"Soup's On!" - Mami Soup at Asian Noodles (review with photolink)
With the weather getting cooler, I was definitely looking forward to warming myself up with wintertime soups and stews, so my friend and I thought it'd be fun to organize outings to restaurants that specialize in certain kinds of entree soups, ethnic and otherwise.
With me being Filipina, I wanted to introduce people to a Chinese-inspired, Filipino soup called Mami. First, a little history that I picked up from Wikpedia.
Mami is the creation of Ma Mon Luk, a grade school teacher in Canton. Arriving penniless in Manila, Ma Mon Luk decided to peddle chicken noodle soup, utilizing egg noodles. He soon became a familiar sight in the streets of Manila, plodding down with a long bamboo pole slung on his shoulders with two metal containers on each end. Ma Mon Luk himself called his concoction "gupit", after the Tagalog word for "cut with scissors". Soon however, Filipinos took to calling the dish "mami", an amalgam of Tagalog words for chicken ("manok") and egg noodles ("miki"). Ma Mon Luk also introduced siopao, a steamed bun, which is like the Chinese bao, to Filipino culture and generally, the siopao is eaten as a side to the mami soup.
Anyway, I took the group to experience mami soup at Asian Noodles in Chinatown. While mami is still made up of chicken broth and noodles, you have meat options other than chicken. Now you can get mami soup with beef, pork or won ton. I opted for the Classic Filipino Mami, which has chicken and pork.
My mami soup was excellent. The broth was flavorful with the green onions adding just the right amount of zip. The noodles were cooked just right and not overdone and the meat was tender. What was nice is that they also put out a couple of bowls of extra broth so as you ran out, you could add more to your mami.
Along with the mami, I had the bola bola siopao, which had a filling of chicken, pork, sausage and salted egg. You can also order siopao with just chicken or pork fillings.
In regards to the siopao fillings, regardless of what type of meat is used, the filling tends to be on the sweet side. Usually, the siopao meat mixture has sugar and soy sauce as part of its ingredients. I think the combo of the two gives siopao a unique sweet-salty flavor. That sweet-salty flavor also gets carried into the sauce that the siopao is dipped in since it is also made up of sugar, soy sauce along with other ingredients. What I like about the bola bola siopao is that the sausage and the salted egg will cut down the sweetness of the filling even more, so that when I break off a piece to dip it in the siopao sauce, all the flavors are balanced well.
By the way, an interesting thing that the manager told us is that the number of red dots showing up on the siopao will tell you which kind of siopao you have. By the way, Bola Bola siopaos only have one red dot.
Whenever I eat mami, I'm reminded me of those moments growing up as a kid, when the rainy season would come and when my Mom didn't feel like cooking, she'd pile the whole family in the car and we'd head off for a steaming hot bowl of Mami soup at a local Filipino restaurant. No words were needed as we enjoyed each spoonful to the last drop. Essentially, mami soup is really just another version of chicken noodle soup, but regardless of what name it goes by, it's good comfort food that will warm you from the inside out and it certainly did its job that evening.
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643 N Spring St
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I've had the mami and siopao at Asian Noodles and I thought the mami wasn't very interesting. But then, I'm not Filipina so I didn't really know what to expect. In fact, I think I automatically compare Filipino food to other Southeast Asian cuisines and just expect it to be more assertive. I've gone to Asian Noodles downtown and the Glendale location (which is significantly grimier and smaller and has a C rating!!). I think the second time I got wonton-noodle combo. The dumplings had good flavor, but they were weirdly hard... like compressed Spam.
I'm still not sure what Filipino food is about - Abby, I really liked your review of Alejandro's and am looking forward to checking it out. It seems like I should go out on a limb and try stuff like milkfish and sinigang, which elmomonster has written about.
Mami soup isn't really meant to be "assertive" so to speak. Just think of it as a very good chicken soup. Another Filipino soup which has a more flavorful profile because of what is added to it after it has been cooked is chicken arroz caldo. In Spanish, Arroz means rice and Caldo means hot, but despite it's Spanish name, this dish is actually the Filipino version of Chinese congee or porridge. This rice porridge is usually cooked with chicken, ginger and green onions. When the rice is done, that's when the fun begins.
Once it's in your bowl, you can add any or all of the following ingredients, white pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce or a squeeze of calamnsi, which looks like a tiny orange, but has a tart lime and citrusy flavor. It's really great comfort soup and one my Mom also makes for the family when the weather starts to get colder. Chicken arroz caldo is definitely the soup to order when you want something with more zing.
As for Filipino food, if anything can be called true fusion food, it's Filipino food. There's a lot of various influences from other countries that makes Filipino cuisine what it is today. You'll see Malay influences in Filipino dishes that are cooked with coconut milk. Chinese influence comes in the form of lumpia (egg rolls), pansit (fried noodles), siopao (bao) and so much more. Than there's Spanish and Mexican influence. For example, relleno, the process of stuffing festive capons and turkeys for Christmas in Spain, was applied to chickens, and even to bangus, the silvery milkfish. Even the Mexican corn tamal turned Filipino by becoming rice-based tamales wrapped in banana leaves. There's even American influence, but Filipinos gave some of those foods their own twist. Who else eats fried spam and eggs for breakfast or stir fried canned corned beef with onions?
It's very difficult to put Filipino food under any kind of classification because it really is a mixture of different things. What I really find fascinating about Filipino cuisine is how they took those outside influences and adapted them to their own tastes and their own flavors.
For example, we got pansit (noodles) from Chinese influence, but depending on what region you're from in the Philippines, you're going to cook that pansit differently. Provinces closer to the sea will have pansit cooked with more seafood. Those areas closer to land will use more land animals.
Also in general, Filipino food tends to veer towards sour, vinegary, tart, a little bit of salty flavors which is why you'll see something like sinigang, which is a tamarind-based soup or chicken adobo which is cooked with soy sauce and vinegar or even the salted eggs, which I eat cut up with tomatoes and rice as its own meal.
In general, once you understand Filipino cuisine, you actually can even understand a little bit about Filipino history based on which countries influenced our foods.
Anyway, I hope that I wasn't too long-winded, but hopefully, my explanation will shed a little more light on Filipino food.