A taste of Hong Kong …

… sparks a quest for the perfect Hainanese chicken rice.

But before anything else, welcome to my brief round up of Hong Kong eats. Brief because when I checked my pictures, a lot of food pictures were missing due to overeager eaters … again.

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My "muni-muni" (soul-searching) pose

The picture above was a product of my recent addiction to the Filipino teleserya, an obsession that I like to make fun about. I wanted my brother to take a picture of me in “muni-muni” (soul-searching) mode as the scenery was the perfect backdrop – and boy was I having a moment. 🙂

Anyway, that’s the view of Hong Kong from the Kowloon side. Kowloon, I believe, is the tourist center with shopping, food and hotels galore. A reader of mine summed up this tiny Chinese peninsula so well – "New York on steroids", I couldn’t agree more.

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Spring Deer Peking Duck

One restaurant I wanted to revisit was Spring Deer – a restaurant I visited back in 1996 where/when I had the best Peking duck of my life. Unfortunately, 14 years later, it was not the same. The duck was a bit dry and was not as flavorful.

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Peking Duck slices

Which makes me wonder – do our tastes change? Do we become more discerning as we get older and the food that tastes so fabulous to us in our youth becomes a mirage – a false memory?

Moving on…

One of our best meals in Hong Kong was at Jade Garden’s location in Star house, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. The restaurant is a part of the Maxim’s group of restaurants and is a reliable place for Cantonese cuisine. They offer set menus that are good for two, four, 10 etc. Since there were three of us, we decide to order the set menu for two and added additional ‘ala carte dishes.

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Fabulous barbecue pork
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Marinated tofu and eggs

I finally had the pigeon of my dreams. Perfect skin, succulent tasty meat, I savored every bite and bit of it, bones sucked clean.

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Come to mama…my little pigeon!

Most surprising dish was this simple soup of mushroom, cabbage and dried scallop. The broth had the most umami of flavors. We finally decided it was the dried scallops that lent such a haunting taste that each spoonful was meant to be savored.

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One of the best soups ever!

Sometimes it’s not easy for everyone in a group to agree to one place to eat and that’s where The Food Republic comes in. It has the atmosphere of hawker street fare in a food-court type setting.
 

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The Food Republic

Yes, it’s fast food, but it was here that I ate one of my more memorable meals not because it was oozing with culinary savviness but because it was comfort food, plain and simple. After a long day of shopping (well, mostly window shopping), this is just what a worn-out soul needs. Take for example:

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Assorted marinated dish

I’m a sucker for marinated dishes in soy and star anise. It’s one of my favorite flavor combinations.

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tendon in noodle soup

I attributed my improved skin tone in Hong Kong due to my high consumption of collagen found in tendons. See…

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flawless skin? Nah…

No, that’s not a product of photoshop, it’s more like the handiwork of the experts at the Armani make-up counter, he…he. If you ever get your hands on their luminous silk foundation, you’ll know why I’m raving.

Taking a break from all the food, here are some shopping centers we visited. The K-11 is a new shopping center in front of the Holiday Inn, Kowloon.

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K-11
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More shopping…
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breathtaking interiors

Endless shopping. That’s Hong Kong. With no import tax, it’s every shopaholic’s dream (and nightmare when the credit card bill arrives).

Great noodle houses abound. There was one we went to where the hostess told us quite pointedly what time we needed to be done and out of there. And I forgot the name of the place! Sorry!

They make their noodles in-house.

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Dimsum and noodle house

You get to choose which type of noodle you want for your dish.

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Marinated pork and spaghetti

No idea why I got spaghetti for this. I wanted egg noodles! 😦

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Chicken Pots de Creme?

Not really. 🙂 It’s a wine-marinated chicken served chilled. Did not like it too much, but brother did.

The crispy smoked duck below was to die for.

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Smoked duck

We’re at the home stretch! For lunch on our last day we decided to go back to the Food Republic. I had been eyeing the Seargent’s Hainanese chicken rice for a while but couldn’t make up my mind because it was the most boring-looking chicken dish I have ever seen.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice vendor

But my curiosity got the better of me so I ordered it…and fell in love. "Chickeny", if that’s a word, is thy name. The texture of the skin was velvet in my mouth and the tender ginger-scented flesh teased my tongue so delicately. It was sublime! And the rice… the rice, so addictive in its garlic, ginger, sesame-oil blend of splendor, the low-carb diet can go to hell! Ah, how can I describe the experience with justice?

