POSTED ON 06/27/2014 10:11 PM | UPDATED 06/29/2014 7:06 PM
MANILA, Philippines – Considered a food staple, there is no denying that Filipinos love rice.
Most have it at least 3 times a day. A plate with no mound of steaming rice in sight is considered incomplete. If the Americans have their mashed potato with their roasted meat, Filipino households have rice for their adobo, sinigang or simply tuyo. (Read: How much rice do Filipinos consume?)
The country’s rice "addiction" is seen as an opportunity in the business sector as more restaurants have been offering the unlimited rice option in their menu. From big restaurants in malls to small neighborhood carinderias (eateries), the option has been a good marketing ploy for customers.
But did you know that despite the full stomach you’ll get after getting the most out of the usually P99-unlimited rice meal, your health might be put at risk?
A bad habit
Dr Cecilia Acuin of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI) advised against unlimited rice as it does not promote a healthy lifestyle.
“Unlimited rice is not healthy,” she said at the launch of the 8th National Nutrition Survey results on June 26. “You can already tell that when you're getting most from one food group, you do not have a good diet.”
Any food that belongs to the same food group also has the same nutritional value. This means that your body might miss out on more important nutrients if you eat the same thing every meal.
“It's not the quantity that matters, but also the quality and diversity,” she said.
A diverse diet, according to Acuin, is consuming food from different groups, not having the same type of meal in a time period or over-consuming.
As each food group boasts of a unique micronutrient, consequences due to lack of vitamins and minerals can be prevented. This is called hidden hunger and it affects close to 2 billion people worldwide. (Read: Nutrition facts: Hidden hunger)
“Isa sa mga indicators ng magandang diet at pagiging healthy ay ang diverse diet,” she explained. (One indicator of a great and healthy diet is having a diverse one.)
The Philippine Rice Research Institute of the Department of Agriculture suggest that rice should take up only one-fourth of a regular-sized plate.
Filipinos tend to overeat rice by consuming half a regular-sized plate. Because of this, carbohydrates in the body reach dangerous levels that may result to diseases.
Meanwhile, Director Mario Capanzano of the FNRI said that the institute is looking into the possible correlation between the rise of diabetes cases in the country and the unlimited rice trend.
Extra rice despite high price
The price of uncooked rice shot up in recent years. Despite the agricultural nature of the country, we still import our rice. (Read: PH road to rice self-sufficiency)
Low-income communities are considered the driving force behind the high consumption of rice in the country. Long lines can be seen in any place selling NFA rice, a cheaper alternative for those belonging to poor communities to get their meal staple. It even led to the phrase "Parang pila ng NFA rice (It's like a line for NFA rice)" to describe long queues. (READ: Filipinos’ high rice consumption fueled by the poor)
Capanzano advices Filipinos against cooking too much rice per meal as it leads to food wastage. (READ: PH food wastage: Think twice before wasting your meal)
In the Philippines, a person wastes an average of 3.29 kilograms of rice a year or almost 9 grams a day.
“Sa bahay pa lang, malaki na ang nasasayang kaya dapat itong iwasan (At home, we already waste a lot so it’s best to avoid this),” he said. – Rappler.com
Three years ago, T.V. chef Andrew Zimmern proclaimed Filipino food to be the next big thing–but how come it hasn’t really happened yet?
While Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants can be found in any respectable-sized U.S. city and many random shopping malls in the suburbs, it’s just not the case with Filipino food. It’s a little hard to pin down something that originates from somewhere among 7,100 islands hugging a low corner of the South China Sea known as the Philippines. One challenge is, it’s very hard to describe.
Chef Yana Gilbuena is trying. She has a wide smile and a half-shaved head topped by spiky blonde or green hair, depending on the day. She moved to California from the Philippines over a decade ago, at the age of 20, which she admits was a bit traumatic.
“In L.A. I was trying to get on a bus. I thought it was like in Iloilo. You raise your hand and the bus will stop, but no, the bus didn’t stop. My friends told me I had to go to a bus stop. I had the hardest time getting that,” she remembers.
She dreamed of being an interior designer with her own firm in New York, but her first job wasn’t how she imagined it. She couldn’t find good Filipino food anywhere—it was either “high-end fusion or mom-and-pop stuff that wasn’t so fresh”–so she started cooking her own, at first to relieve stress. Later, gaining confidence, she invited friends for dinner parties.
