Food trip

I haven’t posted in a while, been busy lately but will post more recipes and stories soon. This one is about my trip last April in Southern Philippines. It was my first time in General Santos City, known as the Tuna Capital of the Philippines. Located in the island of Mindanao, which unfortunately has a bad reputation to tourists because of certain conflict areas, but generally speaking, most of the island is safe. In fact, in Region XII alone, the Department of Tourism recorded 3.1 million tourist arrivals in the region.

Greenleaf Hotel's tuna sashimi
Tuna sashimi by Greenleaf Hotel, General Santos City

General Santos is considered one of the business hubs of Mindanao. It is the southernmost city in the Philippines and is famous for tuna—its top export product. Its access to the waters of Sarangani Bay and Celebes Sea makes it a prime spot for its still growing seafood business.

The city is part of Region XII or what is also known as Soccsksargen or SOX, which is also composed of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani. What the region is famous for is the food, raw export produce like pineapple, banana, and of course, tuna. Major importers of tuna is Japan and the US, while pineapple products are shipped across the globe.

Pineapple is one of Region 12's top exports because of the huge plantations of Dole Philippines
Pineapple is one of Region 12’s top exports because of the huge plantations of Dole Philippines

“We are no. 1 in Mindanao for rice production, no. 5 in the country; for corn, no. 1 in Mindanao, no. 2 in the country; for coffee, no. 1 in the Philippines. We also export meat like “pork in box,” which is exported to United Arab Emirates (UAE). Then, there’s organic rice, which is exported to UAE, Hong Kong, United States, Netherlands, and Switzerland. But two of our top exports are canned tuna and canned pineapple,” said DOT Region XII regional director Nelly Nita Dillera.

Dillera saw the potential of the food industry as a major player in the tourism sector. After the recently concluded Flavors of SOX, the region showcased several tour packages of the region that highlighted the eats instead of the usual sights. The Flavors of SOX celebration last April was the last leg of the Flavors of the Philippines, a program of DOT as part of its Philippine Food Month campaign.

Sarangani Highlands Garden tuna lechon
Tuna lechon of Sarangani Highlands Garden

The special packages include: the Gensan Tuna Food Tour, which explores the best product of the city through different offerings of several restaurants and hotels; Blaan Traditional Food Tour, a tour that immerses guests in the tradition and food of the Blaan Tribe; South Valley Food Tour, the tour that is all about the fresh fruits, which includes the abundant pineapple, that grows in the foothills of Mt. Matutum that covers Gensan and Koronadal City; Lake Sebu Culinary Experience, a territory of the T’boli tribe which is famous for its tilapia cuisine; T’boli Food Adventure highlights the traditional cuisine of the tribe; Halal Goodness that is all about the halal delicacies of Cotabato City and nearby areas; and the Gensan Agri Tour, which explores the bounty of the country’s southernmost city.

Although I was not able to experience all the tour packages, I was able to sample some of the eats and sights the region is known for.

T'boli heklafak and rice wrapped by a native leaf
T’boli’s heklafak or roasted native chicken

South Cotabato is known for its tribal roots and two tribes have opened their doors to the public so people can experience what life is like in a tribal community. Probably the most famous indigenous group in the province is the T’boli. Scattered around the province one of the tribe’s famous homes is Lake Sebu. Because of the place’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, it has become a prime tourist spot. The destination is famous for its natural sights but also because of the food. Several resorts and restaurants in the area offer different tilapia dishes. The fish is farmed in the lake as one of the community’s main source of livelihood.

The Blaan Traditional Food Tour, on the other hand, lets tourists experience the culture of the Blaan Tribe. Lamlifew (lam-lee-fao) Village, located in Malungon, Sarangani province, welcomes guests to its community of more than 150 households. A producer of corn, organic rice, and cavendish, the tribe is proud of its rich heritage and food. One traditional dish is the llolot anok, a tinola-like chicken dish that cooks native chicken with local herbs inside a bamboo. What’s unique about this dish is the herbs the tribe uses, which are the sangig, a mint-like herb and Blaan sibuyas, a type of chive. Both herbs grow in the mountains and the community just cultivate it in their own backyard.

Blaan's Llolot Anok, native chicken cooked inside a bamboo with special native herbs
Blaan’s llolot anok, native chicken cooked inside a bamboo with special native herbs

“What we want is Soccksargen to be part of the Philippine tourism map. What the national government promotes are the established destinations. I mean these areas can stand on their own already. If they can graduate these areas and identify the emerging destinations. If this happens a lot of the stakeholders will benefit from it. It’s not just the sights, but the food and resources we are proud of. We have so much,” Dillera ends.

Inquire: tourism@dot12.org

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Recipe: Filipino Chopsuey

Chopsuey is stir fry dish of mixed vegetables and protein. Chopsuey is actually not a traditional Chinese dish, it’s just a variation of classic stir fry dishes. This dish has different variations in different countries and is quite popular in faux Chinese restaurants. It is also popular here in the country and is commonly cooked in Filipino household like pancit (chow mein) and lumpia (spring rolls). Like most dishes, each household has a different version. In this version (my mom’s), it uses a little less ingredients but still achieves that distinct flavor.

