Ramen!

Totto Ramen

Totto Ramen NYC: Fully loaded ramen with fresh and dried seaweed, bamboo shoot, shredded pork etc.

I know, I haven’t posted in a while because nothing interested me for the longest time. I was tired of the RVA food scene because it’s always about the next new restaurant and then the ones I really liked started closing. Case in point, Rocoto Chicken. I realized I’m more of a purist rather than a fusion type cuisine eater. I know I probably need to go to a larger city or maybe keep to the Near West End where most of the Asian restaurants don’t give a damn about Americanizing their cuisine.

On a recent trip to NY, I made it my mission to find the best ramen place. I’ve already been to Momofuku. I’ve tried Ippudo  in HK and didn’t like it too much so I was hesitant to try their NYC branch. Then I find out my favorite yakitori place, Yakitori Totto opened Totto Ramen. I didn’t waste time hauling ass over there at the first chance I got. Fifteen minutes before opening for their lunch hour there was a already a very long line. You sign yourself up on their clipboard and it is a cash-only place. I could quite possibly say, the ramen was life-altering. I finally understood the hype of an awesome ramen. The broth, the noodles, the egg . . . everything came together to deliver that piece of Nirvana. I left the cramped restaurant sated and fulfilled in more ways than one.

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Totto ramen bowl 1

I returned with the hubby on another evening and this time I was prepared and we were the first customers to be seated.

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Returning to Richmond, I see on my Facebook feed that a ramen pop-up has come to RVA. These were from people I trusted to know good ramen, so I was very excited. I tried to keep my expectations level after coming from a ramen high in NYC, but I am happy to report that Shoryuken Ramen delivered a satisfying bowl of goodness. The broth was fantastic, the pork that came with it was better than Totto Ramen, the noodles were cooked right … although I detected a floury taste.

Shoryuken ramen bowl

Shoryuken ramen bowl

From my own ramen experiments, I’ve noticed this when I had coated the noodles with too much flour because the dough was damn sticky.

Edited 12-30-2014 – returned on 12/30, the flour taste was gone. Clean tasty al-dente noodles!

I would love to have more options like additional: seaweed, egg, meat and noodles. But I understand that being a pop-up, this can prove to be a challenge. I would love to see a brick and mortar location, hopefully with easy parking please and I don’t care if it’s in a strip mall.

Shoryuken Ramen pop-up

Monday and Tuesday, 5pm to 11pm

1213 Summit Avenue (@ Lunch and Supper space)

Ever wondered why Peter Chang opened in Walmart shopping center and Pho So 1 opened their second location where it was? I, for one, don’t want to worry about where to park when I want a quick bowl of ramen. Just some consideration when thinking of location and target clientele. 😉

Richmond Restaurant Dining

Slowly getting back into blogging again. Soon, I will have more time to write about food (and eating) – more about that later.
Anyway, my brother and sister-in-law came for a 10-day visit and I was excited to show them how the Richmond dining scene has evolved since 2008.

Hubby and I did our best not to eat out in the weeks preceding their visit because I know if it’s anything like my vacations to the Philippines, it’s going to be non-stop “see food” diet.

First place we whisked our guests to:

BurgerWorks

Our favorite burger joint in town, besides what says “Welcome to the USA” than a great American burger. Ordering can be confusing with so many options but I always go for the bison, bacon and mushrooms. Hubby loves the S.O.B. 

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The S.O.B at Burgerworks

CineBistro

One place we couldn’t wait to take my brother M and his wife M – I’ll just call them 2Ms – was Cinebistro. My family are movie buffs and we were sure they’d get a kick out of watching a movie in style. The food at this theatre is actually good considering that orders needed to be placed and served within a 30-minute window. They are also dinner-sized portions. Hubby and I always had leftovers before, so now we share an appetizer and an entree. My favorite is the popcorn trio which is popcorn shrimp, chicken and calamari with some popcorn at the bottom to soak up the grease. 🙂

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Theatre entrance
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The bar area to order drinks while you wait
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comfortable seating

Lehja

Mall shopping is a pre-requisite of my out-of-town guests and I’m glad that we have a great Indian restaurant right smacked in there. 2Ms loved Lehja and we went there twice, once for brunch and the second time when a cousin and his family drove through from Chicago and was able to join us for lunch.

