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By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes
In almost every corner in the world you will find a little Chinese restaurant. Like the famed dumplings, Asian treats like sushi, pad thai, kimchee, curry, or pho have forever enjoyed the warm spotlight on the international dining table while our humble adobo grows cold in the shadows. But soon all that may change. Filipino cuisine, a melting pot of flavors from different cultures, is about to make its global debut, steaming and bursting with fresh flavors.
Filipino fare may be a bit strange to the foreign tongue, but the world is craving for new unusual flavors. According to an article in Thrillist, America is looking for a new East Asian food obsession and “signs are pointing to a boom in Filipino food.” The spark of that flavor explosion started a few years back when Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods told Today.com that two years from now Filipino food is “going to be the next big thing.” He revealed this in 2012. That was about two years ago which means that the time for adobo is now.
“It’s just starting,” Zimmern explained. “I think it’s going to take another year and a half to get up to critical mass, but everybody loves Chinese food, Thai food, Japanese food, and it’s all been exploited. The Filipinos combined the best of all of that with Spanish technique.” Add our Indonesian, Malaysian, and even American influences are thrown into the pot along with our indigenous flavors and techniques from over 7,000 islands, making into one exciting cuisine.
We’re blessed with fertile land and oceans teeming with the freshest catch for us to create flavors and food art that should open the global palate to us. Our creativity and our practice of using every part of the ingredient (pig blood, chicken intestines, etc.) and using pork in almost every dish should make Filipino fare even more intriguing to whet the world’s appetite.
Looking sexy for 2014
Last year, in addition to Zimmern’s thumbs up, he also named Pinoy food as one of the highlights of 2013. In People.com, he named “brilliant Filipino food” as one of the highs of 2013, second to cronuts. “This is the year, finally, that Pinoy foods have their day in the sun.”
Other food authorities are backing up Zimmern’s endorsement. Details magazine named Philippine fare as “the next great Asian food trend” and Zagat, an influential travel and food guide, named Pinoy Cuisine as one of the most exciting emerging cuisines. At the start of this year, Thrillist, a men’s lifestyle brand, was thrilled to report that Lumpia, Adobo, Pancit, Menudo, Inasal, Kare-kare, and Lechon Kawali will be the next East Asian food obsession.
Meanwhile Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit claims that this year will be all about Filipino inspired food, greatly influencing how the world eats. Perhaps foodies are looking for a new twist on the pad thai or are finally acquiring the taste for oxtail stew livened with shrimp paste. Although considered strange, confusing, and even ugly (pig blood stew, anyone?), it is now considered as one of the sexiest cuisines in the world.
Tracing the movement
Zimmern predicted that the food explosion will start in the West Coast where Filipinos are the second largest Asian ethnicity group. “San Diego is now a big enough ethnic population of Filipinos that chefs are going there and seeing stuff. I think it’ll creep up into Los Angeles and from there go around the rest of the country.”
The irresistible fragrance of adobo can already be detected in other parts of the country, particularly in one of the culinary capitals of the world, New York. Pig and Khao earned a review from New York Times for their menu which includes quail adobo and sizzling sisig put together by former Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen.
Then there’s Maharlika which serves the original “fusion cuisine”, offering dishes like Eggs iMelda served with pandesal, taro-root laing, grilled prawns with kalamansi hollandaise, and kamote fries fit only for the Imeldific. Maharlika’s successful sister Jeepney, a gastro pub, serves longganisa on a hot dog bun drizzled with bagoong relish.
Dale Talde, also a Top Chef favorite, is cooking up Filipino-Asian-American dishes in his restaurant in Brooklyn, earning for himself a “smart and skillful” review from New York Times. Paul Qui, another alumni of the show, is transforming the humble dinuguan into gourmet fare. “…the Filipino foods movement will one day be traceable to Paul Qui serving dinuguan (pork blood stew) at his restaurant Qui in Austin, Texas,” revealed Zimmern.
