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
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.