Friday, January 6, 2012

How ant eggs and sashimi can kill you

Tonight I had dinner with three 20-something guys. Who would've thought that would be so much fun? Certainly not I, as I'm more used to hanging around guys a generation or two older than me rather than younger. But tonight we laughed and talked and got inspired with all sorts of ideas for travel, for life, and for Travelife Magazine.

Our host for the evening was Kian Kazemi, a half-Iranian and half-Filipino guy who's pretty famous in his own right since he used to host a backpacker-type travel show and he's been in Big Brother as well. He'd done both just for fun, and they'd been very good experiences for him.

Anyway I'd met him at a party sometime back and we'd always talked about having dinner in his restaurant; but you know how it is with cocktail party chatter -- you say "let's meet up again" or "let's have dinner soon" and nothing really happens. It's just a polite way of saying goodbye.

The platter of roasted meats was delicious,
especially with the garlic sauce and the chopped tomatoes

Eggplant stuffed with rice cooked with lentils & spices


In this case, however, it wasn't really just a polite goodbye because Kian really meant it. But life was crazy in the last months of last year and I was lucky if I had even a spare couple of hours for anything not involving a Travelife. But this year -- and it's only been a few days into 2012 -- it was probably Fate that we had dinner today. A couple of texts and good timing had lots to do with it -- good timing is everything, isn't it? -- and I finally made it to his restaurant Persia Grill tonight.

The decor at Persia Grill

Persia Grill has many outlets but tonight we went to the one in Legazpi Village, just opposite Greenbelt 5. It's on the casual side although it's tastefully done up so that you can come here for a date or a nice dinner. Prices aren't cheap but they're inexpensive, especially for Makati.

Now you might be wondering where the Persian connection comes in, although I've already mentioned that Kian's half-Iranian. His father is Iranian and his mother is Filipina, but even she's learned to cook Iranian food so the cuisine here are real family recipes. Kian himself likes to cook when he's not busy doing a hundred other things.

And my visit was just in time, too, because I'd been hankering for Middle Eastern-type of food for the past few days after endless dinners involving the usual Filipino holiday fare or else everyone's favorite food of last resort: Chinese. So what I really wanted to have tonight were a lamb biryani, a couple of kebabs, and lots of hummus.

The hummus platter

The guys loved the fried ox brains

Well, I got what I wanted. We left the ordering to Kian and he asked for the house specialties -- although he left out a couple of things to encourage us to return and have dinner again. But we had everything I was pining for, plus a couple of other exotic things that Kian and the two other guys I was with seemed to enjoy a lot: ox brains fried to a crisp, almost like sisig, and served with calamansi and bread.

Wow. I stuck to my lamb biryani and let the guys fight it out for the ox brains. But they really liked it and apparently it's one of the most popular things on the menu.

My favorite was the lamb biryani
with fried white onions
and a great gravy sauce to pour over the lamb and rice


Another thing I really liked was the conversation. Gossip and talking about other people bore me to death, but I'm all ears when someone is telling me about his or her own life. And Kian, who's been all over the Philippines while shooting his tv show, had lots of interesting adventures to tell. Almost as many as us.

Good old-fashioned Iranian soup


One of the most fascinating was his tale of eating ant eggs somewhere up North in the Philippines. He told me the place but for some reason I simply can't recall it now. All I remember is him saying that eating ant eggs is a really interesting sensation that's almost like caviar because the eggs burst in your mouth.

Unfortunately he had an allergic reaction to ant eggs, which he only found out that night. Of course. Not too many people will have opportunities in their life to find out they're allergic to ant eggs. But at 1 AM he suddenly couldn't breathe, and he had to be rushed to the hospital nearby, in the middle of nowhere. I was horrified at the thought.

"You're lucky you were near a hospital," I said. "And you're so lucky they actually had medication for that sort of thing." We all know what a hospital in the middle of nowhere in the Philippines can be like, after all.

"They had the medication on hand," he told me. "Apparently quite a lot of tourists have this allergic reaction so they know what to do." They'd stuck an IV in his arm and in a couple of hours he was fine. But what a story. Of course I'm never eating ant eggs.


Then it was my turn to tell a story, and I told them about fugu, the blowfish delicacy that is so prized in Japan as a winter dish. Kian is thinking of visiting Japan so this story came to mind.

Blowfish is terribly expensive in Japan because only licensed practitioners can cut it up and serve it sashimi-style to the general public. The other popular ways of eating blowfish are in a stew (nabe) or deep-fried. But it's the sashimi-style that's the risky way of eating. It's strictly regulated because the some of the blowfish's parts are actually poisonous (especially the liver), and an inexperienced slicer may end up not cutting the fish meat up properly to get rid of the toxic parts, and kill someone as a result.

Every year, a couple of people in Japan do die from eating blowfish, although mostly the death cases are from people who've caught a blowfish themselves or managed to get one somehow, and then also cut it up themselves for private consumption. Just a few years ago, a famous TV personality actually died from eating blowfish, although I think a restaurant was involved in that case.

They laughed when I told them that the lousy blowfish slicers serve you blowfish meat sashimi-style that's either bland or deadly. The most expert slicers will leave just a little bit of the toxic stuff on the fish so that you get a tingle in your tongue from the poison when you eat the fish, but that tingle isn't enough to kill you. The lousy slicers will serve you fish meat without a tingle so it's so bland, or with too much tingle that you're dead by morning.

We also talked about life philosophies and what it takes to be a success in life. All very interesting, especially with cups of aromatic Persian tea that apparently Iranians drink all day.


The food at Persia Grill was great, and apparently they do catering jobs as well. And when they cater, they do the works including bringing over some carpets, a water pipe, and even a samovar if you want one. They can even fix up your living room to look like an Arabian Nights souk or a Moroccan palace, lining it from wall to wall with beautiful silk carpets. And they have a whole range of silk carpets because one of Kian's dad's businesses is a carpet shop that caters to a very upmarket clientele. He recently outfitted the offices of a very big businessman every person in Manila has heard of, and he had to fly to Iran just to do that.

And speaking of silk carpets, my friend J and I had another one of our long and frank conversations via BBM this morning -- and ironically it began with a silk carpet shop. Without even a "good morning," he'd sent me a BBM at about 930 AM today that went straight to the point:

"Mesgarzadeh is MY favorite carpet shop, NOT yours," he messaged, referring to my recent blog entry about a month of eating (July 2011) that included a photo of the finest carpet shop in the Dubai Mall. They sell top-quality silk carpets and they can be rather snooty if they don't think you're there to buy. "I told you about Mesgarzadeh," he stressed.

I sent him a smiley face and typed out: "I put that in just to check if you're still reading my blog. Even without anything about you in it."

Best wishes for a wonderful weekend from all of us at TRAVELIFE Magazine.

Prince Plaza 2
Legaspi St. corner De La Rosa St.,
Legazpi Village, Makati
Tel. 403-9999

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