Nonnette C. Bennett
The Asian food flavors are similar because of the spices that are commonly used.
Indian spices always fill the senses with the strong scent of coriander, bay leaves, cinnamon, and cumin or curry which has turmeric, garlic, and ginger in it too.
China has similar mild scents of ginger and garlic, but the sesame oil is a predominant attractive scent.The warm feeling that these spices give you and the memories of good food always invite you to try them. This week is a taste of India and China.
Ranee House of Curry popped up in my Messenger app and it conjured fond memories of the flavors of Pakistani food. So, lunch it was when we met at this month-old restaurant where Café Yagam used to be.
For starters on a warm summer day, I asked for tamarind iced tea. Tamarind best represents East Asia because these hardy fruits abound in the warm climates. There is something more appealing in this fruit because it can be extremely tarty or divinely sweet, but it is scentless. That’s perhaps why a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint makes it a bit more exciting.
Cheese samosas are little pastry pies similar to our empanadas but smaller versions that are served as snacks or starters. This is a good version where the potatoes are soft and the cheese in small cubes with herbs included. The tamarind sauce used as dip gives it a perfect twist.
Beef rendang balinese was my choice, but as a Nasi set meal which has all the fringes of aromatic rice, sambal tumis or anchovies, prawn crackers, peanuts, a boiled egg, slices of cucumber, and the rice cake dessert. This is dry beef curry cooked together with an aromatic herb paste, mild chilies and coconut milk until tender then fried in the braising liquid, the menu reads.
The assemblage is interesting because the cup of rice is topped with crispy anchovies or dilis in the vernacular. The crunchy bits of the fish and crushed bits of crispy garlic add flavor to the aromatic rice. The beef was delicious, and this should excite those who like to eat meat without chewing hard and long. The rich flavors of herbs and the chili are always delightful with every spoonful of the meat, crunchy peanut, and rice. The curry is always distinct in each mouthful and the peanut an additional flavor to the bite. Textures are blended for crispy and chewy. The prawn crackers and cucumber slices could be eaten ahead or interspersed through the meal.
But the white rice cake which is similar to our biko that is cooked in coconut milk and topped with desiccated coconut is truly Asian. The sweetness with the coconut milk poured over it was just right to cap the meal.
The chicken biryani is good for two people because this had three pieces of drumsticks in almost two cups of rice with lots of cilantro and dry caramelized fried onions to add some sweetness to the dish. The chicken is marinated in yogurt and herbs and fried before it is added to the basmati rice that is likewise spiced up with some turmeric and other herbs. This flavorful rice dish is filling and given more excitement with the yogurt and cucumber sauce, or the spicier green sauce.
The beef curry masala, which is a Thali set meal, has pita bread added to the dish of slow cooked beef pieces flavored in dry spices, herbs, fresh tomatoes and Greek yogurt. Additionally, the boiled egg has curry sauce poured over it.
Then there is daal makhani which is the like a bean side dish that is good to dip the pita bread in. The dessert that goes with this is a sweet- desiccated coconut ball that is almost like our bucayo but this is softer and crumblier. This meal is a balance of the salty and sweet.
To subdue the hot chili, the yogurt sauce with cucumber bits is nice. It is highly recommended to take the set meals at Ranee House of curry. The side bar to this Indian food restaurant is that it is owned by three Indian male chefs who like cooking for their families, particularly their wives and mothers.
At SM City Baguio, we wanted Chinese food. I am a dimsum girl. I am delighted by these steamed goodies like the braised pork with tausi. I enjoy the black fermented beans for some reason, perhaps because these are the salty in a different way. The sesame seeds that garnish it give it a nutty after taste. So, this is something we ordered at Super Bowl of China.
Have you ever tried the salted fish fried rice? This is such a treat and prepared in many ways depending on the Chinese restaurant. The version in this restaurant is yellow in color. There are bits of cabbage, meat, and hidden from the view but in the taste are the dried fish bits. According to my foodie partner, this is an expensive dried salted flat fish that is added in small portions to the rice. I guess it is the sesame oil that makes this dish a happy meal because of the aroma.
There was the spicy eggplant that is fried and sauteed again with ground pork and onions in oyster sauce. It’s funny but we ate this without the chilies because my foodie partner cannot take strong chili peppers. Nevertheless, our choices were a perfect blend of flavors that didn’t make you feel like you were eating the same flavor in different dishes.
So, there you have it, two countries of Asia in simple combinations. It is good to have the healthy herbs and spices of India once in a while, or take Chinese food cooked in sesame oil that we have grown to love at any time of the day.
Nonnette C. Bennett