Close by Cristina Quakenbush serves the “soul food of southeast Asia” with her signature bangus which is hailed as “utterly unique and a real showstopper.” From her restaurant Milkfish in New Orleans, Quakenbush is happy to report that “(Filipino food) is gaining popularity.”
The main entrees are not the only ones making raves. Halo-halo, a sweet conclusion to a Filipino meal, is gaining popularity. After all, what better represents the hodgepodge Filipino cuisine than a perplexing mix of beans, garbanzos, plantains, coconut sport, tapioca, cheese, and any kind of treat you can think of dumped on shaved ice. Talde tops his halo-halo with Cap’n Crunch, making it a highly recommended dish by New York Times.
Anthony Bourdain may not have been too impressed with Filipino cuisine during his visit to the country, cutting out scenes featuring a respected culinary institution in the country from his show, but a trip to Jollibee, L.A. is making him take a second bite. “It makes no goddamn sense at all,” Bourdain commented about the halo-halo. “I love it,” he smiled, taking a picture of the dessert and later posting it on Twitter, because it was “oddly beautiful.” And after enjoying a Jollibee burger, he concludes “there is so much I don’t know.” Maybe it dawned on him that there is more to Philippine cuisine than just the “best pig ever”.
There is no question, adobo and the rest of the menu is taking over America, and the Filipino food movement cannot be contained in one country. Neighboring countries are already catching a whiff of the mouthwatering aroma, tickling their taste buds. Filipino food is a force to reckon with. After all, who should know food better than the food loving Filipino who eats at least five meals a day? It is no wonder why Manila is now considered as one of the world’s newest culinary capitals by a couple of food experts. Those who want to debunk this should first wolf down a plateful of fluffy rice topped by garlicky adobo and finish it off with an oddly beautiful cold dessert before passing judgment.
By Cherie M. del Rio
It does not matter which corner of the world we are in or for how long. Sooner or later, our gustatory senses will be craving for the lutong bahay meals that we have grown up with. It seems that we cannot get by without the traditional Filipino recipes to delight our taste buds on a regular basis. But unlike other Asian cuisines — -such as Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese—the Filipino culinary arts seem to be confined to a handful of Filipino restaurants scattered inadequately in remote states and suburbs. We don’t just walk into any dining hotspot, open the menu, and find a section which contains Filipino dishes. Our adobo and kare-kare haven’t earned fame and patronage the same way the Japanese sushi or Chinese dimsum have made their way in restaurant specials.
Why haven’t we made it? Where lies the problem? Why hasn’t the Filipino cuisine invaded the global scene? A friend cleverly offers a theory: “Because everything is brown.”
And while this is partly amusing and partly true, the color of our dishes is the least factor in our inability to join the ranks of other
world-renowned Asian cuisines. In a recent interview with Chef Gene Gonzales of Café Ysabel, he graciously shared his insights as to why Filipino dishes still haven’t made it globally. Chef Gene, who is the co-founder of Alta Cocina Filipina (the movement for contemporary Filipino cuisine), has authored many cookbooks and articles on the culinary arts for Manila’s major newspapers. His knowledge and brilliant observations on the current state of the Filipino culinary arts pave the way for the even more remarkable visions he has for our native cuisine.
“There is no problem with flavor, ingredients,” Chef Gene explains. “Presentation can be attained by a new generation of food stylists and chefs without altering the time character of the recipe or dish.”
For Chef Gene, the problem lies with a weak marketing campaign and an even weaker political will. He believes that anybody interested in food will try a dish if explained well in a context that the person can relate with. He elaborates, “It can have a historical, anthropological, sociological, medical nutraceutical or a combination of several factors of how a recipe could have evolved.”
Where then should our focus be in order for our cuisine to have a global reach?