Ingredients

250 grams Pork belly (or any part with fat and skin)
1 head of cabbage
1 Chinese cabbage
1 large carrot
1 head if cauliflower
1 chayote
250 grams green bean
1 pack baby corn
6 garlic cloves
1 white onion
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. oyster sauce
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. cornstarch
Salt and pepper

Procedure

1. Chop vegetables into even sizes. Chop carrots and chayote into bite size pieces, about half an inch thick. String the beans and cut into three pieces. Slice onion into quarters and dice the garlic. Set all vegetables aside.
2. In small a pot, boil and cook pork in two cups of water and a little salt. This will take about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove scum from water. The pork should be cooked through and still firm. After it’s done, remove pork from broth and slice thinly, separate fat. Reserve broth.
3. In a wok, over low heat, render the pork fat. This will take about 3 to 5 minutes. This will pop and splatter so make sure to cover the wok.
4. Then push the remaining pork fat on the side. Increase the heat and saute garlic and onions for a couple of minutes then add pork slices. Stir and saute for another two minutes. Then add cauliflower, carrot, chayote, and green beans. Stir fry for about 3 minutes. Then put half a cup of the pork broth to the mix and cover. Let steam and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir occasionally. Then add soy sauce and oyster sauce, mix well. Season with pepper and add salt if necessary.
5. Make a cornstarch slurry. Mix the cornstarch with 2 tbsps. water.
6. Then add cabbages, stir and cover. Let the leafy vegetables wilt but not too much. This will take about 3 minutes. After this, pour corn starch slurry to thicken the sauce. Then drizzle sesame oil and mix well. Turn off heat and serve immediately.
7. Serve with rice and enjoy!

Serves 6

Recipe: Asian Chicken and Corn Soup

This soup recipe is one of my go-to recipes whenever I want soup or I need it to partner with an Asian dish. It’s easy and is super good. This recipe is quick to make and best partnered with fried Asian food like spring rolls or fried chicken.

Ingredients

Half a chicken breast
1 cup fresh corn kernels
6 cups of water
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg
1 pc. chicken bouillon cube
2 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. oyster sauce
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tbsp. cornstarch
Pepper

Procedure

1. In a heavy pot put in water, chicken, and corn kernels. Wait for it to boil, lower heat and let it simmer. Wait for five minutes for chicken to cook. Remove chicken, add bouillon cube and let the broth simmer so corn cooks. Put chicken aside and let cool.
2. When chicken is cool, shred it using your hands into small pieces. Then in a pan, saute onion, garlic, and chicken in vegetable oil. Saute for about three minutes. Then add fish sauce, remove from heat and pour into the broth. Mix well.
3. Add oyster sauce and season with ground black pepper. Add salt if necessary.
4. Make a cornstarch slurry, do this by dissolving 2 tbsp. of cornstarch in 2 tbsp. of water. Mix in the slurry in the soup. It will thicken it a bit. The more slurry you pour in, the thicker it gets. Add chopped spring onions.
5. Lightly beat egg in a small bowl before adding it to the soup. Slowly pour in the egg while mixing the soup quickly. Turn of heat. Done. Serve while hot and enjoy!

Serves 6

Japanese food with a modern twist

Filipinos love Japanese food. I love Japanese food. For this reason alone why Japanese restaurants flourish in the country—from cheap ramen in Malate to big fast food chains to posh hotel dining. I mean, this cuisine has become comfort food to Filipinos.

So to keep it interesting, one Japanese restaurant in the heart of Ortigas challenges the norm. Yes, they do offer Japanese classics from a platter of sashimi to crunchy tempura, but it offers modern dishes that would interest the ever curious Filipino palate. Minami Saki by Astoria serves up Japanese food with a modern twist.

aburi sushi
Aburi Sushi, lightly torched sushi drenched in the special aburi sauce

Headed by the very experienced executive chef Kimito Katagiri, Minami Saki levels up the playing field by creating modern dishes out of the traditional dishes. For example, one of its widely popular dishes is the Aburi Sushi. What’s different about this sushi is it uses the chef’s secret aburi sauce and the each sushi is lightly torched. Yep, like the sugar on top of crème brulee, the perfectly cut seafood is heated up by a kitchen torch. Each fish—tuna, hamachi, eel, salmon, and lapu-lapu—lay on carefully shaped rice, then each piece is topped with artificially colored fly fish roe and a small piece of fruit. This dish is popular for a reason because it is really good.

“A lot of the dishes that we have has chef Katagiri’s aburi sauce. Nobody knows what’s in that sauce except the chef. A lot of people speculate, but we don’t know and I think that makes it special,” explains Astoria Plaza Digital Marketing and Business Development executive Jacqueline Ng.

Nobody knows about the aburi sauce, only the chef knows the recipe. It’s a closely guarded secret.

us scallops
US Scallops with Tamago Sauce

Another standout dish for me was the US Scallops with Tamago Sauce. When you look at it it looks like a pile of goo but looks can be deceiving. That pile of mush is a plate of tender scallops, delicately sauteed, and topped with an amazing Japanese-style egg yolk sauce. This is really good.

