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.

Kissing the cook is optional

Kiss The Cook Cafe seems too upscale for its location.

Or so it appears to customers who may find parking difficult, tricycles irritating, and the neighborhood itself unsettling.

After all, KTCC is situated along Maginhawa Street in UP Village, an area not exactly bursting at the seams with coño kids, socialites, and moneyed executives. (But then again, it could be argued that the neighborhood is getting trendier by the minute. About a dozen or so decent-looking, medium-rise structures are currently being constructed in what still primarily is a residential area, no thanks to record-low interest rates and Quezon City Hall’s spot zoning policies.)

In any case, of all UP Village’s establishments — from cafe cum bars to hole-in-the-wall, mom and pop operations — KTCC stands out.

Sliding glass doors, coupled with al fresco seating in front, lends some degree of charm and sophistication to the place, bringing it a notch or two above restaurants located just less than a kilometer away down the same street.

That’s not all.

KTCC’s overall decor and its dining implements indicate good taste; none of the bright and gaudy distractions plastered on fastfood outlets found on every city corner.

Of course, the ambiance is provided at a premium, which is fortunately within justifiable levels.

Besides offering impressive service — uniformed waiters are always on alert to fill customers’ goblets with water — KTCC’s food is, simply put, good.

Take one of its starters, a set of eight bite-sized spinach feta dumplings, which goes for P145.

Considered too salty by one foodie blogger, the dumplings — which consist of approximately five parts spinach and only one part feta cheese — prepares patrons for better things to come.

At first glance, the entrees appear no larger than the size of fastfood value meal servings.

But looks can be deceiving.

KTCC uses plates as big as steering wheels of regular, run-of-the-mill Isuzu Elf delivery trucks.

With more than enough breathing space between say, the brown rice and the salad, diners are given the first — but nevertheless false — impression that KTCC skimped on their servings.

That notion would be dispelled soon enough.

One of its basic entrees — the five spice pork spare ribs (P185) — manages to exceed expectations, both in size and taste.

Once dipped, bathed, or soaked in vinegar, the crispy brown tender meat morsels are filling. However, they may be too hot for those with less adventurous palates.

If that’s the case, then you can’t go wrong with the Asian braised pork belly (P285), served with a slightly sweet thick, brown sauce.

Since it is packed with flavor, every slice must be accompanied by a spoonful of rice, if only to distinguish and savor the essence of the sauce.

Gourmands, gourmets, and gluttons will hardly bother leaving any leftovers but those easily cloyed by rich sauces may find it a challenge to finish off an order.

In the meantime, those with temporarily overloaded palates can try a sip or two of KTCC’s fruit coolers. Priced at P80 a bottle, the coolers allow for temporary respites between bites, whether its lemongrass, calamansi, lemon iced tea, or passion fruit.

To provide a fitting end to a hearty dining experience, patrons are well-advised to partake of KTCC’s yogurt ice creams, perhaps among the tastiest in the city.

The dessert has one drawback though.

Of its five flavors — strawberry, chocolate, mango, vanilla, and pistachio — only three can be accommodated in a single order.

This is reason enough to get seconds or perhaps merit another visit.

Visitors may get to meet the cooks next time. However, kissing them for an excellent meal is entirely optional.


Photo courtesy of Didang Alvarez. Thanks, Ma’am.

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