Gumbo: a foray into Cajun cuisine

Throughout all our (mis)adventures and run-ins with hot and piquant food, we’ve sampled various cuisines utilizing chilis and spices such as Thai, Tex-Mex, Indian, and Lebanese, just to name a few. Oddly enough, one we had skipped was Cajun, referring to a culinary tradition with its roots among French-Canadians who had settled in Louisiana, USA. For many diners, this word brings to mind dishes such as ‘Cajun chicken’, gumbo, jambalaya, and an assortment of meats smothered in gravy and served on top of ‘dirty rice’. This tradition is often confused with, or crossed over with other traditions of Louisiana such as Creole food, which originated among another set of French immigrants in the area.

For the sake of broadening our horizons, we decided to dine at Gumbo, located in Robinson’s Place, Ermita, Manila. The restaurant’s ambiance on this busy Friday night reminded us of a Mardi Gras combined with a wood-and-brick bistro. The staff were accommodating and prompt with showing us to a table, as well as providing menus and a complimentary appetizer. The facilities themselves were spacious and a welcome respite from the chaos of the mall.

After poring over the rather extensive menu, we ordered the seafood gumbo and the chicken jambalaya. Our server asked us if we wanted the dishes to be mild or spicy, thus we decided to have the ‘mild’ gumbo and the ‘spicy’ jambalaya.  We thought that ‘mild’ would be along the lines of peppery or sweetly piquant. Boy, we were in for a surprise.

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The seafood gumbo was definitely a surprise to the palate. I ordered a mild one and at least to Filipino sensitivities and my subdued eating state, it was already spicy. But it doesn’t take anything away from it, rather, with an extra order of rice or two with the meal, and some yogurt or yakult after it should help make the meal even more palatable. Another plus is how well they cooked the seafood, such as the squid. The squid was firm but not chewing gum with consistency, and the shrimps were well cooked, absorbing all the flavors along with the clams.

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The chicken jambalaya was intimidating at first sight: three large chicken fillets atop a sea of rice and sausages. The chicken itself was mildly flavored; the real star of the dish was the rice! We quickly realized that the hotness of this jambalaya was not an explosion in one’s mouth; rather it was a steady, roaring burn accentuated by the slight saltiness of the sausage. Needless to say, we could not quite finish this dish, as our tastebuds were already begging for mercy.

After such an eventful introduction to Gumbo and its rendition of Cajun cuisine, we look forward to trying some of the other entrees such as the ribs or the pizzas. Other diners may also peruse the drinks and desserts selections to round off their meals.

The Food Score:  4/5: The food comes in hefty, very savory portions. There is no skimping here on flavors, which makes this worth a visit. There is a whole range of entrees and drinks for everything from a family dinner out, to pre-gaming before an evening on the town.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4/5: The service here is excellent, with dishes arriving promptly at the table, and the staff ready to assist diners. The ambiance, as described, is more homey and welcoming instead of going over the top on the Mardi Gras theme.

GERD Score: 3.5/5: Admittedly, Gumbo isn’t quite the places for people in need of heartburn-friendly food, but at the same time, they still have a decent selection of food for anyone to choose. And also, please do take note that their mildly spicy meals like the jambalaya or gumbo is spicy already for Filipino standards. Anything that goes beyond their restaurant is very bad for your stomach in the event of a heartburn.

Epilepsy Score:  3.5/5: Diners with issues regarding highly seasoned food or gluten may be better off elsewhere; while salads and other options are available, this place’s best-selling dishes lean towards spicy, with plenty of grains and meats. That aside the restaurant’s lighting and music are mellow, and less likely to be jarring or overstimulating.

Team Glasses Score: 4/5 : We certainly cannot eat at this restaurant too often, thanks to our health issues, however it is still worth a second visit if only to try the rest of the Cajun food on the menu. We are glad we found this on a rainy night.

Gumbo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Salad Stop: Salad’s Up

IMG_4641Hi Readers! Finally, Kat and I are taking our graduate degrees (she in MPH and I’m in Law), but it does mean that Kat and I won’t be able to publish as much as we would like to. But that said, we’re still going to write and find places to eat, as well as health information to share with everyone, just like my recent quick respite at Salad Stop.

After a particularly rough week with the start of classes and moving to a new place, I wandered around BGC High Street to find a decent meal to de-stress. I eventually found Salad Stop at the other end of the mall.

Going inside the restaurant, I noticed the light wooden panels complementing the grey concrete walls, surprisingly giving off the feel of breakfast at a garden with the well-lit ambiance

For this solo adventure, I chose the “Go Geisha” salad instead of its wrap counterpart. Normally, when one says ‘salad’, one expects a plate with leafy greens and carrots, but in this instance, it was much more than I expected.

