Kowloon House Revisited

SO IN comes a text message prompting the phone to buzz and beep, buzz and beep, buzz and beep. The table trembles a little but it is ignored and so is the red light on the smartphone that keeps on flashing. It is a quarter of an hour before the deadline of a writing exercise and I choose to stick to the routine, a task easier said than done. Continue reading

The Kowloon House Chili Crisis (A Roger K. Rebosado Mystery)

I was enjoying beef noodle soup one warm afternoon at the Kowloon House along Matalino Street behind Quezon City Hall when the waitress brought me bad news.
“This is the last you can ever have for the day,” she said, giving me a look that reduced my balls into a pair of sun-dried raisins.
With a flick of the wrist, she flung a small bowl on my table.
It glided on the formica tabletop — a UFO breaching an interplanetary speed limit — and was about to crash on the floor. Good thing my old yet dependable Nokia 5110 blocked its path.
I took hold of the bowl and discovered that it contained a serving of chili so small you needed an electron microscope to see it.
And before I could complain, the waitress turned around and raced to the cashier where she exchanged the latest about difficult customers.
As I scraped whatever bits of chili I could find into my beef mami, I could tell that she kept glancing in my direction. And it wasn’t because I looked like Piolo Pascual.
It was the chili.
Or more accurately, my third serving of chili.
Made of garlic, small dried chili peppers, and a sprinkling of sugar, the chili was the restaurant’s best-kept secret.
It also happened to be the very reason why I was there at the al fresco dining area along the restaurant’s front.
Believe it or not, I was eating on the job, confirming whether what my client told me to investigate was true.
Mr. B. wanted me to find out whether the restaurant was deliberately withholding its chili from its patrons.
So far, I had no reason to believe otherwise.
I just experienced it first hand.
I now had to figure out why.

Minute amounts of chili served at the Kowloon House's al fresco area along Matalino Street in Quezon City

So I summoned the same waitress and asked for another serving of chili — my fourth.
“I always liked your chili,” I said out loud. “But this time, I’d really like them in a bigger container. Like a vat or something.”
An old geezer at the next table who was filling his glass with beer glared at me, shaking his head side to side. He looked like those foot-long, decorative canines glued on taxicab dashboards.
“How about I buy you a tube of Preparation H?” he hollered. I wasn’t amused.
After all, the poor drunkard wasn’t exactly volunteering to settle my bill.
In the meantime, my requests for extra chili servings were rejected.
“Only half a kilo of chili is made everyday,” she said. “That’s why we limit the servings to customers.”
“Why?” I asked. “Is there a chili shortage? Is someone monopolizing the chili supply in this country?”
She shrugged, leaving me with the bill.
As I saw her saunter back to the counter, I knew that this was the start of another difficult case, especially since I had to keep track of receipts.

Beef mami served at Kowloon House's al fresco area

I spent the next morning and the early afternoon moping around the office, thinking about the case and this month’s rent, which was due in the next few days.
And then the unexpected happened.
Mr. A., my landlord, suddenly paid an unannounced visit. He was in a foul mood — he threatened legal action and eviction proceedings if I failed to pay rent on time.
But he simmered down when he learned that my latest client was willing to pay me a fortune if I could clear things up regarding Kowloon’s Chili crisis.
“Just stop eating Chinese food and start paying me,” he told me.
“I’ll do that,” I replied. “But you really got to try Kowloon’s chili. It’s heaven.”
Suddenly, something in him changed.
From a strict, hot-headed landlord, he became — all of a sudden — my BFF.
I wasn’t sure whether it was the result of my charm, my gift for gab, or his actual hunger.
He invited me to lunch at Kowloon.
But this time, we ate inside the restaurant itself, not outside, as I usually did.

All-you-can-eat chili served inside the Kowloon House restaurant premises.

