A Malaysian Blog about Food, Family and Friends – by Lyrical Lemongrass
When we got married, my husband was still working in the Philippines on a two-year overseas stint. After the honeymoon, we both went our separate ways - I returned to KL, and he went back to Manila. Being newly married, a two week separation meant long, extended daily phonecalls of Imissyous and wet pillowcases. But then, the sun came out again and everything was well as I was greeted by the old familiar smile at the chaotic Manila airport. All my travels never prepared me for the diversity of flavours and sights and sounds that was his adopted home. From the crystal clear waters of Boracay to the slums in Manila, I absorbed everything, and despite having very few photographs (in the days before digital cameras), I still remember the mother and her children sleeping on the pavement outside the walls of the closely guarded gated communities, the dazzling blinking Rudolph and Santa Claus and baby Jesus on lawns and rooftops of spanish-influenced abodes, the man selling odds and ends at the traffic light, the playing of the national anthem before the screening of a movie, the counterflow of traffic (both legal and illegal) on busy roads, the smiling beautiful people of the Philippines.
It’s a pity that there aren’t more Filipino restaurants in KL. Cagayan is a tiny cafe with tables, benches and stools, hardly the place to take your ailing grandmother to. The menu at Cagayan is a strange combination of Filipino and Japanese, but they seem to be segregated into separate sections, so thankfully, there is not much chance of anything fusion happening here.
I remember being excited about sisig in the Philippines. What started out as a vinaigrette fruit salad for expectant mothers eventually evolved into a dish of pig’s ears and tail in vinegar, and then its popularity extended to the hairier sex who ate it as a snack while ingesting their favourite intoxicating potions. Nowadays, sisig can be any kind of meat served on a sizzling plate. When I first tried it in Manila, the husband, in his usual precise but crude fashion described it as smashed pork head. Depending on one’s upbringing and dietary consumption, that can sound either exciting or disgusting. The sisig in Cagayan is not the entire head but just the ears cooked on a sizzling hot plate and served with a raw egg which gets cooked when one stirs it in. The pork ears had a nice gelatinous bite to it with little burnt bits which worked well with the creamier texture of the spicy egg-y sauce. It tasted very much like the sisig I had in Manila, and judging from the satisfied look of the others at the table, it was a winner.
The pork ribs were excellent, well grilled and had tender pieces of meat that were easily ripped off the bones. Several choices of sauces were available, and upon the advice of the waiter, we chose the classic sauce. There are also spicier sauces for those with a more adventurous palate. The crispy kangkung was quite plain. It was prepared tempura style in a flour batter that lacked much taste, but eaten with the accompanying dipping sauce it was a little better. I did like the crunchy texture, though, which was its redeeming factor. The enoki mushrooms wrapped in bacon was, at its best, just a little above average, but I must say that the bacon was cooked to a nice crisp, just the way I like it. Desserts? Despite the tempting description of bananas on ice with gula melaka (palm sugar) and evaporated milk, the combo didn’t work. Perhaps it was due to the unusual texture of the bananas, or the taste of the other ingredients, but we weren’t able to finish it.
Overall, the experience was good, and it will be a restaurant which I shall visit when that feeling of nostalgia hits me again.
Ground floor, Centrepoint,
Open daily, 11.30am to 10.00pm.
Food, for me, is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Food, for me, represents the love of family, the fellowship of friends, and the community and communality it brings.