The best drunk-munchie meal of my life…brought to you by Tocino

If you haven’t noticed, things have been sort of quiet here at Filipinofoodproject.com. Part of that was the lack of a camera, which rather depressed my efforts to expound on some of my latest Filipino truths and trials.

But we are back and running and happy to report that I am sitting on the futon, watching Caillou with my daughter, and full off of an amazing plate of Tocino from Toppings Tree Restaurant in Santa Clara. Their tocino is grilled, not fried. And AMAZING.

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I was reading some remarks about tocino and was humored by one blogger, who wolfed down a portion of tocino as if “making up for lost years of never knowing about it.” That’s exactly how I felt when I ate tocino for the first time in a long time in 2009.

I was in San Francisco with some friends and we had some late night munchies after going out to a club. A friend of mine just happened to be Filipino and recommended a donut shop that was open around 1am that also served Filipino food. Why not? She ordered tocino…which I hadn’t had since childhood. I asked to try a little and the flavor just made my heart soar and my veins sing. It was a reconnection of sorts; an instinctual penchant for this dish, a return home to culinary essence. It was as if I had rekindled a romance with a dish I had forgotten about. It was the best drunk food experience I have ever had.

It is the Filipino breakfast that makes me appreciate something else: the patchwork of textures in a dish. In a Filipino breakfast textures are clearly defined — and it begins with the egg. It’s gelatin-like white background, its soft, somewhat runny, two-toned yellow yolk. Paired with crunchy, pronounced garlic rice, a tomato, and sweetened, cured meat (tocino), the barrage of flavors is enough to make your tongue feel like its just tried the most creative, edible palate. Add in the vinegar and raw garlic that is a popular condiment; the experience just continues to heighten.

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The people of the house found this dish irresistible, and even my daughter did a little dance when she sampled the first bite. “Mo’ beef!!!” She kept saying (I guess she has rendered ever meat dish = “beef”)

“Do you like it?”

“AHs!!!!” (her word for yes) She kept asking for the “big piece” and would crumple up in cries when I’d only allow her the smaller, doable pieces; more fit for a 2-year-old.

Tocino = bacon in Spanish

Tocino has different renderings in other countries (see: Spain, Caribbean, etc.) But in the Philippines, it is similar to bacon in that a) it’s a pork breakfast meat, and b) it’s cured.

Cured meat is both a food preservation process and a flavoring process that is ancient as they come. Salt, sugar and nitrates are rubbed into the meat as means of preserving it. Salt helps prevents the growth of bacteria by drawing the water out and slowing down the oxidation process.

However, while bacon is more of a salt-forward, savory flavored meat, tocino is much more decadent and sweet-flavored. In fact, when done right tocino tastes like some delightful, never-before-tried-and-never-thought-it-would-taste-good-until-now…candied meat. It’s flavor is so overpowering and enticing that it has a lot of forgiveness embedded in it: I can only compare the feeling to eating something so vigorously without even thinking (or minding) about what it actually is. I could be eating guinea pig and I wouldn’t care. The awareness of such a flavor existing is enough to forget about what prejudices you may have towards silly things like substance.

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What is Tocino made of?

The process usually involves scrubbing the meat with an assortment of spices (salt, sugar, vinegar, onion, garlic) and letting the meat marinate for 3-5 days. To get the trademark red color, natural red food coloring is often used but historically saltpeter was used. Many people revert to the food coloring because saltpeter has proven to have some detrimental health effects.  After 3-5 days, the meat is fried either by itself (no need for extra oil, there is oil in the meat) or in a little bit of water.

Sometimes, it is also sweetened by pineapple juice or Sprite (which is a very typical sweetening agent, as my own grandfather would include Sprite in BBQ marinades and I never knew why…until now!)

Tocino is often served as a tapsilog,the traditional Filipino breakfast set consisting of (tapa = meat, sinangang = garlic rice, and itlog = egg). Hence: tap-si-log. The tocino tapsilog is known as: TOSILOG.

Still curious about Tocino? Here are some recipes/external links to explore:

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