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  Lehja

Stella’s
We were so thankful Stella’s was open on a Monday. All our dishes were fantastic. They have truly the best moussaka. Brother was ecstatic over the braised lamb shank although he kept on hinting that he wanted the hubby’s grilled lamb chops. The standout that night was the pan-seared branzino which tasted so fresh.

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lamb shank
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Branzino – european sea bass

Pho Saigon

I am always hesitant to take my family to Asian restaurants because everything appears sweetened up for the American palate. Brother made a comment about the pho broth being too sweet and having too much cinnamon – well there you go.
However, this special of pork belly in clay pot blew our mind away. So good!

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Clay-pot pork belly

Williamsburg Cheese Shop (Merchant’s Square)

After spending most of the morning shopping at the outlets we were all ready and hungry for lunch. My brother and I gobbled up our prosciutto and provolone sandwich from The Cheese Shop – the roasted peppers and house dressing were a great complement. This sandwich, as simple as it sounds, remains to be one of my brother’s most memorable meal of his visit. We actually bought a half-pint of the house dressing to bring home so we could replicate the sandwich.

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The Cheese Shop

My brother, a professional photographer, loved Williamsburg and wanted to shoot some photographs while I took my sis-in-law to the little shops.

The weather was stifling hot and by the time our photographer was done, his shirt was soaked. I told 2Ms they should try come visit during cooler weather.

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One of my favorite photos from the trip, it’s like he waited for the shadows and light to be perfect

Portico

12506 River Road Richmond, VA 23238
(804) 784-4800
This gem on River road is a showplace to take out-of-town guests. Tucked away in an affluent neighborhood, we felt out of place with the perfectly-coiffed crowd, after all we were grungy from a day of shopping. But hey, we’re here for the food.

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Gorgeous patio
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seared tuna appetizer
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Lamb and risotto

Umi
So I tentatively asked if the 2Ms were ready for Japanese food. Their face actually lit up. My family is not big on sushi. Nope, we prefer straight-up sashimi. Why bother with all that blob of rice?

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Sashimi platter – the escarol, salmon and yellow fin were outstanding

On a side note: We watched the documentary “Jiro dreams of Sushi”. The preparation of the rice is an integral part of sushi-making. A lot of establishments get this wrong. The rice needs to be served at room temperature and not cold.

Though I prefer sashimi, Umi’s maki is a dish not to pass up and the first thing I noticed is how their rice is at the right temperature for serving. We loved the Richmond roll.

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Umi’s richmond roll

Okay, we’re at the home stretch. We’re actually almost reaching eating-out saturation. In fact, 2Ms were just begging to eat at home and we did on several occasions but that would be a separate post.

The Roosevelt
For a taste of inventive Southern cuisine.

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perfectly-seared scallops

Amour Wine Bistro
Rounding up our dining-out experience we headed to Carytown for a cozy evening at Amour Wine Bistro. By this time the 2Ms and I were having trouble feeling hungry (after days of eating – who could blame us?), luckily the hubby was starving.
It was also “educate with taste” week, so three of us ordered the $25.12 three-course menu and my sis-in-law had the tarte flambée. 

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refreshing watermelon and tuna tartare
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Chocolate sea salt caramel creme brûlée – always a winner at Amour

I ordered the pear tarte tatin for my dessert which was absolutely delicious. It’s a perfect example of a well executed simple dessert. 

My one regret was not taking the 2Ms to Peter Chang’s. Brother was stuck in the HK airport for a few days (luckily sis-in-law was already in the U.S. visiting a relative) – maybe if they stayed a few days longer they would have started missing Chinese food. 😉

Most pictures taken by my brother on his Leica D-Lux except the clay-pot pork belly which was an iPhone pic. The leaf picture was taken with a Nikon camera.

Pig Tales

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Bagnet (deep fried pork belly confit) with mountain red rice

For those following me on twitter, y’all know I’m currently on a detox diet. I’ve been avoiding pork and red meat for more than a week and it’s not been easy. I’ve always advocated eating in moderation but the hectic 4th quarter last year really threw sensible eating out the window and this continued into the New Year and into my recent vacation.

