Saturday, April 30, 2016

Shawarma Snack Center: Ermita's best-kept secret?

Where were you and what were you doing on Good Friday? Me? Food tripping! In between church activities and service, that is. I know those who are Catholic abstain from meat or too much food during Lent, but we born-again Christians have a different practice and particularly at our church, we do have an annual fast 
for three days after New Year's Day. 
Last Good Friday, activities and service in our church lasted from 9 a.m. till 8 p.m. and in between, we had an over two-hour break so I decided to make a little trip into one of those small streets in Ermita, Manila near our church, where one 
can find authentic Middle Eastern food. 
This post, by the way, is Part 2 of my Middle Eastern cuisine journey sharing. In my previous post, I shared about Mister Kabab, where I started that "journey", and also Hassan Kabab and Steaks, and Kebab Turki Baba Rafi. Now, as I've mentioned, I'm sharing about Shawarma Snack Center, which is a gem tucked away in Ermita, 
for those who love Middle Eastern food.

SSC at #484 R. Salas St., Ermita, Manila
We reached SSC by crossing Adriatico St. from Robinson's Place Manila and walking on that alley, R. Salas, toward Roxas Blvd. We crossed Mabini St., too, and then M. H. del Pilar, and then there was SSC in just a few more steps. It's huge, you can't miss it. Also, there's two of them, one in front of another. The one on the right (if you're going towards Roxas Blvd. from Adriatico), is like a carinderia and is not air-conditioned while the one opposite it is much bigger and is air-conditioned. We chose the latter.

Main entrance
We went through this door and seated ourselves. I was a little surprised that the room was almost full and that most of the customers were Middle Eastern-looking foreigners. However, most of them were smoking using a strange-looking apparatus that I later learned to be hookah (they were smoking shisha or flavored tobacco), and I felt uncomfortable. Good thing a server offered to bring us upstairs, saying he knew by the look in our faces that we didn't smoke. Tee-hee. 
But then, it was full upstairs with not a single table vacant so we had no choice but to go outside, in the open-air smoking area, which was huge! Thankfully, we were the only ones there so nobody was smoking. We were handed the menu and 
after some time, we had our orders:

Falafel Sandwich, P85.
I just love how a plate of Middle Eastern food bursts with bright colors from those slices of fresh vegetables and herbs. Very healthy too! I ordered this because I loved falafel the first time I tasted it at Mister Kabab. Falafel, just in case you don't know, is deep-fried mashed chickpeas or garbanzos, and eaten in between folded pita bread. I don't eat falafel as a sandwich, however. I eat the veggie balls and pita separetely. I just bite into those browned patties and tear the pita into small bits and dip them into hummus before munching on it. Well, at Mister Kabab, the dip that accompanied the falafel was hummus. But here at SSC, I forgot to ask, 
though I ate my food the same way.
Pita bread
Turkish coffee, P85.
It was my first time to try this coffee and I was excited, only to be taken aback by the distinct aroma. Also, it was very thick and very strong! I was only able to have a few sips. Turkish coffee, by the way is made and served using a small pot usually of copper material called an "ibrik" or "cezve" that is shown in the picture above.
Beef Shawarma with rice, P195. 
This was my daughter's order, some of which I got to eat. The serving, as you can see, is big! The slices of grilled beef are tender and tasty, much more when mixed with the white garlicky sauce.  Again, lots of veggies which I love!

      Upstairs smoking area
This is where we were seated. That's my daughter reading the menu.

The "other" SSC across the street.
It was a great foodie experience dining at Shawarma Snack Center, which, to me, is Ermita's "best-kept secret". Here, the food and company you have will make you feel like being instantly transported to the Middle East!  
Happy eating!
*  Next in my Middle Eastern cuisine series, Beiruti Bite!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

My new-found love: Middle Eastern food!

Last month or in March, I started having a new food craving - Middle Eastern food - so the weeks that followed I spent hunting for places to satisfy my palate. Out of curiosity for this cuisine, I also have been doing some reading about the famous dishes in both Arab and non-Arab 
countries in the Middle East. 
I've learned, for instance, that shawarma, which we Pinoys have grown to love, is Arab in origin; that chelow kabab is the national dish of Iran (chelow is Persian rice or saffroned basmati and kabab is also kebab or kabob, depending on the area and culture; and that falafel is considered to be the national dish of Israel. 
I was glad to not only read and learn about these food, but to also actually be able to taste them. I started my Middle Eastern food journey at Mister Kabab, which might as well be considered the "authority" in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine in the Philippines because I believe it's been here long before the others came. I read that it had very humble beginnings in 1987 on West Ave. in Quezon City. Today, 29 years later, Mister Kabab has seven stores and is still considered one, if not the best and most established restaurant serving Middle Eastern food.

Mister Kabab along West Avenue in Quezon City
Inside Mister Kabab. This place is not air-conditioned but it doesn't stop people from coming. It's always jam-packed when I pass by at night.
Here's what my daughter and I had at Mister Kabab for lunch one Saturday:

Falafel, P150.
This was really good! Who would think legumes make good sandwich filling? Falafel is deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas (garbanzos), fava beans (whatever it is 'coz I'm not familiar with it), or both. Falafel is to be eaten placed in between folded pita bread but because I'm not used to it, I tore the pita into pieces and dipped them into the hummus (that gooey-looking thick sauce on the plate) while munching on the falefel in between. I was surprised that fried chickpeas would be good to eat - crunchy on the outside, soft 
and chewy on the inside. Yummy! By the way, falafel on Mister Kabab's menu is spelled "flafel" which made me a little confused. This, however, did not diminish my liking for this food.
Hummus, meanwhile, is a food dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas or other beans, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. This, of course, is according to Wikipedia. Tee-hee. I loved hummus too. Very tasty!
Shawarma Plate, P120., plain rice, P45. 
Shawarma or Shawurma is a Levantine Arab meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, carabeef, or mixed meats are placed on a spit, and may be grilled for as long as a day. Mister Kabab's shawarma is so good and with that big serving size, it was really filling! My daughter ate it with buttered rice and also an extra piece of pita bread.
Extra pita bread, P20.
Wikipedia says Pita or pitta also known as Arabic Bread or Lebanese Bread or Syrian Bread, is a soft, slightly leavened flatbread baked from wheat flour that originated in the Near East, most probably Mesopotamia around 2500 BC.  

Watermelon shake, P65.
Some months earlier, I was at Mister Kabab in Fisher Mall, also in Quezon City. I had one of my closest friends with me and we ordered:

Shish Kabab Sandwich, P110.
This was my friend's order. The meat used here is chicken.
Beef shawarma sandwich, P100.
This was mine. During those times, I still was conservative with regard Middle Eastern food and was afraid to try something new so I stuck with the familiar - beef shawarma.
Yoghurt and fruit shakes, P65. each.
Inside Mister Kabab

Mister Kabab in Fisher Mall

Pinoys have obviously grown to love Mediterranean food because more foodie places have opened specializing in this cuisine. Today, there's also Uncle Moe's Shawarma Hub, Shawarma Bros.,  Hassan Kabab and Steaks, Abdul the Cool, Kebabers, Arya, and some others. Last month, I got to eat twice at Hassan in my office neighborhood.
Hassan Kabab and Steaks on Visayas Ave., Quezon City
I was with my food buddy in the office and she ordered T-Bone steak while I went for the beef kebab, which I had my first taste of.

Shish Beef Kebab with rice, P145.
Kebab is grilled ground meat - either beef or chicken - formed into elongated, tubular shapes and resembles skinless longganisa. In taste and smell, it's different from our native sausage, though, because it uses spices that we don' t usually use, giving it and all other Mediterranean dishes a distinct aroma. It can be eaten with pita bread or rice and I chose to have it with buttered rice. Hassan's version is delicious - not salty but balanced in flavors and served 
with grilled onion and tomatoes.
On my second visit to Hassan, I was with my daughter, who ordered also beef kebab 
while I had keema.
Sizzling Keema, P115.
Keema, according to Wikipedia, is a traditional South Asian dish of minced meat of almost any kind, sometimes with peas and/or potatoes. Hassan's is quite good, only the meat has a lot of fat that made me cringe as I though about my cholesterol level. I had to make sure I didn't miss my medicine that night!
Plain Yoghurt Shake, P65.
Because I asked the server not to have sugar added into my yogurt shake, it didn't taste so good but I had to contend with it. 

Meanwhile, I remembered trying Kabab Turki Baba Rafi maybe two years ago already. This was at St. Thomas Square on Espana Blvd. in Manila, which has sadly closed (I mean the Kabab Turki stall). I was even able to take photos of the process of making our kabab sandwich, which I'm happy to have saved. 
Here they are:

I also remember liking the kebab wrap but unfortunately, the stall was not there anymore on my next visit. As I write this post, however, I learn there are Kebab Turki Baba Rafi stores at Robinson's Place Manila, Dela Rosa Carpark in Makati and Skyranch in Tagaytay. 
Hope to visit it at Robinson's one of these days.
In my next post, I will take you to another place where we got to eat authentic Middle Eastern food - Shawarma Snack Center in Ermita, Manila.
 Until then, folks! Whatever you're having, happy eating!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

It's a celebration!.. at CPK

The past week saw our family celebrating a milestone. We had our second college graduate! I am so thankful to God for helping me and my hubby produce two professionals among our kids. After the graduation rites at the SMX Convention Center, our whole family went celebrating at California Pizza Kitchen, also at the Mall of Asia. It was actually my first time there, and I had a pretty good impression. The food was good and all of us had an enjoyable dinner. 
Our orders:

 Classic Caesar Salad, P275 (Half).
I love fresh garden salads for the health factor and CPK's Caesar Salad was great. I loved that the greens were cut up bite-sized, thus convenient to eat. I just wished there 
were more croutons. Tee-hee.

Quesadillas, P195.
This was delicious! I was used to having soft quesadilla but this one was crunchy. It was as if I was eating thin-crust pizza. As toppings, there were olives, chicken, tortilla strips and ranch dressing. It also was served with tomato salsa. Yummy!

BBQ Chicken Nachos, P325.
Our family, specially the kids, love nachos and we welcomed the departure of CPK's version from what we prepare at home. For one thing, this one's topped with really huge onion rings, all of which were eaten by my not-so-little boy.
Minus the onion rings, you could see that there's a crowd in here. Haha! Lots of things in there - chunks of avocado  and chicken, tomatoes, corn kernels and of course, nacho chips, some of them in beautiful, deep purple color.

Four Cheese Dip, P175.
This was hubby's order, which I forgot to taste but he and the kids liked it. Very cheesy, I'm sure, what with mozzarella, queso quesadila, Velveeta and smoked Gouda cheese put together for this dip.
Spaghetti Carbonara, P695. (Full)
Because this was on the other end of the table from where I was seated, I didn't bother to eat this but I got to taste it much later because we brought home what was left of it. But since it was already cold by then, I didn't appreciate it much. Well, I liked that it had big slices of ham  (or was it bacon?) but disliked that it had green peas.

Bolognese, P625 (Full)
This is a beauty, don't you think so, too, with those pretty pieces of ribbon-shaped farfalle pasta? And it's delicious, having bits of meat (Italian sausage), chopped mushrooms, and the 
right amount of tomato-based sauce. 
Me loved this!

Hawaiian  Canadian Pizza, P375.
I loved this the moment I laid my eyes on it. Just look at how all the toppings made the crust disappear! I mean that's a lot ham and pineapple which come in big slices. Very yummy!

Italian Sausage Pizza, P325.
In contrast to the Hawaiian pizza, this looks like it's lacking in toppings but this wasn't bad at all. We loved it, too, though a little less.

For drinks, three of us had fresh shakes, two had iced tea (which I didn't take a picture of) and one chose Peach Lemonade.
Cucumber Mint Shake, P195., Watermelon Shake, P175., 
Ripe Mango Shake, P175.
Peach Lemonade, P150.
It was one fine dinner apt for celebrating! I think we got too excited placing our orders and ended up ordering a lot! Sadly, we forgot about dessert but at the end of the meal, nobody cared anymore because we were stuffed! And we liked that we still had CPK food the following day 'coz we brought home the equivalent of a whole pizza plus some of the carbonara. 
Aside from the food, I also was satisfied about the attentive and friendly service and loved the cozy, relaxed ambiance of the place (it wasn't crowded, maybe because it was start of the workweek). The prices of the food were reasonable but it was a different story with the drinks, which I think were exorbitant. 
Still, I would recommend visiting California Pizza Kitchen for a nice meal, specially when you're coming in a group as the servings are huge. Well, half orders are available, too, so it's perfectly fine if you're dining solo or in pair.
Happy eating!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Contemporary Pinoy food at Sarsa Kitchen + Bar

Our family rarely goes to SM Mall of Asia because it's quite a distance from our home and we save the trouble only for special occasions. Like on New Year's Day when my two sisters (who were then vacationing from abroad) and I decided to bring the kids (my own four, a niece and two nephews) there to go bowling. But before the games, chow time! 
My sisters' choice? Sarsa Kitchen + Bar.

Sarsa Kitchen + Bar in MOA
This restaurant owned by Chef JP Anglo (who is reportedly the favorite chef of Kris Aquino) has three branches - at MOA, Makati and BGC. It has earned good reviews from foodies for its success in giving a new twist to traditional Negrense dishes. The restaurant's name, "sarsa", meaning sauce, is inspired by Pinoys' love for various dipping sauces and condiments that whet our already good appetite. We definitely love to eat, don't we! Notice then, that some dishes are served with sauces already like sinamak, which is spiced vinegar, achuete oil, and others. Chef JP, by the way, is from Negros, hence his love to cook, improve and tweak 
dishes from the Visayas Region. 
Meanwhile, our orders:

Pancit Molo, P275.
Tuna Sisig, P365.
Tortang Talong with Crispy Sardines and Kesong Puti, P210.
Monggo-nisa, P190.
Inasal na manok, P185.
Crispy Garlic Porkchop, P325.


Magazine features on Sarsa Kitchen + Bar and Chef JP Anglo

My sisters raved about the food! And I was happily munching away, having the feeling of eating in the comfort of our home food cooked by my mom and lola but served in a fresh, new way. Who would have thought that my favorite tortang talong could be served with a topping of my favorite palaman - kesong puti and crisply fried sardines? Yummy! One of my nephews, meanwhile, swore by the Munggo-nisa, which is ginisang munggo with crispy longganisa. What an ingenious way to serve this Friday veggie staple. Haha! Even the Tuna Sisig was such a hit to us that my sisters declared we had eaten at the best restaurant since they arrived five days earlier. And we had eaten at quite a number of Pinoy foodie places as we were out everyday. 
So what's not to like here? 
For me, it's either the price or the serving size. I just think that at those prices, the serving should be bigger. Oh, I am such a tightwad, you see. Haha!
Pay Sarsa Kitchen + Bar a visit, folks, to enjoy some good, 
contemporary Pinoy food. 
Happy eating!