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Comfort foods that are the culinary equivalent of a hug

By THERESE JAMORA-GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 23, 2021 5:00 am

In the midst of a pandemic, our primary need is comfort, whether spiritual, mental or physical. Little wonder then that many chefs and home cooks are choosing to focus on comfort food. Not only is this type of fare universally beloved, it also satisfies a deep, primal need for consolation we all have.

Pinch MNL: Travel-inspired family favorites

Recently, I received the culinary equivalent of a hug in the form of a three-course meal from Pinch Manila, a home-based business started by the husband-and-wife team of chef Mike Santos and Vanessa Dim-Santos.

Mike is currently executive chef of Nanka Japanese Steakhouse.  Trained at OB Montessori’s Istituto Culinario by chef Cyrille Soenen for many years, “working for him at Brasserie Ciçou probably defined my palate and passion,” Mike says.

 Beautifully curated: Pinch MNL’s charcuterie box

Vanessa is a former preschool teacher at Leap who started caring for their two children fulltime once they were born.

The pandemic made it clear to Mike and Vanessa that there was a niche for quality comfort food that people could enjoy in the safety of their homes, so they started working on the concept for a food business together. 

Pinch’s Chilean black mussels are as good as the Moules Mariniere we had in Belgium.

They called it Pinch because “food is dynamic and playful,” according to Mike. “We believe that everything can be solved with a pinch of something — whether it’s salt, pepper or spices, it adds a whole dimension to the dish.” 

Everything on the menu is family-favorite dishes that we personally enjoy or are dishes that we’ve enjoyed in our travels and want to share with other people.

Consequently on the menu you’ll find universal comfort favorites like Creamy Mac and Cheese, Roast Chicken with Carrots, Potatoes and Gravy, and a Japanese Fried Rice Tray. 

Meat lovers can choose between Pan-Seared and Roasted Black Onyx Australian rib eye or rack of lamb.  Seafood lovers have selections like Tiger Prawn Thermidore, Baked Atlantic Salmon Fillet and Chilean Black Mussels in White Wine and Cream Sauce.

Chilean king crab garlic butter pasta from Pinch

“I only offer food that I would serve to my own family,” Mike says. “Everything on the menu is family-favorite dishes that we personally enjoy or are dishes that we’ve enjoyed in our travels and want to share with other people.” 

We tried the Chilean black mussels, and it was so spot-on and authentically delicious that it transported me back to a family vacation in Belgium, where we’d order Moules Mariniere every single day at this restaurant by the sea. 

Pinch’s mussels are the same: large, briny-sweet morsels swimming in that savory white-wine sauce, which we’d then sop up with large hunks of bread so as not to let a drop go to waste.

Pinch’s roast chicken with carrots and potatoes

The roast chicken was plump and juicy, wrapped in a crispy skin before falling off the bone and resting on a flavorful bed of carrots and potatoes.  Since the whole chicken is lightly seasoned, the experience isn’t complete without pouring Pinch’s gravy over the meat.

And who doesn’t love mac and cheese? Pinch’s is so generously sized (all dishes are good for six to eight people) that we were eating it for days, relishing the seamless merging of cheese and pasta into one creamy, soul-satisfying dish.

At home, Mike is in charge of preparing the food with his cook, while Vanessa personally curates the charcuterie boxes, which are perfect for Zoom events with their generous and aesthetic mix of deli meats, sliced cheeses, olives, nuts, dried fruits, and whole-grain crackers.

“Being married for 16 years, we already know each other very well,” says Mike. “The collaboration works because we bring our own strengths into the partnership and we complement each other well. We both do our share in sourcing ingredients and materials. It’s truly teamwork.” 

To order, message Pinch at 0995-4652335.

Samsam Chikin:  Hand-breaded Korean fried chicken

Thanks to K-dramas, Korean food is all the rage, and no one knows this better than the Happyfoods Group of Restaurants and award-winning Korean restaurateur Sung Rah, makers of Sariwon Korean Barbecue, Soban K-Town Grill and Sibyullee Unlimited Korean BBQ.

Those who want the most authentic level of Korean heat and flavor should try Gochujang, the spiciest, reddest and boldest chicken of the bunch made with Korea’s famous chili paste. This Samsam Chikin specialty packs a punch!

These Korean food specialists have a new concept about to take flight:  Samsam Chikin, authentic Korean fried chicken that is hand-breaded and crunchy to the bite, with five Korean flavors that every K-pop stan will want to try.

  Samsam Chikin offers five authentic flavors of Korean fried chicken.

But first, the name: Sam is the Korean word for “three,” so Samsam means “3-3,” or “attractive,” “gorgeous” and “fantastic” in Korean. It also represents the three beloved daughters of Happyfoods’ Korean business partner, Sung Rah.

Sung Rah is an expert in bulgogi, galbi, and samgyupsal, and now, after years of developing various recipes and methods with his daughters, he is finally ready to introduce to the Philippines his own family’s favorite Korean fried chicken.

Samsam Chikin serves large yet affordably priced fillets of fried chicken marinated in imported Korean ingredients and lovingly hand-breaded.  Flavors include Honey Butter, which with its sweet, salty and buttery taste absolutely lives up to its name. It’s also the mildest flavor of the bunch.

Flavors include Honey Butter, Honey Soy, Soy Garlic, Yeongnyam and Gochujang.

Honey Soy is one of my personal favorites, a perfect balance of sweet and savory with an Asian twist.

Soy Garlic is another flavor I recommend — two classics that when combined spell yummy “umami.”  As a garlic lover I’m also partial to the garlic slices on top.

Lovers of sweet and spicy have to try Yangnyeom, which achieves the perfect balance of those flavors thanks to a mild glaze of gochujang, garlic and other spices. 

Your order comes with gloves so you can munch on the crunch.

Those who want the most authentic level of Korean heat and flavor should try Gochujang, the spiciest, reddest and boldest chicken of the bunch made with Korea’s famous chili paste. This Samsam Chikin specialty packs a punch!

Dig this: for P155 you can have a rice meal with two pieces of boneless chicken (choice of one flavor).  A boneless chicken meal of two flavors costs P290 for regular size, P415 for medium and P535 for large. 

Samsam Chikin is offering an introductory promo from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3 — buy one boneless medium chicken and get one free.

Side dishes include Signature Cabbage Kimchi (P79), Chikin-Mu (pickled white radish, P79) and white rice (P30).

Even the drinks are Korean: Jinro Green Grape Soju, Chamisul Original Soju and Chamisul Fresh Soju.

Since Samsam Chikin is a cloud kitchen, they offer only delivery and pickup for now. 

Set to launch on Sept. 27, they have an opening promo called “Bogo Chicken” — buy one boneless medium chicken and get one free — valid until Oct. 3 via their website,, SMS/Viber 0968-606-1370, and Grabfood.

For your initial order I suggest trying all five flavors to find which one is your favorite, and you don’t even need plates or cutlery; your order comes with plastic gloves so you can hold and munch on your fried chicken as you binge-watch the latest K-drama.