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George Pua, the Modern China man

LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil () - October 21, 2010 - 12:00am

George Pua is a funny and lovable restaurateur who is a BFF or Best Friend Forever of mine. Or should I say Best Friend in Food.

Naturally, I met him during a food event — the opening of his Tony Roma’s restaurant some 15 years ago. I am not a steak fanatic, but nonetheless we have become good friends. First of all, he never runs out of amusing stories. More importantly, he never runs out of delicious food.

Laughter and food are great stress busters, so I often drop by his Modern China restaurant in Glorietta 4 whenever I want to relax before a busy day. We had not seen each other for months, so when I visited George recently, he made up for lost time by treating me to a stress-busting food-tasting session.

George is a natural cook who will whip up a dish at the mere mention of ingredients that you like. “Cooking is something that you have to like,” he reminds me.” You either like it or not. It is a gift that is sharpened over the years, and in my case, it was honed through frequent traveling and eating everywhere, from holes-in-the-wall to grand restaurants.”

The top chef in T-shirt and rubber shoes: George Pua learned to cook from his mother and grandmother when he was 10 years old. And he has never stopped cooking. His Modern China restaurant in Glorietta 4 (near Tony Roma’s) is his kitchen and showcase of all things Chinese and delicious.

George learned to cook at the age of 10 by just observing his mother and his grandmother, who came from Xiamen. “I only have two passions — good food and rubber shoes, which I collect.”

Rubber shoes are what he wears all the time, especially when exploring eating places in China, Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong. George has this habit of ordering as many dishes as he can when dining at an interesting restaurant, just so he can discover more new flavors, and then try cooking these at home.

At a recent food trip in China, he loved a certain dish so much he couldn’t resist going back the next day. Instead of trying to memorize the ingredients and flavor, however, George decided he should do the next best thing — hire the chef!

That chef, along with three others, now form the powerful kitchen crew of his Modern China restaurant. And that certain dish George liked is the Chinese equivalent of our lechon kawali, one of his many bestsellers at present. Modern China is a favorite of Makati businessmen, foodies, local Chinese and our own Chinese Embassy diplomats.

With its walls carrying picturesque views of the Expo in Shanghai and the Olympics in Beijing, eating at Modern China reminds you of your excellent dining experiences in these cities.

My taste buds went on a nostalgic mode when George served a soup that warmed my heart and my tummy — spinach with mushroom soup with just the right addition of crab.

Then came deboned “emperor’s fish” he calls it — exquisitely served on a bed of steamed egg white. So exquisite, it melts in your mouth.

Then still another stress buster: skewered shrimps with just the right chili flavor. How do you manage to have your seafoods so fresh? I ask George. He points the answer to me — his aquarium of live fish, shrimps and crabs.

Sea treasures: The freshest of prawns and crabs fried in salted eggs. Note the decorative sculpted birds by the Chinese chefs.

The crabs came so perfect, so deliciously fried with salted eggs! So delicious I had forgotten to try an assortment of siomai dim sum (priced from P60 up) that are also  Modern China bestsellers. My favorites are the spinach dumpling and the shrimp hakaw, although everyone else’s favorite is the xiao long bao, the soupy pork dumpling.

Popular choices of Modern China regulars are the suckling pig with seafood rolls and chicken bacon cheese rolls (only P780 per half order), the sesame fried chicken and the honey garlic spareribs (only P280). For all day-dining, George says congee and noodle dishes are tops.

   A side dish, which George didn’t expect to be such a hit — because it was meant to be just a usual offering on the table — is Modern China’s peanuts, now selling hot at P100 per take-home order.

Hail to the chefs: Modern China’s powerful kitchen team headed by Henry Sy and chefs Li, Ping and Cao whip up excellent cuisine that local Chinese foodies like.

Vegetarian dishes occupy two full pages in Modern China’s menu, thank God. My super favorites are the beancurd spring roll and the fried beancurd. Both are crispy and utterly the best in town.

For dessert, the durian puff was so refreshing. And so was the watermelon sago (an innovation by George for those who may want something other than the usual mango sago).

For a change from my usual green tea, I chose the genmaicha, which is roasted brown rice tea. What a clean, invigorating taste.

I left Modern China feeling so energized, so happy, so less stressed. Now you know why George Pua is a BFF.

* * *

For inquiries and reservations, call Modern China at 752-8729 and 752-8728 or e-mail modernchina@yahoo.com.

Modern China is located at the ground floor of Glorietta 4, beside the Ascott Hotel entrance.

CHINA GEORGE GEORGE PUA GLORIETTA MDASH MODERN MODERN CHINA TONY ROMA
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