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Go Geisha! (without the red and white lettuce)

The ‘Go Geisha’ salad has romaine, red, and white lettuce, firm tofu, asparagus, carrot, snow peas, soba noodles, cucumber, sesame seeds, and sweet corn, with their Japanese miso dressing. One could also add on baked salmon or fried garlic, which I unfortunately did not do for this trip. The sesame bread stick was a quaint touch as well.

While the restaurant ran out of red and white lettuce that night, the servers added some more romaine lettuce to address the discrepancy. After a few minutes of waiting, my salad bowl arrived. The lettuce greens and assortment of colors made for an appealing meal in itself, which tasted as good as it looked. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, the tofu soft and firm, and the miso dressing brought out another layer of complexity to the salad, with its slightly sweet and sour flavors.

The salads here are definitely a good start to a meal, or if chosen as a wrap, a vegetarian meal all to itself.

Food Score: 4.5/5. One main draw of the food here is the healthy and varied menu. There are salads to suit various tastes and appetites.
Ambiance / Service Score: 4.5/5. From start to finish, especially with the late hour that I got in, the staff maintained a professional and friendly demeanor to them. This Salad Stop has quick service, and the lovely dining experience is a welcome place to share a meal with friends of a light afternoon snack.
GERD Score: 5/5. While not all their selections are heartburn-friendly, the menu shows warnings as to what are spicy and those that trigger allergies from seafood to gluten.
Epilepsy Score: 5/5. An attraction about salad bars like this place is that one can pick or omit ingredients, thus making it easier for persons to avoid ‘trigger foods’ or ingredients that may interact badly with medications. On the whole, the selections are safe for people with seizure conditions.
Team Glasses Score:4.5/5. All things considered, we’re grateful for Salad Stop for being a great place to dine in for people like us who deal with medical conditions and allergies, and have to deal with limited dining options everytime we go out.

The Negative Space Cafe

Negative Space Cafe
Team Glasses’ Student Specials: Part 1
A major change we’ve been hurdling over the past few weeks is that both of us have begun our graduate studies. Among the various challenges our new situation presents is the need to find places where we could spend hours quietly studying, preferably with access to good food and Internet. In the interest of fulfilling all these criteria, we steered clear of the more ubiquitous coffee shops and cafes near our workplaces, and headed back to a familiar area frequented by university students: Maginhawa Street in Diliman. This time we tried out the Negative Space Café, located in Teachers Village.

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The café’s name already suggests a different feel and aesthetic from other ‘art cafes’. Instead of boasting of brightly decorated walls filled up with canvases, sculptures, installations, and kitsch, the Negative Space Café has a spacious, relatively uncluttered interior. The artworks featured on the walls are carefully curated, providing a balance that arouses cafe patrons’’ interest but do not prove too distracting for work. The general feel is that of a straightforward yet welcoming place that is conducive for quiet reading as well as group discussions.

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The menu here at Negative Space Café boasts of an extensive selection of beverages, as well as Japanese-themed snacks and entrees. For our afternoon sojourn here, we tried out the cha soba with vegetable tempura, as well as the Japanese cheese curry bake. The cha soba noodles were firm and lightly flavored with sesame, providing a refreshing contrast to the richer flavors of the vegetable tempura. The tempura went beyond the usual kangkong and radishes; over here even mushrooms and eggplants could be turned into a delectable fried dish.

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On the other hand, the Japanese cheese curry bake was served in a no-nonsense fashion in a ramekin, with a side of coleslaw in Japanese mayonnaise. This entree was not too heavily spiced, and well-balanced by the melted cheese; however, it was not as sweet as we had expected from other Japanese curry recipes. Nevertheless, it was still a filling, satisfying choice for an early dinner.

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Although we had heard of the varied coffee blends available in Negative Space Café, we opted to try the Italian sodas, particularly the watermelon soda as well as peach soda topped with whipped cream. These drinks were refreshing, avoiding the usual sickly sweetness of other carbonated drinks.  The addition of whipped cream to the peach soda turned this concoction into a delightful cream soda that was good as a drink on its own or as a light dessert.
The Negative Space Café is a promising example of what a student hang-out ought to be: affordable, with a variety of quality snacks and light entrees, and with ample facilities for different types of study sessions. We hope that more students as well as patrons from other offices and businesses in the Diliman area will consider this café as a venue not only for solo dining but for group ventures and meetings.
The Food Score:  4/5: The food was reasonably priced and filling, with flavors that were familiar and not too jarring. The selection, though mostly Japanese themed, is varied enough to cater to different appetites and tastes.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4.5/5: This place goes beyond the usual café setups of small tables and cushy chairs; here there are no-nonsense wooden chairs with wide tables that are more suited for spreading out books and worksheets, or setting up laptops. As mentioned before, the décor and art collections here are quirky yet not overly distracting, thus making the place more conducive for study.