She gained so much confidence, in fact, that she’s on the verge of wrapping up a tour of the U.S., offering pop-up Filipino dinners in every state. Hawaii is her final stop next month. She calls it The SALO Project. SALO is a derivative of the word “Salu-salo” in her native Tagalog language, meaning big party. “I bring people together over food who otherwise wouldn’t have met,” she says in her video.
She plans the meals and shops in the cities where she creates the dinners, swapping local ingredients for traditional ones in the country’s famous stews. The peanut curry known as kare-kare normally includes oxtail, but she has used shrimp or beef. You can add any vegetable to the spicy coconut stew known as ginataan, she says. “I am trying to preach the gospel of Filipino food,” Gilbuena says.
Chef Cathal Armstrong takes a different route at a white tablecloth restaurant just outside of Washington, D.C. at Restaurant Eve. Armstrong spent a month in Thailand as a U.S. culinary ambassador and fell in love with the Asian style of cooking. Since January, the Irish chef-owner and his Filipino wife, Meshelle, have been offering patrons monthly tastings of his interpretation of Filipino fusion food.
A recent sampling included a Filipino raw fish salad known as kinilaw, Filipino barbecued pork, complete with a runny egg on vinegared rice and several kinds of curries.
Flavor is not the problem with Filipino food. “The problem is that it’s really hard to describe,” says Joanne Boston, a writer turned advocate for the Filipino Food Movement, which promotes Filipino festivals. Basically, you’ve got to know your geography. And you’ve got to get over the potential “ick factor” because yes, there is a duck fetus delicacy that once appeared on the show Fear Factor.
More commonly, she says, “It’s a cuisine that is first Malay. That means lots of tropical fruits, coconut and seafood.”
Then the Spanish came and stuck around for a few hundred years, introducing garlic, onions, spices and adobo–a specific way of preserving meat in vinegar and spices that came in handy in the Philippines’ tropical climate. They also brought wheat, so there are European pastries, sausage and meatloaf, Boston says.
Meanwhile, Chinese and Japanese traders came and went, bringing dumplings and eggrolls (hence the springroll-like Filipino lumpia,) stir-fried noodles (which became Filipino pancit,) tofu and soy sauce. From American G.I.’s, Filipinos discovered the joy of SPAM.
It’s further hard to categorize the food because each region puts its own spin on a dish. “There are 100 million people in the Philippines now, and guaranteed, they each have their own recipe for adobo,” Boston says.
There are pockets of Filipino restaurants in areas where Filipino-Americans are concentrated – New York and San Francisco mainly, but there are a handful of restaurants cropping up in Chicago and others coming soon to Washington, D.C.
But one of the challenges in building a dynamic new restaurant culture in the U.S. is changing Filipino attitudes. “Many will go to another type of restaurant, when given a choice, because they say, ‘”Why should I go out for Filipino food when I can get it at home and it’s probably better?’” says Boston.
April Fulton is the senior blogger for The Plate. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
People will interpret our cuisine the way they like. We wanted this so we have no choice but to deal with it.
By SASHA LIM UY | Nov 18, 2016
It was in 2012 when Andrew Zimmern boldly declared that Filipino food was going to be the next big thing. He went on the record on TODAY.com, predicting, ?Two years from now, Filipino food will be what we will have been talking about for six months? I think it?s going to be the next big thing.?
It is now 2016, the Bizarre Foods host?s deadline has been given sufficient leeway. Since then, Anthony Bourdain has made a return trip, Adam Richman has taken a giant bite of Pepita?s Lechon, Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold raved about Max?s Fried Chicken, Margarita Fores has been voted as Asia?s Best Female Chef, Your Local has been featured on Conde Nast Traveler, Mecha Uma has become a Southeast Asia must-try. Zagat included our humble cookery as one of their nine emerging cuisines. Local establishments Antonio?s, Rural Kitchen, Bale Dutung, and Vask have been selected for world?s best lists.
Romulo?s has expanded to London; Jollibee has opened in Queens. The Filipino Restaurant Week in New York is now on its second year. Pinoy chefs like Dale Talde, Paul Qui, and Leah Cohen, as well as restaurants like Maharlika, Purple Yam, Lasa, Manila Social Club, and Bad Saint (and more) have been tastefully brandishing the Filipino flag on their menus. Ube (known to the rest of the world as "oo-bae") is a shining star.
