Words by Joseph Cesar
Photos by Jeff Pascual
Who would have known that passion mixed with a highly-valued Chinese chicken dish would see success in the Philippines? Well, certainly not mommy Gemma or her daughter Oi. Unlike most people in the food industry, Wok With Mom was launched as a passion project made for mommy Gemma, as it gave her the opportunity to express her passion and love for cooking while at the same time being able to share that to their close friends and relatives.
Taking a break from work, Oi helped her mom jumpstart it by creating a Facebook page just last March. Without a physical store, they only do deliveries and all orders are to be made 2 days before the event.
At the time, they only had one item on the menu: the 8 Treasure Chicken (八寶雞 ba bau jī)–the dish that started it all. Establishments generally avoid this dish due to the heavy manual labor required. Preparing it needs patience, precision, and speed. Mass producing it would be a taxing burden for commercialized establishments. Not to mention, gathering the proper ingredients in order to make it truly authentic is a difficult task in itself.
Despite the challenges, mommy Gemma and her daughter Oi believed that going an extra mile is exactly what will set them apart from everyone else and they were right in believing so as the dish quickly spread like wildfire. Beginning only with friends and family, it soon reached individuals who really sought out authentic Chinese cuisine. They have since then decided to add a few more dishes on the menu.
Summer Vegetable (Php780)
With everything laid out in front of us, they recommended that we start with something light and gradually move on to heavier dishes. Following that, we started with the Summer Vegetable Wrap (杏仁林春滿 Xìng Lin chūn mǎn) that represents abundant new beginnings. The proper way to eat it is to take some of the vegetable (appropriate to the size of the lettuce) and then use the lettuce as a wrap, creating a small bundle of joy. The wrap was surprisingly tasty given that most of the filling was vegetable with only bits of meat.
Lucky Chinese Meatballs (Php680)
Next, we went for the Lucky Chinese Meatballs (肉丸; ròuwán), symbolizing a happy reunion. I’ve tried lots of meatballs and for the most part, they were quite similar to each other so, I ate one without expecting anything special. However, to my surprise, the meatballs were delicious and more importantly, perfectly cooked- a little tough on the outside and incredibly soft on the inside, giving it bounce on every bite.
Gua Bao Stuffing and Pork knuckle set (Php580)
We then moved on to the Gua Bao stuffing (果阿宝包子 Guǒ ā bǎo bāozi) symbolizing togetherness and new beginnings as well as the Pork knuckles (猪肉; zhūròu), representing strength and wealth. Eating this was an absolute blast! Being able to personally customize your own “wallet bun” allows you to explore a whole spectrum of textures and flavors to keep you on your toes for every bun.
According to mommy Gemma and Oi, the first step is to add the sides (crushed nuts, pickled vegetable, and fresh greens) and stuff them in the bun. You then add meat and sauce from the Pork knuckles into it, and you have your very own mix! Personally, I added a lot of the crushed nuts, giving it a subtle sweetness and also adding texture to the bun.
Eight Treasure Chicken (Php1380)
The second to the last dish was the coveted Eight Treasure Chicken (八寶雞 ba bau jī) symbolizing family togetherness and prosperity. Note that the chicken given to us was smaller given that there were only 3 of us trying the food and so ordering it, you can expect a bigger size. Nonetheless, the chicken was more than we could handle. My spoon cut down the middle of the soft and tender chicken, revealing the mix of sticky rice sourced from Bicol, tons of lotus seeds, and other ingredients. We then coated the whole chicken with a thick sauce, further elevating the dish.
Long Life Noodles (Php680)
Finally, we ended with the Long Life Noodles (面条; miàntiáo) which from its name, symbolizes long life. The noodles were extremely flavorful but what sets it apart from others, is the abundance of toppings. From the picture, one can barely see the noodles through all the other ingredients that bury it.
In between the tea breaks and conversations over the table, I was able to see their passion for cooking. On occasion, they would grab a bite with us but for the most part, they seemed more than satisfied seeing how happy we were with the food that they prepared for us. “I love to watch people eat,” Mommy Gemma said with a smile. Mommy Gemma is very hands-on and cooking all the food can be quite tiring. Fortunately, she has Maripe and Cherry to help her.
At the end of the day, the delicious, authentic dishes filled our stomachs, but it was their passionate stories that filled out hearts.
Left to right (Cherry, Maripe, Mommy Gemma, Oi)