GERD Score: 3.5/5. Considering the size and heftiness of the meals on the stomach, and at the same time, some triggers for food and drinks, one should share meals from the better part of their selection.

Epilepsy Score:  3.5/5: Alas some of the foods here such as the curry cannot be prepared from scratch, and may rely on highly seasoned mixes for quick cooking. Gluten free foods are in short supply here as well. However there is a decent selection of non-caffeinated drinks for those diners sensitive to this substance. The lighting and sounds here are mellow, without flashes or overly loud blaring that may trigger a seizure episode.

Team Glasses Score: 4/5. This cafe is not a place for diners looking for haute cuisine or novelty eats. However if one needs an area to work in, with a snack or hot drink on the side, the Negative Space Cafe is a place to go.

Negative Space Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Turning the tables: Capsaicin for people with heartburn

 

 

For many of us dealing with heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), spicy food is a thing of the past for most of us because it triggers the acid and burping. There are exceptions of course, which I’m grateful from an extra pinch of ground pepper to some wasabi paste, but nothing quite beats the heat chili peppers bring.

However, a 2016 study titled “Influence of capsaicin infusion on secondary peristalsis in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease.” by Yi et. al., shows that repeated intake of capsaicin / chili peppers may help reverse the effect of heartburn, as far as people who have triggers with chili peppers are concerned.

According to the said study, people who ate a meal with chili peppers makes the symptoms flare up at the first instance, but repeated exposure to capsaicin may reverse the effects of heartburn. Yet despite these findings, there are still a number of people who complain that consuming chili in any form makes their reflux symptoms flare up. When it comes to GERD, there’s no really telling what sets one’s symptoms without a little carefully thought out trial-and-error.

 

Before one hits the pickled jalapeños, one has to keep in mind that mild chili peppers are the ones best suited for consumption for most people, with or without reflux. In fact some of the hottest peppers can even give chefs and cooks slight burns just from touch.. Tasting and handling aside, the best way to check a pepper’s heat level is with the Scoville Heat Scale. The higher a chili pepper is on the heat scale score, the hotter the pepper is.

 

 

 

Scoville Heat Units Chilli Pepper
1,569,300 – 2,200,000 Carolina Reaper Pepper (PuckerButt Pepper Company, Fort Mill, South Carolina).
350,000 – 577,000 Red Savina habanero (Capsicum chinense Jacquin)
100,000 – 350,000 Habanero (Capsicum chinense Jacquin)
100,000 – 225,000 Birds Eye pepper
50,000 – 100,000 Thai pepper (Capsicum annuum)
30,000 – 50,000 Cayenne pepper (Capsicum baccatum and Capsicum frutescens )
30,000 – 50,000 Tabasco pepper (Capsicum frutescens)
5,000 – 10,000 Chipotle, a Jalapeño pepper that has been smoked.
2,500 – 5,000 Jalapeño (Capsicum annuum)
100 – 500 Pepperoncini, pepper (also known as Tuscan peppers, sweet Italian peppers, and golden Greek peppers.
100 – 500 Pimento
0 Sweet Bell pepper

Unfortunately with heartburn, nothing is completely certain since different people have different reactions to their own set of personal triggers, so on one hand, there is hope that repeated attempts to eat chili peppers will increase resistance effects in the long run. On the other hand, it could also give one a pain in the neck after trying something out and the acid shoots up crazier than before.

Personally, I think it’s worth a shot at least once, not because YOLO, but the long term benefits helps one with heartburn live a step nearer to normalcy. Think of it as someone trying to adapt by increasing resistances to an allergy like seafood. But as a precaution, keep heartburn medication on hand in case it doesn’t pan out. Good luck and we hope this helps you out.

References:

http://www.refluxmd.com/turn-heat-turn-heartburn/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28018112

https://www.chilliworld.com/factfile/scoville-scale

 

Il Fiore Earth Café and Gelato Lab

The mention of ‘organic dining’ or ‘farm to table’ restaurants often evokes images of greenery, warm brick red walls and wooden benches, and lengthy menus describing the ingredients and cooking styles of featured dishes. However, Il Fiore Earth Café and Gelato Lab defies this type by combining café-style meals and gelato under one cheery roof.

