Phat in the Phillipines: Epic Pig Roast at Casa Balbina

There were a lot of things I wanted to do in the Phillipines – see my friend; Anton, lie on a beach, get scuba certified… but most importantly.. I really wanted to see a whole pig being roasted. And then eat it. Ravenously. Luckily for me, my good friend and host, Anton, does this often with his family and was able to arrange a roast during my visit. And so we packed a weekend bag (of elastic waist pants and gut-shielding tops) and headed out to his family’s farm 40 minutes outside of Manila.

Anton failed to mention that his family’s farm, known as Casa Balbina, is paradise. The old farmhouse sits just off the main road, and features some of the most gorgeous light fixtures and original wooden floors I’ve ever seen. We had the pleasure of staying overnight in the farmhouse.

The whole pig roast process would begin early the next morning. Of course we couldn’t start the next day without a bit of breakfast.. sticky rice steamed in banana leaves, eaten with a touch of sugar and freshly baked pandesal. After breakfast, a small pig was slaughtered and prepped for the roast. Have you ever seen a pig being driven? Well, this is what it looks like:

These fellas took turns sitting around and carefully turning the pig on a 10ft long spit. A steering wheel ingeniously attached to the end made for convenient roasting. Every once in awhile, the pig was brushed with palm fronds to redistribute the juices over the skin – resulting in this:

Golden SKIN!

Phat in the Phillipines: Sweet Treats

Needed a quick escape from NYC… and a serious pork fix. So here I am, eating my way through the Phillipines! I’ve been seriously eating nonstop, alternating between pork, fried pork, fried fish, and double fried pork. But more on that later, I thought I’d kick off my Phillipines blog posts by having dessert first.

Definitely can’t mention Filipino desserts without the most popular – Halo halo, extra special because it was delivered in a young coconut (buko). Halo halo is all about the textures and layers of flavor – dried sweetened jackfruit, creamy adzuki beans, pandan jelly, chunks of silky flan, coconut cream and lots of other goodies all topped with a scoop of ube (taro) ice cream. If you like Singaporean bobo chacha or Vietnamese che, this is for you.

Buko pandan is a rich dessert featuring pandan (a leaf with a faintly coconut taste and bright green color) jelly, coconut cream, and strips of buko. Delicious, but the cream makes it so that you only need a few bites of this.

If there’s one dessert you need to try in the Phillipines, I’d say its this – bibingka, or rice flour and coconut milk cake cooked over coals in a banana leaf. It already sounds amazing, but top it with some buko shreds and salty duck egg – and it becomes infinitely more incredible. It’s both sweet and salty at the same time, while the rice flour in the cake gives it an almost custard-like texture.

Everywhere you go, you’ll see shops that sell buko pies and tarts. Little tartlets with strips of layered buko meat – a nice little treat. (see what i did there) We got ours at Loumar’s.

Glamour shot. Layers of fresh young coconut.. what more could you ask for?

And the best dessert of all – loads of fresh fruit. I’m staying in Tagaytay, a little resort town high up in the mountains outside of Manila where you can get fresh fruit off the side of the road. Pineapple fields everywhere – producing the sweetest pineapple you’ve ever tasted. Fresh mangos, fragrant calamansi lime, jackfruit, baby bananas… this.. is seriously paradise.


Lollihop for Android

Here’s a little plug for a project I worked on.. if you have an Android phone and love to eat as much as I do, you’ll need this app!

Lollihop is an app for your phone that can help you locate healthy dishes nearby. Search by ingredient and use it to track the nutritional and caloric content. Sure, you can use its sleek interface to help you reach your dietary goals… or… you can use it to find the closest restaurant serving chicken fried steak / bacon cheeseburgers / disco fries, like myself.

Curious? Check it out here or read a write-up about the app. iPhone users, worry not, it will be available for your device soon!

Vote for Asia’s Best Restaurants for the 2011/2012 Miele Guide

Never before have gourmand demands in China’s major cities been so spoilt for choices. The diversity of Chinese cruisine has multiplied and fortified throughout the years and Shanghai has ushered an unprecedented boom in the city’s restaurant scene. Young protégés of celebrity chefs and kitchens are immigrating to China from New York and London to open new ventures. It certainly has no lack of gastronomes – it is a nation that is always eager to discover the next hidden gem in the local culinary landscape and certainly one that possesses an abundance of eateries across all tastes, and yet manages to remain unique and invariably exciting.

Celebrating Asia’s best chefs and restaurants, The Miele Guide is an authoritative and independent annual publication which evaluates and ranks restaurants across the regions, which is determined by the votes of an invited jury, professional restaurant critics, a jury of respected foodies and the public. Through a thorough jury and voting system, The Miele Guide gives much-deserved recognition to the establishments that showcase Asia’s culinary landscape.

The Miele Guide is a great resource for discovering world class food across Asia. Take part in recognizing Shanghai’s best restaurants by casting your vote.