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Four underrated foods that I miss

By SHARWIN TEE, The Philippine STAR Published Oct 14, 2021 5:00 am

I don’t think I’m the only one constantly daydreaming about being able to travel safely and conveniently again. I’m sure that while others ache at the chance to see natural beauty and architectural marvels again, I yearn to travel to eat once again.

Every country in the world has at least two to three dishes that are so good, they’ve become famous around the world, and I definitely want to taste all of them.

At the same time, though, what I miss about eating during trips are the simple, seemingly “ordinary” dishes that don’t necessarily show up in guidebooks or Michelin guides. All this reminiscing has me remembering that some of my favorite bites that aren’t necessarily as unique or even complicated. 

Macau

Whenever you talk about Macau, what come to mind are the Portuguese egg tarts or pastel de nata and the pork chop bun. Both are deeply entrenched in Macanese culture, which draws influences from native Macanese, Portuguese and Chinese culture.

I have to say, I’ve had both each time I visit the former Portuguese state, and they do indeed make the best versions of both dishes over there, bar none. There are, however, other dishes that are absolutely delicious and my favorite is an underrated one sold in hole-in-the-wall places and street stalls.

  Zhu Jang Fen off the streets of Macau: Magnificent

They’re called “Jyu Cheung Fan” or “Zhu Jang Fen” and they refer to plain, wide rice noodles that are steamed. They are then flavored with sauces or toppings.

On my last trip to Macau, I found a street vendor selling some and he topped my order with a combination of sweet bean sauce, soy sauce and chili sauce. With the great balance of flavors between the sauces and the noodles’ bouncy and chewy texture (which the Chinese call “QQ”), it is an unbelievably simple but ultimately unparalleled eating experience. While nobody talks about them much in travel blogs, it’s a comforting dish I truly miss right now.

St. Louis

When visiting St. Louis, Missouri, much of the culinary focus is on meat, particularly pork, and believe me, they do pork right. From barbecue to bacon to “meat and three,” it is a carnivore’s delight there. They do, however, have a slightly hidden gem that may not have meat but is no less sinful.

The Apple Fritter from John's Doughnuts is insanely good.

A local fixture named John’s Doughnuts, as their name suggests, makes some of the best doughnuts in the American Midwest, but the one rather underrated treat I long to have right now is their apple fritter.

Now, while it seems like an apple fritter is too simple to be celebrated, this one is so soft, so perfectly glazed, and for a reason I have yet to discover, it has crunchy bits that pop up and surprise you with each bite. It is quite honestly an experience I have yet to find anywhere else.

Add to the fact that I can’t seem to find a lot of apple fritters here in Manila, I can’t help but reminisce about those beautifully decadent fritters.

Taiwan

Whenever you mention Taiwan, visions of scallion pancakes, xiao long bao, beef noodle soup, milk tea and giant-sized fried chicken come to mind, and why not? Each of these dishes has grown in international stature, thanks to the masters in Taiwan. Sometimes, though, the guidebooks or blogs forget about a small place near a famous temple selling misua.

  Oyster and Pig Intestine Misua is a low-key, delicious breakfast.

Now, there is a famous place in Taiwan selling misua with pig’s intestines called Ay Chung, and there is definitely a reason they have lines all over. What I miss though is a less famous place called Chen Ji, which also sells misua with pig’s intestines, but then tops it with fresh oysters. The addition of the oysters gives the misua a fresh, oceanic flavor that enhances the umami brought on by the intestines.

Top it with some of their vinegar and chili sauce, and it could be the best breakfast you could ever have. While not everyone wants to talk about it, it’s definitely one of those dishes my mind and stomach truly miss.

Sydney

Australia is quite the underrated food spot, and while most talk about food is about meat pies, sausage rolls and their wonderful steaks and seafood, there are hidden gems in Sydney, thanks to its multi-cultural population.

  Charcoal Chicken sounds simple but at El Janna it is masterful.

On a trek into the suburbs of Sydney, away from the celebrated restaurants and Bondi Beach, I got to try quite a selection of delicious Lebanese and Middle Eastern fare, quite a lot of them delicious.

One such place, while never celebrated on travel shows — except maybe mine — was a simple place called El Janna that served rotisserie chicken cooked over charcoal.

While that sounds very ordinary, the chickens are cooked so perfectly moist and then served with the most delicious toum (Lebanese garlic sauce) that it is a constant struggle not to just flat out drink the sauce. Paired with fresh hummus and tabbouleh, it is quite an underrated experience that I yearn for as I stay home and do my part.

Make your own list

I’m not sure if it’s because we’ve basically been in lockdown for almost two years, and I definitely am not ready to be called old yet, but it’s become the simple things I miss. From simple dishes to simple joys like drinking with friends or watching a movie in the cinema, those simple joys seem much more appealing to me, especially with food.

What I miss about eating during trips are the simple dishes that don’t necessarily show up in guidebooks or Michelin guides.

In the meantime, though, I think it’s healthy to once in a while look back and talk about our favorite simple experiences, food and otherwise, just to help us realize that we had it good and we can have it good again.