People think I’m joking whenever I say that food defines my life, but I am not.
Each year, I immerse myself in great food, not only for the pleasure of tantalizing my taste buds, but also for the added benefits of learning and sharing the wonderful stories that come with them.
While it’s no secret 2020 was the plot twist no one ever wanted, I would like to define it in better terms, like in my favorite bites.
Favorite bite of the year: Sukiyaki at Wagyu Studio
One of the first times I actually stepped out of the house to dine in a restaurant was to visit Wagyu Studio in BGC right before they opened. In a preview of what the restaurant would offer, my friends and I were considering one last dish to order before we called it a night. I made the suggestion of ordering the sukiyaki and while others suggested a different dish, I managed to Jedi mind-trick them into agreeing with me.
I’m sure they were happy I did, though. That thinly sliced, premium wagyu beef grilled for literally just seconds, was dipped into fresh egg yolk and a touch of soy sauce and it produced an extremely luxurious, velvety, and delicious bite. It was so rich and full of umami flavor that instead of words, I only managed grunts. As bites go, that was definitely my favorite.
Favorite baked item of the year: Sourdough Batard by John Dough
One of the things I cannot resist whenever it's placed in front of me is sourdough bread. When most of the world locked down due to the pandemic, a sourdough fad spread almost spontaneously in home kitchens around the world. While I adore bread, I lack the patience and dedication to make it often at home, so the emergence of John Dough was a godsend.
The delivery-only bakery is a collaboration between my podcast co-host Edward Bugia and chef Angelo Santos, fresh off his stint at the Michelin-starred Mugaritz.
It was only natural for them to set this up, given their passion for making sourdough and taking care of their starters. Delicious, wonderfully baked and perfectly sour, my bread needs have never been this well taken care of.
Favorite food picture: My Japanese egg salad sandwich
One of the things I focused on in 2020 was to fill my social media with recipe ideas, knowing most people have rediscovered or recommitted to cooking at home during the lockdowns.
Out of the dozens of recipes and food pictures I posted, it surprised me that the picture I received the most social media likes was my picture of the simple Japanese convenience store-style egg sandwich, which I prepared for my popup honoring Tony Bourdain in 2019.
While the ingredients are simple — just soft white bread, eggs and Japanese mayo — I have a few tips to share. One, mash the egg with a potato masher. Two, add a touch of salt and sugar to your egg-and-mayo combo. Three, add half a hardboiled egg in the middle of the sandwich; cut it in half to make a pretty picture.
Favorite online food ordered: Milky Dust Donuts
2020 was undoubtedly the year of sushi bake, but amid the avalanche of baked rice, kani and nori, one of the pleasant surprises of the year was Milky Dust Donuts.
Quarantined at home, hotelier Twinkle Laxamana wanted to bake ube pandesal, but a string of failures led her to make Korean-style donuts and a new, delicious, home-based business was born. Slightly larger than a donut hole and smaller than a regular donut, it’s packed with umami from the milk powder and has the perfect level of sweetness.
No wonder it’s become a favorite treat of politicians and celebrities alike.
Favorite food I made: Palja pizza from It’s Okay To Not Be Okay
2020 was also the year I finally got into Korean dramas (K-dramas), and while the obvious result was the launching of my new YouTube show “Straight Guy K Drama Reviews,” it also pushed me to study and make a lot of Korean food. In fact, open my fridge now and you’d swear an ajumma (older Korean lady) owns the ref. At any given time, I have four to five homemade banchan (Korean side dishes) stored in sealed containers.
What became my favorite food experiment, though, isn’t technically Korean. After getting hooked on the drama It’s Okay to Not Be Okay, I was encouraged to learn more about the pizza constantly being served on the show. I started doing research and found out that the pizza franchise in the show was a real one named Pizza Alvolo, which is known in Korea for their weird flavors. They apparently created a special pizza called Palja Pizza, specifically for the show.
I took pictures of this special flavor and started to work on it in my kitchen. The pizza has eight different toppings that are artfully arranged so that each slice contains only one topping. Together with the usual pepperoni, ham, pineapple, shrimp and chicken are the more interesting ones including chilies, corn and roasted squash puree. It took a while, but when I finally figured it all out, I made the pizza and documented it on YouTube. Given the positive response I got from K-drama and foodie fans, I would say it was definitely a fun food project and definitely worth the trouble.
2021 is officially on
With 2021 in full swing, I’m definitely looking forward, not only to a healthier year where we can all finally go out with guarded confidence, but also to the great food and flavors, plus the delicious stories that come with them.