Dough it yourself.

There was a time I was into food literature: non-fiction about the food we eat, why we enjoy some food, and the history of the food we consume. Learning about the hidden intricacies of mundane things is always delightful; and food, even the fancy kinds, are some of the most mundane things we partake everyday.

There was this book that I enjoyed reading, Gastronaut: Adventures in Food for the Romantic, the Foolhardy, and the Brave, where Stefan Gates narrates his various food adventures. In one essay, he decided to try incorporating various stuff from his body into his food: fingernail clippings, semen, urine. The only body stuff he didn’t use are hair (they can’t be digested and can cause problems with one’s intestines) and feces (it’s toxic). It was an interesting exercise in overcoming disgust due to body-related food taboos.

Read more: I was reminded of that essay while reading a viral story today about a woman who used her vaginal yeast to create bread.

Dream, interrupted: A food market date.

So just now, I fell asleep while at work and I was dreaming I was on a date with this guy I like who works for a museum. We were on an open field like the Sunken Garden and there was a food market. We were deciding what to eat.

Just when the guy from the museum, in my dream, was able to decide which food he would be ordering, an agent woke me up for an urgent request.

Of course the agent could (and should) do that. But I was a little pissed for the interruption of a rather good dream.

The Great Tinapa Hunt adventure of Mandaluyong (and a recipe for tinapa and pesto spaghetti).

Tinapa by Johann Espiritu

Since I will be working on New Year’s Day, I promised the co-workers that I will be bringing some pasta for a little post-New Year celebration. I decided I’ll cook some tinapa pesto spaghetti.

Tinapa is a local preparation of smoked fish, typically using galunggong (scad), and is an typical part of the Filipino poor man’s diet. Not that I am looking down on it: tinapang galunggong has a rich smoky flavor and is great when fried and served with rice, chopped fresh tomatoes and sliced salted eggs.

A few months ago, the occupants of the Chairless Apartment ended up in a restaurant called Lime 88 which served humble street food prepared like haute cuisine. One of the dishes we tried was a smoked fish and pesto pasta that used tinapang galunggong. Lime’s tinapa and pesto spaghetti was very good so we decided to imitate the dish a few weeks later. It was surprisingly easy to prepare.

The day before the New Year, I went out to buy ingredients for the dinner with the housemates that I was preparing. I decided to buy the wet ingredients (meat, veggies, etc) in the local wet market instead of the supermarket so I could get them cheaper. Except that I was not able to find a vendor that sold tinapa.

I actually went out twice and went to two wet markets partly to look for tinapa. All the usual tinapa vendors I see on normal days are missing and were replaced by fruit vendors. It seemed that because tinapa is known to be a poor man’s food, it isn’t likely to be included in holiday dinners and no one was selling it.

It wasn’t a big deal for me yet; the pasta could wait until tomorrow and I could always look get them from a supermarket. The following day (i.e., yesterday), I was shocked to find out that the nearby supermarkets were closed for the New Year. The wet markets I passed looked like deserted ghost towns, with very few vendors opening their shops. None of them were selling smoked fish.

In the end, after going visiting three supermarkets and four wet markets, I decided to alter the pesto recipe.

Tinapa and pesto spaghetti

  • Chop some garlic and flake some tinapang galunggong, carefully removing all fish bone. Two medium-sized tinapa is good for 1/3 kilo of dried spaghetti.
  • Saute the garlic and tinapa flakes in oil. Lower the heat and add some pesto, three or four tablespoons for every 1/3 kilo of spaghetti. Ready-made pesto works fine.
  • Add a little water to the pesto to make the sauce creamier. Add the pre-cooked spaghetti and mix it thoroughly to coat it with the sauce. Season to taste.

I promise I will not write about tinapa again for at least a month.

Image: Tinapa by Johann Espiritu on Flickr

The very democratic chocolate.

Explaining how some kind of food is made usually will take away the fun out of eating it. There are some things we do not want to know about what happens before a particular product reaches our plate.

Although sometimes, knowing how food is made makes us appreciate more the effort and care needed to produce a delicacy. Take chocolates, for example.

Bryan Graham, founder of Fruition Chocolate, explained why so many of us love chocolate:

Chocolate is … extremely democratic. You don’t need to have studied and tasted every great chocolate in the world to appreciate it. Nobody should tell you how to experience it. If you want to just pop it in your mouth and munch away, great! If you care to taste the same piece and experience the flavor release, and all the subtlety and complexity, it’s there for the taking.

In this delightful interview, Graham described how chocolate is made from the little cocoa seeds into the mouth-watering confections of various shapes and forms. His descriptions alone make me want to grab a bar of dark chocolate.

Roasting the beans is the first real opportunity for most chocolate makers to begin putting their stamp on the chocolate. Roasting, through the Maillard reaction, turns those flavor precursors developed during fermentation into what we know as chocolatey flavors. This is the first time in the process that you’ll start to smell that familiar chocolate aroma. It, I must say, is heavenly.

People have different preferences when it comes to chocolate. I prefer mine dark and slightly bitter. I steer clear away from white chocolate which I dismiss a not-chocolate. It’s a good thing the boyfriend has a similar preference, so surprise gifts of chocolate is always something that we both appreciate a lot.

Chocolate cake surprise from Bern
For my birthday (six months ago), Bern surprised me with a chocolate cake immediately after I woke up.

The Science and Art of Chocolate Making

Random stuff from the Interwebs: Dancing Cephalopod.

When I saw this shared in Google+, I initially thought it was some sort of trick:

Odori-don

Come to think of it, it is a trick. But not in the way I initially thought it was. There is such a thing as odori-don:

Literally “dancing squid rice bowl”. A live squid with its head removed is served on top of a bowl of sushi rice, accompanied by sashimi prepared from the head (usually sliced ika (squid) and ika-kimo (squid liver)) as well as other seafood.

Seasoned soy sauce is first poured on top of the squid to make it “dance”.

The FoodJapan entry further writes that while freshly killed squid served on rice is a traditional Japanese dish, the dancing squid bowl started as a marketing gimmick. The squid in this case is no longer alive: the sodium in the soy sauce is triggering reflex action causing its legs to move.

Still, this is rather morbid table entertainment. Haven’t we been taught by our mothers not to play with our food?