Anyway, enough swooning.

That evening, we felt we’ve had enough of Chinese food and decided to go Vietnamese. I forgot the restaurant name (again) but the name had "Pho" and a number. My brother said it was a chain restaurant and there is one in the Philippines but the HK one had a bigger menu.

So, I had rare-beef pho which isn’t really rare once the hot broth cooks the beef slices.

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Pho!

And a side of garlicky fried-chicken wings.

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Fried chicken wings

This is how I like my fried chicken wings, simple and unbreaded.

I love Hong Kong food! It’s the closest I could get to the dishes that my grandmother and dad prepared when I was growing up. The flavors are uncomplicated, sauces are restrained, the taste of the ingredients come through with clarity, cliche I know, but in this case so true.

Which brings me back to this obsession with Hainanese Chicken rice which isn’t really Chinese but Singaporean. Like the white cut chicken that was a regular rotation in our Cantonese family dinners, the type of chicken used here is very important. It has to be a "native" chicken that roams free and eats grass. This type of chicken has firmer but tastier flesh. My grandma and dad had regular suppliers who would bring a fine selection of chicken over. I remember the "ass-pinch" test to check if the chicken was fat and the "breastbone-press" test to check if the chicken was the right age (not too old).

Unfortunately, here in the U.S., it’s harder to find such chicken. A friend on twitter, after my not so stellar result making Hainanese Chicken using Steamy Kitchen’s recipe, directed me to Polyface farms which supplies chicken to the local health food shop Ellwood Thompson.

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Hainanese Chicken Rice

I was not able to replicate that heavenly first encounter in HK. For one thing, if you notice the chicken skin, it’s a lot paler in comparison to the obvious yellowish tinge of the one hanging in the stall in HK. That immediately told me that the chicken I used was wrong for this dish. Though the skin texture was close it was too thin compared to the HK chicken. The meat was not "chickeny" enough – meaning even without sufficient flavoring, it should still have that chicken taste. Understandably, the rice lacked flavor because the chicken broth that was used to steam the rice lacked flavor.

But there was something else lacking. For the chicken, there was that "liquor" taste that was missing and for the rice, some "richness".

In my relentless search to rebuild a taste from memory, I came across this post regarding the secrets of Hainanese chicken rice. Aniseed is an ingredient not included in the original recipe I used. For the rice, coconut milk is an added ingredient. Hopefully this would not turn into a two year quest like my duck confit, and thankfully, ingredients are cheaper!

Yes, it looks like the plainest poultry dish ever, it’s boiled after all, but all you need is that one fateful perfect encounter and you’ll be hooked!

Food tripping in the Philippines part 1

01chocolatehut
"The hot chocolate hut"    photo by: Mark Perez

If there was one reservation that the "Hungry" Hubby had about me being in the Philippines for 5-6 weeks was that I’d come back the size of a whale. So he had a talk with my two brothers, who were the usual suspects and associates in my food binging crimes and said: "I want you both to return your sister to me in the same state, weight and form."

So, you all might say, I had to work for my food. As I mentioned in a previous post, some of my indulgences in crispy pork skins that accompanied luscious suckling pig fare were prefaced by grueling workout sessions like boxing.

Sometimes, I feel like the family pet where responsibilities for sensible feeding are a shared family effort.

For example, overheard in a conversation during a dinner party – it sounds funnier in Tagalog (the principal Philippine language) – so I’ll keep the original verbiage for those who understand the language – I’ll put the translation in parenthesis:

Brother to sis-in-law: "Pa-workout ako ng pa-workout diyan, pa-kain naman kayo ng pa-kain. Paano ko i-explain kay HH kung tumaba iyan." (I keep on forcing her to workout but you keep on feeding her. How am I going to explain to HH if she gains weight?)

Sis-in-law to brother: "Hindi naman ako kaya ang nagpakain ng bibingka diyan kanina, si C." (I wasn’t the one who fed her bibingka earlier, it was C.)

C is my niece, my brother’s daughter.

Brother turns to look at his daughter and in an exasperated and scolding tone: "Ano?! Pinakain mo siya ng bibingka?! Naku!" (What?! You fed her bibingka?!)

C smiles and keeps quiet.

See what I mean? So lets check out some of my eats. Some were not all bad. How can Spanish hot chocolate at a precious gem of a place, Choco-late de Batirol, be all that evil?

