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Snacking on mantou, eggs, and history

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Mabuhay Palace serves up highly creative snacks to satisfy the sweet tooth

For some reason, China's mantou bread has figured in anecdotes handed down through many generations.

My favorite one has to do with the mantou's shape, which is supposed to be similar to a man's head!

The story begins during one of China's most turbulent periods, the Three Kingdoms; a period from 220–280 that has provided historical (and fictional) fodder for books, operas, films, and even video games.

One of the three kingdoms or states named in the historic period was called Shu
(), a frequent victim of their southern rivals called Nanman (南蠻). The words 'nan man' mean 'southern barbarians.'

The Shu prime minister had several challenges to face in the wake of the Nanman assaults, foremost of which was the Lushui River that prevented one retreat after winning a victory over the barbarians.

The Lushui was said to be poisonous and the tribe that lived by it was infected with malaria. After the prime minister's troops were able to capture some of the invading Nanman, there was a clamor to behead the prisoners and offer the heads to pacify the god of the Lushui. The act of throwing men's heads into the river was an old barbaric tradition.

The prime minister refused to heed the barbaric clamor. Instead, he brought some culinary creativity to bear down on the matter. He had the Shu bakers make a bun called mantou (
蠻頭), literally 'barbarian's head,' which was said to represent the Nanman's heads. The Shu used the mantou as a sacrifice to the Lushui god.

The bun became a popular staple of the Northern Chinese, who were nonetheless too squeamish to eat something called barbarian's head. They promptly dropped the first character and replaced it to spell mantou (
饅頭) the way it is spelled today.

The way the mantou is served at Manila Hotel's Mabuhay Palace made me forget all about its history amid my sweet tooth's clamor. For one thing, the Mabuhay Palace's Deep-fried Mantou Bread is fried to golden brown.

With its crispy outer layer that was, surprisingly, not greasy, it was the perfect texture of bread to dip into each of the three sauces:
ube (purple yam), leche (milk), and strawberry. The crisp layer absorbed just enough of each dip to make every bite delectable.

Chef Josephine 'Joie' Candelaria says she usually dreams up the dishes she serves her diners. As soon as she wakes up from each culinary reverie, she tries out the dish in her kitchen. If it tastes good, you will find it on the menu of Mabuhay Palace.

Another creative concoction that satisfied my sweet tooth—and went amazingly delish with the mantou one morning—was the
Basic Scrambled Egg with Chinese Sausage. The reason? Chef serves it with three spreads: jam, butter, and peanut butter!

Chef says her favorite spread for the scrambled egg is peanut butter. I proceed to try it. Although I think almost anything would be yummy slathered in peanut butter, I must admit this combo actually tastes like genuine fusion haute cuisine. Maybe it helps that Chef imports the Chinese chorizo from Hong Kong.

When you order these two dishes, try cutting open a mantou bun and sandwiching a bit of egg. Then, experiment with dipping, spreading, or combining a pat of ube, peanut butter, condensed milk, etc. for some do-it-yourself fusion cuisine. You will be pleasantly surprised that everything goes well together. The secret is all in the perfectly baked mantou bun.

Print ed: 09/10


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