By Gene Gonzalez
Right across the Azalea Suites on Station 2 on the Main Highway, Balabag Boracay is a restaurant with a prawn logo called Shine. From the set up, it seems very much like the traditional mainland Chinese style of place where tables fit large groups of six to 10. The menu shows a lot of Yunnan and Sichuan influences where one gets that addictive feeling of electricity with the combination of fragrant Szechuan peppercorn extractions and combinations with dried, fresh chilies, pungent, and sweet wood spices.
Testing the waters or the menu was not difficult because they had a knowledgeable person from their wait staff that could give us an approximate description of the dishes the restaurant serves. It seemed to be a busy night judging from the looks of the place, such as the hurriedly fixed tables and some out of stock items like all their cold dishes and appetizers that were available earlier. Nevertheless, we were able to order some dishes that our friendly waitress had recommended, which seemed representative of the cooking of this eatery that is patronized by several Mainland Chinese. What tickled our curiosity even further was the presence of steamed egg in the menu. Having visited Beijing on so many occasions, the Chinese seem to have this creative skill in what seems to be food and protein source for the masses. Eggs with no exception to continent or region in the world are proletarian food because it is a cheap source of protein. The communist past of China has probably refined the art of cooking this delicious, steamed, and flavorful dish by just the right temperature and the addition of simple umami uppers such as soy sauce, chicken powder, or oyster sauce. In fact, we told our waitress to order it before she would take our other choices as the waiting time for steaming this dish could be lengthy.
Our dinner started with cumin beef, very typical on areas of Dongbei or Manchuria where the beef flavors are heightened by the addition of bruised whole cumin seed and giving it a tasty but fresh lift with an abundant amount of crispy sliced celery stems that pushed the beefiness higher. The combination of crisp celery stalks stir fried with cumin spiced beef is a dish of simplicity but its spicing works so well with the herbal, meaty characters of celery combined with the richness of beef.
Next was a simple stir fry of chicken with garlic and a superfluous load of fragrant Szechuan peppercorn oil and a puree of dried and fermented chilies. The woody and floral flavors of the szechuan peppercorn oil and the highly aromatic chili puree deliciously blazed up our palates and gave that electric sensation as we used the steamed rice as our sauce catcher as we picked every morsel of spicy chicken with our chopsticks.
A portable stove so typical of small mainland Chinese eateries I would go to was set in front of us with a whole garoupa swimming in a spicy aromatic sauce of chilies, peppers, garlic, shallots, leeks and wood spices, and of an infusion of Szechuan peppercorns that give this dish, lots of heat and spicy characters. Thoug we ordered three dishes that contained this prickly ash or szechuan peppercorns, all three dishes were all different because of their peripheral ingredients. By the time our spicy fish dish was at a point when it would be fully consumed, our steamed egg arrived. The smooth, silky texture and the subtle balance of soy sauce, stock, and oyster sauce highlighted the rich flavor of this egg dish. (I was sorry that I did not order two because many mainland style Chinese restaurants in this country do not serve this because of the length of time needed to put this dish together and steam it…)
Anyway, the night before we tried to go back for one spicy dinner experience again but unfortunately at 9:30 p.m. they close for last orders and we did not make the cut-off. I guess this would be something to look forward to when we get back next month.
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