The Migrant Kitchen, a documentary series produced by Life & Thyme, has unofficially established Los Angeles as the hotbed for Filipino food 101. Its second episode, ?Barkada,? which highlights Chef Charles Olalia?s Ricebar and Chef Alvin Cailin?s Unit 120, led Eater to conclude: ?In Los Angeles, the conversation surrounding the flavors and dishes of the Philippines knows almost no bounds.?
It would appear that Filipino fare has been trailblazing through the ranks. Have we, to paraphrase a Washington Post headline in 2015, at long last, arrived?
Ask us early this year and we would’ve ended the discussion with a safe almost, but yes. In fact, Filipino food has made it. If anything good came out of Bon Appetit magazine’s controversial halo-halo recipe this August, it is the confirmation that we have indeed arrived; we’ve gotten big enough for the world to assume they understand us—enough to freely interpret our flavors and intentions as they wish. We have become public domain.
Becoming a free-for-all is a notorious part of success. Like every other "it" thing, we will be scrutinized, ripped apart, but at least, the goal has been achieved. The world is ready for our cuisine. But there lies a more important question: are we ready for the world? Are we ready for people to put popcorn in our halo-halo?
The same month that Bon Appetit published their loose interpretation of a revered Filipino dessert, they also hailed Washington-based Pinoy haunt Bad Saint as the second-best restaurant of the year. With a menu that the magazine described as “one of the country’s most exciting,” Bad Saint features chicken inasal, ampalaya, ukoy, bilo-bilo. It sounds like a table at your tita’s piyesta, but the young visionaries behind this gem are peddlers of more modern tastes. Their ensalada comes as a vibrant plate speckled with dragon fruit, the lumpiang shanghai is boosted with cornichons, the adobo is bright yellow and heavy on the turmeric.
On the opposite coast is Maharlika, the restaurant that Conde Nast Traveler declared as a New York can't-miss. There are the usual suspects: beautifully fried butterflied daing, sunshiny longsilogs, kare-kare with vibrant bokchoy. It is, however, the ube waffles with fried chicken that have garnered serious fans; the pancit palabok made extra special with a dollop of uni; the creamy laing replacing spinach in the Eggs Benedict; the balut in aluminum pails presented with the servers shouting as if they were on the street. What’s tradition back home has turned into an effective kitsch in a setting like New York.
When Gold wrote about Lasa, a pop-up Filipino joint, for the Los Angeles Times, he sang praises for the way it captured the spirit of modern Filipino cooking. “[Chef Chad] Valencia’s cooking captures not just the joy of delicious, super-fatty party eats, but the extreme regionality of the dishes in the Philippines’ zillion islands,” he notes, commending the lightness and the balance in both composing the menu and the actual dishes. Blazing examples of such skill include a Caesar salad spiked with patis instead of anchovies; a pinakbet-bagnet with smoky pur?ed eggplant, bagoong, and powder made from dried ampalaya; a cassava cake version of tres leches.
There are much more shocking endings than Chef Laudico’s though. Early this year, Chef JP Anglo quietly turned his edgier Rockwell haunt, Kafe Batwan, into another branch of his crowd-pleasing Negrense-Filipino eatery Sarsa, trading his honeyed, ramen-inspired, Madrid Fusion-approved batchoy for something more traditional and less sweet. While Kafe Batwan had its own cultish following, more of the guests who stepped inside the Anglo-marked premises were in search for the chef’s straight-up specialties.
Chef JP is hardly conservative when it comes to cooking Filipino food. He fried some chicken, served it with a tart sauce, then rechristened it into a version of sinigang. He wrapped up his famous chicken inasal and rice in a sheet of tortilla then called it a burrito. Capitalizing on that effect, he then came up with bite-sized spring rolls on Sarsa’s third birthday. Tender beef ribs are served with a savory cream, like a non-sizzling but true-to-flavor play on sizzling bulalo. It isn’t orthodox, but the chef knows how to tread the line between practical alterations and established flavors.
It is difficult to talk about elevation and progression without touching on authenticity. But Chef Myke Tatung Sarthou, at his new Filipino restaurant, Agos, sums it up pretty well for us.
"What is authentic anyway? Filipino cuisine is made up of influences. Kamoteng kahoy, those other root crops that take up a chunk of Filipino food came from the Galleon Trade. If it’s grown here, then that should be Filipino enough." Perhaps this obsession with authenticity should be redirected to integrity instead.
