RSS Feed

Tag Archives: pig

La Isla Deliciosa

Posted on

Asia is one of the most interesting continents when it comes to cuisine.  You might be asking yourself, “Uh, what’s so special about sushi, korean barbecue, and orange chicken?”  Well, hate to break it to you that there is much more to Asian cuisine than that given the sheer size of the continent and number of different cultures that inhabit its regions spanning from Turkey to Japan.  This geographic spread contributes to the variety found in this corner of the world, but some country’s cuisines are more popular than others in the US.  For example, the food items I previously mentioned are probably the first cuisines that come to peoples’ minds when you say “Asian food”, i.e.  Japanese, Chinese, and Korean food.  Vietnamese and Thai food are more recent entries to the public consciousness due to increased immigration from South/Southeast Asia, and they all have their own special place in the ever expanding American palate.  However, one country that doesn’t get the foodie hype that its other neighbors receive but really should  is Filipino food.  Janice and I got well acquainted with many island delights in Chicago at Lincoln Square’s Isla Pilipina Restaurant.

We’ve walked past this place all the time around dinnertime, and it has been packed without fail.  Naturally, when we went it was no different. IMG_6255 After waiting for a table to open in the funky fresh interior that was bumping an odd mix of rap and oldies out of the overhead speakers, we finally managed to take a seat amidst the madness of the waitstaff toward the back of the restaurant. IMG_6256 Looking over the menu, I could see the influences of a number of cultures including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish.  IMG_6258IMG_6257That last one might come as a surprise to some, but Spain unified the roughly 7,000 islands into the country of the Philippines back in the 1600s.  The name of the country even comes from the name of the king of Spain at the time, Felipe (Phillip) II.  During Spanish colonial rule, the Spanish and Filipino cultures intermingled through marriage and food which still can be seen today in the names of the dishes offered at Isla Pilipina like pata, adobo, and guisado.  It’s a byob restaurant as well if you’re interested in knocking a few back with your meal.  We started the meal with a plate of 20 lumpia Shanghai ($5/ $3 for 10).  The name of this dish comes from the Hokkien (Southern Chinese) word lunpia, and they are clearly carry-overs from the mainland.IMG_6261  They’re basically deep fried mini-egg rolls that according to the menu are filled with pork, egg, jicama, green onions, carrots, soy sauce, and love.  I could especially taste the love above all of the other ingredients.  Seriously though, I quickly learned that there’s a reason why they sell them in a plate of 10 or 20 rolls.  The fried dough that envelops all of the fresh and savory meat and veggies is the best part.  These golden brown, crunchy, and flaky nuggets of heaven are paired with a semi-watery sweet and sour sauce that has some chili flakes floating in it to add a little pep to these pipsqueak poppers.  I highly recommend starting off with them and get a 20 roll plate because they go down way too easily especially if you’re sharing with others.  As for our main courses, Janice got the pancit bihon ($8) with a side of the garlic rice ($6) that apparently everyone on Yelp was raving about.  Pancit, like lumpia, comes from the Hokkien language.  It is derived from “pian i sit” which means “convenient food”.    I could see why since it was basically pan fried rice noodles with sauteed chicken and mixed vegetables.  A simple meal to be whipped together at a moment’s notice if necessary.IMG_6263 I helped myself to a couple forkfuls, and personally, I found it to be quite bland.  The ingredients were fresh and all that good stuff, but it didn’t really taste like much.  