After he ordered chop suey, sweet and sour pork, and a large plate of fried rice, I asked the waitress for some chili.
It came in a mid-sized steel container that was filled to the brim.
Immediately, I knew that I cracked the case wide open.
I excused myself, called up my client, and explained everything.
“Customers who stayed inside the restaurant paid higher prices and were likely to be served unlimited chili,” I told him. “So next time you want more free chili, eat inside the restaurant.”
“Never thought it was that simple,” my client replied. “I’ll drop off your check next week.”
I pressed the end call button and walked back in to sit with my landlord.
“Who was that?” my landlord asked, as he munched on a piece of marinated pork.
“Nobody,” I said. “Just another satisfied customer.”
“Well, good for you. Because I think it’s about time I raised the rent.”
I put some more chili into my bowl and dug into beef mami.
As I enjoyed the soft chunks of meat and noodles and the mild spice of the chili, I began to entertain a strange thought: Never has a condiment brought so much trouble, even for a private detective such as myself.
But then again, for a delicious meal such as this one, it was well worth it.

Half-finished bowl of beef mami after so-called photographer forgot to take pictures BEFORE the meal.

(This is a highly fictionalized account of my recent visits to Kowloon House along Matalino Street in Quezon City, Philippines. These visits led me to discover that generous servings of chili are available to customers who dine inside the restaurant where prices are higher. Meanwhile, those who choose to eat outside — along the restaurant’s front area — where food is cheaper and dishes are smaller are only allowed limited servings of its chili [made from garlic, sugar, and bird’s eye chili, also known as siling labuyo]. Beef mami outside is P85 while inside its more than P100.
So what’s the deal with Kowloon’s chili? I think it’s the best chili I have ever tasted. Disclaimer: I paid for all my meals and didn’t receive any preferential treatment from Kowloon.)

A New Year’s Congee Angst at the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant

Interior of the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant along Malakas Street, Quezon City

(Disclaimer: No consideration, financial or otherwise, was solicited, offered, nor accepted for this blog entry. Plain English: I paid for the food that I ate.)

It was a slow day.
The waiters could sense that more than anyone else.
The streets were deserted, the surroundings were quiet, and virtually everything stood still.
It was no different indoors.
The restaurant was empty and no amount of cool, processed air and loud, tacky music could ever hope to fill up the tables. It was as if it was already the wee hours of the morning except that the sun was up and its rays brought a patina of sadness, of desolation to the dining area.
But then again, all this was expected.
After all, it was New Year’s Day.
And on that late afternoon, it was assumed that corporate bigwigs and cubicle warriors alike were still taking it easy, spending additional hours in bed, reading, watching television, or hanging out with their families and friends.
However, employees at the Red Palace Seafood Restaurant along Malakas St. in Quezon City’s central district had no such privilege.

The only setback of this delicious-looking congee? It didn't use ground rice.

On that day, the restaurant was open and workers were expected to fill in their regular hours.
Good thing that their duties were light, thanks to the inactivity, the general ennui, and the lack of traffic — vehicular or otherwise — during the first day of 2011.
At the same time, this was no excuse for lower food and/or service standards.
Fortunately, I had none of that when I paid a visit at the establishment on the same day.
Which is not to say I didn’t have any misgivings about their offerings.
I did, as I usually do with many other things which, in turn, are best discussed in another blog entry.
I took issue with the restaurant’s Pork and Century Egg Congee (P135).
For its price, the ingredients — raw egg and slices of pork and century egg  — were just about standard, no better or no worse than those served elsewhere.
Except that the congee itself didn’t use ground rice — the not-so-secret ingredient behind the dish — making it no different from nor better than those offered by more inexpensive establishments.
That’s all — end of congee angst.

Red Palace's asado siopao looked so yummy the idiot picture taker was prompted to take a bite first before attending to his duties.

