Birchermüesli: simplicity among extravagance
How does Paradise become Purgatory? When a vulnerable appetite is tempted to acts of Dantesque gluttony by an otherworldly array of food, that's how.
Such was the diner's dilemma that I faced at the Shangri-La Hotel's breakfast buffet in Makati City, Philippines a few weeks ago. Oh, the food! As far as the eye could see (at least, to the far wall) was a display of chow so luxuriant that I was convinced I had indeed stumbled upon the namesake utopia of James Hilton's Lost Horizon. But as it turned out, a more appropriate literary analogy was Aligheiri's Divine Comedy: I had entered the infernal Circles, Shangri-la's 'theatre-kitchen' café, where enticing international breakfast fare mocked the pious yogurt-and-granola daily regimen of my non-vacation life.
After the final plate was cleared, there wasn't a fig leaf large enough to cover my shameful gorging in this Garden of Eating.
Asian sampler: sashimi, bangus and sambhar
Circles' cornucopia offered everything from sushi and dim sum to parathas and pancakes. In a global journey along the buffet line, I giddily chose between Indian sambhar and idli, American bacon and eggs, and Filipino bangus and sinangag (garlic fried rice). It was a microcosm of breakfast traditions from different cultures that challenged patrons to reconsider what constitutes typical morning fare. Bowls of crunchy cereal and pitchers of cold milk stood alongside steaming pots of miso, arroz caldo and ramen noodle soups. For those who preferred more protein-y options, there were Weisswurst and longanisa sausages, corned beef hash, smoked salmon and eggs cooked to order, all of which were equally enjoyable with toasted slices of whole-grain bread or a scoopful of scented jasmine rice.
Sinfully Circles' tempting treats
And then there was Sinfully Circles, a mirror-walled annex whose name tacitly acknowledged the temptations within: breads, pastries, cakes and chocolates of various shapes and flavors adding sweet, buttery, cocoa-licious insult to caloric injury.
But I only had eyes for the kakanin, an assortment of traditional Filipino treats made with whole or ground rice. Between the gaily-colored mochi balls, the striking stripes of sapin-sapin, the deep purple of ube haleya and my absolute favorite, sweet-sticky-scrumptious biko (rice cake topped with latik, or coconut jam), I simply could not resist having dessert for breakfast every day. It proved to be my fall from grace.
What Goes Around Makes Me Round
The restaurant's name, theme and much of the food were quite fitting for the upcoming New Year festivities as circles, spheres and rings are considered auspicious symbols of prosperity (coins) and completion (coming full circle), borrowed from Chinese tradition and incorporated into Filipino celebration.
(Clockwise from top left) Donuts, mochi balls, fresh juice and sushi rolls
Although I grew up participating in these practices, I was surprised to find just how deeply ingrained they were: without conscious thought, I often found my plate filled with these lucky shapes. Less fortuitously, said plate was constantly full for the next 10 days as I made the seemingly endless loop from table to food stations and back again.
By the time our stay at Shangri-La was over, my belly had taken on the soft, pillowy roundness of the freshly-baked pandesal I couldn't resist buttering each morning. Of the 4 pairs of jeans in my vacation wardrobe, only the spandex-blend pair still fit by trip's end. Thank goodness for loose tunics and black yoga pants - I would return home plump, yes, but at least semi-stylish.
I knew better than to lose myself in a buffet, yet the will proves weak when it finds itself in a room filled with delectables crying out, "Eat me!" Like falling asleep in a fairy ring, entering the realm of all-you-can-eat can turn into a nutritional trap and much like a wicked spell, the lure of bottomless dishes is, according to behavioral researchers, powerful and subconsciously irresistible. But that's for my next post.
In the meantime, let me leave you with the hint of hope that I found among the decadent food in Circles - Birchermüesli, a creamy concoction that made me feel indulgent yet faithful to my aforementioned morning mainstay of yogurt and granola. Though it didn't quite stem the overeating, it did help to bring me back down to earth.
Never mind how it came to be that my first taste of this Swiss cereal dish was in the Philippines - it only matters that I did and that I love it! Also known as Bircher-Benner müesli, this luscious, healthy meal was the creation of Swiss physician and nutrition pioneer Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867-1939), whose original recipe for a simple mixture of raw oats, apple and nuts soaked overnight in sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice has evolved over the years to become a worldwide breakfast favorite. Today, müesli may be readily found pre-packaged at the grocery store but can be made just as easily from scratch at home.
I put together this müesli with ingredients in my pantry (although I do have a bag of Bob's Red Mill Müesli on hand) and instead of condensed milk or cream and lemon juice, I used yogurt and orange juice. Like most of today's müesli recipes, it differs from Dr. Bircher-Benner's original creation in specific ingredients but remains faithful in its simple essence - a delicious way to say "Magandang umaga!" (Good morning!)
Basic Birchermüesli for One
These ingredients and measurements are flexible so feel free to substitute and to increase amounts as needed for the servings desired.
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 Tbsp sliced almonds
1 Tbsp dried cranberries, chopped into small bits
1/4 cup plain, lowfat yogurt
1/4 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp grated or finely chopped fresh apple (I used Fuji)
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients (except apple and cinnamon) and stir until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. To serve, top with grated apple and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
If you'd like to try some of the wonderful fare I enjoyed at Shangri-La's Circle Café, check out these great recipes from a few of my favorite bloggers:
Sinangag (Garlic Fried Rice) from Joelen at What's Cookin', Chicago?
Longanisa from Marvin at Burnt Lumpia
Daifuku (Mochi with Adzuki Bean Paste) from Divina at Sense & Serendipity
Biko from Marketman at Market Manila
Pandesal from The Beancounter