BLAZ­ING THE FILIPINO FOOD TRAIL

It is heart­en­ing that in the Philip­pines, Filipino food is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a re­nais­sance of sorts. A new crop of chefs and res­tau­ra­teurs are tak­ing our cui­sine one step fur­ther. Go­ing out to eat our cui­sine has gone be­yond the usual ev­ery­day fare, as new res

F&B World - - Contents - By CJ Jun­te­real

Taste the Filipino food re­nais­sance, with a new crop of chefs and res­tau­ra­teurs tak­ing our cui­sine one step fur­ther.

It may have started with Bizarre Foods’ Andrew Zim­mern, who de­clared in 2012 that Filipino food would be the next big eth­nic food. He listed it again as a top trend of 2013 in an on­line ar­ti­cle in people. com. In their Septem­ber 2013 is­sue, De­tails mag­a­zine named Filipino food as “the next great food trend”. New York mag­a­zine came up with a list of must-try Filipino restaurants. In Lon­don a café in Not­ting Hill, Lakwatsa, serves me­rienda and has caught the at­ten­tion of Bri­tish me­dia. It has been a long time in com­ing, but Filipino food is fi­nally hav­ing its day in the sun.

The restaurants run the gamut from those serv­ing Filipino food with the tra­di­tional taste and look that people have come to ex­pect, to those who have up­dated and tweaked their menu while re­main­ing true to tra­di­tional fla­vors and in­gre­di­ents. Many have own­ers and chefs who have chan­neled their pas­sion for food into a com­mit­ment to pro­mot­ing Filipino cui­sine.

LE­CHON FLA­VORS AND BE­YOND

Dedet dela Fuente of Pepita’s Kitchen is one of those people. From her home base in Ma­gal­lanes, she pro­duces de­lec­ta­ble, crisp-skinned le­chon de leches. Per­fect­ing crisp- skinned le­chon would have been enough for most people, but she has taken the clas­sic le­chon and amped it up with a se­ries of in­ven­tive fill­ings that high­light beloved Filipino tastes and in­ter­na­tional fla­vors. Sisig Paella, Laing Rice, and Bi­na­goon­gan Rice re­main true to Filipino tastes, but are bal­anced enough to ap­peal to novice non-Filipinos. And to cap­ture a broader in­ter­na­tional mar­ket, dela Fuente has cre­ated a French-style le­chon stuffed with truf­fled rice, Ger­man-style redo­lent with gar­lic, herbs, and new pota­toes, Ja­panese-style stuffed with curry rice, and Span­ish Manileño with chorizo and rice laced with rich crab fat.

Be­yond the le­chon de leches, and in­spired, she says, by Claude Tayag’s four-hour feasts, she caters pri­vate din­ners at her house fea­tur­ing a Le­chon De­gus­ta­tion. Now on its sec­ond in­car­na­tion as Hayop na De­gus­ta­tion, the menu has evolved into one that has bal­anced, well-thought out fla­vor profiles, a whimsy that is pure Filipino, and stylish touches that were not seen in her pre­vi­ous de­gus­ta­tion.

The multi- course din­ner has many stand­out dishes. There is a tip of the hat to Filipino chicharon— in this case, deep­fried beef ten­dons as puffy and crisp as the best chicharon, served with sini­gang- fla­vored taro puree. The Filipino love for bu­lalo plays out as roasted bone mar­row— eaten with a sprin­kle of chicharon “salt” or sweet ox­tail “marmalade”. Sub­se­quent cour­ses con­tinue to feed the Filipino love for all things rich and calorific. Plump shrimp are blan­keted in but­tery salted egg sauce— not as salty as one would ex­pect, given the main in­gre­di­ent. Crab claws are next, bathed in crab fat and co­conut cream, and beg­ging for a spoon­ful of steam­ing hot rice. The le­chon is, of course, still the star of the menu, but any of the other dishes are wor­thy of wear­ing that crown.

Ty­ing the whole din­ner to­gether is the gra­cious Filipino-style hos­pi­tal­ity of dela Fuente and her two young daugh­ters. As she continues to cre­ate more dishes in­spired by pas­sion to put Filipino cui­sine on the world map,

dela Fuente and her le­chons will cer­tainly con­vert many non-Filipinos to the joy that is our food.

