"Oh, no! Rice again? TV viewers will recognize the weary premise from dozens of ads: a humdrum family life; an inexpensive, easy-to-use, transformative product; happy faces all around. But trust me: Bubur ayam really works!
"Ema" is chile, "datsi" is cheese, and ema datsi is a dish from a tiny Himalayan kingdom in which hot peppers are used, not as a seasoning, but as a vegetable. More chiles and cheese, as well as onion (and, I believe, garlic) appeared in the salsa-like condiment beside the traditional red rice.
It's quite spicy — the peppers were serranos, or something similar — but back home ema datsi is even spicier, a Bhutanese fellow diner assured me. The kitchen may have cut me some (unwanted) slack by scraping out many of the seeds; if you want the real deal, a firm hand is indicated when placing your order. As for the cheese, it's less runny than it might seem. The final photo gives a better indication of the consistency.
Ema Datsi, which is Bhutanese-owned and -operated, inevitably also offers menu items from neighboring Tibet and India. Though I'm eager to try the restaurant's version of traditional Bhutanese buckwheat noodles, I'm also intrigued by the housemade gyuma, a Tibetan blood sausage filled with tsampa.
Dim sum at SizzleMe won't remind you of dim sum in Chinatown. The dining room has just one aisle, and (discounting the dessert selection) the dim sum service has just one cart, wheeled over only on request. But it's hard to beat for an inexpensive introduction ($3.50 per dish) to Pinoy, or Filipino, food. Shown in the first photo below: menudo and ampalaya, or pork stew and bitter melon.
Also: sizzling sisig ($12) chopped pork belly and pig ear grilled with chili pepper and onion (for two dollars more, turn it into tuna-belly sisig); a carnivore-friendly version of the noodle dishes known as pancit; tortang talong (not shown, $6), an especially "meaty" eggplant omelette; pinakbet ($10), a vegetable dish that, typical for the cuisine, is not purely vegetarian. The squash, okra, string beans, and bitter melon were cooked with a pork-and-shrimp paste; fried anchovies mingled throughout.
Rice inside bamboo brings to mind khao lam, a Thai treat that is grilled, often en masse. The Filipino puto bumbong, by contrast, is traditionally steamed over a lansungan, a small-batch device that requires continual hands-on attention. Like many dishes associated with the Christmas season, puto bumbong might be considered too much trouble to prepare on a whim. Except during the holidays, the lansungan probably sits in the back of the pantry.
Puto bumbong is prepared from a naturally purple variety of sticky rice; food coloring is only a fallback. The rice is soaked overnight, then run through a blender or grinder. The resulting fine-grained product is loaded into a section of bamboo that's been wrapped in cloth, to insulate fingers from heat, and set atop the lansungan. During several minutes of steaming, the bamboo is inverted once, so the rice cooks more evenly, then the bamboo is removed and the rice, extracted. (At the Bayanihan festival, the blade used for this step had also been fashioned from a section of bamboo.) The cooks reload and repeat; customers like me walk off with soft, purple sticky rice dressed with margarine, brown sugar, and grated coconut.
Also shown, all on the savory side: bicol express and binagoongan, two pork dishes cooked with shrimp paste; lengua, beef tongue stew that would have been as delicious with nokedli as it was over white rice; bopis. A vinegary dish that reportedly pairs well with beer, bopis is often prepared from minced pork lung and heart; this version was made with pork liver and, perhaps, a few chewy bits of stomach.
Tortang talong, like other Filipino tortas, is often branded an omelet but is actually a weighty eggplant frittata — a generous lunch for one when you figure in the customary plate of white rice. As in a similar dish at the exemplary Mama Meena's (it appears about halfway through that restaurant's slideshow), the stem ends of the roasted, skinned, flattened talong are left attached. At one time this practice may have vouched for the use of fresh eggplant; nowadays, I suspect, leaving the stems on is simply part of Filipino kitchen lore.
This version, tortang talong with giniling ($9.75), is "cooked with ground pork and shrimp," the menu explained. Whole shrimp were not in sight; my server later elaborated that they're ground together with the pork, bestowing the faintest of seafood flavors on the resulting pale product. Indeed, giniling is often described not in terms of surf-and-turf but simply as ground meat or as hamburger, which suits the condiment pairing, tomato ketchup.
Pancit is the name for Chinese noodles that long ago were assimilated into Filipino culture. Many varieties, such as pancit palabok, rely heavily on the flavors of the Philippines. Pancit Canton ($6.95), by contrast, still evokes its namesake. Essentially this is a pork lo mein with cabbage, carrots, and mushrooms, although the noodles are chopped into short segments and lemon wedges are provided on the side. The dish as a whole also carries a gentle undercurrent, via the Manila-raised chef, of Datu Puti soy sauce.
Also shown, from a previous visit: a jackfruit turron (on the house).