Tough Cookie Critic’s 10 Best Cookies of 2019

Article by Tough Cookie Critic
Styling by Manila Eat Up and Tough Cookie Critic
Photos by Only The Good Vibes Studio

COOKIES — the classic go-to snack loved by all ages and enjoyed in many ways: warm, cold, dunked in milk, or with scoops of ice cream. My passion for these sweet little treats started not too long ago. During my younger years, I’d be satisfied with any cookie as long as it is sweet and has chocolate in it. There was a time when my sisters would always bake cookies on weekends and holidays for the family, and I would be their official taste tester. That started my obsession with home baked cookies.

If you’re like me with zero baking skills but loves a fresh batch of cookies, then the only option is to go out and buy some. As a stay-at-home mom, I don’t always have the luxury to go to the mall and purchase a box of cookies when the cravings hit. So, I started looking for online bakers thru Instagram and I couldn’t believe there were a ton of them. I tried out a few brands, some were really good and some were meh. Then I got to thinking, why not dedicate a page solely for cookies? That’s when Tough Cookie Critic was born on Instagram.

@ToughCookieCritic is a page where I give my unbiased and unfiltered opinion on all the cookies I come across on the quest to find cookies worth raving about. Having tried over 100 cookie brands for the past few months, I believe I’ve developed an incredible and, I’d like to also think, a credible palate for cookies. To rate the overall quality of each cookie, I use a scale of 1 to 5 — 5-star means exceptional, 3-star means satisfactory, and anything lower means disappointing.  Relatively, there is no absolute best cookie but my goal is to guide everyone to make informed decisions when choosing which cookie to get. This is why I created my list of 10 Best Cookies for this year and divided the cookies into 2 categories — Crunchy & Chewy and Soft & Gooey. So, with my best effort to be fair, accurate, and truthful, here’s my ranked list per category.

CRUNCHY & CHEWY

1. GourmetFinds 

BIG is an understatement when describing GourmetFind’s crowd-pleasing cookies. These muffin-like heavenly baked goods are 4.5-inch wide, almost 1.5-inch thick, and weigh around 170g (6oz) each. It’s loaded with expensive-as-hell Valrhona chocolate and has that perfect slight crunch on the outside and chewy on the inside consistency guaranteed to make you drool from the very first bite up to the last.

Recommended Flavors: Chocolate Chip Walnut and Dark Chocolate Choc Chip

Facebook: GourmetFinds
Contact: +639217622240

2. Moloko Handcrafted Cookies

I am a firm believer of this brand. Moloko Cookies sure do know how to play with ingredients and up the cookie game. From their classic chocolate chip cookies to those out-of-the-ordinary flavors, they seem to get it right every time. Moloko’s NY-Style cookies are to-die-for with its intensely crunchy crust topped with sea salt flakes and delightfully gooey chocolate filling. These 5oz cookies are packed with premium ingredients, mixing 4-5 kinds of chocolate (including Malagos and Valrhona) all in one cookie.

Recommended Flavors: NY-Style Chips n’ Chunx and NY-Style 5-Chocolate

Instagram: @molokocookies

3. Pink Bakery by Ange

When it comes to classic chocolate chip cookies, Pink Bakery by Ange steals the top spot! These palm-sized 100g cookies are perfectly chewy with beautifully browned crisp edges. It is soft in the middle yet firm enough to keep the whole piece together. The dough has an appealing toasty caramelized flavor with an unrefined texture. Its chewy and gooey interior has an ample amount of molten chocolate chips making your every bite satisfyingly chocolatey.

Instagram: @pinkbakerybyange

4. Mo Cookies

These 4.5-inch bigger-than-your-palm cookies have been wildly popular and deserve the spotlight it has been given. Mo’ Cookies currently has 9 flavors, but the Dark Chocolate Macadamia definitely made a mark on me. It has a crisp crunchy edge and chewy center with a toasted brown buttery dough and huge dark chocolate chunks and macadamias visible on top. Bitter, sweet and salty all in one tasty treat!

