By Jacky Lynne A. Oiga
Images by Pinggot Zulueta
Empanadang Bilbao sa Vigan
Sugpo sa Aligue
Sandee Masigan (left) and Chef Tanya
The State Dining Room at XO 46 Heritage Bistro in Conrad’s S Maison is the only store, so far, where guests can dine like royalty and enjoy the Presidential Cuisine.
Filipino food, quite like Filipino culture, is an amalgamation of influences that came long before the Philippines spent “300 years in the convent and 50 years in Hollywood.” From Chinese and Japanese noodles to Arabian dates and Indian vegetables like ampalaya (bitter gourd) and malunggay (moringa leaves), ripples of food influences have passed through our country during and much before Ferdinand Magellan docked on Homonhon island with a ship full of Malaccan spices.
This flourishing trade, made more lucrative by the opening of the Manila-Acapulco route via the Manila Galleons, left an indelible mark to Filipino food and food customs we know today. Take for instance the Puto Calasiao. It did not originate from Calasiao, Pangasinan, as the name suggests. It’s from India. In India they call it putti, ground rice steamed into a sort of rice cake. It has the same recipe and procedure as the puto in Calasiao. Only in India, the putti is served like a pancake while our puto are bite-sized.
“What’s interesting about the Philippines, since we were colonized by Spain, all our other influences were tempered—especially in food,” says Sandee Masigan, owner of XO 46 Heritage Bistro. “That’s why we have camaron rebusado (deep-fried battered shrimp), which doesn’t exist in Spain. It’s a Spanish name for a Filipino dish that, according to food historians, were common fare in Chinese panciterias. But in order for the Spanish colonizers to understand the food being served to them, we named our food in Spanish. Same is true with the arroz caldo, which has its roots from the Chinese congee.”
But no matter what names we put on dishes that we learned from our traders and colonizers, we’ve always managed to make these dishes uniquely ours. Not just through traditional Pinoy flavors—salty-sweet and oozing with umami—but also through the history and stories behind each plate and meal course.
Telling our history through food has always been the thrust of Sandee and Andrew Masigan’s XO 46 Bistro. You taste it in its menu of time-honored dishes from the north, Central Luzon, and Bicolandia. You see it in the old-world interiors. You feel it in the hospitality and its unique brand of Filipino service—its staff communicating purely and fluently in Tagalog. But most important, you learn it through its dégustations: Philippines on a Plate, a culinary tour of the country’s food influences throughout the centuries, is like a history lesson told through a curated and well-researched 10-course-meal; and the Presidential Cuisine, is inspired by state dinners our government hosted, from the dinner to celebrate the “Solemn Ratification of the Philippine Constitution” at Malolos to the APEC 2015 gala dinner at the MOA Arena.
“We want to showcase Filipino cuisine in a more formal and regal manner,” Sandee says. “We’re not a monarchy so we’ve never had royalty. When you look at our Asian neighbors, like the Thais, for instance, we’re so amazed with the presentation of their royal dishes. So we thought, why not elevate our local cuisine. Veer away from serving dishes family-style or fiesta-style on a bandehado (platter) and show guests that we can have a nice formal dinner serving all Filipino food. In a dining setting that everyone, not just royalties or presidents or heads of state, can enjoy every day.”
Sandee and Andrew have successfully launched the Philippines on the Plate menu, which is now available in all XO branches. It has become a favorite of balikbayans and foreigners. When they opened their newest branch at Conrad’s S Maison, the space allowed for high ceilings, chandeliers, and curly-cues; the atmosphere and ambiance, with the right interiors and portraits of past Presidents, very stately. They call it the State Dining Room, where they serve the newly minted Presidential Cuisine.
“We called it that because it’s inspired and a showcase of state dinners not just for presidents but for all heads of state like what the country hosted during APEC as well as ministerial meetings. These are the best. The best of what our chefs can offer and come up with, far from our every day food. That’s what we want to present in this cuisine so that we can push Filipino food more,” she says.
Part of the Presidential Cuisine is the Aguinaldo Dinner. Inspired by the grand Malolos banquet our founding fathers threw to celebrate the Ratification of the Philippine Constitution, following the declaration of our independence from Spain in June 12, 1898 and the Malolos Congress election. Sandee found a photo of the last surviving menu of the “coming out party,” written in French:
Huitres, crevettes roses; beurre radis; olives; Saucisson de Lyon; sardines aux tomates; saumon Hollandaise
Coquille de crabes; vol auvent a la financiere; abatis de poulet a la Tagale; cotelettes de mouton a la papillote, pommes de terre paille; dinde truffee a la Manilloise; filet a la Chateubriand, haricots verts; jambon froid-asperges en branche
Fromages; Fruits; Confitures; gele de Fraises; Glaces. Vins: Bordeaux, Sauterne, Xeres; Liquers:
Chartreuse and cognac, café or the”
For starters they had oysters, prawns, buttered radish, olives, Lyon sausages, sardines in tomato sauce, and salmon with Hollandaise sauce. For entrees: crabmeat in its shell, filled pastry shells, chicken giblets, mutton chops with potato straws, stuffed truffled turkey a la Manilloise, beef fillet a la Chateaubriand with green beans, and cold ham with asparagus. For dessert: cheeses, fruits, jam, frosted strawberries, and ice cream. The drink list had Bordeaux, Sauterne, sherry, and champagne. For the liqueurs: Chartreuse and cognac, and coffee or tea.
More than half of the ingredients for the menu were imported—the turkey, the beef and lamb, wines, cheeses, the asparagus, the truffles, even the ice to make the ice cream. “At that time, I think, we weren’t yet a republic like we are now. So our forefathers were trying to show that we are world-class, at par with the rest of the world, through food,” she says. “We had everything including the stuff we didn’t produce, cooked by Filipino chefs and cooks. The menu was in French because French has always been the language of diplomacy.”
Sandee admits that there is no way to replicate a dinner dripping with such audacious affluence and patriotism. What they’ve done for their Aguinaldo Dinner instead is to infuse, again, different culinary influences that we’ve had. “In the dishes that we have, you’ll find a nibble of French, American, Chinese, a little Indian presented in eight courses,” she says. Having the Presidential Cuisine at XO 46 Heritage Bistro’s State Dining Room also entails dining on an old—and massive—dining table made from one whole tree, where past Presidents Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos P. Garcia, and Fidel V. Ramos have dined on. The table belonged to Sandee’s grandfather, the dad of former presidential spokesperson Deedee Siytangco.
“Unlike my mom, I haven’t attended a state dinner in the Palace or anywhere else. That’s why we wanted to do this here. You don’t have to wait for Independence Day to try dishes that speak volumes of your being Filipino, you can have it here anytime you want to celebrate a special occasion or wine and dine your guests in true Filipino-style,” she ends.