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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Exploring the heart of Filipino culture through food

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There has been a running joke among our colleagues: “A meeting without food should just be an email.”

You can also perceive that in the way we greet people. In the Philippines, we don’t say “Mabuhay”; instead, we say “Kumain ka na ba?” or “Tara, kain tayo.” We offer food even to strangers.

That probably encapsulates the central role of food in Filipino culture. Whether it is a quick break for employees at the small office pantry, a meeting with clients, a tweet-up with online friends, or a get-together with friends, food is always omnipresent.

For many of us, especially among the working class, food is about sustenance. When you have mouths to feed and time is always of the essence, you just grab and take what is available. This might also be the reason turo-turo and carinderia became popular in the country. People flock because they serve cheap, filling dishes with generous servings, but sometimes they are not up to standard.

Chef Gel Salonga-Datu’s Bibingka Cheesecake incorporates the western dessert with that
of the local delicacy

Generally, food is a language that brings people together. Just imagine how sharing a load of bread, a plate of pasta, a spoonful of ice cream, or just a bucket of popcorn between two individuals can change the dynamic and quality of their relationships.

Food is meant to be shared. Food is something that needs to be savored, to be enjoyed, and to be appreciated.

As a foodie, my appreciation of food increases when I hear culinary stories and learn how certain dishes are prepared. Paired with great company and good conversations around the table, it would certainly be a higara (a Hiligaynon word that means social relations) to remember.

Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco’s version of the pinikpikan was served with bignay wine gelee, tapuy
(rice wine), and strawberry compote, garnished with cherry tomatoes, red radish, and shishito

Food historian Felice Sta. Maria Prudente explained higara as a term that expresses how Filipinos like to eat with each other.

To cap the Filipino Food Month celebration, three remarkable Filipina chefs showcased their culinary talents and advocacies in a special gastronomic event, dubbed Higara: A Night of Filipino Food Culture, a six-hand dinner featuring Filipina chefs, at the Sheraton Hotel, Manila. 

Chefs Waya Araos-Wijangco, Gel Salonga-Datu, and Rhea Castro-Sycip curated a special menu highlighting Filipino cuisine with contemporary takes.

Araos-Wijangco’s appetizer, Pinikpikan Rillette, impressed what the diners and special guests could expect at the six-hand dinner hosted by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Tourism, and the Department of Agriculture.

When I heard the word pinikpikan, I anticipated a soup dish because that is how we eat it in our home in Baguio. We don’t often cook it unless there is a ritual (especially for a funeral and memorial) or a special occasion. When we prepare pinikpikan, no one can leave the house to avoid accidents and bad luck.

Most people avoid eating it because of the controversial way of preparing it. The chicken is battered until its blood coagulates and slowly dies, and then it is burned. The coagulated blood and smokiness give it a distinct flavor.

For the special dinner, Chef Araos-Wijangco gave a different interpretation of pinikpikan. She prepared it using the French way of slow-cooking the meat with aromatics and submerging it in its fats. She reduced the soup into an aspic and shredded and molded the meat into a loaf.

The dish was served with bignay wine gelee, tapuy (rice wine), and strawberry compote, with cherry tomatoes, red radish, and shishito as garnishes.

For the next appetizer, chef Salonga-Datu presented her take on kulawo, a salad often found in Southern Tagalog provinces, particularly Laguna and Quezon.

For her Kulawo Salad with burnt coconut dressing, she used foraged greens like pako and alugbati, typical produce of the region. For this salad, the components of kulawo are used as a dressing to bring the ingredients together.

The main dishes were the Banguingui Sulu Marlin and the Kalderetang Pato.

For the marlin dish, chef Araos-Wijangco used Indo-Pacific blue marlin from Bucutua and Banguingui in Sulu, which has been harvested to order, line-caught, and packed in ice from Sulu, and air-flown from Zamboanga.

I’m all for the sustainable, farm-to-table way of eating. It gives a different dimension to enjoying food.

Chef Sycip presented a deconstructed version of kaldereta, a Filipino stew with a rich tomato base, cooked with a choice of protein and vegetables. For this dish, she used pato, or duck meat. 

On the plate was pan-roasted magret de canard (flash-seared duck breast), with tomato kalderata sauce, piperade, and green pea mousse, with fondant potatoes and glazed carrots, which she sourced from the Progressive Farmers of Zambales.

To give a sweet ending to the dinner, chefs Salonga-Datu and Sycip prepared desserts: – Bibingka Cheesecake and Binaki.

Chef Sycip showed her take on the traditional Binaki, a type of sweet corn tamales famous in Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro. For her modern take, she served the corn cakes with coconut panna cotta, white chocolate popcorn mousse, corn gelee, and burnt corn husk meringue, topped with Tinigib (a corn variety) dust.

“As we enjoy this exquisite dinner tonight, let us not only indulge in the culinary delights but also reflect on the importance of preserving and promoting Filipino food culture from a local to a global perspective. Let us celebrate the extraordinary talent of our Filipina chefs and express our gratitude to the women farmers and fisherfolks whose hard work has made this evening possible,” said chef Jose Antonio Miguel Melchor, the president and founder of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement.

The dining experience was heightened with performances from multi-awarded artist-singer Bayang Barrios, Angeli Benipayo, Banda Kawayan, and Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group.

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