Instagram: @mocookiesforyou

5. Inglorious Cookies

Inglorious Cookies is a famous cookie brand in Cebu. While it can be quite expensive to ship packages from Cebu to Manila, I assure you it’s worth the expense. Their Aldo cookie (Walnut Chocolate Chip) is the total opposite of their brand name—it’s glorious! A 4.5-inch cookie with golden brown crisp exterior and soft and chewy interior studded with dark chocolate chips. But, the real game changer in this is the walnut. Chopped walnuts in every bite are literally impossible to miss.

Instagram: @ingloriouscookies

 

SOFT & GOOEY

1. D’s Craft Kitchen

Hands down to these cookies! You can never go wrong with any of their 3 flavors. These cookies are perfect in every way: the sweetness, the size, the moistness, the softness, the gooeyness, and the overall taste. Everyone will instantly fall head over heels for D’s Craft Kitchen cookies. I love how it’s not overly done, nothing too over the top or too different. Its simplicity is enticing enough, but the experience in each bite will take you to a whole other level.

Instagram: @dscraftkitchen

2. Keikookies

Keikookies achieved perfection in its own unique way. Its dough clearly sets these cookies apart from the rest: chewy, smooth, soft outside to inside and has a fudge-like consistency. Their 5oz cookie will surely win everyone’s hearts with its distinct, incomparable and mind-blowing texture. All of its flavor has a unique blend of ingredients which makes it irresistibly good and satisfying. Whether classic or not-so-classic flavors, it offers the best of its kind!

Instagram page: @keikookies.ph

3. Sweetsmith

These 100g cookies have good-tasting buttery dough with loads of chocolates and a nice texture. The outside has a subtle crisp thin layer and once you break that layer, your teeth will automatically sink into its soft, moist, and gooey interior. It comes in 6 yum-worthy flavors, but a definite must-try is their Cranberry Oatmeal—a flavor like no other! Whatever kind of cookie you are craving, Sweetsmith has something to offer that will fit your taste.

Instagram page: @sweetsmithmnl

4. Quinn’s Bakery

Quinn’s cookies have a thin crisp exterior and the softest chocolatey interior. It is consistently ultra-rich, thick, dense, and gives a pleasurable melt-in-your-mouth experience. If you are into soft-baked cookies, this is the perfect one for you! Their newest flavor, White Chocolate Macadamia, is definitely not to be missed!

Instagram page: @quinnsbakery

5. Aperitif

This cookie does not look much on the outside, but all the goodness is hiding inside! Aperitif’s Ooey Gooey Chocolate Chip cookie is sinfully rich and gooey and loaded with an obscene amount of chocolate. Heating this up will bring out more of its flavor and edge.

Instagram page: @aperitif_ph

 

That’s the entire ranking for each category. I might create another list for 2020 — who knows? But for now, Manila Eat Up and I would like to encourage all of you to support our local sellers and local brands.

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9 Dishes From Thai BBQ That Made Us Experience Authentic Thai Cuisine

Living in the Philippines means that we’re near other Southeast Asian countries which include Thailand among others. With Thailand being close by, we share the same topography that can translate to growing crops and produce that may be similar or within the family. That’s why when you explore Thai cuisine, you will discover that there are dishes that almost resemble some well-known Filipino fares.

Speaking of Thailand, we’re slated to go to Bangkok a few months from now and planning our itinerary had us craving for authentic Thai food. There are quite a number of good restaurants in the Philippines serving Thai food but if you’re after the genuine Thai cuisine experience, just look for Thai SELECT.

Thai SELECT is a seal of approval granted to Thai restaurants as well as Thai food products around the world that meet very strict standards and criteria of quality and authenticity. Launched by the Royal Thai Government and implemented by the Department of International Trade Promotion Ministry of Commerce, Thai SELECT’s aim is to encourage Thai restaurateurs and food producers to raise their value of excellence while maintaining the authenticity of the Thai food they offer. A special Thai SELECT logo is issued to restaurants that got the quality check mark ensuring diners the experience of authentic Thai flavors, atmosphere, and hospitality.

Since we’re made aware of Thai SELECT, we’re all smiles when we learned that Thai BBQ Original Restaurant in Shangri-La Plaza in Mandaluyong City has been awarded a seal of approval! Soon enough, we found ourselves sitting comfortably in their dining area, excitedly going through their menu.

