thing. It’s time to plan a trip back home.
By the way, I was completely surprised to find out that bibingka is a close relative to the Indian dessert bebinca, a pudding made of flour, sugar, butter and coconut milk. The dessert is also popular in Portugal and Mozambique.
I was so excited to see saba bananas the other day at this Filipino grocery store I recently discovered in the city. The first thing that came to mind: I can fry them and make banana-cues!
Banana-cues are deep-fried bananas with caramelized sugar on a stick. It’s one of my favorite after-school snacks growing up. Instead of frying them after slicing or mashing like they do in Latin America, Filipinos deep-fry their saba or Philippine plantains whole and then stab a bamboo stick through them to make them a little more handy.
I actually have never made banana-cues before since my mom, of course, made them for us and they’re ubiquitous back home. Apparently, it’s really simple to do: heat a wokful of oil, roll the bananas in brown sugar and deep-fry them. It’s easier said than done, I guess. After burning a couple bananas in my first try, I managed to get the sugar nicely caramelized with the rest of the batch.
They were not perfect but they were truly homemade.
I have spent many Christmases away and this year will not be any different as Dennis, Stanford and I are spending Christmas in the city. But I still feel a little homesick when this time of the year comes. Christmas is huge back home, filled with traditions and brimming with Mom’s great food. Plus I particularly love the fact that the festivities are stretched two weeks out with more food and more presents over New Year’s and my birthday in January. As the youngest and the only boy in a family of eight, I fancied the lavish attention when I was growing up.
To shake off the holidays blues, I decided to seek out food in the city that reminds me of home and make up a list of my own favorite Filipino comfort food. At the top of my list is a plateful of fresh, crispy, and juicy Jollibee Chickenjoy.
Growing up back in Manila, a trip to Jollibee with my Mom and sisters was more than a treat, it was an event. My family wasn’t well-off and I certainly looked forward to the rare times when we would treat ourselves to fried chicken with rice, and french fries if we were lucky. My sister, Vangie, actually started her restaurant career at Jollibee. She would bring home goodies like burgers and fries every now and then and I would stay up late to wait for her when she worked the night shift. And when my sister, Liz, bought a tiny second-hand Toyota, we would cram five people and drive to pick Vangie up at Jollibee and get free vanilla and chocolate fudge sundaes on the way home.
Those were the days.
The fried chicken sandwich was outstanding. How about the burger?
It was pretty damn tasty.
And my burger connoisseur thinks it so, too.
The burger is a third of a pound of granulated Harris Ranch brisket, short rib, and chuck that is seared in beef fat, topped with tasty caper aioli, monterey jack and caramelized onions and served on a griddled Acme bun. It’s granulated and not ground beef, which makes the burger even tastier. Mission Street Food’s blog describes the process of granulation in this link. Granulation is a process popularized by Michelin 3-star chef Heston Blumenthal.
Just a few notes about Mission Burger. I love salt as much as I love sugar and butter but some people may find the burger a bit salty. I actually did but I didn’t mind it at all. Should you order fries? Absolutely. If you’re not a lemonade person, such as myself, grab a drink at Duc Loi since they only serve mint lemonade and nothing else, not even water. The dining area is a little snug and you may end up enjoying your burger on a milk crate. But seriously, who cares? You’re enjoying a tasty Mission burger anyway. And for only $8, it’s an amazing deal. They’re even donating $1 from every burger to the San Francisco Food Bank. And a final word, they’re open everyday except Thursday.
Today was my second trip to Mission Burger in ten days. I have been raving about their burger ever since I discovered their clandestine operations at Duc Loi in the Mission and I promised Dennis that I’d take him there as soon as we get the chance. Dennis is my trusted burger connoisseur, among other things, and so I was curious to know what he thinks of it.
After a hike from the Dogpatch to Dolores and back, we made a pit stop at Mission Burger for lunch today. I was thrilled. Dennis got their burger and fries and I, on the other hand, feasted on their new offering: the fried chicken sandwich.
Harrison free-range chicken with crispy chicken skin, pickled jalapeño, cucumber, shredded lettuce and secret sauce on an Acme roll.
It was amazing.
The sweet and hot pickled jalapeños complemented the crispy and salty fried chicken very well. And the crispy chicken skin was a wonderful bonus. It was a bit messy but all great fried chicken sandwiches are messy anyway!
Just a few notes about Mission Burger. Should you order fries? Absolutely. If you’re not a lemonade person, such as myself, grab a drink at Duc Loi since they only serve mint lemonade and nothing else, not even water. The dining area is a little snug and you may end up enjoying lunch on a milk crate but, seriously, who cares? And their sandwiches are only $8, it’s an amazing deal. They’re even donating $1 from every sandwich to the San Francisco Food Bank. And a final word, they’re open everyday except Thursday.
It was not my first choice. I actually had no other choice. It was about two in the afternoon at Little Skillet’s Halloween street food frenzy at Ritch Street and the Crème Brûlée Cart was down to his last six cups.
I am more of a vanilla bean or a Grand Marnier type. But a Cap’n Crunch Crème Brûlée?! I know, I’m a little boring. I had some reservations as I handed him my $4 and as he scorched away the sugar crystals into a crusty caramelized top. But as he sprinkled colorful Cap’n Crunch pieces on my cup, for some reason, I got so excited. I knew I was in for a sweet treat!
And a crusty, creamy and crunchy treat it was. I sat down by the pavement, laid out a napkin on my lap and enjoyed my Captain Crunch Crème Brûlée on a cool sunny San Francisco afternoon. Another “I love the city” moment.
Catch the Crème Brûlée Cart in the Mission, usually at Dolores Park and follow his tweets at @cremebruleecart.
I must admit I’ve never had figs before and now I cannot stop eating them. Ripe California black figs are so sweet and summer is the season to enjoy them.
California figs are great in salads. Slice and toss them with some mixed greens, heirloom tomatoes and cheese and then drizzle with some balsamic vinaigrette for a light and refreshing salad.
Saturday’s street food block-party at Folsom Street was a gastronomic treat! It was the San Francisco Street Food Festival, a day-long block-party of local foodies celebrating great street food from the city’s vibrant community of food entrepreneurs and renowned chefs.
From savory to sweet, it was street food at its finest. My favorite was Aziza’s Moroccan “taco,” a flatbread with harissa and braised beef cheeks.
It has an amazing spicy kick that makes it perfect with Aziza’s refreshing sweet mint tea. It was so amazing that the queue for the tacos was hour-long but was well worth it.
Dennis’ favorite was Absinthe’s Jamie’s famous hot dogs. Jamie is Top Chef Jaime Lauren, Absinthe’s executive chef, who was at the event serving her hot dogs. I typically do not like sauerkraut but I loved the sauerkraut on this perfect hot dog. It was sweet and scrumptious.
And a street food frenzy will not be complete without my ultimate sweet street food favorite: funnel cakes!
I cannot begin to describe how a funnel cake dusted with powdery sugar makes me so happy. And Endless Summer Sweets goes even further by topping it with fresh sweet strawberries and cream. This is what good life is all about.
Other noteworthy bites were Kasa’s Kati Roll, a flaky buttery roti wrapped around charbroiled chicken and Poleng Lounge’s Vietnamese style BBQ oysters. Check out my Flickr page for more photos.
The San Francisco Street Food Festival benefits La Cocina, the city’s incubator kitchen that provides commercial kitchen space as well as technical and marketing resources to budding local food entrepreneurs. To learn more about La Cocina follow this link.