New York scallops in a Bay Area cook book

By Federico A. Espiritu

Rene Astudillo’s “My Bay Kitchen: Memories of My Homeland, Travels and More” cook book will not be complete without a scallop dish he first tasted in New York in one of his frequent travels.

Broiled Scallops with Sautéed Garlic Spinach is one of the dishes that found its way into this collection of classic Filipino food recipes, gustatory blogs, dining travelogue and restaurant reviews. The author said this dish was memorable because it could be prepared in as little as five minutes.

Since immigrating to the United States in 1987, Astudillo said he has visited 30 of the 50 states, and New York is one of his most-frequently visited.

“Whenever I visited a state for the first time, I would always try to learn facets of the state’s history, culture and symbols, among other things,” he told The FilAm. “U.S. states have adopted various insignias, anywhere from state birds to state flowers. Some states have even adopted their own state shells! New York’s state shell is the scallop shell, an insignia that reminds me of two places I have lived in the past – the Philippines and Hawaii.”

The first time he came across a scallop dish, he confessed he wasn’t aware that scallops come from a shell. “But I certainly enjoyed – and still do – its meat.”

Over the years he has relished a variety of dishes with scallops, but the memory of his first encounter with this marine meat always comes to mind. Astudillo’s book debuted in December at the Bayanihan Community Center in San Francisco.

Astudillo said his book is meant to appeal to nostalgic palates of expatriates like himself who have to patiently scour for substitute ingredients whenever they feel the pangs of homesickness. But such challenges often result in improvised blends and taste that are sometimes better than the original concoctions.

The executive director of the Lupus Foundation of Northern America based in Silicon Valley, Astudillo dabbles in gourmet cooking and writes about his kitchen discoveries in his food blog called Bay Kitchen. His initiation to cooking comes from watching his mother prepare meals for the family when he was a young boy growing up in Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines. He said his mother never followed recipe books, only her instincts and the lessons learned from watching her own mother.

“The best dishes are the ones that are passed on by word of mouth and practice, perfected not by measuring cups or kitchen timers, but by intuition and the pouring of one’s heart into the cooking,” Astudillo said.

Each recipe in “My Bay Kitchen” comes with cherished stories of Astudillo’s coming-of-age. The snack Binatog – or boiled corner kernels sprinkled with shaved coconut – brings back memories of afternoon siestas interrupted by the ambulant vendor on wooden carts; the Seafood Sisig is his family’s cholesterol-free version of the Pampanga appetizer blending chopped seafood instead of the original pork belly and pig snout; the Seafood Black Rice is unmilled brown rice from China or Thailand – also known as “forbidden rice” – a name that seemed to titillate the craving.

Author R. Zamora Linmark, who wrote the foreword, said this around-the-world cookbook is reminiscent of endless cooking and traveling with loved ones. “Taking you from Filipino favorites like Pancit and Chicken Adobo to Indonesia’s Nasi Goreng and Vietnam’s Claypot Catfish, (the book) offers a delightfully warm account of the delicious international adventures at his stove. The recipes will entice along with the travel tales which he garnishes each dish.”

Astudillo, a journalist, was a radio newscaster in Baguio and wrote for national and community publications in the Philippines, Hawaii and San Francisco. He served as executive director of the Asian American Journalists Association from 1999 to 2008. He is a member of the Association of Food Bloggers.

“My Bay Kitchen” will launch January 8 at Brian’s Tutorship Center in Baguio City; on January 11 at the Lemon Tree Inn in Quezon City and on January 12 at the ING Direct Café in Hawaii. A New York book signing is in the works.

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