While we were busy checking out the list of delicious items they offer, we asked their restaurant manager for recommendations. We were surprised that even their head chef suggested dishes that we should try. Here are the 9 dishes that made our authentic Thai lunch enjoyable—

1. Crispy Oyster Cake

This is our favorite from the spread! We never expected a simple crunchy, breaded oyster on a sizzling plate to be so delicious. The minute we tasted it, we couldn’t stop eating it. We had to remind ourselves that we ordered other food and that we had to try them too.

2. Yum Pla Dook Foo

It’s crispy catfish with green mango salad. We like the fact that the catfish, although fried, wasn’t greasy at all. The taste was clean yet flavorful. It complemented with the green salad too which was quite pleasant.

3. Basil Chicken

Having visited Thailand a few years back, this dish was the very first we’ve tasted as soon as we landed. The basil made the dish tastier and instantly reminded us of our first lunch in Phuket.

4. Sate Combination

It won’t be an authentic and delicious Thai lunch if there won’t be any sate in our spread. Both chicken and beef were marinated in Thai BBQ classic spices, put onto skewers, grilled, and served with peanut sauce. You can’t go wrong with Thai BBQ Original Restaurant’s sate.

5. Masaman Beef Curry

This thick and stew-like curry has mild heat and slight sweetness that is friendlier than the other Thai curries around.

6. Bagoong Fried Rice

The few times we eat bagoong rice is when we go to Thai restaurants. There’s something wonderful and aromatic in an umami way about rice fried in Thai shrimp paste.

7. Pad Thai

Another mainstay. The first time we tried Pad Thai in Phuket, Thailand, we knew that it’s that one dish that we can eat several times a week. The way the Thai rice noodles flirt with that slightly sweet-spicy sauce along with the shrimps, bean sprouts, eggs, and crushed peanuts, drizzled with fresh lime, create that very exciting flavor combinations.

8. Pla Jien

Our second favorite after the Crispy Oyster Cake. It’s deep-fried grouper topped with spicy oyster mushroom sauce with chillies, ginger, and green onion. The fish meat was silky and firm which was a delight to eat.

9. Tom Yum Goong

Saving the best for last. People often compare this to the famous Filipino dish called Sinigang. We’re pretty sure the reason for the comparison is because both dishes have sour components in their broths. However, we prefer to see it as a counterpart rather than a direct comparison. Both dishes use different ingredients and prepared differently too. The incorporation of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, and chillies made the Tom Yum Goong more aromatic and more flavorful.

After our sumptuous meal, we definitely agree that the Thai dishes we had were spot on in terms of the preparation, presentation, and most of all flavor. Our afternoon trip to Thailand via our taste buds was made more authentic when we met their Thai Head Chef, Thanasan Phuwiang. Aside from producing excellent food, having a chef who’s a Thai national is one of Thai SELECT’s criteria to achieve authenticity and maintain quality.

While we’re waiting for our Bangkok trip to happen in a few months, we have Thai BBQ Original Restaurant to go to when that Thai food craving hits.

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3 Reasons Why We Like Tapa King’s Fried Chicken

Whenever we want good and affordable dried cured thin slices of beef also known as “tapa” in Metro Manila, one of our go-to places is Tapa King. All-day breakfast is our thing so it’s only natural that we always look for Tapa King when the breakfast cravings hit at the weirdest hours. We’d often get either the classic or the spicy version of their Tapsilog which is basically tapa with garlic rice (sinangag) and fried egg (itlog). When we’re in the mood for something fit for royalty, we get their Royal Meals which consist of not only tapa but also servings of other known Filipino breakfast food such as fried milkfish, crispy danggit, longganisa, and tocino. We always end up full and happy— making every trip to TK worth it.

We thought we have enough reasons to visit Tapa King until we were introduced to their newest member of the Royal formation— their All New Fried Chicken. Let us tell you 3 simple yet compelling reasons why we like TK’s fried chicken and why we’re including it on our list of our regular order line-up.

1. BIGGER.

Bigger chicken portions mean bigger savings and bigger satisfaction. Imagine getting a box of 6 big pieces for just PHP440 (price as of March 2019)— you’ll be able to feed 6 kids or 3 very hungry adults. See? Bigger savings, bigger satisfaction.