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Enjoying a cup of hot chocolate

Batirol is an ancient method of preparing chocolate by grinding the tablea (chocolate cocoa blocks) with milk and sugar with the use of a wooden mortar.

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Chocolate Batirol method

Cafe by the Ruins, is a restaurant that specializes in organic and healthy choices. For example, this tofu salad.

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tofu salad with peanut dressing

Even the crispy fried tapa threads below appear virtuous served with a scoop of fiber-rich red rice.

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Crispy fried tapa

But my favorite restaurant in Baguio has got to be O-Mai-Khan (the restaurant name is a play on words of native dialect, Ilocano, which means "Come on now") and remains to be the best Mongolian restaurant I’ve ever been to. It has stood the test of time since the early 1990’s when we were frequent patrons. Apart from their Mongolian grill, they also have other items on their menu. One of them, my favorite, is so aptly named, "The Barbarian" which is their version of the Crispy Pata – deep fried pork knuckles.

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The Barbarian – yes that’s fried garlic on top!

To understand Filipino eating habits is to know Merienda, an afternoon snack usually taken between 3:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon. It should be a light snack before dinner but sometimes a hamburger could even be considered merienda. I personally like local fare like the bibingka – rice flour cake baked in a clay pot that taste best with salted egg on top and puto bungbong – made from purple glutinous rice and steamed in bamboo tubes.

Sorry, I don’t have pictures of the above. They are best eaten hot and my proper enjoyment of such delicacies took precedence over my blog. Maybe next time.

For times when you want to get away from the congested city center of Session Rd., you can escape to the Baguio Country Club.

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A view from the verandah

They also have quite a pastry display which you can enjoy with, you guess it, hot chocolate.

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Country Club pastry shop
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Strawberry Shortcake

Other notable eats where pictures were forgotten because hungry hordes decended:

Man Han – great Chinese food, love their lechon macau.

Teriyaki Boy – cheaper version of Sugi’s Chicken Teriyaki.

Forest House – great ambience and food. Love their chicken skin chicharon.

* Manhan and Teriyaki Boy are chain restaurants also found in Metro Manila

I visited Manila twice. The first time was to attend a wedding. I shall cover the first visit here since detailing both would make this post too long.

I wanted a good peking duck and my brother took me to Hai Shin Lou on Pasay road.

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Peking Duck

And of course, there is always lechon!

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One of the many lechons consumed during this trip

That was lunch. You would think we would starve ourselves before attending the wedding that evening, after all it was going to be a Chinese laureat extravaganza at the Shang-ri-la hotel.

But somebody (me) wanted a mango crepe for merienda at Cafe Breton over at Greenbelt 3. Best fruit crepe ever! The crepe is so soft and stretchy, the cream and the mangoes inside make a divine combination!

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Mango Crepe

And since I’m somewhat in the wedding business (not sure if I’m pursuing that route though), I felt it was my duty to show you the cake of one of the grandest weddings I have ever attended.

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Wedding cake

I couldn’t get my camera to cooperate with the lighting in the reception hall but I did manage to capture a section of the gorgeous setup. According to my brother, who counted the tables, he figured there were around 600-800 guests.

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The beautiful reception

We stayed behind a few days after the wedding to spend time with my aunt and to visit some pastry shops in the area. I did manage a quick stop at Bizu patisserie but I was after the more traditional pastries during this trip. I just loved the shops at Serendra at the Fort.

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Conti’s

I love the ensaymada (like a brioche) and cheese rolls at Mary Grace. Simple and comforting.

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Mary Grace

And I had to taste the cupcakes at Cupcakes by Sonja! Adorable shop, but the cupcakes didn’t quite match the hype.

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A crowd about to descend for cupcakes
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Adorable shop
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Taking a bite into red velvet cupcake

That evening we walked around the shops until we could feel hungry. Sampling so many cupcakes kinda put a damper on our appetites – but not for long. By the time we finally found a place to eat at Burgos Circle at the Fort, Cafe Juanita – we were again a ravenous bunch. I got to sample crispy fried pork belly served with tomatoes and bagoong, crispy catfish salad, kare-kare and a whole bunch of other food.

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Burgos Circle

Even before I made the trip home, I was determined to venture out into the zoo that is Manila’s Chinatown – Ongpin. Lucky for me, my aunt was willing to accompany me.

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Ongpin

President’s is an old restaurant/establishment known for its fried chicken and roasted duck and it was newly renovated. I remember eating there as a child with my dad.

I miss him. If there was one regret in my life it was not learning enough about food from him.  How my dad would love to see this sight of hanging delicacies:

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YUM!

And of course, more lechon!

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More YUM!

I am fortunate that in my aunt I see an extension of him and all the knowledge is not lost.

In Ongpin you see the regular street vendors. And since the Chinese New Year is close, you see more of them.

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Souvenir shopping

And I seem to see a lot of chesnut roasters:

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roasting chestnuts

I must admit, it was hard for me to just stand and take pictures and act like a tourist. Chinatown is known for pick-pockets and purse snatchers, you always have to be aware of your surroundings.

I was extremely happy that my aunt found my dad’s regular Chinese grocer where he got supplies for our restaurant ages ago. For readers in the Philippines who want to find authentic Chinese ingredients, this is the place to go.

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TH grocers

Yes, they are simply called TH grocers. If looking for Chinese sausage, duck ham or dried oysters you’ll have to ask them specifically for them since they do not have them on display.

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Dried oysters

I love dried oysters in soup with bean curd sheets. They can also be mixed with ground pork to use as fillings for lettuce wraps.

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Duck ham and Chinese sausages

Duck ham and chinese sausages can be steamed on top of rice. This would give your rice great flavor. It makes me sad that I cannot find the quality of these sausages where I live in Richmond, Va. I guess, something to do with U.S. laws.

The end of this post is a perfect introduction for my next post, as we leave the Philippines to venture out into Hong Kong!

A journey home…

What can I say? I’ve been MIA for more than a month. Some of you knew I went home to the Philippines, while some of you emailed me wondering if I had turned my back on blogging. The truth is, when you stop blogging for a couple of weeks because someone still had dial-up internet connection at his home (yes, I’m looking at you bro), you kinda lose your blogging mojo.;)

So what have I been up to? Can’t say it was all food-related, although you can all be assured that there had been a lot of eating specially of the deep fried pork belly and lechon macau variety – gah! I do hesitate to have my cholesterol checked right now.

I  got into the Filipino teleserya craze. Well, not really. Just one particular series. But at least I kinda know who is who in Philippine cinema and television now and at least won’t be told by my nieces and nephews "Naku tita, Aga Mulach is so last decade!"  No TFC (The Filipino Channel) for me yet though.

I got hooked on frozen yoghurt. Somehow it tastes healthier than ice cream.

I got to look a live duck in the eye before it met its maker (that experience was traumatic…I’ll be honest I couldn’t bring myself to eat the duck dish after that).

I tried boxing. And I mean 12 rounds in the ring with a trainer in the same gym that Philippine boxing hero Manny Pacquiao trained in for his fight against Cotto.

I ate bibingka, puto bungbong, ensaymada, and had hot chocolate batirol galore.

I got to join a marathon, ran the 5k segment and now know who coach Rio is.

And now I’m getting ahead of myself.

So where exactly is home? Home is Baguio city. The city of pines. The summer capital of the Philippines, because the weather is simply gorgeous even when the rest of the country is under an oppressive tropical heat wave. It’s a city high up in the mountains.

Unfortunately, the Baguio of my youth is no more. The city has become congested with people, cars and smoke-belching jeepneys and taxis. But remnants of its charm somehow manages to surface when rush hour is over and when the cool breeze descends it makes you reach for a light coat and stay cozy.

And I do have fond memories of the Baguio market. My Ah-ngin (grandma) used to take me with her when she did her daily marketing runs for the restaurant. I always thought the wet market was "icky" but now with a new found understanding of food and cooking, I wished I had paid more attention to her – maybe she was trying to teach me something, I was just too stubborn to listen then. 😦

So when my brother asked me if I wanted to visit the market, I jumped on the chance to come face to face with the source of my food. Sometimes you need to get out of the comfortable trappings of the supermarket and experience the dying trade (apparent in most industrialized countries) of the wet market.

freshfish

You really can’t get fish any fresher
bangus
than this…
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They could gut it for you too, no problem.

