Celebrating Philippine cuisine
In the frenzy of Madrid Fusion Manila—the Congress proper happening April 7 to 9 at the SMX Convention Center—I fervently pray that we don’t lose sight of our own culinary tourism and trade objectives: to promote Philippine cuisine, produce and introduce our Filipino chefs to the world.
It is but natural to get excited about the internationally acclaimed chefs who are coming, especially those hailed as “the best” by the World’s 50 Best and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants lists, including Tokyo’s Yoshihiro Narisawa, hailed Asia’s No. 1 in the first year of the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards; Bangkok’s David Thompson, hailed Asia’s No. 1 in the second year of the Asia’s 50 Best; and Peru’s Virgilio Martinez, currently Latin America’s No. 1. They are obviously brilliant chefs who have earned their rock star status.
But instead of becoming a rock star chef’s groupie, let’s take a moment to remember why this Congress was brought here in the first place and take the opportunity to showcase our local talent and food too, shall we?
Top Filipino chefs
For the benefit of the culinary tourists arriving this week, do seek out the following names because they are among the Philippines’ best chefs.
Margarita Fores. Fores is first on the list not only because she currently holds the title of Asia’s Best Female Chef from the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants jury but because she was a prime mover in bringing Madrid Fusion to the Philippines. The petite chef is larger than life. She is known for elaborate catering for heads of state. Her restaurants include Lusso in Greenbelt; Grace Park, a farm-to-table restaurant; and Cibo, an Italian chain she created from scratch.
Glenda Barretto. Barretto is hailed as the “doyenne of Philippine cuisine.” A regal lady who was the official chef of the Malacañang (the Philippines’ White House) in the ’70s, she continues to be the No. 1 caterer for Filipino-themed state dinners, being the lead caterer at last year’s Asia Pacific Economic Conference (Apec) state dinner as well as last year’s and this year’s Madrid Fusion.
Myrna Segismundo. Segismundo, along with Fores, was a speaker at Madrid Fusion 2015 in Spain.
Segismundo is a known advocate of Philippine cuisine, presenting Filipino home cooking in a cosmopolitan manner since the 1980s. She is chair of Chefs on Parade and founding member of the International Wine and Food Society-Manila Ladies Branch.
Claude Tayag. Tayag is an authority on Pampanga or Capampangan cuisine. His private dining space Bale Dutung has welcomed many an international gourmet to showcase the best of his province’s flavors. His book with wife Maryann—“Linamnam”—is a handy guide for where to eat all around the Philippines.
Sandy Daza. Daza has culinary genius in his genes. The son of the Philippines’ Julia Child, Nora Daza, whose book “Let’s Cook With Nora” was the bible of generations of housewives, and who opened the first Filipino restaurant in Paris and New York and hosted Paul Bocuse and L’enotre in the Philippines, Sandy now has his own Filipino restaurant Wooden Spoon showcasing some of their home recipes as well as recipes he has learned in travels around the country for his television show Foodprints.
Jessie Sincioco. Sincioco become known for cooking French cuisine at a popular (now defunct) restaurant Le Souffle. But since she opened her eponymous restaurant Chef Jessie, her Filipino dishes have also become of note. She hails from Bulacan and this shows in her outstanding Filipino desserts using glutinous rice.
Tonyboy Escalante. Escalante’s Antonio’s was last year’s No. 1 restaurant in the Philippines (and continues to be so in the eyes of many). He has also since opened Balay Dako, also in Tagaytay, which has a spectacular view of the volcano at night and perfect for cocktails in this weather.
J Gamboa. The Gamboas’ Milky Way restaurant is practically an institution for having served consistently good, clean-tasting Filipino food for the past decades. They also make the best shaved ice dessert—halo-halo.
Quintessential Filipino restaurants
The following are not part of any presumptive list nor are they fine dining but these restaurants are worth a visit if you want a real taste of Filipino food:
- Aristocrat for its chicken barbecue. This is the quintessential balikbayan (returning resident) meal, i.e. when a Filipino goes abroad for too long, this is the dish that we crave for and the restaurant we desire to eat at most upon coming home. Order the boneless chicken barbecue with java rice.
- Abe for its kare-kare. Said to be derived from the word “curry,” this dish is an oxtail stew that is a staple at most Filipino homes. This is appreciated with plain white rice and you must have it with good bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). We like the strong, Capampangan flavors at Abe although the kare-kare at most other Filipino restaurants like Aristocrat are OK, too. At Abe, you can also order the butterflied plapla with buro and mustasa (butterflied fried fish that you wrap with fermented rice in a mustard leaf).
- Milky Way for its halo-halo. This is a Filipino dessert of shaved ice mixed with leche flan (caramelized flan), ube, a variety of beans and milk.
Other places where you can get halo-halo include the Peninsula lobby (pricey) and the fast food chain Chowking (cheap). A regional variety can be found at local diner Razon’s.
- Kinilaw. This dish was the subject of the talk of Chefs Margarita Fores and Myrna Segismundo in Madrid Fusion 2015 so the Madrid Fusion delegate might want to try this.
However, it has been difficult to pinpoint a restaurant that serves good kinilaw—that is, until Chef JP Anglo opened a Kinilaw Bar at SM Mall of Asia (the biggest mall in Asia). Word is that there was practically an earthquake with the number of jaws that dropped to the floor when Asia’s Best Chef Gaggan, who visited last year, was given the pancit (a noodle dish) of Kafe Batwan, another Anglo creation, as his first taste of Filipino food (for pancit, head over to Sta. Maria Bulacan or Aling Lulu’s in San Juan), but there should be no objections to Sarsa Restaurant’s Kinilaw Bar, especially because this was created in collaboration with Vicente ‘Enting’ Lobaton, the authority on kinilaw in the country. Sarsa is also a good restaurant to visit to get an introduction to the flavors of Iloilo, another regional culinary powerhouse. Anglo, for his part, is also a chef to watch, the charming chef and television personality who has been promoting Ilonggo food, one Sarsa restaurant at a time.
- Sinigang at Mamou. Mamou is in fact known as a steakhouse because they make a mean Peter Luger-inspired steak. But Mamou regulars know that this restaurant also makes a mean sinigang. The sourness is just right and they use Kurobuta pork. It’s not really a Filipino restaurant but their international dishes that use Filipino ingredients or Filipino dishes that use international ingredients are superb.
This list could go on forever … but have a taste at the above-mentioned restaurants for starters. In case you don’t have time, for convenience, these other restaurants also offer Filipino menus: Sentro, Fely J’s, Pamana, Gerry’s Grill (order the crispy pata with garlic rice and a subzero San Miguel beer), Wooden Spoon, Max Fried Chicken, Cafe Romulo.
For Philippine street food, make sure to try dirty ice cream peddled by a sorbetero (ice cream vendor), fish balls with sweet or spicy sauce, taho (a soy dessert with pearls), kwek-kwek (deep fried quail eggs), bituka (deep fried intestines), and chicharon (pork rind—make sure to ask for full back fat and not the airy kind).
These are the flavors of the Philippines that we would strongly recommend culinary visitors to try.
When a powerful jury member of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants visited Manila a few years ago, it broke my heart to hear her say that she could not find any Filipino restaurants save for the fast food chains. We hope that you have a delicious visit and come back for more. Happy eating!
Madrid Fusion Manila is on April 7-9 at the SMX.
For tickets, visit MadridFusionManila.com.
For other food events, check out madridfusionmanila.com/flavors-of-the-philippines or visit margauxsalcedo.com for updates.
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