Cebu’s UNO restaurant puts the spotlight on Filipino fare

When you ask me what my comfort food is, I would quickly respond Filipino food. As someone who grew up eating good Filipino fare at home, my love affair with local cuisine will last forever. Pizza got nothing on kare-kare.

The best thing about my mom and dad’s cooking (yes, they both cook) is they still do it the traditional way. Yes, no shortcuts. Why? Well, first, the flavors are different when using convenience products. Secondly, it’s healthier because you know exactly what you’re putting in your food.

Paella negra and arrox con pollo
UNO restaurant’s paella negra and arroz con pollo

My parents would use actual sampaloc in sinigang, boiling the sour fruit and pressing the juices through a sieve. I think my they have never used instant mix especially in kare-kare. They would use freshly ground peanuts from the market and use giniling na bigas (finely ground rice) as thickener.

Lucky for my siblings and I, we grew up tasting the real deal.

Cooking Filipino food the traditional way is also an advocacy of celebrity chef couple Roland and Jackie Laudico. Both chefs champion Pinoy food, promoting local cuisine through their restaurants and festivals here and overseas.

“The number one problem with Filipino cuisine is convenience products, all that instant cr**. We do not only advocate Filipino food, we promote the traditional way of preparing Filipino food,” explained chef Roland who is also known as chef Lau. He said this during a sit down interview with the media during the launch of their collaboration with UNO restaurant of Waterfront Cebu.

UNO restaurant interiors
Waterfront Hotel’s flagship restaurant, UNO

Last month, the chef tandem launched a Filipino food feast in partnership with the Waterfront group of hotels. Called “UNO’s Modern Filipino Taste: A Filipino Feast for All Senses,” the hotel’s buffet restaurant features a special menu by the Laudicos for a limited time, which started last week and will run until Aug. 31 of this year.

The two chefs added more than 40 dishes to the existing Filipino buffet menu. The dishes range from the traditional to modern to the Laudico’s personal spin to local dishes. The special menu is available at the hotel chain’s Cebu branches, Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino (Lahug) and Waterfront Airport Hotel and Casino (Mactan).

Ngohiong cones
Ngohiong is a lumpia-like Cebuano dish and chef Lau turns it into bite-sized crunchy cones

“It is really with great passion and love that we always try to promote Filipino cuisine. It is such an honor for us to be able to do it at the country’s only Filipino-owned hotel chain. We are really happy to work with the Waterfornt group,” chef Jackie said.

Owned by the Gatchalian family, Waterfront hotels operate in Luzon (Manila), Visayas (Cebu), and Mindano (Davao). The local hotel chain is known for having PAGCOR casinos and even Duty Free shops at their hotels.

Lechon baka
Lechon baka

More than 60 dishes would greet diners at the hotel’s flagship restaurant. One of the main attraction of the buffet is a row of various lechon, after all, a Cebuano buffet is not complete without lechon.

Chef Lau’s take on the classic roast pig is adding a local flavor. He used basil-like local herb sangig along with the traditional aromatics used in lechon. The lechon line is also composed of baka (cow), goat, and his version of spicy “bellychon.”

Spicy bellychon2
Spicy bellychon

Also included in the lineup are classic dishes like pork humba, paella negra, and local dish balbacua. Chef Lau also put a modern spin on local favorites like the pinaupong nilasing na manok (beer can chicken cooked in a clay pot), inasal siomai, sinigang bites (crispy kangkong with bangus mousse), ngohiong cones (fried spring roll-like Cebuano dish), and many more.

Oh, did I mention there’s bacon bagnet? Yup, that exists in this buffet.

Suman panna cotta
Suman panna cotta

Chef Jackie on the other hand took care of the dessert, as usual. She made classic cakes and pastries and also modern Filipino desserts like queso de bola cheesecake, suman pana cotta, and molten tableya cake.

“We started doing Filipino food 18 years ago. We really wanted Filipino food to be respected globally, not just here and that’s happening. Finally, it’s happening, it should have happened many, many years ago,” chef Lau said.

Molten tableya cake
Molten tableya cake that uses Davao chocolate

“We’ve been doing Filipino food ever since hoping that we could inspire other chefs to do it and we’re very very happy that a lot are doing it now,” he added.

The couple is also bringing the festival in Davao this August and continue to experiment with Filipino food.

Please check out my story on ABS-CBN Life here.

For more information visit: www.waterfronthotels.com.ph

Filipino-inspired Japanese-Peruvian dishes

Okay, that title is a bit confusing. How can food be Filipino, Japanese, and Peruvian at the same time Well, ever since Nobu opened here in Manila, foodies (myself included) have wondered how would it incorporate its cuisine with Filipino flavors. After all, it’s a common practice for international restaurant chains to include Filipino food/flavors on their menus when opening shop here.