Even with the addition of lemon juice from the lemon slices that were provided on the side, I couldn’t really get into the pancit since I was more focusing on the citric tang than the actual noodles.  The same could be said about the garlic rice.  I don’t understand why everyone thought it the be all end all of side dishes. IMG_6269 True, nothing smells better than cooked garlic, but it basically was plain Jasmine rice that was superficially pan fried with garlic.  In essence, it was like long grain white rice with some garlic salt on it.  It’s better when combined with other food if anything, but it’s not rave worthy or even worth your time, in my opinion.  My entree, the lechon kawali ($11), was the opposite of these blander dishes.  This deep fried pork belly is a remnant of both Chinese and Spanish cuisine, including the Spanish name, and it was anything but a shrinking violet in this garden of eatin’.  IMG_6267It was a giant piece of pork that spanned my dinner plate, and it was even pre-cut which was piece de resistance!  Each piece of the lechon was a layer cake of different pork elements.  While the upper portions consisted more of the crunchy, salty pork skin and firm white meat, the lower echelons of the belly was where the money was. IMG_6272 I hit the jackpot every time when I reached the thin layer of fat that gave way to the most succulent and flavorful part of the pig.IMG_6274  Mixing these pieces with the garlic rice was a tasty combo, but the Filipino gravy was a bit of a mystery to me.  While part of it tasted like a sweet steak sauce, it had this hint of musty funk that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It didn’t ruin the meal at all though.  I was definitely more satisfied with my entree than Janice’s.  If you like bacon or any type of pork product, I highly recommend the lechon, and I’ve heard good things about their pata as well.  Even though it was a lot of food for a reasonable amount of money, I still wanted to try one of the most iconic Filipino desserts:  halo halo ($6).  Meaning “mix-mix” in Tagalog, not me stuttering the name of a Beyonce song, this classic and wildly popular dessert has become quite famous outside of the Philippines thanks to Filipino migration to the USA to typical hubs like Los Angeles and Chicago.  Even Anthony Bourdain has succumbed to its wildly colorful grasp.  It’s a ridiculous melange of crushed ice, red bean paste, white beans, lychee jelly, coconut shavings, coconut milk, and it was all topped off with a scoop of taro root ice cream, a slice of flan, and a cherry.  Nothing too complicated.IMG_6276 Now, if you’ve read any of my other blogs, you know that my relationship with red bean paste is one of revulsion almost on par with my dislike of pasta, so I naturally approached this dessert with a wariness similar to an unexploded ordinance, just ready to blow up in my mouth even though I’m a veteran of trying the gross red bean paste.  Yet, it also had one of my favorite Asian dessert ingredients as well:  taro.  This purple root vegetable may look like a sweet potato, but it is the bomb (a good one) when it comes to taste.  I normally get it in bubble tea, but the ice cream on top of the halo halo tasted just the same.  I don’t know what they do to this tuber, but it literally tastes like vanilla cookies.  It’s like making potatoes taste like chocolate bars.  Mind.  Blown.  Plus, the addition of the Spanish flan, that was quickly picked up by my girlfriend, was a nice touch.  After picking at the parts I knew I liked, I dove into it spoon first. IMG_6278 Luckily, all of the other sweet elements like the coconut and lychee covered up the red bean flavor, and it was like a super diverse slushy.  I ended up mixing the taro ice cream in with the rest of the ingredients, and it was like a purple vanilla milk shake with ice chunks and the occasional sweet jelly piece.  I would definitely go for another halo-halo, but I couldn’t finish it all because it was pretty big as well for the price.