It’s tough to “elevate” any cuisine that is rooted in tradition, but TMG’s Abba Napa reminded her chefs to never lose sight of the fundamentals of Filipino flavor. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Every liberty we took with a traditional Filipino dish wasn’t to change it that it becomes unrecognizable. It’s to enhance what makes it so good to begin with. She tells us about their best-selling watermelon sinigang, conceptualized by co-founder Eli Antonino. “It doesn’t change the DNA of what a sinigang is. It still satisfies everything you look for in the soup.”
Not everyone has the skill to do this—to look forward but still be anchored in the past. Certainly, there’s no condoning a halo-halo with gummi bears, but there are other, more acceptable ways to update Filipino food.
Consider it an improvement not an amendment. “French techniques involve serving hot food hot, cold food cold, soft meat soft, crispy skin crispy…," explains Zaguirre. Consider the beef pares in front of you. It looks like what you’re used to, tastes even better than what you’re used to. Does it really matter if it's confit?
This snobbery for revisions feels unwarranted. On the one hand, we’ve accepted that difference is what binds Filipino cooking together. We can’t unite and support one kind of adobo because we have unconditional loyalty for whatever kind is stewing in our personal kitchen. We know the cooking at one friend’s house will be different from our own. Ironically though, when a restaurant comes up with something slightly different, we turn up our noses.
“All Filipino households have their own ‘best’ recipes from titas, lolos, lolas. My concern at that time was how we would entice our guests to come back,” says Zaguirre. Locavore understood that they had to exercise caution in navigating through a clientele that already harbors “homegrown” favorites, impressing them enough to want to eat Filipino food from beyond their own kitchens. The solution was to come up with a characterful menu, make it something distinctly Locavore.
“It’s like when you have guests in your house, you make your own version of pasta or roast chicken.” Put that way, it’s hard to be argumentative.
Napa looks for balance. Old school will always be craved, but novelty is what makes us turn to look. She inputs, “Modern interpretations are exciting and fun and they showcase talents, but it may not necessarily be an everyday dining experience.” Manam may very well be on their way; their crispy sisig is already the stuff of habits.
Geography is why our bloods boil when someone tries to play with Filipino food. We’re too close to home—heck, we are at home. It’s understandable that we shake our heads at a brand new way of presenting pinangat. We know it well and we can detect an impostor as quickly as we can sense something is out of place in our bedroom. There’s nothing wrong with it, which is why we don’t believe “improvements” are necessary.
But nobody said anything was wrong. We wanted Filipino food to make it big. We clapped our hands whenever a major critic or international publication gives us a rave review; we fed it to every international influencer that we thought could spread our flavors. Finally, we’ve stopped being dare food, we’re no longer the cuisine for thrill-seekers who can stomach bird embryos, congealed pork blood, and ox brains (it sounds very French when we say it like that). Wake up. The lines of locale, color, and culture are being blurred everywhere else. Food, included. Right now, the world is looking at in-your-face flavors: fermented, pickled, fiery-hot, and Filipino cuisine is stepping up to fill the need. Elevated Filipino food is happening—and killing overseas.
This global triumph that we patiently craved is leading to that turning point: when chefs who didn’t grow up with lolas cooking tinola will attempt their own version. We’re protective. We get it. It’s as if we’re safeguarding our family values. But the person who invented the milkshake isn’t rolling around in his grave with the gaudy fashions we’ve been bestowed upon the humble drink. Who are we to wage a war against some gummi bears? Filipino food will evolve. We've given it away and we can't take it back anymore. It will acclimatize to the palates of wherever it goes next. As other cooks try to decipher it or, we daresay, appropriate it, it will develop a new kind of history. We just have to deal with it. Let them cook whatever we want because no matter what the rest of the world does, everyone knows the best Filipino food is still the ones at home. So pat yourselves on the back. Relax. We've made it.
In The Philippines, An Evolving Cuisine Of Optimism And Pride
Thanks to a charge of fiercely proud Pinoys, a thriving agriculture and a return to age-old food traditions, the Philippines is no longer simply on the sidelines in the story of its culinary identity
By Charmaine Mok
To understand a culture is to taste it.