PHILIP­PINES ON A PLATE

In con­trast to Pepita’s Kitchen, Andrew and Sandee Masi­gan of XO46 Her­itage Bistro have cho­sen to ex­plain Filipino food by look­ing back at our coun­try’s his­tory and culi­nary her­itage—in eight dishes. Their Philip­pines on a Plate is a din­ner an­no­tated through­out by his­tor­i­cal tid­bits that show why and how we eat what we eat. It was born out of their shared frus­tra­tion that so few Filipino restaurants could be found in other coun­tries, and that many Filipinos were still not fa­mil­iar with our cui­sine.

The re­search that must have gone into the fi­nal menu and an­no­ta­tions, and ef­fort that it must have taken to dis­till it all into eight es­sen­tial dishes and true Filipino fla­vors is as­tound­ing. It takes din­ers through a thou­sand years of his­tory from pre-Colo­nial to Colo­nial, and through all our culi­nary in­flu­ences, from Ara­bic to Amer­i­can. The dishes are pre­sented with thought to­wards an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence, but the in­tegrity of the dishes and fla­vors re­mains in­tact.

Philip­pines on a Plate in­tro­duces din­ers to the Philip­pines’ mother fla­vor, sour, through a fo­cus on what the Masi­gan’s dub the truest of Philip­pine dishes— sini­gang, pak­siw, and kini­law. Tan­guige with lo­cal lime, an in­trigu­ing goat with lime and turmeric, and seafood with co­conut milk are the first trio of dishes that in­tro­duce this con­cept to din­ers—raw foods that are “cooked” and pre­served in some­thing acid such as palm vine­gar or any sour fruit. It is a method that spans three cen­turies, and is premised on the fresh­ness of in­gre­di­ents that are abun­dant all over the coun­try.

An­other dish in­tro­duces the meat of the carabao, which once roamed the coun­try in great num­bers. Grilled on a skewer, it was smoky, sea­soned with turmeric and sea salt, cooked over co­conut husks, and had a hint of Malay fla­vor. Like the kini­law, it rep­re­sented our pre-Colo­nial his­tory. Sini­gang na Ta­lak­i­tok was mildly soured with green san­tol and had a fruity fin­ish. Again, the ab­so­lute fresh­ness of the fish was a re­minder of how our an­ces­tors were blessed by the rich­ness of the sea.

The din­ner jour­neys on through beloved fla­vors and the out­side forces that in­flu­enced our cui­sine. Pato Tim of duck served on a bed of noo­dles is sweet, full of umami, and ref­er­ences the Chi­nese im­mi­grants that flocked to the coun­try. There is Kare Kare, rich and peanutty; its true ori­gins are a source of much de­bate but it is a dish loved by all Filipinos, and served with Bi­na­goon­gan Rice, an easy way to in­tro­duce tourists to the ba­goong that is an es­sen­tial ac­com­pa­ni­ment to Kare Kare.

The din­ner also high­lights the of­ten for­got­ten con­nec­tion be­tween Mex­ico and the Philip­pines. An up­dated ver­sion of tamales is served via En­sal­ada de Maize and av­o­cado puree gar­nished with roasted veg­etable salsa. It melds our Span­ish, Amer­i­can, and Mex­i­can in­flu­ences with Bringhe ( the Filipino adap­ta­tion of Span­ish paella), and Bal­bacua ( Mex­i­can in ori­gin but also the pre­cur­sor to Amer­i­can bar­be­cue).

His­tory ex­plained through food is an en­joy­able way to un­der­stand who we are as Filipinos, and the Masi­gan’s be­lieve, is a good way to pro­mote the depth and scope of Filipino cui­sine. The din­ner is of­fered reg­u­larly at their restau­rant, but can also be brought to other lo­ca­tions for a min­i­mum of 30 people.

MOV­ING FOR­WARD WITH FILIPINO FOOD

There is much to look for­ward to for Filipino food. The fo­cus on our cui­sine, even amongst Filipinos them­selves, is such that some young chefs have cho­sen to open restaurants that show­case the cui­sine of the re­gions. And in a clos­ing of the cir­cle, 2014 will see the open­ing of a new restau­rant by the tan­dem of Chef Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa. The duo that spear­headed bring­ing Filipino cui­sine to New York through Cen­drillon and Pur­ple Yam, will fi­nally open in Manila at their an­ces­tral home. The tim­ing could not be bet­ter.

Aside from le­chon, Pepita's multi-course din­ner Hayop na De­gusta­cion also fea­tures chicharon, roasted bone mar­row, shrimp, and crab claws.

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