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In keeping with its floral name—as il fiore is translated from Italian as ‘the flower’, this small café on Salamanca Street in Poblacion is decked out in pastel tones that provide a cheery contrast to its steel-and-glass environs. The menu is straightforward and reader-friendly, providing diners with a no-nonsense look at what they will be ordering. On the other hand, the novelty lies in the gelato selection, which features some unusual flavors such as mango-dragon fruit and hazelnut.

During our visit here we sampled the dark chocolate ganache gelato, as well as the portobello mozza burger, and the spinach and squash lasagna. The gelato was thick and luscious on the tongue, with creamy chocolate bits adding to the dessert’s deep flavor. Clearly there were no corners cut in the making of this gelato.

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When we got our first sight of the portobello mozza burger, the first thought that popped in our minds was “How are we going to eat this?” Our knives and forks seemed too meagre for this task. After a little consideration, we realized there was no other way but to simply pick up the burger and bite into it, letting the melted mozzarella cheese ooze out along with the juiciness of the mushrooms. The alfalfa sprouts and tomato relish complemented the richness of the burger patty, providing some much needed cleansing to our palates.

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The spinach and squash lasagna on the other hand was surprisingly light on the palate, even with the layers of tomato, béchamel sauce and cheese. The dish’s overall mildness made it easy to finish, however we felt that a sharper cheese or combination of cheeses would have brought a bit of a kick to the pasta.

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Il Fiore Earth Café and Gelato Lab also features other interesting entrees like mushroom chips and quinoa chili shepherd’s pie, as well as a small array of cakes, pastries, tea, coffee, and yogurt drinks. This is a promising alternative to coffee shops and cafes, especially for patrons who desire healthy yet substantial meals to go with a hot drink or delectable dessert.

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The Food Score: 4/5: The dishes here have an excellent balance of flavors, though at times they play a bit too safe on the palate. The gelato though is this place’s biggest strength.

Ambiance/Service Score: 4/5: The ambiance is cheery yet relaxing, good for a casual meetup with friends or holing up for a few hours to read or use a computer. However we noticed that this place uses disposable boxes and cutlery for serving, despite the presence of more environmentally friendly alternatives.

GERD Score: 3/5: Given the selection of meals they have, most of them aren’t heartburn friendly at all, either with the portion size that’s good for sharing, or the amount of cheese put in. But to their credit, they also have selections that are perfect for people dealing with heartburn such as yogurt and their gelato.

Epilepsy Score:  3.5/5: The dishes here are not too strongly seasoned, thus allaying most concerns about artificial seasoning. There are not too many non-caffeinated drink offerings on the menu though, which may be a bit off-putting to some cafégoers.

Team Glasses Score: 3.5/5: We feel that this place has some promise in terms of concept a well as a few dishes, but there is still some room for improvement. On the whole though it is a cafe worth stopping in, or even lingering in for an hour or two with good food and excellent gelato.

Il Fiore Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Honey Nutribar: The Future Disaster-Relief Snack

In a country where natural disasters happen often, food that’s both filling and nutritious is a necessity. Unfortunately, most relief packs from donations consist of either crackers and biscuits, canned goods, or things like noodles or rice which require potable water. The last two options have downsides to them, which are the problem of artificially made preservatives, as well as the lack of sustainable potable water or water-filtration systems in evacuation centers and in ground zero.

If my guilty pleasure of watching people who eat military or civilian Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) has taught me anything, ready to eat foods need to meet certain criteria.  Since its purpose is to be ready to eat even after a year of storage or more, an MRE pack should remain edible despite being stored  for a long period of time. It should be easy to transport without crumbling apart readily. And most importantly, these should have a healthy amount of calories and nutrients to make one survive the grueling day or have a substantial meal in a pinch.

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While we don’t have locally-produced MRE packs like in the US or Indonesia, I would have to say that the Honey Nutribar is a step in the right direction.

Created by the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI), the Honey NutriBar is made out of pinipig (pounded glutinous rice), honey, rice krispies, dried fruits, and pectin. What sets this bar apart from the commercially available ones is the process that’s involved in preserving it.

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Each bar is vacuum-sealed in laminated aluminum foil, and then irradiated at a dose of 1 kilogray gamma radiation at the PNRI’s Multipurpose Irradiation Facility. Now one asks him or herself, “Irradiated? Isn’t that toxic?”. Unlike what happens in nuclear meltdown and accidents like Chernobyl or Fukushima, the irradiation process does not turn the food radioactive, and in fact makes it safer for consumption.

Now what is irradiation exactly? It is the process wherein the food (in this case, the Honey NutriBar) is exposed to electron beams or gamma radiation. Here are some benefits to the irradiation process.