2. CRISPIER.

We love fried chicken and we have eaten quite a good amount ever since we learned about its existence. A fried chicken’s crispy skin is like our kryptonite. We just couldn’t stay away once we see the chicken’s craggy skin fried to golden perfection, tempting us to peel it away from the meat and enjoy the sound of that crunch as we bite into it. With TK’s fried chicken, you don’t just imagine it, you get to experience it because the rumors are true— definitely crispier.

3. JUICIEST.

When you encounter a fried chicken that has that beautiful golden crispy exterior, that also smells fantastic, and is moist and tender inside— don’t let that fried chicken go because that’s a keeper. Tapa King’s fried chicken totally got this one in the bag.

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Why Traveling 30kms To Oh My Tea Was Worth It

Along Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, there’s a milk tea place with milk tea so good that we willingly traveled 30 kilometers for. The place is called Oh My Tea.

We bravely faced the notorious Metro Manila traffic to try Oh My Tea‘s bestselling Thai Milk Tea. Their Thai Milk Teas are made from 100% imported and authentic Thai tea, they are blended with select premium ingredients and meticulously prepared  according to Thai tradition. So you can be assured that each cup is as authentic as those available in Thailand.

First thing we had was their Oh My Tea Thai Red Milk Tea. The most famous type of milk tea that can be found in the streets of Thailand. It’s made with pure Thai red tea that’s refreshing and mildly sweet with only a hint of tea.

Second thing on the list was Oh My Tea Royal Milk Tea which was a slightly intense version of the Thai Red Milk Tea. The taste of the red tea is more prominent in this one with its earthy and rich flavor. Just a trivia— this is the way Thai royals make their teas.

Between the 2 Thai Milk Teas, we personally prefer the Thai Royal Milk Tea.

Aside from the Thai selections, we also tried 2 more. We got excited when we saw matcha on their menu. It’s a no-brainer, we gotta try it.

Oh My Tea’s Thai Matcha is quite different from the usual Japanese matcha we’re used to. The Thai green tea OMT used gave a mild and subdued matcha flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the palate. But it’s still good, nonetheless.

Last thing we tried was their popular classic pearl milk tea— Oh My Tea Signature Milk Tea. This OMT version is creamier and richer with just the right kick of high grade Taiwanese black tea.

4 Milk Teas in one day! We got our 2 favorites from all we tasted— the Thai Royal Milk Tea and Thai Matcha. Totally worth the trip.

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Sisig Rice Bowl x Petsa de Peligro Experiments

It’s that time of the month again! Petsa de Peligro in the midst. Not because we’re tightening our belts more this weekend, it doesn’t mean we can’t eat delicious.

Well, here’s another one of our go-to dishes when we want something filling.

SISIG RICE BOWL

What you’ll need:

1 150g can of Purefoods Sizzling Delights Sisig at PHP41.00
1 medium Bountry Fresh Cage-Free Specialty brown egg at PHP12.00
1/2 cup uncooked Best Choice Jasmine Brown Rice at PHP11.50
1/2 avocado at PHP18.00
2 Red chillies for garnish at PHP4.00
1 teaspoon of olive oil (you can use other types of oil)
Salt and pepper to taste

What you’ll do:

1) Wash the uncooked brown rice, add 3/4 cup of water, and cook the rice. Btw, we used a rice cooker to make cooking even and faster. Once done, put the hot rice in a bowl. This will yield about 1 1/2 cups of cooked brown rice.
2) Open the can of sisig and reheat in a hot pan.
3) On a separate pan, fry the egg using little bit of oil— sunny side up style. Put a little bit of salt and pepper.
4) Once sisig is reheated and a bit crispy and the egg is cooked, place them in the same bowl along with the rice.
5) Cut the avocado in half, take out the pit, scoop the avocado from one cheek, slice it vertically, and place beside the sisig.
3) Chop red chillies and sprinkle on top of the sisig.

Serve and eat.

Wallet damage: PHP86.50 (as of Jan 2019)
Serves 1

You’ll notice we used brown rice and organic egg because those the ones we have in the pantry. To save more, we recommend you buy the rice by the kilogram and the eggs by the dozen or by the tray.

In addition, instead of using mayonnaise to make the sisig creamier, we opted for avocado which is the healthier alternative.

Happy cooking!

