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Celebrating the local

THE DIAMOND Hotel’s collaboration with Myke “Tatung” Sarthou gives a perfectly good reason to go to a hotel for Filipino food —  even if, by principle, one can always have it at home.

During a lunchtime launch of “Rediscover the Flavors of the Archipelago,” the hotel’s food festival that runs from June 9 to 12, guests were served with delights like balbacua (trotters, tails, and other skin-covered bits in a peanut sauce), pancit pusit (stir-fried noodles in a black squid ink sauce), and kulawong talong (shrimps and eggplant flavored with smoked coconut).

The rest of the menu includes favorites like Pako Salad (fern salad), kinilaw na tuna (raw fish “cooked” in acid) and sinuglaw (like kinilaw, but with grilled meat), sinampalukang manok (chicken cooked in a tamarind-based broth), papaitan soup (meat with a soup flavored with innards) and beef hinalang (a spicy beef broth), callos (tripe in tomato sauce), piyanggang (chicken in a blackened coconut sauce) and beef kulma (a bit like a curry). The carving section will highlight the popular lechon belly roll and roast beef adobo. to end the meal, there are browa, torta bisaya, leche flan, and buco pie.

“The Diamond Hotel is an independently owned Filipino hotel, with an (almost) all-Filipino staff,” said the hotel’s PR Manager, Melanie Pallorina to BusinessWorld. “This is our way of celebrating,” she said.

CELEBRATING THE LOCALThe menu highlights dishes from all the three major island groups (Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao) of the Philippines. Mr. Sarthou, who won at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for two categories: Celebrity Chef – World, and Easy Recipes at Home for his book Simpol Kitchen Secrets, made sure that the menu would include more obscure dishes (for example, save for a less flavorful version of the balbacua, we had yet to encounter any of the three dishes served that day).

The balbacua, made with a peanut and annatto (achuete) broth, might be a version of kare-kare, but it has a thinner broth (in place of the kare-kare’s viscous sauce) and is spiced with sibot which is a mix oftraditional Chinese herbs. This tasted quite comforting, especially since the day of the launch was quite rainy.

Another standout was the pancit pusit, which had a citric zing to it, and shrimps added to the squid ink’s oceanic flavor.

The dishes, though unfamiliar, shared similar threads with dishes common to the capital city’s tables. “We use a lot of the ingredients all over,” Mr. Sarthou said, explaining the links that bind the regional cuisines of the Philippines. “It’s the manner of treating the ingredients [that makes the difference].” For example, the Tagalog kulawo mentioned above shares ingredients with Bicol’s tinutong, also made of roasted coconut, which would then tie it up to the piyanggang of Mindanao. “It’s not about exoticizing Filipino food,” the chef said. “These are really like everyday dishes in the other regions.”

He cites that some regions in the Philippines eat things that other regions don’t. In Iloilo, for example, the trunks of banana trees are eaten; in some places, they’re used just for animal feed. “If you’re able to see the food value of products that are wasted in some regions, more people will be able to eat.”

How is it then that some dishes make it to the mainstream, and some stay put? Sisig, for example, was an obscure pickle in Pampanga, which after some modifications by Lucia Cunanan, has reached not only the country’s capital, but also New York, and the TV show of the late gourmand Anthony Bourdain. Who knew that chopped-up pig’s face could have such appeal? “Dapat masarap talaga iyong dish (the dish should really be delicious),” said Mr. Sarthou. “Number two, there should be people promoting it. Food has to have heroes.”

“There is excellence in our cuisine,” he said. “We just don’t know about it.”

The Corniche Lunch and Dinner buffet which will feature the “Rediscover the Flavors of the Archipelago” spread is available  for P3,300 net per person. Guests spending P5,000 net at the Corniche Buffet will get a chance to win roundtrip airline tickets for two persons via Cebu Pacific Air to any local destination of choice at a raffle. —  Joseph L. Garcia

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