  1. Preservation by destroying or deactivating the organisms that speed up spoilage and decomposition.
  2. Elimination of disease-causing bacteria such as Salmonella and E.Coli.
  3. Sterilization. Sterilized food last long in storage and a useful source of food for patients with severely-impaired immune systems.
  4. Irradiating does not change the taste or consistency of food.

Currently, the said product is still in development. The team at PNRI has managed to get the Honey Nutribar’s shelf life at nine months, but the staff in the PNRI conference area told us that the team is aiming to make it shelf-stable for two years.

With a bit of help from individuals and groups willing to invest in this research, the Honey Nutribar will soon be able to provide a readily available and tasty source of food during natural disasters and other emergencies. Since these are packed with nutrients and sufficient calories, these snack bars are also great for athletic events and outdoor activities.

 

For more information on the Honey Nutribar, please contact:

Ms. Zenaida M. De Guzman

Head, Biomedical Research Section, Atomic Research Division

Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Nuclear Research Institute

Commonwealth Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City

Tel. No. 929-6010 to 19 loc. 273

Email: zmedguzman@pnri.dost.gov.ph

On Tagines and Pierogi: Al Fresco Dining at the Salcedo Market

Public and community markets are acquiring additional faces here in the Philippines. Although most markets are still comprised of rows of stalls housed in large buildings and divided into ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ sections, other set ups such as night markets and open-air markets have been established in some communities. One example is the Salcedo Market, which is open on Saturday mornings at Jaime Velasquez Park, in Makati City. This weekly market is not only a place to acquire some choice organic produce, meats, fish, and deli items, but it is also a haven for diners seeking comfort food as well as less well-known cuisines in a more relaxed environment than a food park or restaurant.

We decided to have a late breakfast-early brunch here on one lazy weekend. It took us some time to browse through all the stalls offering all kinds of foods from sandwiches to paella. Eventually we decided on some chicken saffron tagine from The Real Moroccan Cuisine and pierogi dumplings from Babci.

The chicken saffron tagine was served on a bed of saffron rice, with an olive garnish. Although the saffron rice was a little lacking in flavor, the chicken had a distinct lemony taste with hints of saffron that played well on the taste buds. The meat itself was falling off the bone; another sign of careful slow cooking. The black olives were firm, soft, and flavorful, complimenting the dish as a whole,but perhaps they should watch a bit more closely to removing the pit in order to prevent accidents. In summary, it was a very filling dish that would do well to keep you from feeling hungry throughout the day.

Pierogi are filled dumplings, originating from Poland. Babci offers a whole range of pierogi fillings ranging from traditional ones such as sauerkraut and potatoes, to more innovative creations including chocolate and fruits. Since we were having brunch, we decided on a trio of savory pierogi: potato with cheese and onion (also known as ruskie, a classic meat mix, and last but not the least, cabbage with mushrooms and a hint of truffle oil.  All of the pierogi came topped with caramelized onions and cream. The ruskie had a rich but not overwhelming flavor, with the perfect balance of both cheese and onion. The meat pierogi was strongly seasoned, but without being overly salty for enjoyment. On the other hand, the truffle oil lent a distinct sharpness to the last pierogi, but that soon gave way to the subtler flavors of mushrooms and cabbage. It was a welcome change from the more richly filled and flavors dimsum houses or other cuisines with a tradition of dumplings. Babci also offers a variety of sausages (served with pita bread or rice) that are made without extenders or excessive amounts of other preservatives.

Hopefully we will have another opportunity soon to sample more culinary treats from the Salcedo Market. It is fortunate to see many small and medium food enterprises emerging to give diners more healthy and diverse options to suit all palates and needs.

The Food Score: 4/5: Although there were some misses when it comes to the flavors of the pierogi and the chicken tagine, the dishes on the whole were affordable, filling, and satisfying to eat.

Ambiance/Service Score: 5/5: One feature of the Salcedo Market is al fresco dining. The ambiance is bustling but relaxed, conducive at least for casual conversation or taking a rest before rushing off to peruse more items in the stalls. The market is clean, organized, and safe on the whole

GERD Score: 4.5/5: The Real Moroccan Cuisine and Babci offers savory food spiced just the way we like them, as such isn’t a problem unless these have your triggers. But I do say that the serving size of the chicken tangine is great for sharing rather than taking it on alone.

Epilepsy Score:  5/5: Food options in The Real Moroccan Cuisine and Babci are free of preservatives and extenders. Non caffeinated teas and other drinks are available in the former establishment and in other stalls. The marketplace is a haven for health buffs after all.
Team Glasses Score: 4.5/5 Although there is still room for improvement with the food and the set-up of the market, this is a promising place for foodies and those interested in healthy eating and organic products.