Meanwhile, the two-piece asado siopao (P80) that I ordered was great.
It was larger — and arguably even tastier — than those served by its rivals, including Kowloon House, which has a branch around the corner along Matalino Street, and Jade Valley in the Timog Ave. area.
But next time I drop by for a visit, I’ll try other rice dishes, hoping that the cook has come around to realizing that ground rice makes for excellent congee.
Until then, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Spice up your life

In my small world — a world of basic needs (running water, decent cellphone signals, and free copies of Pinoy Parazzi) — chili is big.
You got that right: Chili.
Chili makes a mediocre meal good, a good meal perfect.
Whether liquid or solid, chili is the best agreeable companion for every meal, next to a hottie and a cold alcoholic drink.
But then again, that’s just my opinion.
Which explains why I always keep a jar of chili handy — it’s always useful for correcting kitchen emergencies, which fortunately happen rarely owing to the utter lack of trying. However, that’s another story altogether.
Anyway, whenever I go out, I never pass the chance to try the house chili.
And thanks to my limited culinary adventures, I have discovered that the best chili in Metro Manila, perhaps even in the Philippines, isn’t for sale.
It’s for free — you just have to visit Kowloon House along Matalino Street in Quezon City to enjoy it.
To do so, you first have to pick something off the establishment’s menu, which is posted right up above the kitchen that also serves as the counter for orders.
And there, my friend, lies the rub.
Ordering food at that Kowloon branch is more difficult than getting the attention of a government worker five minutes before his/her coffee break.
Just this Saturday, I dropped by, relishing past, pleasant thoughts of Kowloon’s beef mami, consisting of tasty meat chunks so large and rich that if you eat them everyday for the next two years, you’d either suffer from a heart attack or choke to death.
My reverie about beef mami was interrupted when I was ignored a couple of times by the servers.
Had I been younger, I would have raised holy hell, demanding that I be waited on hand and foot, just like any regular asshole.
But times were now different.
Besides being older — and supposedly less assholish — I was wearing a tattered T-shirt that had more holes than the ozone layer.
In short, I looked like an old, loserish fogey in the making that deserved to be ignored.
Only until I sat down and grew a foot-long beard did a waitress take notice.
When my order arrived — a bowl of beef mami and a can of Coke — I asked for some chili.
Just like my supper, my request for chili was faciliated at a pace slightly faster than the speed of a three-legged turtle.
The chili was consumed the minute it arrived because the serving was no bigger than my thumbnail.
Partnered with a chunk of beef, it was delicious.
But taken individually, the chili was a meal in itself, giving off a melange of flavors — strong hints of garlic, pepper, and a sweet fruit which I can’t quite place (pineapple?).
After I consumed it in one go, I asked for some more.
However, the establishment refused to be generous, giving me the second serving in just about the same quantity.
I finished my meal and nearly licked the chili off the sauce plate it was served in.
And as I settled the bill, I discovered that I learned another lesson — or at least I think I did — from this whole experience of chili cutbacks: The best things in life may be free but sometimes you just can’t get enough of them.
From the Digital Imaging Dept. Cropped photo shows Sophie Monk in an advertisement for PETA. Thanks, Zimbio.com.

