If you're missing The Manila Machine, a jaunty orange truck that once roamed L.A. dispensing Filipino food, there's good news.
You can still have the truck's top sellers, including sticky glazed carabao wings, lumpia, a spicy sizzling pork dish called sisig, and pork belly and pineapple adobo. The catch is, you have to make them yourself.
You can do this, because former truckster Marvin Gapultos has just produced his first cookbook, and it includes the recipes. Out this May, it's The Adobo Road Cookbook (Tuttle Publishing, $19.95). The subtitle is “A Filipino Food Journey — From Food Blog, to Food Truck, and Beyond,” which summarizes his career.
Gapultos started the popular Burnt Lumpia blog to document his early forays into Filipino cookery. (“At the time, I was such a novice Filipino cook that I always burned at least one spring roll when making a batch,” is how he explains the title.) The blog led to the truck, which debuted in June, 2010. Now Gapultos has moved “beyond,” with one book out and more planned.
Sadly, the truck is gone for good. “I got the cookbook deal, and I didn't think I could do both at the same time,” he says. Another reason: “My commute was horrible.”
Gapultos lives with his wife and young son in Mira Loma in Riverside County. The truck kept him on the road full time, cooking from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, stocking up on Filipino ingredients at favorite shops in Panorama City, and bracketing each day with the ride to and from Mira Loma. This lasted less than a year. The truck was off the streets by April, 2011.
Now Gapultos is a work-at-home dad. From a Filipino-American kid who wouldn't eat his mom's pinakbet and sinigang, he has become an expert with ideas that sometimes veer from tradition. He turns chicken adobo into a pot pie, uses Filipino garlic sausage to make Scotch eggs, and creates a creamy risotto from a Filipino classic of squash and long beans cooked in coconut milk and served over rice.
The thrust of the book, though, is traditional, with a strong input from Ilocos Norte in the Philippines, where his family originated. Gapultos' culinary mentors were his mother, his grandmother and his grandmother's sisters, and some of their recipes are in the book. But mostly it's “how I cook,” he says.
Rather than exotic and difficult, the recipes are surprisingly easy. To help those tackling Filipino food for the first time, Gapultos provides a guide to ingredients and utensils that includes photos and brand names.
The cover shows the carabao wings, a tongue-in-cheek variation on buffalo wings (carabao is the Filipino water buffalo). Like the other photos in the book, it's professional and attractive. And, surprise, Gapultos took the photos himself, although he had to master a complex camera and learn food styling from scratch. He's done so well, you practically want to eat the page with the photo of his oven-baked sweet potato fries.
His book should help to popularize a cuisine that has never penetrated the mainstream. Why Filipino restaurants haven't taken off in Los Angeles is hard to figure. “I don't think there's an easy answer,” Gapultos says, observing that New York and San Francisco have first rate Filipino places. One reason is that Filipinos aren't attuned to eating out. “Our food is so based on family. We're used to eating at home,” he says.
Another is loyalty to family customs. “We're so proud, we tend to stick with what we know,” he says, meaning someone else's adobo will fall flat because it's not like mom's.
Here's an adobo that's definitely not like mom's, because Gapultos puts in red wine vinegar and red wine, which are not typically used in this dish. It's one of nine recipes in the adobo chapter.
Red Wine and Short Ribs Adobo
From: The Adobo Road Cookbook, by Marvin Gapultos
1 tablespoon oil
3 pounds bone-in beef short ribs (about 6-8 meaty short ribs)
1 large onion, diced
8 to 10 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of a knife and peeled
1 cup dry red wine
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup soy sauce
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Water, to cover
1. Heat the oil in a large, deep, nonreactive pot over moderately high heat. Season the short ribs on all sides with the salt, and then add the short ribs to the pot in batches. Cook the short ribs until brown and crusty on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the short ribs to a large platter and set aside.
2. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pot, and then return the pot to medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion just begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and pour in the red wine, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Simmer the red wine for 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Add the red wine vinegar, soy sauce, bay leaves and the coarsely ground black pepper to the pot. Return the short ribs, along with any accumulated juices from the platter, to the pot. Add enough water to the pot to just barely cover the short ribs, and then bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low, and then cover and simmer for at least 2 hours, turning the ribs occasionally to ensure even cooking. While the ribs are simmering, be sure to skim off and discard any fat that rises to the surface of the cooking liquid. The ribs are done when they are fork-tender and falling off the bone.
4. Skim any remaining fat that may have risen to the surface of the cooking liquid, and then transfer the short ribs to a large platter and set aside. Increase the heat to high and bring the liquid in the pot to a boil. Continue boiling until the liquid is reduced to about 2 cups — this can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on how much water was previously added. Discard the bay leaves and taste the sauce; adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed.
5. Serve the short ribs with steamed white rice, and drizzle some of the sauce over the ribs and rice.
Read more from Barbara Hansen at TableConversation.com, EatMx.com, @foodandwinegal and Facebook. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.