Over the course of four days it would become clear to us - a ragtag assortment of greedy food writers with varying experience of Filipino flavours - that the food culture of the Philippines is being excavated as much as it is undergoing an evolution. Thrillingly, there is a generation of chefs who are simultaneously redefining and rediscovering the pillars of the country's culinary identity, channeling their curiosity and creativity into a vibrant dining scene where fermentation, organic farming and hip bars hidden behind convenience stores are just small parts of the whole.
Thrillingly, there is a generation of chefs who are simultaneously redefining and rediscovering the pillars of the country's culinary identity, channeling their curiosity and creativity into a vibrant dining scene.
Reflecting on my time in the Philippines, attempting to neatly wrap up my experience was futile. Yet there was one thought that would resurface time and time again: there is an infectious and overwhelming sense of optimism and pride, that surges forward despite whatever else may be stacked against the Philippines - socially, culturally or politically. It's embodied through everyone we meet, from Raphael Teraoka Dacones, who left a steady job in Tokyo to promote organic farming in Pangasinan, to Mecha Uma's Bruce Ricketts, the 27-year-old chef and martial artist who weaves seasonal Filipino produce into his interpretation of Japanese traditions - including sushi - through the lens of a Californian upbringing. We understand what's at stake through the eyes of food writer JJ Yulo, who invites us to a potluck lunch where an Avengers-worthy line-up of young, passionate chefs such as Edward Bugia and Him Uy de Baron add freshness and innovation to their dishes.
It's experienced through an energetic gastronomic gathering of up-and-coming young chefs and the Philippines' cohort of farmers at the triumphant Tagaytay estate that is Antonio's, where we witness firsthand the alchemy that occurs when talented cooks are supported by exceptional local produce, harvested in Silang a few short hours prior. I still remember Gerardo "Gejo" Jimenez, the former fencer and now owner of Malipayon Farms - supplier to many of Metro Manila's top restaurants - who still refers to himself modestly as a gardener, using the medium of free-flowing watercolours to illustrate his approach to biodynamic farming and permaculture.
At mealtimes, we tuck into freshly shucked oysters from Negros that are judiciously sprinkled with tart tuba, a lip-smacking vinegar fermented from coconut sap (the Filipinos are obsessed with vinegars, or suka) while deeply coloured wild raspberries called sampinit are the crown jewels of pastry chef Michael "Miko" Aspiras' dessert of cashew nut tart with rosella cream. We're enamoured by the yin-and-yang energy of Quenee Villar and Nicco Santos, who bring fun and finesse to the tables at Hey Handsome and Your Local respectively. Josh Boutwood, a rising star of the Manila food scene and alumnus of Raymond Blanc's Le Manor Aux Quat' Saisons, nonchalantly offers us lamb prosciutto - cured for four months until the rich gamey flavour is rounded out with a salty nuttiness.
We experience whimsy at Gallery Vask, where Spanish chef Chele Gonzales is pushing the traditions of the Filipino culinary canon into new realms. Our culinary crash course on Manila and its surrounding regions was intense, gut-busting and enlightening; and while the locations and cast of characters are diverse, our taster is perhaps best understood through three distinct acts.
"Breakfast is probably the only unifying tradition among all Filipinos," says Cathy Feliciano-Chon, the Managing Director of marketing consultancy CatchOn, co-organisers of this particular Filipino food odyssey. And so we begin our education at breakfast, at the decades old Asiong in Cavite, a province on the southern shores of Manila Bay. Located on a small patch of isolated farmland, the carinderia (a kind of Filipino diner) is cooled by a light breeze, which on this particular morning carries with it the gentle tinkle of wind chimes - and the off-pitch warbling of Asiong's karaoke-loving neighbours. We're joined by Sonny Lua, the interior designer-turned-restaurant manager and chef, plus Ige Ramos, food writer and historian with an unparalleled knowledge of the foodways of the Philippines.
Over the best part of two hours, Ramos and Lua would give a comprehensive account of the Philippines' food evolution over the centuries, from the pre-Hispanic era to the growth of rice, coconut and sugar crops under the order of the Catholic church.
A traditional breakfast is set among cups of strong, murky coffee where the beans have been roasted with rice - the original way of 'extending' the drink when the coffee supply was scarce. To start, we spread snowy quesillo (as dubbed by the Mexicans), a raw cheese made from carabao milk, onto toasted rounds of pan de troso flavoured with garlic, rosemary and basil that are eaten between bites of immensely garlicky longganisa - the sausage based on Spanish chorizo.