So if you’re tired of the same old sushi or Korean barbecue and/or want a lot of food for little money, set sail for Isla Pilipina in Lincoln Square!
Click to add a blog post for Isla Pilipina on Zomato

Advertisements

Some Really Mean Cuisine

Posted on

Ah, Spring!  You have been nothing but cryptic so far in Chicago.  You have teased us with near bearable temperatures only to blindside the city with waves of freezing rain, snow, and chilly winds.  While the weather might get you down, you definitely should hit up one of the top dim sum places I have ever ate at, including America, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.  The name of this wonderful eatery is MingHin Cuisine.  My girlfriend had been there before and had nothing but great things to say about it.  It is located in the New Chinatown on the northside of Cermak Road right next to the famous Lao Sze Chuan.IMG_5718

When I arrived before Janice, I was greeted with a horde of anxious diners waiting for a table in the bustling main rooms or the side tea room that is devoted solely to the warm brews.  IMG_5719So, I put our name in and got a post it with a number on it.  It’s a simple but functional system they have for alerting customers when their tables are ready.  You have to try and hear your number on the Post-It note being shouted out first in Chinese and then in English above the din of the restaurant.  Eventually, they yelled out my number, and they quickly seated me. IMG_5743 They offered me a selection of teas to sample while I was waiting, so I plumped for a pot of chrysanthemum tea.  Janice took a seat opposite me soon thereafter, and we sipped on the tea that oddly looked like urine.  IMG_5721Thankfully, there was no trick to be had there, but it wasn’t Janice’s cup of tea.  I found it to be quite interesting with its earthy and highly herbal personality, but a bit more intense than the green or black teas I’m used to.  While the tea was warming our bellies, we looked over the two different menus on the table. IMG_5720 One consisted of the dim sum options we could pick from while the other menu was more focused on barbecue.  After much intense deliberation and taking into account Janice’s recommendations from her previous visits, we made our choices.  IMG_5737

The first dishes that came out were from the barbecue menu.  We tried the barbecued spare ribs and the crispy Macau style pork belly ($5.95 each).  Both were fantastic. IMG_5725 The honey spare ribs were lip-smacking good minus the bones, but the taste was similar to Korean kalbi ribs with a soy marinade that was both sweet with a little salt mixed in.  Then there was the pork belly. IMG_5728 Talk about a contrast of flavors and textures.  The top of the meat had a thin yet crunchy skin of sugar and perhaps a bit of cinnamon that was the perfect compliment to the multi-layered and uber-tender and juicy pork.  IMG_5731These nuggets came with a side bowl of sugar to dip them in, but I found it to be a bit excessive.  We also had a side of fried sticky rice, but I was not impressed at all by this bland and flavorless pick.  We moved on from the meaty opening salvo to more traditional dim sum options like the barbecue pork buns, fried sesame balls, siu mai, shrimp egg rolls, and chao zhou dumplings. IMG_5741 All of the dim sum plates are priced based on size with small ($3.15), medium ($3.85), large ($4.25), and special ($5.50).  I won’t go into tons of detail with most these plates since I’ve tried these a million times over.  I did love my bbq pork buns because they were fluffy and filled with that sweet sweet char siu style pork.  As for the sesame balls, the ones at MingHin are my new favorite ones because they aren’t filled with my old enemy of the Far East:  red bean paste. IMG_5733 Instead, they are filled with a more neutral and less obnoxious white bean paste.  What I found out at a later visit is that if you get the giant fried sesame ball, they just give you fried slices of the chewy rice paste that is coated with plenty of savory sesame seeds and no beans to be found.  Another stand out in this meal were the chao zhou dumplings I ordered.  They were filled with pork, but two huge surprises were the crunchy peanuts and the slightly spicy kick with each dumpling.  Another great pick were the shrimp egg rolls. IMG_5739 They were slightly addicting with their crunchy, golden-brown exteriors that were light and not greasy at all with plenty of shrimp inside.  While all of these choices were quite standard, I knew I had to try something new, something slightly frightening to those who are happy to stick with the tried and true favorites.  Enter the pork knuckle and lotus root. IMG_5734 When it was placed in front of me, it looked intimidating, but I’m not one to back down from a culinary challenge.  I picked up a piece of the burgundy flesh, and it was oddly soft.IMG_5742  It was like eating ginger-flavored jelly.IMG_5735  It was slightly unsettling but not terrible once I got used to it.  I also tried one of the lotus roots as well, but it left me with a sour taste in my mouth.  I’m glad I tried it, but I won’t get it again.  I’ll just stick to chicken feet.  By the end of the meal, we were quite happy with the food we got and for the reasonable price.

So, if you’re looking for a new and high quality dim sum eatery, check out MingHin Cuisine!  It’s a small slice of culinary amid the jungle of restaurants, and it’s fun for the whole family!  Afterward, you can check out everything Chinatown has to offer including their square of zodiac signs among many other sights.

Tame rabbits love it

Tame rabbits love it

And wild tigers love it too!

And wild tigers love it too!