Yep, a vacation certainly didn’t help. 😉

If ever you get to make a stopover at the Hong Kong International Airport, arrive hungry. Their fast food center serves amazing stuff, like this shrimp dumpling and noodle soup.

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Shrimp dumpling, HK noodles

Upon arrival in the Philippines and after a longish nap, hubby and I were whisked immediately to Choi Garden and to this.

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Chinese suckling pig

My aunt and cousins apparently thought to honor my homecoming with my favorite dish – lechon de leche a.k.a. roast suckling pig. Perfectly prepared, there was no fat under the crisp skin and the meat was fork tender.

I can’t help it if I love pork, so the following evening was another platter of this divine porcine fare. Crispy pata a.k.a, deep fried pork trotters.

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“The Barbarian” crispy pata O-Mai-Khan way

I was sharing this dish with my mom and I tried to give her the leaner parts but she demanded the crispy-skin-quivering-layers-of-collagen parts. And it dawned on me that despite our difference in opinions, when it comes to the pig, I am my mother’s daughter.

The next evening, my family agreed to have a leaner dinner meaning Japanese food. Would an all-you-can-eat sashimi/sushi be considered diet food?

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Hamada – buffet

Then came Monday night. One of my brothers had a friend who makes a great lechon cebu (a special type of lechon that does not need sauce and which Anthony Bourdain ordained the best whole pig dish in the world) and he ordered one for a party we were having with family and friends. This.

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the lechon cebu
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two little piggies

My niece’s husband, Bob was the designated lechon-chopper, I volunteered to be the lechon-skin snipper. Hubby had his reservations, but no one seemed to object and all thought I deserved that honor. 😉

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Snipping lechon skin, I had a lot of volunteer plate-holders

Lechon is really best eaten while it’s being chopped apart, and then the kitchen got crowded as I was handing out crispy wafers of porcine heaven.

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A merry bunch!

My mom got impatient and appeared to be threatening Bob.

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A knife-wielding grandma

I fed her some crispy pork skin and my mom got appeased after she ran away with the pig tail!

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My mom nibbling on the pig tail

And any doubts of being my mother’s daughter were dispelled. Hubby can’t fault me for being so passionate about lechon.

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My mom (with her pig tail) and me
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YUM!!!

There were other dishes of course. Other grilled meat and my brother’s tom yum soup. But really, there was no doubt which dish was the star of the night.

Not sure what day I had the bagnet below. But I must say, I definitely had my fill of the pig.

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I also wished iced-tea in the U.S. came with more panache.

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Lemongrass-pandan iced tea with local honey

Yeh, I need that detox.

Hong Kong Eats

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Abalone appetizer at Wanya Japanese Restaurant – my favorite of the entire trip!

It’s been a whirlwind of eating, I don’t think I can recall every detail of each meal. So, I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. I don’t have a picture of every single dish that passed through my mouth,  either due to bad lighting or we simply forgot to capture the plate. But one thing’s for sure, the Iphone has replaced the point and shoot. Didn’t even bring a camera on this trip.

The Shanghai Soup Dumplings were from Crystal Jade and were some of the best I’ve had. The dumpling purses were soft and the broth inside was plentiful.

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Xiao Long Bao

Restaurants are usually found by memory, and not by name. Still don’t know the name of the establishment below.

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Some Hong Kong restaurant

All I know is, this roast goose was delicious…

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and so was this braised abalone

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aaaaaaaaand this

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steamed grouper

Yay for Hainanese Chicken rice from Seargent’s at the Food Republic! It’s hard to replicate this dish stateside because the chicken itself is a different breed. Notice how substantial and yellow the skin is.

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hainanese chicken rice

Ramen from Ippudo HK.

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The best dinner I had was not from a Chinese restaurant but from a Japanese one. Reservations were required a month in advance at Wanya – an all-you-can- eat type of establishment. There was no buffet table though, you were given four kinds of menu to order from: Teppanyaki, robatayaki, shabu shabu and sashimi/sushi and they were prepared to order and ALL YOU CAN EAT!

