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A year of food finds

By SHARWIN TEE, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 13, 2022 5:00 am

As much as I joke about how my mind keeps tricking me that 2020 and 2021 are the same year, the food and beverage industry, as is its wont, managed to keep adapting in 2021.

This is why I love our industry. Even in the toughest of times, we managed to chug along and add new eating experiences to the world.

The year of the pizza

Thanks to the American occupation, pizza has been a part of the Filipino dining table for years, but this did not deter us from developing an even greater appetite for the originally Italian dish.

2021 featured a new battle over the Detroit-style pizza. I first discovered these rectangular pizzas, which featured a ton of cheese and thick, crispy edges (owing to the overflow of cheese) when I cooked for a collaboration dinner with Filipino Kitchen and Sarap Detroit.

A slice of Crosta's Detroit-style pizza

After a whole day of prepping, my friend Jake ordered us a couple of pies and, one bite into it, I knew I was hooked. The thick crust was crunchy and slightly oily (in a good way), but it also had a nice chew in the middle.

Topped with a nice tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, it made me nostalgic for the old-school Pizza Hut in Greenhills. I told him about it and rued the fact that the younger generation wouldn't get the chance to taste it.

The meatball pizza from EAPPOC impressed with its crisp crust and flavorful sauce.

Lo and behold, Crosta Pizza probably had the same thoughts when it launched their line of Detroit-style pizzas and the public (and social media) loved it! Soon, Easy As Pie, Piece of Cake, or EAPPOC, launched their own lines as well.

Just before the year ended, a new player, American Pie, came into the picture and it has become, in pro-wrestling terms, a triple-threat match. I got to try the meatball pizza from EAPPOC and absolutely loved the experience. Apart from the wonderful crust, I did enjoy their tomato sauce, too.

I plan on trying Crosta and American Pie soon, just as soon as I grow tired of my supposed New Year's resolutions (in a week, maybe?) and go back to eating pizza again. I believe one or two more players may come in 2022 and the pizza-loving public will only benefit from it.

Dish of the year

Every year, there is always a dish that goes trendy or, in social media terms, “viral,” and 2021 had probably more than one. K-dramas brought forth a rise in Korean “egg drop” sandwiches. On the local front, three-cheese doughnuts became quite a popular item, too.

My cohosts and I at the Sini Gang podcast, though, all agreed that litson baka was the runaway winner for dish of the year. It's by no means a new dish. As a kid, roasted calf would be my favorite at parties and fiestas, even more so than lechon de leche. In fact, my love for it was so great that I made a higher-end version of it in my restaurant using wagyu and roasted garlic.

I just think the dish never gained ground in the popularity race because it was difficult to get. I mean, who has a family large enough to justify ordering a whole calf regularly?

Litson Baka from Andok's made social media waves and was sold out for weeks.

In 2021, Andok’s decided to answer that question by making and selling litson baka in quantities like 300 to 500 grams. The surge in orders that resulted was so huge that branches started selling out by the middle of the day and it became a badge of honor if one was able to get a box of these goodies.

Soon, Rico’s Lechon got in on the act and made litson baka, apart from their wonderful spicy pork lechon (still my favorite), available in Manila.

Kraver’s Canteen also joined the fray to make this another triple-threat match and soon enough, litson baka, once a hard-to-find dish reserved for fiestas, became a part of the everyday dinner table.

I got to try Andok’s and Kraver's versions, and I’m happy they are both delicious but also distinct in their flavors. I have yet to try Rico’s version, but that will soon change.

Rookie debuts

As taxing as 2021 was for the industry, entrepreneurs will always be brave enough to try and the dining public benefits from their courage. 2021 saw the opening of some truly wonderful restaurants.

The Seafood Tower from Jones All Day is a brunch stunner.

For brunch, I’d say, Jones All Day is a great bet. Their seafood tower is fresh, delicious and quite a stunner. They also brought back the classic tapsilog from Mr. Jones and, if you’ve tried it already, you know it’s delicious.

For lunch, I’d say that Sukiya, which opened in Glorietta 2 in November, is a great place. With a gyudon bowl that’s less than P150, plus the tasty Hokkaido pork bowl and Yakiniku bowl, it’s hard to find a better value-for-money lunch.

The Gyudon from Sukiya is certainly a value-for-money lunch.

For dinner and drinks, Kiwami Japanese Food Hall is my 2021 favorite. You get all the classics from Yabu’s tonkatsu to Ippudo’s ramen, but you also get more choices like tempura bowls and yakitori, both with recipes from Japanese masters.

The Tempura Set from Kiwami Food Hall is all kinds of awesome.

Then you can start treating yourself to their wonderfully rich soft-serve ice cream and then cocktails and drinks. Cocktails become buy-one, take-one at 9 p.m. and, if that’s not an indication to visit, I don’t know what is.

A new slate

As a new year opens, people look forward to new beginnings and new resolutions. Believe me, so does the F&B community. I simply can’t wait for a new slate of dishes and restos to come and provide our palates with new adventures.