Ube is having a moment in US food culture. The sweet purple yam flavor seems to be popping up all over in the US, in cakes, ice creams and donuts, mirroring its popularity in the Philippines, where it is incorporated into any sweet treat you can imagine. Ube is truly, shockingly purple, so you definitely won’t be able to miss it. We first had ube-flavored desserts at Village Creamery in the Chicago burbs, and we were hooked. Ube is a traditional flavor in the Philippines, and one of the most popular uses for it is in Ube Macapuno cake (ube = purple yam, macapuno = preserved coconut), a light and fluffy frosted cake with tons of bright-purple goodness. It is getting easier to find ube itself in the US, and you can also find ube powder in some well-stocked Asian groceries. Macapuno, preserved coconut, may be a little harder to find, but the Phil-Am Foods site has both ube powder and macapuno for sale online. Bake Happy has a recipe utilizing Ube Powder (seen below) and Bakanista has a recipe for a cake made with fresh ube (in some places you can even enhance your recipes with McCormick Ube Essence).
Isla Pilipiana (2501 W Lawrence Ave, Chicago, IL) has one foot in the old world and one in the new. The menu features classic Filipino dishes, but the menu itself is designed in an edgy, loopy hand drawn style (even with a reference to Eminem lyrics, see if you can spot them) – which seems to be the perfect summary of what Isla Pilipiana is all about. Isla Pilipiana is a small place with modern decor, and is located in a strip mall just off the main Lincoln Square drag, so you might miss it.
We first ate an ensaimada, a sweet eggy, yeast roll on a warm day in Puerto Rico, not knowing anything of its history, other than that it looked pretty tasty (it is actually called a Mallorca there). However, we did not put two and two together until we stumbled upon the same sweet yeast roll, with the same spiral top, on a cold winter day in Madrid, except this time it was called an ensaimada. When we got home, we did a little research and sure enough these two rolls, encountered an ocean apart, were actually the same pastry.
Enaismada (center) from La Mallorquina in Madrid
Ensaimadas originated on the Spanish island of Mallorca, and gained their name from the pork fat used to make them, saïm. The pastry traveled with the Spanish around the world, and throughout the centuries have found their way throughout the Spanish speaking world to Puerto Rico, and to the Philippines, where they are particularly popular. Ensaimadas, due to their richness, are popular to eat around Mardi Gras time, before all the sweets and butter are given up for Lent, so why not whip some up now? Check out this Spanish-style recipe from Delicious Days, or a traditional Cabell d’àngel pumpkin jam-filled version from the Gusty Gourmet. Jun-blog has a recipe for Filippino ensaimadas, which are miniature-sized and made with butter.
4558 Oakton Street
In honor of National Ice Cream Month, here’s another post about one of our favorite topics. We here at ETW are huge fans of ice cream, but it takes a lot to wow us. Village Creamery, is one place we were pretty impressed by, and the sheer variety of unique flavors was a real treat. Many are inspired by Filipino flavors such as Mangosteen and Lychee and others by American treats, such as those made with Girl Scout cookies or Donut pieces. The variety is truly astounding. If you don’t believe us, check out this complete flavor list on their website. Of course if you are in the mood for a more simple Vanilla or Mint Chocolate chip, Village Creamery has those, too.
All of the ice creams are home made and the rotation of flavors varies from day to day. On the day we visited they had such eclectic flavors as Cheese (!), Crème brulee, Durian, Jackfruit and Halo-Halo Fiesta, a riff on a popular Filipino dessert. We figured the halo-halo was a good choice, so we ordered one cup, along with a cup of the more typical Mint Chip. The Halo Halo flavor consisted of vanilla ice cream with banana, pineapple gel, coconut gel, red beans, white beans, and Rice Krispies. Though the combination seems quite unusual, it really worked. Our friends that ordered more traditional flavors were also pleased. Along with simple scoops, Village Creamery also offers a range of sundaes, milkshakes, malts and even bubble tea. We highly recommend Village Creamery for your more idiosyncratic ice cream cravings and it is one of our favorite places in the burbs for a treat (there is also a location in Niles).
We are totally into Jun-blog, a blog focusing on Filipino food, coupled with some pretty amazing photographs. We especially like the Filipino Food ABCs feature, where a Filipino recipe starting with A-Z is featured. The blog is currently up to N. We are especially excited to try the E-Recipe: Ensaimada brioche rolls.
Having just gotten back from Thailand we were eager to try recreating some of our favorite dishes at home. There used to be a store on Argyle appropriately called “Thai Grocery” but it closed semi-recently. Without any other obviously-named choices, we were pleased when we randomly saw a sign on a store on Dempster proclaiming “We now carry Thai Groceries”.
The aptly named Uni-Mart mainly sells Filipino food (both in a restaurant and grocery store), there was a healthy helping of Thai food mixed in. There was a huge selection of canned Thai sauces and bags of cookies, but what most intrigued us was the beverage selection. Happily, we found both of the items (both beverages) that we were looking for – Milo ($3.25), a powdered chocolate malt drink and loose Thai Tea ($1.85).
The Thai Tea was an especially fortuitous find since we like to brew our own Thai iced teas and all of the blends we had tried in America had not been up to snuff (Thai Tea is very fine, full of red dye and contains other spices like Vanilla and cinnamon). We are happy to report that it was worth many times the $1.85 we had paid for it. We are looking forward to visiting the Uni-Mart again to sample some more Thai groceries and hopefully try out some Filipino food too, a regretfully blank spot on our global food quest.
7315 Dempster Street
Niles, IL 60714
There’s no theme this week. Just some interesting links and tidbits: