By Clang Garcia
The Philippines is a country of many provinces, abundantly blessed with 7,641 islands, and teeming with over 170 languages and 80 ethnolinguistic groups. What connects us all is the richness of our biodiversity, which has been an abundant source for our culinary treasures.
In the past 15 years, a Eureka moment hit me hard. This took me to the realm of conscious awareness to dig deeper into my cultural roots through flavors. Armed with commitment, I packed my bag and traversed the islands. I dove into the oceans to forage for sea greens, and trekked the mountains to observe ancient rituals. The destinations unfolded before me, left me in absolute awe, and blessed me with the most profound gift of ignited pride and purpose.
Documenting my gastronomic discoveries called for an immense obligation to contribute in the stimulation of a multifaceted perspective by embracing our very own. It is with pleasure to share an excerpt from my upcoming book, as we welcome this new year with fresh eyes and an open spirit.
Agurong (river shell) is the star of Kalinga’s spicy stew. Binungor is an assemblage of rainforest ingredients such as mushrooms, squash, bamboo shoots, young jackfruit, string beans, chili, ginger, onions, and salt. This dish is simmered in coconut milk.
A staple food of the Isneg community from the Apayao province, it is composed of iwat (eel), banana pith, chili, taro leaves, and salt. The ingredients are slowly cooked in a bamboo tube over wood fire. A long stick is used to mix everything and the dish is served when it is a mushy texture.
The Ilocanos’ penchant for bitter notes reign supreme in this full-bodied broth of beef, offal, and bile extract. It is fused with spices and kamias (bilimbi plant) that beautifully cut through the richness of flavor. Sitio Remedios Heritage Village Resort in Ilocos Norte serves this treasured dish, replete with the breathtaking view of Currimao coast.
In Mexico, it is a type of mole (condiment or sauce) that uses pumpkin seeds as a thickener, and an herb native to Central America called espazotes or pasotes. In Ilocos Sur, the pipian has been indigenized into a full dish made of chicken meat and broth, annatto water, kamias, ginger, patis, pasote, and pounded rice grains.
This is a hearty stew from Isabela. It is made of freshly harvested vegetables. The taste that dominates comes from the use of bagoong ng isda (fermented fish sauce) that flavor the squash blossoms, legumes, and grated white corn. Various towns make their own interpretation by adding grilled fish, shrimps, or mushrooms.
This is a Good Friday dish from Naic, Cavite. The samaral (rabbitfish) is stuffed with a salsa of onions and tomatoes. Afterward, it is wrapped with alagaw leaves, sealed with sewing threads, then deep fried until it turns black. Once removed from the heat, the dark coating is stripped and reveals a moist, fragrant, and flavorful flesh that melts in the mouth.
These are precious micro shrimps from Lake Palakpakin of San Pablo City. The dish is made by pounding the pinayti, which are then simmered in coconut milk and spices. Calamansi and chili are always served on the side to provide an option for the diner to craft his own palate of pleasure.
8. Alang-Ang (Ulang and Alangan)
This dish is Quezon province’s indigenous concoction of ulang (river prawns), and alangan na niyog (coconut meat that is not too young or mature). The heads of the prawns are crushed with coconut water. They are mixed with grated coconut and spices, then simmered to perfection.
This is not a chicken dish, but is made of banana blossoms simmered in spices, vinegar, and charred coconut cream. The vivid dish resembles the fowl and it is often paired with maruya (banana fritters). This pairing creates a scrumptious experience of biting into something smoked, sweet, and crunchy. In Sta. Cruz Laguna, a restaurant called Aurora Filipino Cuisine keeps this heritage flavor alive.
10. Kinalamsian sa Buko
In the heart of Daraga, Albay, a humble stall in Cagsawa Ruins offers a heavenly broth that encapsulates the pillars of Filipino flavors. A seasonal fish is simmered in coconut juice, calamansi extract, salt, and spices. The simplicity of these flavors brings together a balance of sweet, salty, and sour that reaches the dimension of linamnam.
