The first time I tried ukoy it was a natural gravitation. I was with my mother at Goldilocks in Eastside San Jose and saw a row of crisp ukoys laying over each other like dominoes and beaming under the orange heat lamps.
I had never tried ukoy before but asked myself — how could they not be good? It looked like a seafood pancake I had ordered at a Korean restaurant. She ordered me one and the rest is history.
When I see episodes of Anthony Bourdain he always seems to have references to “hang over food”. Every country seems to have an addictive, greasy, hang over food to soak up the alcohol from the night before. I’d imagine that in the Philippines, ukoy would be that. Put me in front of a football game with a San Miguel and a couple of ukoy and I’d be in foodie pairing heaven.
Ukoy is essentially a shrimp fritter. A pancake-like batter is made with dried shrimp (because they have more flavor) and a playground of ingredients are added — from the irresistible sweet potato to julienned vegetables like squash. Very carefully this mixture is spooned into crackling hot oil and fried to a crinkly golden crisp. The secret is the texture, which is crunchy but flexible. It’s entertaining for the mouth because morsels are playfully broken down while the savory salinity of the shrimp prevails over all. Plus, I’ll eat just about anything that has shrimp in it. Done deal.
I got this little baby from a market from Western Pacific Filipino Grocery in Sunnyvale, California. Along with ukoy, they also had an array of Filipino snacks and novelty items.
The shop had a box with 2 or three of these left, at around $2/pop. I ate this particular ukoy over three sittings, twice for snacks and once for breakfast. I know — fried food for breakfast…I’m such a bad example. But the one telling quality of Asian food is that dishes are not indicative of parts of the day.
I must be off now…5:45am and the classroom is calling. Have a great Wednesday.