May 26, 2024
Sauteed Chinese cabbage had what tasted like grilled garlic that made this unusually tasty.

A rare privilege to visit one of the former grand landmarks of Laoag City in Ilocos Norte happened last week when Rotarians from Region 1 and Benguet attended a district event. The former grandeur that made this area a destination of Chinese tourists has long disappeared but the restaurant that served the best Chinese cuisine in these parts remains.

A lauriat of sorts was served with nine varied dishes that were separate tastebud adventures were ordered by Rotary Club of Baguio Highlands President Fernando Tiong. His taste for good Chinese dishes was evident in his selection and familiarity with the restaurant menu.

Pork asado and pork ribs had candied corners made this extra savory.

Sauteed Chinese cabbage or wombok was almost ignored as a common home dish until the unusual flavors that came with the fresh temperate vegetable from these parts was sampled.

I was impressed with the texture of the garlic used in the dish that was similar to grilled garlic in the Korean samgyupsal.

The whole cloves were tender and not as garlicky or sharp. The starchy sauce was sweetened by the strips of wombok and almost like a palate cleaner to the different dishes that came before it.

Red 8 Restaurant was charming in its dated but rare furnishings.

The hot and sour soup was a familiar flavor, but this had all the kinds of mushrooms available in the market used in the tangy and starchy base. The chewy julienne of what seemed to be an array of shitake, oyster, enoki, and black fungus were in the spoonsful of thick soup made sour by black vinegar. The slivers of ginger gave this a tinge of spice different from the chili peppers.

Hot and sour soup was a mix of mushrooms.

The beef broccoli looked like a bouquet. The broccoli florets that were still crisp surrounded the tender slices of beef. The oyster sauce flavoring of the dish gave the salty sweet charm of almost juicy bites into the broccoli flowers.

The asado pork loin and the grilled pork ribs gave two textures of the two cuts of pork. Caramelized slices of pork boiled in herbs and glazed in another sweet orange syrup make asado a popular Chinese meat preparation. The grilled pork ribs thinly glazed but tenderized to fall off the bones was the other part. Those who like chewy caramelized corners will find heaven in this combination of mild tasty bite size meats.

Hot shrimp salad was a creamy delight.

Hot shrimp salad is a creamy version of fried battered shrimps in warm thick mayonnaise with pineapple bits. The sugary blend that accompanies the still crunchy batter of shelled tender shrimps quickly disappeared when it was served. A popular dish that is between dessert and definitely misrepresented as a salad is unforgettable.

Shanghai fried rice was a complete meal on its own.

The umami in seafood tofu dish was unique. The combined but distinct flavors of squid, small shrimps, slices of cream dory, slices of sea cucumber, tofu bars, carrots, and slices of wombok sauteed and doused in a starchy sauce with sesame oil was its own burst of textures in the mouth. Each chewy spoonful of one or combinations of elements was a joy. The fried tofu absorbed the juices of the elements.

Seafood with tofu  had fresh seafoods with seacucumber.

Unforgettable was the Shanghai fried rice for its own completeness. It was almost a sin to make the dish on its own as the carbohydrates for the varied flavors. This also had bits of shrimp, eggs, carrots, and green onions. Wonderfully sauteed in a wok to separate each element this soaked the sauces of the different dishes.

Crispy pork and garlic was perfect in bite sizes.

Not to forget the crunchy fried crispy garlic and pork. Akin to lechon kawali, this was a dry and flaky presentation of garlic with fried pork belly chopped in chunks. This did not have a sweet-sour sauce to accompany it but with all the other saucy dishes, the dry bits were a perfect addition to the fried rice.

Beef broccoli had fresh vegetable florets.

The finale was a tray of fresh fruits in season with watermelon and orange slices.

For the adventurous with a lot of time to kill, a trip to Fort Ilocandia should be on the bucket list to reminisce the glory days and check out what remains. This Chinese food journey should compare with the popular restaurants in Metro Manila and the versions that are found in big malls. — Nonnette C. Bennett