This culinary jewel from Catbalogan, Samar is a luxurious version of a typical tamales, a Mexican dish, which later became a Mexican-inspired dish when it evolved on Philippine shores during the Manila-Acapulco Trade. It has chunks of pork belly (stewed with vinegar and spices) and pipi-an (sweet and spicy peanut sauce) that are neatly placed in layers of lumpia wrapper. These are laid on a bed of heated, larded banana leaves that are folded for steaming.
2. Lauyang Manok
This dish from Siquijor is a mouthwatering surprise. A whole native chicken is braised with sanib (local basil), and a plethora of spices. Another pan is prepared to heat the sliced chicken meat in coconut milk and healing spices. The result is a delicious stratum—the contrast of sweet and spicy, followed by a burst of freshness from sanib, and the creamy texture of the coconut milk.
This is an alluring ball-shaped fish that can be found in Cadiz, Negros. Its size is a little over an inch. This seasonal gem is best enjoyed by scrubbing it with salt and libas (souring leaves), then simmered with santol, chili, and onions.
4. Ginat-an na Liswi
Liswi (blood-mouth conch) is mollusk in white and orange hues that can only be harvested by free-diving into a depth of 10 to 12 meters in the chilly waters of Romblon. The shell is braised with garlic, onions, ginger, chili, salt, and coconut milk that finishes the silky spiced sauce.
Cagayan de Oro’s quintessential delicacy is a marriage of two cooking methods—sinugba (grilling) and kinilaw (cooking with the use of citric acid or vinegar). The grilled pork belly is sliced into chunks, while the bite-sized pieces of raw fish are mixed with fresh spices, suwa (local lime), and tabon-tabon sauce. The latter is a tropical fruit that resembles chico. Once sliced open, it looks like a brain or a walnut, which will be grated and mixed in bahal, coconut sap vinegar in the early stage of its fermentation. This dish has an enchanting flavor of something smoked, spiced, tangy, and fresh.
2. Nilof Agul Nun Anuk
The comforting potage from the ethnolinguistic group of Blaan is made of forest chicken and a lot of thinly sliced kernels (run the blade from the top of the cob). It is flavored with bawing (forest basil), scallions, ginger, salt, and spring water. It is placed and roasted on bamboo stalks. The soup has a unique flavor and aroma on its own.
3. Nelut Onuk
This is a celebratory dish of the T’bolis. A whole native chicken, onions, lemongrass, scallions, ginger, kusil (root from the ginger family), and salt are placed and slow-cooked in bamboo tubes. No water is added but the final meal imparts a delicious and divine elixir emanating from the bamboo, chicken meat, herbs, and spices.
A luscious breakfast meal in Zamboanga, this is served in a bowl with cubes of tamuh (boiled rice in a woven pouch of palm leaves) and a choice of chicken, beef, or liver skewers. This dish also comes drenched in sambal soup, a sensational zing of chili, sugar, curry, annatto, coconut milk, and other spices.
5. Pudsan a Uyap
This is a common starter at the Maguindanaon table that turns into a main dish, when the amalgam of the flavors call for rice. The uyap (fermented miniscule fish) is sautéed in garlic, onion, and tomatoes using lana tidtu (pure coconut oil). This is then laced with a squeeze of the aromatic kabuling (local citrus variety).
6. Sinina Kambing
In Maguindanao, when a child is baptized, a whole goat is butchered as a form of sacrifice and celebration. A halal preparation starts with a prayer, draining of blood, washing the meat with vinegar and turmeric, squeezing altogether, and is finished by rinsing in water. This will be followed by sautéing the meat and spices in pure coconut oil, then simmering in coconut milk, turmeric, and the palapa, a secret ingredient made of toasted coconut meat and spices.
Photos for illustrations courtesy of the author
In celebration of the Filipino Food Month this April 2020, Clang Garcia will personally lead a series of immersive gastronomic journeys around the Philippines. To join, visit foodholidays.ph or send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also follow the author on Instagram at @clanggarcia.