THERE was a time when my cookbook collection was my pride and joy.
Before the Internet and before the world became food-obsessed, the only specialist bookstore was Books for Cooks in London, where I would buy books by the boxful. I scoured the shelves of the Strand in New York, Powell’s in Portland, and the bouquinistes of Paris and Gibert Jeune at Saint-Michel for used, well-thumbed cookbooks and food magazines.
Now there are more cookbooks than ever, and never have they been of so little use. I allow myself the indulgence once a month of one of those luxuriously photographed books, with rambling expostulations of philosophy and rhapsodies about terroir, and recipes that no one can really cook.
But most of the time I’m on the Internet.
This is a good thing, not a bad one—the price of knowledge of even the most exotic dishes has been reduced to an Internet connection. And for those who are bad at following recipes or don’t have the time to attend cooking classes, there are amateur and professional videos.
I haven’t cooked anything out of a book in years.
When I was learning how to cook in the 1970s, a door-to-door salesman came to our house and offered us the Time-Life series called “The Good Cook.” I know of many households that have it still, moldering away somewhere.
No book of basic cooking I have seen since then has come close to the detail and scrutiny of this masterpiece. But then I may be biased because I learned to cook from it, while generations, since then, may have learned to cook from Nigella Lawson or Mark Bittman or Nigel Slater.
One of my favorite online resources has been Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “Serious Eats,” which has now spawned one of the few cookbooks I bought in recent years that I have been making recipes from. Much of the material in the cookbook is scattered throughout the site, but “The Food Lab” puts it in encyclopaedia form, and adds new material.
Decidedly American in tone and outlook, as opposed to “The Good Cook’s” roots in classical French cuisine with the thoroughly British rigor of documentation and scope of research, “The Food Lab” is a basics cookbook for our time.
It reflects new methods that have become popular in recent years, such as sous-vide cooking, although the author is careful to democratize the process by not insisting that you go out and buy the latest and greatest machine (although the blog does commercialize by linking to products).
He substitutes a ziplock bag and displacement for the expensive vacuum-sealing method, and proposes the use of beer cooler instead of a dedicated sous-vide machine.
The obsession with cast-iron pans is well catered to, as well. Instead of stuffing the book with recipes, the photographs and text focus on techniques. And instead of aspirational (and unattainable) restaurant cooking, the book is aimed squarely at the home cook.
Those just learning to cook can jump ahead to the recipes, but most of its readers, I would think, will be people like me, who have little experience but want to perfect their techniques and dispel much of the mumbo-jumbo regarding, say, making an omelette or spaghetti bolognese or meat loaf.
Home cooking, of the Filipino sort, is on the menu at Mama Rosa, a little dining place in Pasig’s Kapitolyo restaurant row that wasn’t even on my radar until I had a lunch meeting there.
Café Juanita, just down the road, gets most of the buzz. It’s still completely booked most of the time and has opened a branch at BGC.
Mama Rosa doesn’t have quite the sensory overload of Café Juanita, and is perhaps less of a phantasmagoric experience with the tasteful but somewhat nondescript décor of a neighborhood local restaurant.
It’s a low-key restaurant in the mode of Sandy Daza’s Wooden Spoon, and serves the hearty, homely fare that is increasingly difficult to find at home.
For lunch we had mongo soup, tulingan or bullet tuna in olive oil, kare-kare and crispy tadyang.
The crispy tadyang was the star of the meal, dry and fragrant with blobs of creamy fat and tender shreds of beef brisket that came apart at the touch of a fork.
The kare-kare was good but a little too healthy for my taste; I’m of the school of thought that believes that a “light” kare-kare is ontologically wrong. A proper kare-kare should be so creamy that you can have it with bread, which is what some Pampanga households do, or perhaps did, because I don’t think they lived very long.
I’ve been banging on about this for a long time now—but those who open quiet little neighborhood restaurants are under a lot of pressure to gild the lily, or as one of my friends would call it, add “eklavu” to their restaurants to justify their existence (and also have an excuse to jack up the prices).
Destination restaurants are an increasingly risky endeavor in a city where getting to a destination takes longer and longer. What we covet is our neighbor’s, or at least what is in our neighborhood.
Those in the Pasig area are lucky to have some excellent restaurants that offer good value for money, and among them, Mama Rosa is outstanding.
Mama Rosa is at No. 9 East Kapitolyo Drive, Pasig; tel. 9421125.