Chef Gene offers the most interesting and profound answer: we should emphasize the bond of our culture with our cuisine. Both locals and tourists should be able to identify the strong connection between our cultures and traditions and the food we eat and serve. It must be recognized that when we speak of Filipino culture and heritage, we likewise speak of the Filipino recipes that have been handed down from one generation to another and vice versa.
He looks back at the culinary events he has attended and shares his observations on how the other Asian cuisines have been marketed. “Take the Thai, Malaysian, and Vietnamese experience. Food is always part of any tourism promotion the Philippines has only started the past years,” Chef Gene says. “I’ve been doing Philippine food festivals every year abroad and a good appreciation for our cuisine is obvious among those who try our spreads for as long as the dishes are well explained.”
The man behind Café Ysabel’s world-class cuisine also recounts an example that bolsters the need to highlight the bond between a country’s culture and culinary arts. “Take the Thais,” he says. “It took an American P.R. firm to teach them how to market their food and it was successful. All over Thailand, a Tom Yam looks like a Tom Yam, so does their Red Curry or their Papaya Salad. At present, any Thai national that sets up a restaurant outside of Thailand gets a royal subsidy from their embassy because they want to prove that it is one of the best cuisines of the world.”
It is clear. The Filipino cuisine hasn’t penetrated the global culinary arena not because all our food is brown or that our recipes are not healthy enough or not varied enough. We have not reached that most coveted world-class level because we do not have an adequate marketing scheme that will push our recipes forward, neither do we have sufficient government support. “It’s a marketing and government problem,” Chef Gene emphasizes.
Having identified our weakness, Chef Gene now relates his compelling vision for the Filipino cuisine and how it can flourish both locally and globally. “We should include Filipino cooking in every grade school and high school curriculum. We should make it a required subject in all professional culinary programs,” he suggests.
He says we explore and be conscious of other culinary arts such as the cuisine of our Muslim brothers in Mindanao, the Filipino ethnic or tribal cooking and its documentation, the Filipino-Chinese cooking, particularly Tsinoy Binondo cooking which has evolved and is its own cuisine.
Chef Gene likewise believes that creating special awards on regional Filipino cookbooks (without the Fusion, of course) can help push our culinary arts to excellence and popularity.
Another one of his well-established suggestions is to create a Food Almanac and document all the specialties on a per town basis. “This can be done on a local government level since all local government units have a tourism office,” Chef Gene offers this insight. “Filipino cuisine will proliferate and will experiment a great push if the multi-sectoral effort will be spurred by a government that realizes the bond of culture and cuisine. Only then can we truly see the reality of a dream of evolving new and more dynamic Filipino recipes.”
And only then can we be closer to the day when we shall walk into a restaurant in some diner in Chicago or Houston and find, perhaps, the sinigang featured in the regular menu. Only then can we claim that our Filipino cuisine has finally descended upon the international culinary scene.
By Vicky Rose Pacheco
I thought I knew how to make adobo. I’ve been making the white version all these years and I wanted to make the one with soy sauce. I think this is the adobo that foreigners are familiar with. When I contemplated including Chicken Adobo in Sentro 1771’s new menu in Greenbelt 3, I thought it was going to be a walk in the park. We placed it on the menu last March but I had to test the recipe four times, not counting the couple of times I did it at home. Each recipe testing had to be a four-whole-chickens batch. Gosh, how many trials was it going to take? I wanted to achieve a Chicken Adobo that was dark and shiny, just the way Tibay makes it. Tibay is our clan’s resident cook. I badgered her for the recipe several times but she ignored me. I thus resorted to texting her, asking her questions which she could answer with a yes or a no. Eventually I gave up and decided to do a take five and a take six.
After two months, I think I am midway. I already got the ratio of the pork to the chicken. I am lining the bottom of the pan with pork fat. I am using native garlic. I am using sukang paombong. I am using Silver Swan soy sauce. I marinate the chicken in vinegar, salt and crushed peppercorns. It is still not coming out the way I envisioned it. Since I am doing a batch of four whole chickens at a time, I cook it in a tall pot. Unfortunately, not all chickens are touching the liquid. I would think that the top is being steamed instead of stewed. I think that’s one of the contributing factors to its non-success.