The Usuyaki Steak with Mushrooms is a must try, too. The thin slices of beef is pounded to make it super tender then grilled. Various mushrooms are also grilled and then wrapped by the thin pieces of beef. The Cha Soba is something clean and crisp best to end the meal.

The only thing I didn’t like is Kaki Papaya Yaki or fresh Japanese oysters on a bed of ripe papaya brushed with miso and the special aburi sauce. I’m not fan of oysters so this is something I won’t eat again.

But what the restaurant is also proud of is its “theatrical desserts.”

“What we’ve been doing is really pushing the envelope in terms of researching dessert trends all over the globe. In terms of Japanese, dining, you got the modern and traditional. When it comes to dessert we want it theatrical. At the end, you leave with an impression that you won’t forget,” Jacqueline says.

coffee jelly
Coffee Jelly

Its Coffee Jelly for example, a bowl of jiggly coffee jelly is served with a glass kettle filled with mist/smoke. The mist overflows down the bowl of jelly making it look like it came out of a laboratory. The coffee jelly is also served with its homemade vanilla ice cream.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle story here.

Minami Saki is located at the ground floor of Astoria Plaza Ortigas, 15 J. Escriva Drive, Ortigas, Pasig City / +632 687 1111 / Facebook/minamisakibyastoria

Italian or Spanish food? How about both?

“I don’t care” or “Whatever” are probably the greatest lies anybody has said when answering the most difficult question of all time: “Where do you want to eat?” In Filipino culture, it’s a case of politeness—because letting somebody choose over your own selfish desires makes you a good person, right? “Kahit ano” is a big lie! Because in reality, you want to stuff your face with greasy pizza and rich ice cream.

pizza bamberetti
Pizza Gamberetti con Rucola (Pizza with shrimps and fresh arugula)

This perpetual problem is probably the reason why most restaurants here offer a lot on the menu. Some dishes are so common it is present in most restaurants like pasta, pizza, and fried chicken, regardless of what cuisine a restaurant specializes in.

There is a new restaurant at the new Venice Grand Canal Mall the offers two cuisines Filipinos love—Italian and Spanish. Toni & Sergio Gastro Italiano promises authentic Italian and Spanish cuisines in a casual dining setting. A new concept by Rigatoni Corp., the same company behind Parmigiano Ristorante Pizzeria at Resorts World Manila, this restaurant is dedicated to the father and uncle of the company’s president Giulius Ceazar Iapino.

bisteca ala toni and sergio
Bisteca ala Toni & Sergio (Porterhouse served with risotto and creamed greens)

“My dad, Toni, had a few restaurants and pubs in Italy while Sergio, his younger brother, is a well known TV director in Italy, Spain, and Argentina. The preference to Italian and Spanish cuisines is the inspiration behind our latest venture,” Filipino-Italian Giulius says.

He also says that restaurant takes no shortcuts when it comes to the dishes. To make it as authentic as possible, most ingredients they use are imported. And of course, the owner is Italian, so he would know what’s authentic or not.

paella
Paella

The menu has more than 70 items but standout dishes include: the Five-Cheese Pizza that uses Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Pecorino, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Scamorza cheeses; there’s also the Pizza Gamberetti con Rucola is a tomato and cheese pizza topped with shrimp and fresh arugula greens; and Pizzaiolo Burger uses a 200-gram beef patty, coleslaw, and pesto sandwiched between a pizza bun (top bun is topped with cheese and pepperoni). You should also try the creamy Italian sodas, which are fruit-flavored sodas served with whipped cream.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Toni & Sergio Gastro Italiano is located at the ground floor of Venice Grand Canal Mall, Upper McKinley Road, McKinley Hill, BGC, Taguig City / +63 922 7547743, +63 916 7221997, toni.sergio.ph@gmail.com

Recipe: Tuna Kinilaw

Kinilaw or kilawin is a Filipino dish that is similar to the Latin American ceviche. It’s basically fresh seafood soaked in an acidic liquid mixture that “cooks” the protein. Ceviche uses mainly citrus but the Filipino kinilaw uses a mixture of vinegar and citrus. This Filipino dish also requires less ingredients but I added a few ingredients in this recipe to add more texture. This dish is best served as an appetizer but here in the Philippines, it is a very common pulutan food or bar chow. A nice cold beer is its best partner.

Ingredients

500 grams (1 lb) fresh tuna
1 ¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup calamansi juice
1 red onion
2 tbsp. ginger, diced
1 cucumber
2 pcs. finger chili pepper
Salt and pepper

Procedure

1. Cut tuna into small bite-size cubes. In a bowl, mix tuna, vinegar, calamansi juice, and ginger. Stir well and let sit for 10 minutes and let meat soak up liquid. You will notice that the meat will turn into pale pink from bright red. After the time, drain excess liquid and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, slice onion into thin pieces as well as finger chili. For the cucumber, remove seeds and slice thinly as well.
3. Add onions, chili, and cucumber into tuna. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Cover bowl and let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 6