We had about 18 plates of different dishes and we couldn’t even get to the shabu-shabu as we were so stuffed. In restrospect, we should have started with shabu-shabu, being a soup and all.

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grilled cod
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grilled enoki mushroom wrapped in beef
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Very fresh mixed sashimi
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lamb chops!
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a very unique tasting herring and roe sashimi

Chocolate Trail 2012 at Harbour City, HK

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A giant macaron pièce montée

 ”Hungry” Hubby and I wanted to go to Paris this year mainly for me to do more research on pastry trends. However, we knew that it was more important  for me to visit my mom in the Philippines. She will be 85 years old this April and her memory is not what it used to be, so I didn’t want to pass any opportunity to see her while she still knew who I was.

Our flight on Cathay Pacific to the Philippines goes via Hong Kong and there was no extra charge for a longer stopover on the way back. HH has never been to HK and he was hesitant until I told him that there was a bronze statue of Bruce Lee in Harbour City.

It turns out, our timing was perfect. It was the Chocolate Trail exhibition at Harbour City, well-known chocolatiers from La Maison du Chocolate to new-to-me Paul Lafayet were showcasing their pastry.

Imagine my glee when I spied this giant macaron upon stepping out of my hotel (which was inside the mall).

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Big mac
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My first stop, La Maison Du chocolat

Booths like the above were scattered along the chocolate trail. All you had to do was follow the trail of picture-perfect pastry. Like below.

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like the cream puff above or the eclair below. 🙂

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Sitting on a big eclair

And macarons like this were scattered everywhere.

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The main pavillon:

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I was also lucky to come by a demo by Paul Lafayet about putting together a macaron piece montee.

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Macarons were expensive. This half-dozen box from La Maison du Chocolate was HK$150 which was almost US$20. We were disappointed in the flavor, the chocolate filling was okay but the shell was almost non-existent.

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choctrail10

The best macarons we tried were from Paul Lafayet. Since there was quite a few of us in our group we were able to sample more of the flavors. My favorite was the Bailey’s and the Passion Fruit. They were $HK 15 each, $USD 2 were about 1.25 inch diameter.

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L-R: Baileys, Coffee, Chocolate
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Pistachio, chocolate, Passion Fruit, Mandarin Orange

and a lot more…

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Paul Lafayet Macarons

I also sampled macarons from Jean-Paul Hevin. They were a whopping HK$ 25, US$ 3.30 each and was a bit bigger than most macarons at 1.5 inches. They tasted okay but not as good as Paul Lafayet’s.

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Jean-Paul Hevin macarons

Other pastries of note. Creme Brulee and strawberry tart, also from Paul Lafayet.

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We also made the trek (okay, the train) from Kowloon to Hong Kong in search of Tai Cheong bakery (Lyndhurst terrace) egg tarts. I almost gave up when I saw the uphill road I had to take.

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The road to egg tarts

But I thought I was already here. I braved a packed train and after a little more hike up this trail could justify eating two egg tarts.

The trek was not in vain. Fresh, hot egg tarts out the oven.

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As I was enjoying a freshly-baked egg tart I was contemplating my next stop: Chickalicious cupcake outpost, Kisses.

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Espresso, Matcha, Triple chocolate and Ferrero Rocher

I love their cupcakes, the frosting was just right and was not sweet at all! I wish cupcakes in Richmond would follow suit.

On my last day in HK, I discovered this giant structure. I’m not sure what pastry it represents, but I just have to have my picture taken with it.

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One night in Bangkok…

or maybe several days…

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Real tom yung goong

 Well, I wish I was the one who did the traveling, but my nephew who has travelled so much this year, sent me these pictures of his latest food adventure. I commend him for wanting to explore the world in the quest of finding what he really wants in life. Food and travel seem to put a lot of things into perspective for a lot of people.

No fancy restaurants here, just good hearty street food.

