Monday, September 19, 2011

A Thrilla in Manila: Ihawan

This post is about my Filipino food adventure at the famed Ihawan in Woodside, Queens. My first experience with Filipino food brought me to Krystal’s, also in Woodside. Not knowing anything about Filipino cuisine made this particularly interesting. This makes any kind of adventure fun, it adds the element of surprise. On the other hand, it’s also fun to be schooled in something you didn’t know, but then you leave with knowing something new, and with a tummy full of goodness.

When it comes to being schooled, a colleague of mine knows food well, really well. And, being Filipina, I was especially lucky in this one circumstance. She was making a trip into Queens to visit a friend, and invited me to check out Ihawan. Trying something new with a pro? This gal definitely said yes, and on the 7 train we went!

Before we reached our destination, my colleague was on the search for some roasted pork, known as lechon. We walked around the various Filipino stores along Roosevelt Avenue, after getting off at 69th Street. Once we found one she liked, there we went for her lechon. I was saving space for Ihawan, but I still got some good photos.

Here’s some really cute tiny fried fish. I’m astonished I got that shot to come out so well!

Here’s lookin at you, said the lechon.

After lechon has been acquired, we made it to the ever famous Ihawan (which now also has a location in Long Island City). I gave my colleague total carte blanche, my stomach and taste buds were in her hands.

While we waited for our food to arrive, I took a sip of buko, young coconut juice. The flavor was actually very savory. It reminds me of basmati rice, with chewy coconut bits in it.

Then our first round comes: fried boneless milkfish, tocino (Filipino-style pork), pork belly (which doesn’t have the red sweet sauce the tocino has) and chicharon bulaklak, or ruffles (the fat around intestines).

The milkfish was really good, delicious.

I’ve had tocino before, thanks to this co-worker, so I knew I would love the sweet smoky porkiness that is tocino (it can be found in Asian markets, its seasoned and just needs to be cooked).

The porkbelly was great, porky, smoky, what could go wrong?

Now the ruffles. I was a little apprehensive, but I took a bite, and it was really good. Crispy, crunchy, and as long as I didn’t think about what it was, I was good.

And what better to dip ruffles in than chile vinegar. Simple, but amazing! I even was crazy enough to eat the chile. Cuz I’m cool like that.

To round out the meatfest was white rice, a good equalizer, and this crazy good papaya salad.

As if I had any more room in my belly, I decided I had to try the halo halo. Halo halo, Tagalog for “mix mix,” is shaved ice with sweetened items such as boiled kidney beans, carmelized plantains, jackfruit, no ube though *sad face, covered in with condensed milk, and topped with flan.  

 It’s intense, very sweet, even for me. The textures were very new to me as someone who’s just getting familiar with using beans in a sweet application (think red bean in Asian desserts). Quite the adventure.

All in all, a fun time, and what better way to really get into Filipino cuisine than with an expert?

Next on Full Belly, a two-part report on sister Middle Eastern fooderies, El Souk El Shater, newly opened in Sunnyside, and Habibi, one block away. Until next time, mangia!

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