Best Bets: Filipino flan

Flan at VGM Market & Deli on Macon Road, just off Sycamore View.

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Flan at VGM Market & Deli on Macon Road, just off Sycamore View.

Memphis is full of great food finds in unexpected places; we have gas station sushi, after all. One of these treasures is VGM Market & Deli on Macon Road, just off Sycamore View. It's where — I think it's safe to say this — you'll find the best leche flan in town.

Flan's cousin, creme brulee, is all over the place (and pretending to be French, while in fact of English origin), and a good one is a fine thing. In fact, 10 years ago, a poll conducted by Bon Appétit magazine found it to be the favorite dessert in America. But flan is not so popular in this country, though many cultures around the globe have adopted the Spanish crème caramel and tweaked it a bit.

VGM is a Filipino market owned by Edward and Emma Gumban; the cooking is done by the family, including cousin Ate Guy. She prepares her decadent steamed flan several times a week, available for dine-in or to-go. Take my word: You could serve this at a dinner party and everyone would save room for dessert.

Filipino flan is richer than some, heavier on the egg yolks (duck eggs are often used in the Philippines) than some versions (in Cuba, egg whites are even added to lighten the custard). Instead of the heavy cream traditionally used to make creme brulee, the flan is made with milk. The custard jiggles, just a little, and it offers a nice break in the mouth.

But it's really about the caramel, sugar syrup created as the flan cooks. At VGM, there's no holding back — particularly with the large flan. It comes in two sizes, and the small is in a round aluminum pan that fans out a bit from the bottom to the top rim. The large is in a square 8-inch aluminum pan.

This makes a difference because there's a greater ratio of bottom surface to flan in the large pan. There's more room for the sugar to dissolve, and something extraordinary happens as it cooks. The flavor deepens to caramel, of course, but it takes a nutty and brandy-like character. With the small flan, you get a good amount of this. With the large, you get a pool of it in the center of the flan when you invert it, and plenty more than puddles beneath it. Serve it in a bowl, and make sure you use a spoon. You'll want every drop.

VGM Market & Deli, 6195 Macon Road, is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-7 p.m., and on Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The small flan is $5.99 and the large is $12.99. Call 901-937-7798 for more information and to make sure the flan is available.

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