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Street vendor featured in National Geographic

My nephew hunted down this street vendor that was featured in the National Geographic’s food guide to the planet. You choose your ingredients and they’ll prepare it for you. *update – the name of the place or vendor is Tom Yung Banglampu*

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Tom yung goong

I asked him what the white clumps in the soup were and he said it might be the fat from the shrimp heads – read cholesterol! 🙂

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Thai omelet

A thai omelet is made of crispy egg layers.

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Their chili dipping sauce is er, a bit too spicy according to my nephew.

Their trip to the night market in pictures.

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Not sure what that grilled stuff above is. anybody? *update: thai sausage with chili inside…so beware*

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Bet those fish were caught only hours before, before being stuffed and thrown on the grill.

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Amazing sea of cooked prawns! In case you all didn’t notice, we keep the shrimp heads on outside the United States. They taste good! High in cholesterol though.

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pad thai
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Simple banana crepe with condensed milk
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Mangosteen – one of my favorite fruits

Sorry I cannot add more commentary as it’s not my travel experience but these pictures make me want to go to Bangkok. Looks like when I get the chance (and the money), I’d love to make it an HK-Bangkok-Singapore-Japan trip.

I really wish our Asian (or other ethnic) restaurants in RVA will cook food more authentic to their culture instead of sweetening it up for the American palate. However, I don’t blame them. What’s the use of cooking real Thai or Vietnamese or Chinese if you’re going to be out of business in a year…or less…

But if a few established restaurant groups back up this concept and afford to take a risk, then maybe…just maybe this may spark a revolution and shake up the Richmond dining scene.

🙂

A lesson in seam butchering

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Meet Kate Hill (left) and the butcher, Dominique Chapolard (right)

I have made no secret for my love of pork. For me, it doesn’t deserve second billing to chicken as the other white meat, it is so much more than that(not that I have anything against chicken). But can I really blame people for that comparison, when supermarket meat cases carry these lean segments of pork loin stripped of all the fat? I guess I should be thankful for America’s love of pork ribs – I love them too and am thankful for the fat left in those – but not as much as I love the flavorful belly of the pig.

Though I’m mostly immune to some groups who are openly vocal about omnivores being some kind of animal killers, I am grateful to them for making me aware of food industry practices around the world.

The thing is, I grew up pretty much where food was farm-to-table.

My hometown province in the Philippines, Benguet, is known as the nation’s “salad bowl” because of its huge production of vegetables. The South China sea and its bounty of fresh fish is but an hour drive and we have a slaughter house right in the heart of the city rumored also to be serving up the fabled aphrodisiac soup #5. The native peasants, who raise ducks and chicken, regularly stop by our restaurant to sell their animals and my dad or grandma would expertly convert these fowls into delicious white-cut chicken, stewed, roast or dried duck.

Yup, I’ve seen my dad or grandma deftly slaughter poultry – slit, scald, de-feather & gut them before my very eyes. You can say I was de-sensitized at a very young age.

This had carried over several years into my living in the United States. I sort of accepted the meat in supermarkets without questioning its sources (I assumed the processing plant wasn’t too far) but I have also wondered about chicken being so tasteless. It’s only in the past six years after starting a food blog that I’ve seen through the food industries’ dirty little secrets and now store shelves are becoming less and less appealing to me.

It’s enough to turn me into a vegetarian…okay…maybe I exaggerate a bit (and I can hear my brothers laughing their heads off). After all, I’m the kid who picked the potato and carrots out of the lamb stew and threw them under the table so I can eat more lamb. Besides, didn’t vegetables get their fair share of bad press with e-coli and salmonella?

Nothing is safe, the price of industrialization is steep.

Big food plants need to be regulated, food handling has become so mechanized, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ve bleached the flavor out of our food.

Which is why I want to rediscover my roots and, as cliche at that sounds, how things were done in the good old days.

One thing I have not admitted to in this blog was when I went home to the Philippines last year, I took part in the slaughtering of a duck – uhm….it didn’t turn out very well for me and the duck. Even there the old guard is gone. My mom is 82, walking on a cane (she broke her hip 6-months back) impatiently berating the cooks who didn’t know how to handle the poor fowl and I watched in horror as the poor thing struggled as I was traumatized by the scene. And yes, I could not eat the dish that was made from it.