A big bowl of wrong

Larry David and Jeff Garlin (www.performink.com)
PRIMETIME television hardly imitates life.
If it did, many males—especially those of my age and temperament—would be spending their carefree days and nights in the pursuit of scantily-clad starlets, hoping for wardrobe malfunctions.
Unfortunately, real life—such as we know it—involves working two jobs to make rent money, ensuring that the cat gets regular visits from the vet, and avoiding the nosy landlady who has expressly disallowed animals in her apartment.
In short, the life and times of a happily-married, submissive, and faithful Filipino male such as myself has none of the excitement and the drama found on soaps currently broadcast on television.
However, when my wife and I had an unpleasant experience at a mid-market Chinese restaurant, we found common cause to turn to television to exactly describe what we went through.
Our dining experience, to borrow a colorful phrase from award-winning cable television show Curb Your Enthusiasm, was “a big bowl of wrong.” The phrase was originally uttered by Jeff Garlin, (shown in the right of the picture from performink.com) who plays the manager of Larry David, (on the picture’s left) Seinfeld co-creator, whose fictional life is what the show is all about.
Even before we entered the establishment—located at Gateway Mall in Quezon City—the arrangement and the decor gave us the impression that the restaurant was not your typical, inexpensive hole-in-the-wall which offered fly soup as a side dish.
While it was not an upscale restaurant, it nevertheless emphasized that it was neither fastfood establishment especially since we were made to wait before we were ushered to our tables. Which wasn’t any trouble at all until we realized that we were seated beside a gaggle of noisy, middle-aged women who applauded anytime any single one of them uttered a syllable.
In the meantime, the waitstaff was as responsive as government employees taking their daily two-hour lunch breaks. Whenever we tried to call their attention, in our vain attempt to inform them of our orders, they seemed to pretend that they were busy serving other customers.
To ease hunger and to ward off our growing impatience, we simply munched on the complimentary dish of kropeck crackers immediately made available after we were seated. Fortunately, before anyone took the last piece of kropeck, a waitress came by. Noticing that my wife and I had were both eyeing the last cracker, the waitress, gifted with tremendous powers of perception, asked us whether we had ordered already.
My wife, hungry and irritated, replied in the negative, especially when she found the last kropeck missing.
Her irritation was later compounded when she discovered that her order—a beef and wanton noodle soup—was far too salty for her taste. I didn’t doubt her culinary assessment one bit, knowing fully well that she eats everything—from adobo to kare-kare—with patis.
But since I needed to fill myself up, I nevertheless took generous bites of the pieces of beef and the noodles that came with my brisket noodle soup.
While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t exactly the best noodle soup I ever had. After forking out P150++ for each dish, we were convinced that we were served two big bowls of wrong that night. And don’t even get me started on the matronas.

A fly in my siopao

In celebration of the one-year birthday of this piece, I am uploading it into this blog.

EXOTIC cuisine is not for the faint of heart. Or, for that matter, the weak of stomach.

But many individuals—self-styled sophisticates and self-proclaimed
gourmets—have always looked forward to their next culinary adventure, be it Mediterranean or Asian fusion. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am not one of them.

Just about the only culinary expertise that I can ever claim to have, aside
from eating, is the ability to discern the four basic types of beer. These are pale pilsen, which is marked by a pale flavor; dry, distinguished by a dry flavor; light, which has a light flavor; and, last but not least, free, which has an excellent taste that leaves a tingling sensation on the palate, a soothing effect on the throat, and a healthy, ruddy glow on the cheek. These characteristics make free beer one of the tastiest drinks of all time. However, unlike pale pilsen, dry, and light beer, free beer is not widely available, especially when you have friends who think that the world owes them a drink. (But then again, that’s another story best told as soon as one other booze buddy shares his Irish beer with me, gratis et amore.)

Although I am always on the lookout for free beer, I remain a meat and
potatoes kind of guy, always making sure that whatever I put in my mouth—at least for nutritional purposes—should be boiled, broiled, fried,
baked, or sauteed. This explains why sushi is not in my top ten list of favorite food, which, by the way, includes beer. After all, when you get down to it, beer is simply liquefied malt, hops, and barley. Nothing really exotic about that.

Which is not something I can say about my recent culinary adventure, to use the term loosely. While dining with my wife at a popular Chinese restaurant in the Greenhills shopping complex, I found a lifeless and fully cooked insect in my meal. I found a fly the size of a raisin
embedded in my Asado siopao.

Common sense told me not to put it in my mouth. Luckily, common sense prevailed.

Using my thumb and forefinger, I fished the very dead insect from flavorful chunks of meat for the viewing pleasure of my wife, the waiters, and other diners interested in what we were having for merienda.
When one customer saw that what I was holding up was not a piece of
sharksfin siomai, he looked thankful that he had gotten the beef brisket.
Unwilling to ruin anyone else’s appetite, my wife and I quietly summoned a waiter and asked for an explanation.

The response, delivered quite curtly by the manager, was slow in coming,
just like the beef wonton mami that my wife and I shared. Besides blaming their siopao supplier, the manager did not even offer to
make amends. In fact, she even had the temerity to ask us for payment,
saying that siopao was already excluded from the bill.

We promptly walked out without paying.

After all, on top of the slow service and the unexpected side dish, we felt
insulted when the establishment was unable to offer us some house tea.

The Manila Times
October 6, 2005