Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pork Barbecue

Which Pork Barbecue reigns supreme?

Some of our contestants, front-view

Food Magazine Editor-In-Chief Micky Fenix posed this question to us, challenging us to our next horizontal tasting: pork barbecue. Our parameters:

1. Must be commercially available, meaning, ANYONE can buy it. It cannot be some home-made specialty that is only cooked as a favor to someone.
2. Barbecue must be bought and eaten the same day.
3. No sauce and no sidings except plain rice. The barbecue must be judged on its own merits.

Our horizontal tasters chose 8 of the most popular ready-to-buy pork bbq and blind tasted. Our contestants: Amber's, Floring's, Heavens, Aling Nene, Ineng's, 3 Sisters, Reyes, and a BBQ from a home-based enterprise. From our line-up, you can see we chose from a a wide range of available barbecue from different price points: From cheap (Amber's was the cheapest at P15+delivery charge) to pedigreed (Floring's is by Chef Florabel) to a home-business.

.....and after a quarter-turn, their side-view. This is the beauty contest of barbecues!

We met at the Old Swiss Inn Makati branch, where prior arrangements had been made. The sticks of BBQ would be brought directly to the kitchen, where the kitchen staff would remove the meat from the sticks (saving 1 stick for picture taking), arranged on numbered white platters, and be kept warm while waiting for the lineup to be completed. When all 8 were accounted for and plated, the waiters brought out the platters of meat and laid them out on one long table......

Pork far as the eye can see......

Food Magazine even sent their photographer and equipment to document this horizontal tasting. Read their full coverage (with better pictures) in their May issue!

The professionals at work......

....and the amateur, disturbing the professionals

Getting down to business, our hungry panel hunkered down. Long discussions about appearance vs. taste, value for money, convenience, etc. ensued. Some judges found raw pieces of meat....improperly cooked barbecue! Horrors!

The judges were strict, the contest was tight. Some barbecues just DIDN'T taste good without sauce. Some barbecues, inspite of their reputations, were surprisingly disappointing when tasted beside another lesser-known one. This was a true blind tasting. No one could recognize his favorite.

In the end, it was a unanimous and surprising decision: Heavens Barbecue had bested them all.

Heavens Barbecue has 6 branches:

The Zone
The Zone 7224 Malugay St cor. Buendia, Bel-Air
Telephone: (63 2) 894-3899, (63 2) 893-4715

BF Homes
Aguirre St. cor. Elizalde St., BF Homes
Telephone: (63 2) 659-2314, (63 2) 659-2315

Madison Square, Madison St. cor. Ortigas Ave., Greenhills
Telephone: (63 2) 726-0250, (63 2) 727-3206
Madison Square, E. Rodriguez Jr., Libis
Telephone: (63 2) 396-1198

Diego Silang
Petron C-5 cor. Diego Silang,
Telephone: (63 2) 986-0143

Savanna Commercial Center
Savanna Commercial Center , Vito Cruz Ext. Corner Pasong Tamo
Telephone: (63 2) 897-2575

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Making Food Reviews a Science

In the 80s, thousands of Coca-Cola drinking Filipinos were surprised - offended even - to discover in a blind taste test, administered in Church plazas, street corners and schools nationwide, they did in fact prefer the taste of another cola. Millions of advertising pesos and years of brainwashing were stripped away when the consumer was made to choose his preference based on nothing else but how one's tongue responded to two unmarked cups of brown swill.

We all have our favorite foods that we rave about in parties or force suitors to find in the middle of the night. If this discovery is unknown to the general populace, the joy is multiplied tenfold at having this succulent secret to oneself, to be shared only with one's nearest and dearest foodies. The conviction among foodies that their favorites are truly the best to be found in Manila is so strong people are willing to stake their names on it (for whatever random value that is worth). To give some structure to the debate of who in fact has found the universal favorite, the idea of the horizontal tasting for food was born.

Horizontal tastings are traditionally done with wines, where wines from different vineyards but of the same vintage are compared in unmarked glasses. Just fyi, a vertical tasting is applying the same blind comparison between wines of different vintages from the same vineyard. Our version of horizontal tasting involves bringing in different brands of one dish.

It began with a blind tasting of four sans rival cakes, brought in from near and far (as in the winner was from Dumaguete!). The second horizontal tasting, held only after the testers' taste buds and cholesterol counts had recovered from the first, was a competition among plain cheesecakes. The third tasting, sponsored by Food magazine, was a battle of the pork barbecues. And most recently, there was a heart-clogging competition among too many cheese ensaymadas.

Anyone is welcome to join these horizontal tests, for as long as they bring enough samples of their "manoks" or prized contenders to the table to be taste-tested by others as well (the cost of the combined orders is divided among the testers). Each dish is stripped of packaging by the kitchen staff and is laid bare on numbered plates. Testers are given a scorecard wherein they rate each contender based on certain relevant criteria, such as taste, appearance, texture etc. Only after the results are tabulated can the brand name of each item be revealed.

Having joined two horizontal tests myself, I can attest it's not as simple as it sounds. As the endorser of one contestant, you will be dismayed to discover that other testers see things differently from you (apparently, some people like their ensaymadas dry!). In the barbecue test, I protested when some barbecues (such as Reyes and Aling Nene) where not allowed to have their signature sauces served alongside them. The meat was supposed to stand on its own merit, unadorned. The sauces were laid on the table for the diners to mix and match with other brands as well. Lastly, the "umay" factor when you are tasting more than 10 similar things in succession is considerable. In lieu of palate cleansing sorbets, we have resorted to taking steak breaks in between bites of sans rival-- or just throwing some table salt onto our tongues if we want to save space in our tummies.

This blog is the first public record of the results of these grueling, but oh so delicious horizontal tests. If you would like to propose a new horizontal test, (next one up is a Chicken Inasal fight), or you would like to join any of these events, let us know because a bigger sample pool is in everyone's interest. It is also better for us to have more testers to bring in different perspectives.

We look forward to doing battle with your "manoks" in the horizontal wars ahead of us! Bon Appetit.