The experience did not deter me from wanting to learn more about how meat was processed, it spurred me more into finding a place that would teach me about this art.

I’ve always wanted to save up enough money to take one of Kate Hill’s culinary programs like the Marché au gras which is a whole week of duck cookery heaven from confit de canard to foie gras.

I’ve also found Duckfest, a culinary program in Claddagh farms. The past workshop was in December which was not a good time for me to take off.

I was also curious about The French Pig. Kate has teamed up with the Chapolard family – a farmer/butcher family that makes sausage, ham and pâtés to introduce French butchery workshops in the United States.

This certainly saves me a plane ticket, though I wouldn’t mind traveling to Gascony.
The workshop was held in Little Washington at the Stonyman Gourmet Farmer this past Sunday. Oooh, if I had not just come back from my Philippine vacation I would have suggested to the hubby to make a weekend of it and dine at the Inn at Little Washington.

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Stonyman Gourmet Farmer

We arrived at the Stonyman Gourmet Farmer a little before 9:00 am on a fine sunny morning. The shop was adorable and people were milling around morning coffee and pastries which were made fresh everyday. I had a delicious pear muffin for breakfast and I immediately could tell that these baked goods were in a class of their own.

I was thrilled to finally meet Kate Hill and Dominique Chapolard. Dom asked me if I was a butcher (or I was in the pig trade) and I said, “No, but I love pork so much.” I suddenly had an image of myself with a cleaver hacking through a big side of meat.

I also got to meet Cathy Barrow, also known as Mrs. Wheelbarrow, one of the founders of Charcutepaloozaa year of meat – a group dedicated to the art of charcuterie.

Dom Chapolard started talking about his love for the pig. He runs a full circle farm together with his wife and three brothers. They grow the grains they feed their pigs, slaughter in a cooperative abattoir ( a group of farmers share the cost), butcher the meat on their farm and produce fresh French pork cuts and delectable charcuterie for their town…and apparently they sell out every week.

I never knew that the French were this passionate about pork.

He also said that the farmer loves his pig and the butcher loves his meat. To show respect for this porcine creature, it is important not to waste anything. This starts from the slaughter. Blood is drained and kept for blood sausage. Whatever scraps are gleaned from cleaning the pig is accumulated in a pile to be made into saucisse later. I think when he said that when you terminate the life of a pig, it is not a “Disney feeling” I think he meant that our sadness when the hunter made Bambi motherless – we felt sad for a while and then we forgot about it after the movie ended. For the butcher, it is a weekly ritual of slaughtering the pig, it is a real feeling that has become part of their affinity with the animal which they have raised from birth and nurtured for a year.

Pigs grow very fast from months 1-6, so whatever you feed it becomes apparent in the weight they put on. In the United States, they are slaughtered at 6 months because feeding it longer than that will be very costly. However, the muscle of a pig at that age is mostly water. That’s why when you cook pork chops bought from American supermarkets, it releases a lot of water.

In France, they let the pig mature to a year because the muscle becomes more dense which translates to more flavor.

So after that intro, it’s best to let the pictures tell the story, no?

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Dominique Chapolard

The butcher Chapolard has massive forearms. With the exception of sawing through the joints, he used a non-flexible short boning knife for all his seam butchering.The knife he has above is the Victorinox- 5.5603.14.

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leaf lard vs. regular pork fat

He let us feel the difference of the leaf lard which is near the internal organs and the regular fat that is the layer under the skin. The leaf lard is more dense and white and this is perfect for, what else, pie dough!

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He first took the front hoofs off at the joint.

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Then worked on the hind legs. If you were making ham, you would leave the hoofs on because you hang the ham by this.

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Tenderloin

Then Dom worked on the back seam to coax out the tenderloin.

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The rib seam

In the U.S., the ribs are a prized cut of the pig, in France these are used as soup bones so when seaming, they take the knife closer to the bone to leave more meat on the pork belly. So the ribcage is pulled away from the ventreche (pork belly) very carefully.

Kate tells us that you never hear the butcher say cutting or chopping, it is always “pull away” or to “free”.

Dom adds ” In France, we like to take things apart gently.”

🙂

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