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Pancit Canton Espesyal x Petsa de Peligro Experiments

If you’re a part of the employed population in the Philippines, you will often hear the term Petsa de Peligro. Its literal translation is “date of danger”. For Filipinos, it refers to the last few days before pay day when cash is running low.

To make sure that we stretch our cash till the next pay day, most of us resort to buying more affordable food such as instant noodles and canned goods as well as buying and cooking at home which saves everyone money.

And we’re here to share one of our favorite PDP Experiments for everyone to try.

PANCIT CANTON ESPESYAL

What you need to buy:

2 packs Lucky Me Pancit Canton Chillimansi at PHP11.25 each
2 medium eggs at PHP6.00 each
1 can Libby’s Vienna Sausage Chicken variety at PHP56.60
1 cucumber at PHP22.00
Spring onion and red chillies for garnish
Shichimi Togarashi (if available in your pantry)

What you need to do:

1) Cook pancit canton as instructed on the package directions.
2) Boil eggs for 6 minutes then put in an ice bath to stop cooking process.
3) Pre-heat your trusty oven toaster for 3 minutes before putting chicken vienna sausage. Cook sausage for 6 mins, turning halfway to brown all sides.
4) Wash cucumber and cut crosswise according to your desired thickness.
5) Put everything on a shallow bowl starting with the noodles, followed by the sausages, then the eggs sliced in half, and finally, the cucumbers. Chop spring onion and red chillies to prettify the noodles. Sprinkle togarashi on the eggs to add flavor.

Wallet damage: PHP113.10 (as of Dec 2018)
Serves 2

Happy cooking!

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Time To Get Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s 2019 The Giving Journal

Holiday Season in the Philippines starts the minute the 1st “BER” month kicks in. That means, people should be expecting to hear Christmas songs being publicly played almost anywhere— the malls, the restaurants, the convenience stores, inside public transports, and over the radio to name a few. There is no contesting the fact that Filipinos love Christmas because it’s the time when families get together, when friends spend time with each other, and when endless gift-giving in festivities happen.

Speaking of gift-giving, one of the things we look forward to during the Holiday Season is The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s The Giving Journal. CBTL gives coffee and tea lovers the opportunity to join their own tradition of giving through their annual Giving Journals. All you need to do is purchase drinks from any CBTL stores to complete the stamp card. A completed stamp card will get you The Giving Journal while the proceeds from the journals will provide educational assistance, character development, and community service to those in need through the company’s Real LIFE Foundation.

Every year, the journal designs get more and more creative. For 2019, The Giving Journals come in 4 designs with a touch of simplicity and elegance.

1) Cork cover with Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s bean and leaf icons

2) Hardbound teal with matte finish and foil stamp

3) Cork cover with Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s logo

4) Hardbound black with matte finish and gold foil stamp

The inside pages of The Giving Journals are also filled with gorgeous photos and colorful artworks.

Now that you’ve seen the journal designs, we’re sure you’re excited to rake in the stamps to get them. Filling the card with stamps is easy— 1 drink = 1 stamp. Every year, CBTL comes out with a few Holiday drinks to make the stamp-collecting more delicious. This Holiday 2018, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf introduced 2 new flavors and we totally love them!

CBTL embraced our love for this Filipino dessert treat with their Ube Ice Blended. It’s like drinking a creamy ube jam that has that nuttiness from the purple yam and vanilla-like sweetness. One sip and you know you’re home.

CBTL‘s Chocolate Nut Holiday Drinks were created to make all dark chocolate, peanut butter, and caramel lovers very happy. The play of slight bitterness, nuttiness, and smoky sweetness in your palate was just wonderful. We love that the drinks come in hot, iced, and ice blended varieties.

Giving has never been this delicious. Thank you, CBTL!

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Mac Ham Cheese— The Plaza Premium Baked Ham Way

The Plaza Premium Baked Ham was developed in the 60’s by Master Chef Gosta Pettersson upon the suggestion of Imelda “Meldy” A. Reyes, wife of Joe Reyes. Meldy, familiar with the palates of Manila’s elite, insisted on a piece de resistance for every Filipino table. It was designed for the Filipino taste: a perfect blend of sweet and salty. Cured, lightly wood-smoked with herbs and spices, oven-baked, glazed and covered with a sweet crumbly crust.