I think for the first few days in the Philippines I wanted shrimp at every meal. There is this small variety called the "jumping shrimp" . They taste best when they are still alive …and well … "jumping" right before you cook them. If I heard my aunt right, you throw them into the pot and make sure to put the lid on it if you don’t want these crustaceans leaping at ya. 🙂

However if you are out of luck and the market is out of them you still have a wide variety to choose from…

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Prawns are big shrimps called "Sugpo"

I didn’t have a lot of luck taking pictures in the meat section because the lighting was off but I did manage to catch this. I did a double take when I passed this guy…

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Beef Cheeks

Outside there are also lots of breakfast sausages called longanisa. They taste so good dipped in vinegar and accompanied by garlic fried rice.

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longanisa

And some street food that simply makes my mouth water.

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Lotsa freshly grilled  food!
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Lechon – roasted pig with crispy skin!

Times like this is when I wish I had a second stomach.

Anyway, Baguio is also known for its strawberries. This is the Japanese variety called Shoga.

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Shoga strawberry

And since Baguio neighbors Trinidad, known as the "salad bowl" of the Philippines, the produce is unparalleled.

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Bitter melons – my mortal enemy as a child
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Sitaw – long beans
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Peppers
mushrooms
Mushrooms
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Gabi- not sure what it is called in English

So it’s time to head back to the kitchen.

Uhm…it’s not a home kitchen. Ever seen a vat of tofu frying?

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Tokwa

The burners here are super-high, watch-out don’t burn your eyebrows BTU.

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Now that’s the breath of a wok!

So you can make bilao (trays) like this…

bilao

Here’s my sister-in-law making short work of the the green onions. Yes, that is a sack of carrots in the back. The kitchen is really small considering all the orders that come through, I was afraid to drop my camera in a wok of hot oil.

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Sis-in-law trying to sneak in some personal cooking
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Half-steamed fish prepped for final cooking

And of course, I’d like to introduce you all to my mom – 80 and still cooking!

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Mommy dearest 😉

That’s all for now! I have to sift through more pictures. (Most of the wonderful shots above, the first fish picture and most of the produce were taken by my brother. Thanks Mark!)

I wanna go home (for Peking duck)

Duckimage 

Photo Credit: guides.clickthecity.com

Was I-em-ming with my brother who lives in the Philippines and he was telling me about this restaurant called FU that he had gone to recently. No one gets Peking Duck really right in Richmond, Va - not even Full-Kee…

And suckling pig sushi…please kill me now…

  Sucklingpigsushi

Photo Credit: guides.clickthecity.com

To read the rest of this droolworthy feast go here.  My brother did say on my next visit to the Philippines we are going straight to FU.  Folks in Manila…you are so lucky…

A Cupcake Calendar Giveaway

Dots Cupcake Calendar 2009 

Dotscupcake

Dots Cupcake in Pasedana, California just came out with the most adorable calendar of this much-loved sweet. I think I am in the grips of a very bad case of cupcake fever and ordered more than I needed. As a result, I have two calendars to give away and what's better than to give them to readers of this blog! I was going to wait for a relevant cupcake post but as calendars do have a sort of shelf life I decided not to wait any longer. The calendar is the size of a CD case and is perfect to put on your desk.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment between now and Jan23rd stating why you love cupcakes! I will ship worldwide. I will draw a winner using the trusted random number generator.

*picture above from Dots Cupcake website

Menu for Hope V is here!

Menuv   

Each year the blogging community ,led by Pim, comes together to raise money to feed the hungry of the UN World Food Programme. Last year it raised $90,000! This year, amidst one of the worst recessions in history, we need to remember that there are folks out there who have literally nothing to eat for days on end. For $10.00 you will have a chance to win a fantastic prize at the same time feed a hungry child.

The prize I am donating is two boxes (24-count each) of assorted macarons from Petites Bouchees! These are Parisian-style macarons filled with luxurious buttercreams and creamy ganache. Some of the flavors will be Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla buttercream, espresso buttercream, passion fruit milk-chocolate and caramel fleur de sel. Sorry, U.S. only. My prize code is : UE04.

Markmac_200w  

There are a lot of other prizes. The host for the East Coast is my blog sister, Jaden of Steamy Kitchen. Check her out (I mean her blog) for more delicious and nifty prizes. Personally, I have my eyes on the sleek New West Knifeworks knife!

Here are the donation instructions:

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from our Menu for Hope at http://chezpim.com
2. Go to the donation site at http://www.firstgiving.com/menuforhope5 and make a donation.
3. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code.
For example, a donation of $50 can be 2 tickets for EU01 and 3 tickets for EU02. Please write 2xEU01, 3xEU02
4. If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
5. Please allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win.  Your email address will not be shared with anyone.