The smell of garlic permeates the air as a plate of sinangag (garlic fried rice) arrives at the table. "That's our version of bacon frying in the morning to get you out of bed," jokes Ramos. We feast on tamales that are strikingly similar to Chinese zhong, or rice dumplings, and scrambled egg omelettes speckled with burong mustasa, pickled mustard greens.
As it's not strictly a breakfast dish, we make a special request for Asiong's most famous creation. Pancit pusit is a dish dreamed up by Lua, and consists of thin glass noodles flavoured with squid ink, their sultry saltiness brightened with slices of astringent kamias and topped with a flurry of crisp chicharron. As it's served, Ramos drops a bombshell: in his ten years of researching and travels to Europe, he is ready to posit the theory that it was the Filipinos, and not the Italians, who discovered the use of squid ink.
It's backed up by Dr Fernando Zialcita, an anthropologist who shared his research during the 2016 edition of Madrid Fusion Manila, a festival celebrating the shared foodways of Spain and the Philippines. According to Ramos, the first record of squid ink being used in Spain did not occur until around 1750 - well after the movement of Spanish galleons - and that in Italy, squid ink was once considered toxic. Zialcita and Ramos pinpoint the Jesuits, who were expelled from the Philippines to Italy and Spain in the 18th century.
"It's controversial, and suggests that we did not just receive influences from the outside," says Ramos, who also ticks off tuba (fermented coconut sap) and kinilaw (ceviche) as original gifts from the Philippines. "We also gave something to the world."
Last edited by Joescoundrel; 04-05-2017 at 08:27 AM.
Chef Margarita Fores apologises to the squirming shrimp in her hand as she quickly dispatches it, pulling off its head and deshelling it in quick succession. The flesh is roughly chopped up, and dunked into a bowl that houses a mixture of coconut vinegar, brown sugar, green chilli and slices of kamias. We’re in the Farmers Market in Cubao, Quezon City, which is Fores' home base just a short drive from the centre of Manila.
The kinilaw that Fores creates on the spot, barely a step away from the fishmonger herself, is an exclamation point of flavour. She smiles as we dig in, greedily. "I’d love to open a kinilaw bar right here in the market one day," she says. She then proceeds to create more variations: with slipper lobster, fresh Filipino uni, and gurnard, which heeds the call for more vinegar. Then it’s back to zipping around the market, where this 'daughter of Cubao' is recognised at every turn. When we leave, it takes an entire supermarket trolley to ferry back the heaving bounty of fresh produce to Fores' ancestral home 10 minutes away on foot.
Soon after, lunch is served. We bite into the pale, soft sugar-laced lumpiang ubod filled with fresh, young palm hearts—bought just hours earlier—the delicate sweetness enveloped by paper-thin rice wrappers. We take slow sips of velvety pancit molo, flavoured with chicken and coloured golden—not by saffron, but the far more economical annatto seed. The broth swaddles an assortment of tiny dumplings, strikingly similar to our Chinese wonton. Both dishes may not be widely known outside of Filipino communities, but they speak clearly about the role of foreign influence—from Chinese traders to the colonial Spaniards—in the culinary history of the Philippines. Over many dishes in Fores’ family dining room, we discuss the recent rise of Filipino cuisine, including the challenges that are yet to come.
"Right now, there is this wealth of regional cuisines that are still undiscovered," says Fores. The increased interest in Filipino cuisine over the past few years may have experienced starts and stops, but the momentum is building, she adds."I think that we've come in at a good time and at least after the world discovers the adobo and the sinigang and the kinilaw, there is a lot more we can show the world. And there is a collaborative community that is reviving the food industry."
"I think we ourselves have to continue to be in love with our own cuisine. That's what started it all. It has a lot to do with our national identity and how we became who we are. In the end, it comes full circle."
The spirit of collaboration and that feeling of deep respect for the roots of Filipino cooking couldn’t be better encapsulated than at Toyo Eatery, a contemporary restaurant helmed by chef Jordy Navarra. The venue is named after the word for soy sauce in Tagalog; but it's also a slang for being a little bit crazy, and perfectly describes Navarra's undefinable way of cooking, which extracts the essence of Filipino flavours, techniques and traditions which are then interpreted with locally sourced ingredients and Navarra's personal point of view. The chef, who has worked in the kitchens of Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck in Bray, returned to Manila in 2014 to work as head chef for the restaurant Black Sheep before opening Toyo in early 2016 in order to dedicate himself fully to the exploration of Filipino food culture.