MingHin Cuisine on Urbanspoon

May the Odds (and Ends) Be Ever In Your Favor

Posted on

What is going on everybody?  Welcome to a slightly different Mastication Monologues where I will be bringing you a random smattering of unique foods that I have sampled in the past few weeks that you can’t get anywhere else and may have never seen before.  I’ll begin with cactus chocolate from Jeju.

The last weeks of the Korean school year shouldn’t even exist since the kids essentially tune out from anything and everything educational since there are no tests to study for.  This is something that all of those world education studies praising the Korean school system don’t mention.  However, my students also became really respectful towards me suddenly since they found out I was leaving.  Too bad they didn’t do it earlier in the year when we actually had to do work.  With this newfound respect came lots of candy as well which I wasn’t complaining about.  One of the trinkets that caught my eye was the brightly wrapped Jeju cactus chocolate.  IMG_1973

Jeju is an island off the southern coast of Korea, and is considered to be the Hawaii of Korea due to its beautiful sandy beaches, mountain climbing, and outdoor sex museum (wait, that’s not right…but it’s true for Jeju!).  Culinarily, they are known for their black pig barbecue and even horse meat, but throughout the year my kids would always give me Hallabong chocolate which was often in the shape of these mini-Easter Island-esque stone statues that dot the landscape around the island.  The Hallabong chocolate would often be infused with fruit flavors especially Jeju orange and sometimes raspberry.  However, I had never seen this crunch chocolate until last week, and what made it especially unique was the cactus element.  I knew that Jeju’s climate was warmer than Seoul’s, but are there really are cactii on this volcanic island?  When I unwrapped it, I was confronted with what seemed to be a naked Crunch bar with a moderate coating of pink chocolate. IMG_1974 When I bit into it, my assumption was confirmed as the small, crunchy orbs gave way to creamy raspberry chocolate.  Where the cactus element came into play was a mystery to me.  It was a sweet little treat though that I enjoyed a bit more than the next “sweet” thing I tried:  walnut cakes.

On the same day of my cactus chocolate adventure, I tried some interesting snacks that aren’t what they seem.  Turns out they’re cakes made to look like walnuts, and they do do quite an impressive walnut impression.IMG_2021  The exterior mimicked the deeply grooved facade of its namesake, but that’s where the similarities fade.  Actually, fade doesn’t do justice to describe the shock I received after biting into it.  Naturally, I was greeted with a big mouthful of my old nemesis:  red bean paste.

It shall forever haunt me.

It shall forever haunt me.

Koreans love the stuff, and I can’t stand it for the most part.  I’ve found that anything that you would assume would have chocolate in it in the West, i.e. pastries, rolls, buns, fudgsicles, instead has red bean paste in it in Korea.  It’s considered a “sweet” delicacy to Korean palates, but I come from the land of rampant diabetes, so the sweet factor is lost on me.  The dough itself is fine, and the crunch walnut in the center made up for the red bean paste that left me shaking my head once again.  I thought I learned my lesson after the red bean popsicle incident but apparently not.  I’ll close this semi-gross scene with a fun fact.  These walnut cakes were made by a bakery called Cocohodo which is based in Korea but also has branches throughout California in the United States.

I also finally managed to try 족발 or jokbal or pig’s feet.  I got a half spicy-half mild plate of pig feet which wasn’t what I expected since they carved all of the meat off the actual hooves even though some of the bones were still there.

Hog heaven

Hog heaven

The mild meat tasted like a cross between a glazed ham with the pork element, but the skin was carmelized which had a sweetness to it like Peking duck.  As for the spicy half, I was in heaven.IMG_2035  Some pieces were crispy like bacon while others had a more tender texture like pork chops, and the spiciness was around a jalapeno level with a sweet aftertaste which was probably due to the soy marinade.  I would have eaten more if it wasn’t for our teachers’ farewell dinner beforehand where my table consumed this bad boy below.  What a way to say “thank you” and “farewell”!1904234_3177324309091_1094229150_n

Also, I hadn’t mentioned this before, but check out my friend’s podcast I did a couple weeks ago.  Not only do I talk about my trip to North Korea, but also I elaborate on some of my best food adventures which I have detailed in Mastication Monologues!

%d bloggers like this: