As Cuban, as bulky as... Castro!

PEPI CUBANO Sandwiches
Exclusively available at SALCEDO MARKET
For phone orders: 09212931784

Kris Aquino features Pepi Cubano in her magazine

Many of the world's most popular sandwiches first gained popularity amongst the working classes, and such is the case with the hearty Cuban sandwich.

Cuban workers during the early 20th century often purchased hot meat and cheese sandwiches from vendors stationed inside their workplaces. When many of these workers migrated to the United States, especially in the southern Florida region, they brought many of their recipes and food traditions with them, including the original ingredients of their beloved "Cuban sandwich," also known as a cubano.

A long time resident in the US has come home with something Cuban in her luggage: the much sought-after recipe of authentic Cuban sandwiches. And her version has been christened... Pepi Cubano.

Pepi Cubano, a traditional Cuban sandwich, begins with a special bread similar to the long French bread loaves.

The Cuban bread is sliced down the middle like a submarine bun, then buttered. Thin slices of pork roast marinated in a special sauce is then added to the sandwich, followed by thin slices of ham.

In the Tampa, Florida area, where the Americanized version of the Cuban sandwich is believed to have originated, the ham may be replaced with thin slices of salami. Next comes a layer of Swiss cheese, followed by thin slices of dill pickle.

Pepi Cubano sandwiches can be served cold, but generally are placed in a heated sandwich press until the cheese has melted and the bread has become grilled.

my fearless rating:

Sometimes, you'll walk into a place - absolutely clueless on what awaits you. Then, you get... lucky. This was one of those occasions.

Linden Suites Tower II, Amethyst Street, Ortigas Center
Pasig City • Tel: 633-4259

The view from outside was what attracted me. Very small space (about 30 sq. meters) but neat, clean-looking and tastefully punctuated by provocative paintings.

And then, something even more delightful:

Recession-sensitive prices!

I opted to try Mozu's Lechon Laing. Authentic, Bicolano-tasting spicy laing topped by crispy lechong kawali. Plus rice... and two sauces for your meat - one, a'la Mang Tomas and the other, spicy and garlicky.

The place is also a mini Starbucks of sorts serving a wide variety of coffee, tempting cheesecakes and chocolate pastries.

Plus some pretty creative smoothies and juices.
(My only beef, the industrial-strength aircon is too darn powerful for such a small place; one's food gets cold quite rapidly. A downer for people who eat ohhhh sooo slowwwwly.)

After I got my bill of less than P400, I told myself I will definitely come back to try the Buttered Fish the server was raving about.

And, perhaps, schedule several more visits to try each and every treat in the all day breakfast listing.

However, I'll make sure I'll take a seat far, far away from the aircon.

my fearless rating:

Thai Casual Dining – Indon Style. Where fantastic food is served with unbeatable ambience. Or is it the other way around?

Lan Na Thai
Dr. Kusumaatmaja St. No. 85, Menteng Village, Menteng District
Central Jakarta
Tel. +6221-31925037

Jakarta is such an underrated destination.

Pinoys usually dismiss it as just another hick place (perceived by many, so wrongly, as "just like being in Lanao"), dumping it for more 'cosmopolitan' cities like Shanghai or Singapore.

What they're missing out on is... a lot. Jakarta is a genuinely astonishing jewel – an awesome artistic and avant-garde metropolis.

Take casual dining. Indonesians take this experience seriously... so restaurants are geared to rise to the occasion. Bringing diners to higher levels: part theater, part bacchanal feast.

One such place is La Na Thai.

Definitely, my most favorite Thai resto in the world.
(FYI, I used to adore fusion-driven People's Palace until I discovered a cotton bud and a piece of plastic in my Phad Thai. I kid you not.)

... and this is just the foyer!

perhaps, a table with a view?

a family-size dining table...

or you might opt for a cozy corner with someone special

my catfish/mango salad overflowing with crispy cashew nuts

While your senses are being overwhelmed by your surroundings, the food reaches your table. The intense scent heralds the feast waiting to ambush your taste buds: super spicy tom yum... grilled fish (mmm, tilapia) with tamarind sauce... garlic shrimps... green curry beef... pineapple rice... mango sticky rice for dessert... (now stop fidgeting with your cellphone's calculator, you and your four friends will probably end up paying the equivalent of P2,000).

Last time I was there, I wanted to test if La Na Thai's chefs were 'authentic'. So I ordered something that's not on the menu – Thai omelet. It's a neat trick I learned from a Thai friend: if the waiter says 'no can do', chances are there's no Thai in the kitchen.

Guess what? I got my Thai omelet.

my fearless rating:

photography: angela f. garcia

If the Korean ambassador and his staff are 'regulars' here... how can you go wrong?

Korea Garden Restaurant
128 Jupiter St., Bel Air, Makati City, Tel. (02) 895-5443

I discovered Korean food in the mid '70s.

And I discovered it right here -- at Korea Garden Restaurant.

In those days, it was the ONLY Korean restaurant in the Metro... and, I suspect, in the country. (I need to point out that Korean nationals then numbered a few dozens versus the thousands we now have.)

Originally snuggled in a corner of quaint P. Burgos St (before the area became Makati's red light district), the restaurant was THE best place to be spoiled with Korean comfort food. The kimchi and appetizers were varied and plentiful. And the stellar attractions -- beef stew (to-die-for), chap chae, bulgogi, bibimbap (rice topped with barbecued beef, an egg, pickled vegetables and chili paste) -- were consistently satisfying. No wonder Korea Garden was frequented by influential politicos, big businessmen, mega celebrities (like Sharon Cuneta) and just about every Korean in town.

Through the years, Korea Garden has zealously guarded the secret of its success: consistency.

What loyal patrons enjoyed in the '70s are still very much around today.

Nothing has changed except for the location. The food continues to be awesome... at such a low prices, you'll wonder if the owners know what the word 'profit' means.

The beef stew is unlike anything you've tasted before.
It continues to be the bestseller. The recipe continues to be a family secret.

The service is warm and friendly -- far from the aloofness and coldness we perceive as inherent to anything Korean. The atmosphere is homey and unpretentious. And if you're a 'regular' (like the Korean ambassador or the First Gentleman or Boss Vic or Pasig's Eusebios), you'll feel right at home because the waiters - and the hostess (Ms. Chu) - from the P. Burgos days are all still around.

Chap Chae - the Korean version of our Pancit Sotanghon
with much bigger glass noodles

A helpful tip: if you're scared to order, intimidated by the Koreanovela-sounding dishes, just ask for the Korean dinner. It's a sumptuous sampler with rice, soup, beef stew, bulgogi, spicy octopus, dumplings, dessert and a tableful of appetizers and kimchi. Enough to satisfy five hungry souls for around P2,500.

Want to impress your friends? Order the Gujeolpan: literally "nine-sectioned plate", this elaborate dish consists of a number of different vegetables and meats served with thin pancakes. For centuries, only members of Korean royalty were 'allowed' to enjoy this dish. Only Korea Garden offers this special treat in the Philippines.

The quality of the food and service is so outstanding, Korea Garden has consistently been in Tatler Magazine's list of the country's best restaurants, year in and year out. And the owners are so scared of tarnishing the resto's reputation that they've refused to branch out -- even with the non-stop prodding of Ayala and SM Malls.

Simply shatters the myth that all Koreans are profit-obsessed. But I ain't complaining.

my fearless rating:

photography: angela f. garcia