Maybe I’ll cook it in a deep roasting pan so that it will be level, then I’ll just place it in the oven. I don’t know, this is one big batch.
Another thing I’m going to do with the adobo is to fry it after it is cooked in vinegar. I wanted to avoid the frying procedure for “lower fat” purposes and because of tediousness, but I guess that deep dark color comes from browning the pieces in fat. Yes, I’ll try that right away!
The Kare-Kare, on the other hand, launched last December, is not the dark orange- brown and shiny Kare-Kare I’ve been aiming for. The flavor of the peanuts is still lacking, despite already putting five kilos in one batch. Mind you, we are using the famous Iligan peanuts which are flown all the way to Manila. Every week, I have been monitoring it and we’ve been tweaking the recipe every single time, but only through verbal instructions via Claudette, the sous chef. Why isn’t it the same as the one in our house? I can’t invite my parents to taste it yet. Wait ‘til I get my hands on it. I’m not going to give instructions anymore, I will do it myself.
And so it happened that when we opened Sentro1771 in Serendra last May, I got a chance to personally make the Kare-Kare sauce from the start. Since we did not have ox intestines at that time, I used beef bulalo. I sautéed the garlic then the onions, and I added the bulalo. Then I added the beef broth from the boiled boneless beef shank. I added the ground peanuts which I passed through the blender to make a smooth paste. Then I simmered it for about two hours. In between, I was adding atswete coloring several times.
Slowly, it was becoming this rich stew which I recognized! Yipee! Malapit na! I had not added yet the toasted ground rice. It was only then that I realized that it should only be added once the right color and peanut flavor have been achieved. Treat the rice like any thickener, dissolve it in water then add. The bulalo worked well because of its bone marrow inside for richness and depth of flavor and the tendons on the outside for that meat flavor. Had I used ox intestines, these would have disintegrated before the right color and flavor have been achieved. Of course, I am talking here about the sauce only being cooked one big giant cauldron. I had yet to add the boiled ox feet, ox tail, tripes, and boneless shank. However, I was already quite pleased with the result. It was really getting there. Unfortunately, it was nearing dinner service so I had to park it and resume the following day.
In the middle of writing this article, I ate breakfast. I had leftover Chicken & Pork Adobo with soy sauce from a previous dinner and I said, why not fry it once and for all? The pieces were browned and the garlic was browned and got all stuck together with the pepper… it looked very appetizing. Yipee! I got the look! However, in the taste department, it lacked the oomph of the vinegar and it’s because this was the version that was not marinated prior to stewing. Now this adobo looked like Winnie’s. Winnie is the cook of my aunt on my dad’s side. She has been cooking for my Lola Angustia and my dad’s side of the family for many years now. It’s my lola’s recipe but Winnie’s execution. Every time we ate at my Lola Angustia’s house, she would always have this adobo and it would always be wiped out by. What a wonderful turn of events! I’ll chuck Tibay’s adobo and go for Winnie’s instead. Now it’s time to teach it to the cooks.
Cooking, and not only Kare-Kare and Adobo, is really an unfinished business. It never ends. Be it at home or in the restaurants, I continuously discover something new each time. It is always subject to time, temperament, judgment, temperature, quantity and quality of ingredients, size of cooking vessel, technique, and food memories. It is such a joy to experiment and discover at the same time. I hope it never ends.
(The author is the COO & Executive Chef of the Chateau 1771 Group of Restaurants. The Chateau Group (www.chateaugroup.com) includes Chateau 1771 (European No Borders) in Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City; Sidebar in El Pueblo, Ortigas Center, Pasig City; Sentro 1771 (Modern Filipino) in Greenbelt 3, Ayala Center, Makati City, and in Serendra, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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