It was my birthday last month and I ate everything I wanted. And that means nothing but Asian food. I’m biased? Perhaps. But the promise of ginormous servings of callos, pizza, cakes — not even cheese — does not get me quite as excited as the thought of xiao long bao, chicken feet, kutchay dumplings, rolled pork with bean curd skin… So, after Speedy’s Vikings birthday dinner and Sam’s Buffet 101 dinner, I chose to go somewhere else for my birthday — Lugang Cafe.
But the Octoberfest of Asian food started much, much earlier. First, there was my brother-in-law’s birthday when I served an Asian fusion dinner with lechon kawali tacos as the star. Then, there was the dinner with long-time blogger friends, Jay and Tito Rolly, at Tim Ho Wan. It’s a once a year thing when Jay visits from the States and, for the last two years, we’ve dined at Choi Garden. Well, Choi Garden is a lovely, lovely place to enjoy Chinese food but when I was asked for my suggestion, I said Tim Ho Wan, the Hong Kong hole-in-the-wall that opened a branch in Metro Manila last year. Dim sum, baby, and I could eat dim sum every day for an entire year.
Dim sum and nothing but dim sum would have have been more than enough to satisfy me but it was dinner time, we had a wake to go to after dinner so it made sense to order rice with the dumplings and the rolls. I chose the chicken, sausage and mushroom rice. It was a generous serving and would have sufficed as a complete meal but there were so many other things we ordered so I finished all the meat and mushrooms, and only a fraction of the rice. Yes, it was good.
It’s the vermicelli rolls and the baked buns that Tim Ho Wan is really famous for so we ordered three different varieties of vermicelli rolls — with BBQ pork, shrimp, and sweet and sesame sauce.
Despite my digestive system’s not-so-good relationship with crustaceans, I ate all the dishes with shrimp in them including the vermicelli rolls and the wasabi salted prawn dumplings. It was a brave move for me and I congratulated myself later because my bravery led to a surprising discovery. My stomach does not reject large shrimps — it is the small ones, the ones too small to take out the black threads (the digestive system) that causes an allergic reaction.
I was curious though about the term “vermicelli rolls”. Vermicelli is a term commonly associated with glass noodles made with potato, cassava or mung bean flour. The vermicelli rolls at Tim Ho Wan had the appearance and mouth feel of rice flour. They were delicious — opaque, velvety and lucious — but I still wondered about their names. But at no point during the meal did the cerebral diversion prevent me from eating with gusto.
By the time the baskets of vermicelli rolls with sweet and sesame sauce were set on our table, I had cast aside any issues I had about the dishes’ names. The vermicelli rolls with sweet and sesame sauce were simply divine.
They’re probably not up everyone’s alley especially for people who expect to find generous amounts of filling in anything labeled as “roll”. The vermicelli rolls with sweet and sesame sauce had only specks of vegetables peeping between the folds of the wide flat noodles and that, perhaps, should qualify them as savory. But the sweet sauce… it was tempting to categorize the rolls as dessert but they weren’t exactly. I’ll just say that the vermicelli rolls with sweet and sesame sauce belong to a class of their own. It was all about the mouth feel — how velvety rolls and silky sauce and the random burst of vegetable swirled together inside the mouth. So good. I imagined the rolls whispering to me, siren call style, to take another piece over and over, and perhaps, they giggled at my weakness every time I did. But I couldn’t resist. I didn’t think any dish that night could top them until the baked buns with BBQ pork were served. I almost swooned.
Okay, BBQ pork is BBQ pork and there was nothing truly spectacular about the filling of the baked buns. I’ll concede that the filling was better than what we get with asado siopao from crappy establishments but, to be fair, there are eateries in Chinatown (some quite filthy for comfort) that serve equally delicious buns with BBQ pork.
What makes Tim Ho Wan’s version deserve a huge trophy is the bun itself. Crackly and crisp outside, it was surprisingly moist and tender just beneath the crust. And the buns haven’t lost their texture hours later. See, we ordered too much and we brought home the leftovers. From dinner, we went to a wake and, when we got home, Speedy and Alex attacked the buns. They had gone cold by that time but the buns had retained their texture.
I mooned about that dinner for the next several days. I wanted to go back but Lugang Cafe beckoned. But that’s another story that deserves a separate post.