And here’s a recipe that The Plaza Inc. shared with us. A crowd favorite— Mac Ham Cheese.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 L Milk
500g Macaroni, cooked according to package instructions
1 cup The Plaza Premium Baked Ham, diced
1 cup Colby Jack or Cheddar, shredded
1 cup Mozzarella, shredded
1 cup Parmesan, shredded

Procedure:

  1. In a pot, melt the butter then add in the flour and mix. Cook until color changes to a slightly darker color.
  2. Add in the milk and whisk.
  3. Mix all the cheeses together. Set aside 1 cup for topping. Add in the rest of the cheeses and half cup of the ham and whisk.
  4. Bring up the heat and simmer until sauce thickens.
  5. Throw in the macaroni and mix. Transfer to a baking container or Pyrex.
  6. Drizzle the rest of The Plaza Premium Baked Ham then add a layer of the cheese mix.
  7. Bake in the oven until cheese is melted and develops a golden brown color.

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5 Perfect Coldlayers Cafe Pairings That Will Make Your Day

The first time we went to Coldlayers Cafe in Evia Lifestyle Center in Daang Hari, Las Pinas, we specifically came for their snow ice treats. We enjoyed a couple of their snow ice selections— the Secret Affair and the Avocado Snow Ice. The moment we opened their menu, we were pleasantly surprised that they offer more than just snow ice — they also have milk tea drinks and a good selection of savory dishes. So we promised to go back and give them a shot next time we visit the store.

And one mid-morning, we found ourselves back in the cozy, friendly restaurant vibe of Coldlayers Cafe. That’s when we tried 5 pairings which we’re happy to recommend to all our friends and family.

1. Koori Chicken Chops + Special Yakult Tea

First pairing of the day. Coldlayers Cafe‘s Koori Chicken Chops is the new dish on the block. We liked the thin crispy coating of the chicken tenders but at the same time, moist on the inside. The slight saltiness from the chicken and the herbed flavor from the crunchy basil blended so well with the sourness and little touch of sweetness from the combination of strawberry and passion fruit flavors of the Special Yakult Tea drink. The chicken chops was so good that we had 2 servings of it.

2. Pork Chop Casserole + Chocolate Milk Tea

On to a full meal treat. The juicy pan-grilled pork chop was placed on top of mozzarella rice with tomato and mushroom cream sauce. The mix of salty and peppery flavors from the meat together with the tanginess and earthiness of the tomato and mushroom, not to mention the creaminess from the mozzarella, made the casserole quite a delicious dish to indulge in. One long sip of the milk tea with that chocolate flavor, on the other hand, changes the palate altogether which makes the pairing more exciting!

3. Cheezy Meat Lasagna + Wintermelon Tea

This is a classic pairing for us. The lasagna with béchamel sauce topped with cheddar and parmesan spell creaminess, slight saltiness, and umami from the savory meat. Pair it with the touch of caramel flavor from the wintermelon and deep, strong taste from the black tea, you’ll get a classic pairing that will keep you coming back to enjoy them all over again. Oh, and we had some pudding added into the tea which made it more tasty to drink.

4. Philly Cheesesteak + Matcha with Salted Cream Cheese

As of this writing, we’ve already consumed a total of 4 orders of Coldlayers Cafe‘s delicious Matcha with Salted Cream Cheese. Being lovers of anything matcha, we find this drink genuinely good and tasty. There aren’t a lot of food places that serve good matcha and we’re happy to let everyone know that Coldlayers Cafe found the right balance of that vegetal and sweetness in their matcha drink. The salted cream cheese added that creamy, salty contrast to the sweetness of the matcha blend. As for the Philly Cheesesteak, the meaty and juicy steak with that pesto slathered on the soft bread with the tomatoes and cheese is perfect with anything.

5. Coldlayers Nachos + Sloppy Fries + Horlicks Milk Tea

You won’t go wrong with this pairing. The layers of nachos are loaded with ground meat, tomato salsa, lettuce, and grated cheese. While the perfectly cooked fries are topped with the same delicious mix but the lettuce. The savory flavors of both appetizers go wonderfully well with the sweet Horlicks Milk Tea. Great pairing, for sure.

If you want to make these pairings more delectable, it wouldn’t hurt to add orders of snow ice while you’re at it.

Now, go and find the perfect pair for you.

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