Monday, April 9, 2012


     Manila is a vibrant city with lots of things to occupy yourself with on a shoestring budget.

     There is the iconic Luneta Park or Rizal Park where you can find Kilometer Zero,the marble marker in front of the monument of one of the Philippines' national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, where road distances in the archipelago are referenced.

     In Intramuros, your feet can take you back in time as you navigate the cobblestone streets to marvel at the old wall city and steep yourself in the architecture during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines especially when you get to visit San Agustin church. You could take a stroll on the streets of Binondo where the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit will surely get you to sample cheap, filling and tasty eats.

     But let's just say that like me, you find yourself in the middle of a scorching hot afternoon during Holy Week  and going around Manila is just not practical. You've cleaned the house, watered the plants, fed the pets, and hung the laundry, which by the way, is more cardiovascular exercise than I would ever find myself doing in the gym. What can you do while catching your breath?

     Seek sanctuary in the kitchen and attempt to replicate the elusive vendor-quality fishball sauce that you know is what made student haunts like UP famous! 

     You might argue that street foods in Manila are so commonplace that you can choose from  a good mix to stave off hunger pangs, or that incessant craving for "anything when you just have to eat something." Why bother to whip something up when your friendly neighborhood hawker is just around the corner. But then, this is Holy Week and if you are in Manila, it's so quiet and "shut down" that it's like having the place all to yourself.

     So,  I dusted off a sauce pan and got these:

          Let me just say that in terms of measurements for how to make the fishball sauce, I am sorry to tell you that I didn't measure how much of each ingredient I put in. It's not because I didn't have measuring cups or spoons but it's sort of a family thing that I was really taught not to be too dependent on measurements for certain things that you cook but you trust on your own sense of taste to define the flavors that you create in the kitchen, which I think is a good thing (as long as you are not doing pastry.... :D).

     So, here is how I made the sauce:

      1. Initially dissolve around 1 tablespoon each of cornstarch and flour in about 4 tablespoons of water for your thickener.
      2. To this add 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce. Set mixture aside.
      3. Mince about 2~3 cloves of garlic and 1 small onion. Set aside.
      4. Depending on how much sauce you intend to make, add that much water to the sauce pan.
      5. Add the vinegar and "cook it off". (Remember: Do not stir until the liquid in your pan has boiled.)
      6. Add the minced onion and garlic, and soy sauce and thickener mixture and stir well to prevent lumps. Bring down the flame of your stove. 
      7. Add sugar and hot sauce [or fresh minced bird's eye chilies (sili labuyo) if you like], and adjust the soy sauce and vinegar according to your taste. Use more sugar of if you like the sweet dipping sauce. Use more chili if you like the hot dipping sauce.
      8. Adjust the thickness of the sauce if you find it too watery. It should be able to coat the fishballs without becoming a paste or thick glue in consistency.

      Now, just head on out to your nearest grocery store or Asian food store and buy a pack of frozen fishballs or squidballs and fry some up. You could even go the whole nine yards and get a few small bamboo skewers and serve the balls skewered, and have a wonderful time dipping these into the sauce for a filling snack. 
     You end up with an end product like this:

    If you would like a finer sauce, maybe you can strain it before serving. Personally, I have left the bits of onion and garlic in for the authentic "street food feel."  It was a hit if I do say so myself. My aunt approved of the taste and my nephew could not get enough of it. :D

     Try it and let me know what you think.

©CherWriter 2012.04.09

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