Laguna’s ‘Pantalan’ food fest is back with a big bang
Bravo to sibling chefs Theodore Day Salonga and Gel Salonga-Datu of Laguna who, with Chef Gel’s husband Chef Dino Datu, former editor in chief of Cook Magazine, just organized another very successful Laguna food and heritage festival held on Sept. 16 entitled “Sa Pantalan-Biyaheng Pangkatagalugan” (To the Port: A Tagalog Journey).
This was the first postpandemic festival organized by the sibling chefs, although they had actually started this way back in 2017. The festival, named after the local pantalan or pier of Santa Cruz, Laguna, aims to put the spotlight on Laguna food and heritage by providing a venue for artisanal food producers, micro and small entrepreneurs, artists, farmers and fisherfolk to showcase and sell their products and creations.
A private initiative, the siblings have tirelessly worked to encourage as many exhibitors as possible, yet make the event free of charge, both for exhibitors and visitors. This year, the festival, held at Ted’s Warehouse Events Space in Sta. Cruz, featured an impressive 72 exhibitors
Diverse art and artisanal products
The showcase of products was incredibly diverse. As Paete, San Pablo and Los Baños are known for the talent of local artists, Sa Pantalan had a whole section reserved for visual artists, with renowned Laguna painters like Lito Brion Ballaran and Bayani Ray Acala being among those whose works were showcased. Also noteworthy is that not only wood carvings but also ice sculptures were on display!
To showcase Lumban or the ‘Embroidery Capital of the Philippines’, Sa Pantalan featured the Lumban Embroidery Association.
For food products, they featured local coffee, cacao products from Cacao Farmers Association of Nagcarlan, fruit wines, native rice cakes or kakanin such as espasol, which Laguna is famous for, and farmed fruits and vegetables from Juan Santiago Agri Co-op, Sipag Pagsanjan and Dream Nature Farm.
Aurora Filipino Cuisine
Parallel to the festival was a feast prepared by Aurora Filipino Cuisine, an excellent Filipino restaurant in Sta. Cruz that is run by Chef Theodore Day Salonga. Assisted by Chef Gem Tee for Sa Pantalan, Chef Day outdid himself in his creative take on traditional Laguna dishes.
For canapes, he served Laguna delicacies such as pinaniki, minanok and kulawo. Maui Datu, son of Chef Dino Datu, explained the dishes. Pinaniki is a local version of bopis (spicy minced pork lung and heart) that is cooked in coconut cream or ginataan. Minanok, a delicacy of Sta. Cruz (although Paete also has its own version) is shredded banana heart. Kulawo is made of grilled eggplants that are mashed, then mixed with burnt coconut cream and coconut vinegar.
For his mains, Chef Day served cochinillo stuffed with binatog or boiled puffed white corn kernels. He also made kare-kare but using carabao beef that was cooked for 48 hours. For fish, he chose tilapia, which is found in Laguna de Bay, Caliraya Lake, Sampaloc Lake in San Pablo as well as smaller lakes but Chef Day served this in the local style of sinugnong, i.e., the fish was lined with banana leaves, then grilled over charcoal while pouring burnt coconut cream over the fish.
He also had a unique take on pancit canton: it was topped with two kinds of “flowers”— chicharon bulalaklak and edible flowers! Talk about a balanced meal!
Desserts were made by Chef Gel, their mom, Angie Salonga and their pastry team. Chef Gel Salonga-Datu is famous for her bibingka cheesecake.
It was truly a spectacular showcase of Laguna’s food and heritage. Every town should have something like this! Let’s always celebrate our Filipino heritage, art and cuisine!