The references run deep in the 12-course meal, which we seek to understand every time the Filipino guests on the table - including Feliciano-Chon, acclaimed photographer George Tapan, and food consultant Joey Suarez - raise their voices in excitement. "The Filipinos love their bottled iced tea!" exclaims Feliciano-Chon, as a dish of lightly-grilled mackerel with semi-ripe guava and kamias is paired with a chilled oolong tea that has been steeped for 24 hours. In another photogenic dish, young saltwater sardines are fried and served atop a puree of young corn and deep, grassy moringa oil - an elevated take on the pairing of fish and moringa (malunggay in Tagalog) broth.
"I’m taken by old techniques," says Navarra, who makes his own patis (the Filipino answer to fish sauce). "They inspire us to try and understand how Filipino cuisine started, and how it evolved." He explains that he had wanted to start a restaurant like Toyo for a long time, but that his only setback was whether he thought he truly understood the cuisine. "The flavours were things I grew up with and felt connected to, but to break that down and try to understand technique was a whole process that was jumbled together. Now, we're still trying to understand things every day. There's always something new, something we don't know yet."
The commitment to preserving and promoting Filipino food culture is the main driving force among Navarra's brigade, and we experience a beautiful moment in the meal where a young staff member arrives at our table as the seventh course is served. Titled simply as "Salad", we're served wooden bowls that appear topped with soil. Then the man begins to sing, his voice reverberating gently across the room.
"Bahay kubo, kahit munti
Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari.
Singkamas at talong, sigarilyas at mani
Sitaw, bataw, patani.
Kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa
At saka mayroon pang labanos, mustasa,
sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya
sa paligid-ligid ay puro linga."
It's Bahay Kubo, a folk song that is traditionally sung by children to welcome the harvest, and tells the modest tale of a small nipa hut with a garden full of vegetables. The lyrics reference the very ingredients that we uncover under the aubergine and peanut 'soil': jicama, winged beans, radishes among them. Navarra sums up the direction of the dish simply. "It shows that we're small but humble, scrappy but resourceful."
On building the future of Filipino cuisine, he is determined. "In the Philippines, recipes just die with the people. They’re not written down, and they’re not something that is openly shared.” With Toyo, these ingredients, techniques and traditions will live on - in exciting forms that still manage to stay true to their roots.
As for what is next for this country of over 7,000 islands, where we have already witnessed an acceleration of newfound interest, of an optimism and hope for the visibility of their indigenous culture? Fores said it best. "Even we haven't discovered a fraction of what regional ingredients the Philippines has to offer. There are different tribes and religions, and each has their own way of doing things. I can’t even imagine what cuisines and ingredients they have to offer. There's so much to look forward to in the future."
Two Filipino Chefs Reach Finals in Global Gourmet Awards
Chefs Gene Gonzalez and Tony boy Escalante were named finalists for Asian Cuisine Chef of the Year for 2017.
By TRIXIE ZABAL-MENDOZA FOR YUMMY.PH | 14 hours ago
Chefs Gene Gonzalez of Caf? Ysabel and Chef Tony boy Escalante of Antonio's made it as finalists in the recently concluded 21st World Gourmet Awards of Excellence. The awards night, held March 28 in Singapore, honored professionals and establishments from the F&B and hospitality industries across Asia.
Chef Gene Gonzalez told Yummy.ph: "Having been given this honor reinforces my commitment to putting Philippine cuisine and the Filipino chef on the world map of gastronomy.
I pose these nominations as a challenge and likewise a blessing to push on with the thought that one day, all our work will be put to good use by our budding culinarians."
Gonzalez has been nominated twice but this is the first year he made it as finalist. Escalante was also named finalist for Restaurateur of the Year for his popular Tagaytay resto, Antonio's.
Other Asian Cuisine Chef of the Year finalists include Alvin Leung of Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and Matt Abergel of Yardbird in Hong Kong. Tan Kim Weng of Shang Palace, Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur took home the Asian Cuisine Chef of the Year award.
Gonzalez also shared that his school, Center for Asian Culinary Studies, is the first to include Philippine Cuisine in it modules. "It is now our mission to further the cause of Philippine cuisine."
This story originally appeared on Yummy.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.