For those who are unfamiliar with Nobu, the US-based restaurant’s cuisine has Japanese and Peruvian influences, thanks to its genius founder, chef Nobu Matsuhisa. His fusion food is the reason why restaurant is so successful, which first opened in Los Angeles, California. The restaurant is so good, Hollywood actor Robert De Niro invested in it and he eventually became a business partner of Chef Nobu. Now, the restaurant has several branches worldwide.

A selection of sushi
A selection of Filipino-inspired sushi.

Two years ago, Nobu opened here in Manila, not just a restaurant but a whole luxury hotel. It’s Nobu first hotel in the world. Although the hotel opened with a rocky start, the restaurant proved why it has been successful around the world.

Last April, Nobu launched its special menu, a collection of Filipino-inspired dishes. For a chef, this is a tough menu to make especially when the restaurant’s cuisine is already fusion. Adding another cuisine to the mix can be daunting.

Kurobuta and foie gras sisig bao
Kurobuta and foie gras sisig bao

But Nobu Manila’s head chef Michael de Jesus is no stranger to Filipino food because Pinoy blood runs through his veins. Coming from Nobu Las Vegas, chef Michael joined Nobu Manila last year.

“The challenge is to marry almost three different kinds of cuisines but still holding our identity because Nobu is Japanese-Pervuian. And now we try to add a Filipino aspect,” the Filipino-American chef said.

The special menu took a cue from the very successful Filipino-Japaese omakase dinner by chef Michael and Nobu NYC executive chef Ricky Estrellado last year. Chef Michael, through the help of his Filipino team, chose popular Pinoy dishes and translated them to their food—Filipino with a Nobu flair.

Uni palabok 02
Uni palabok

The nigiri and sushi selection is a clear standout. One nigiri features a lightly seared tuna topped with a “ginataan” sauce. The flavors were on point. The familiar creamy flavor of coconut milk with ginger, garlic, and added heat from chili peppers. Another standout is the tuna sisig roll, a sushi roll made of cooked tuna—sisig style—with cucumber and peppers.

The most impressive dishes on the menu are two Filipino classics, palabok and kare-kare. The uni palabok is a rich comforting dish on its own. Instead of a shrimp-based sauce, chef Michael used uni or sea urchin roe, giving the sauce that rich yet familiar seafood flavor. Instead of rice noodles, udon was used and is topped with prawns, onsen eggs (Japanese soft boiled eggs), and Nobu’s version of crushed chicharon. The finely crushed “chicharon” is actually made of bacon, seaweed, and sesame seeds.

Wagyu beef short ribs kare-kare anticucho
Wagyu beef short ribs kare-kare anticucho

The wagyu beef short ribs kare-kare anticucho on the other hand, is an elevated version of our beautiful peanut stew. Using high grade beef, the peanut sauce is mixed with the Peruvian anticucho sauce which is made of lemon, vinegar, and various herbs and spices. It’s also presented beautifully with steamed vegetables on the side like Japanese eggplant. You would need a cup (or two) of rice for this.

Chef Michael was able to fuse together the flavors from the three cuisines. The special menu is a definite must try for foodies and especially for the fans of Nobu.

Read my Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

The Filipino-Inspired Nobu Specials is available until June 30, 2017 / Nobu Manila, Level 1, Nobu Hotel Manila / +632 800 8080, +632 6912882 / guestservices@cod-manila.com / cityofdreamsmanila.com

Makati restaurant lands on CNT’s ‘Best Restaurants in the World’ list

Condé Nast Traveler recently released its list of the Best Restaurants in the World. Listing down 207 restaurants from around the globe, the travel magazine qualified eateries that received special attention from food writers, chefs, diners, and travelers. And the lone Philippine restaurant that made it to the list is Your Local.

Owned by Chef Denny Antonio, Your Local is a small neighborhood bistro located at the unassuming Universal LMS Building in Legaspi Village, Makati City. The restaurant serves up its take on Southeast Asian favorites like chicken rice, pomelo salad, and more.

CNT quoted magazine editor Ashlea Halpern about the Filipino restaurant. “I still dream of the pomelo salad with shrimp, winged beans, wild rocket, yuzu, nam jim, pickled quail eggs, and Thai coconut ‘ice cream.’” Halpern has written for Bon Appetit and New York Magazine.

Along with Your Local, several Asian restaurants also made it to the list including 14 from Japan, six from China, three from Singapore, one each from South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam.

After this recent development, it may not be far-fetched that soon, the Philippines will have its own Mcihelin-starred restaurant.

Your Local is located on the GF of Universal LMS Bldg., 106 Esteban St. Legaspi Village, Makati City / +632 823 6206 / yourlocal.ph

Recipe: Pancit Malabon

Pancit malabon is a variation of the Filipino pancit palabok, a kind of pancit (sautéed noodles). This originated from Malabon City, hence the name. A regular pancit palabok and the malabon variation use the same ingredients but served differently. The original palabok is served pasta-style with the sauce poured over the noodles and finished with the toppings. The malabon on the other hand, the sauce and noodles are incorporated together, served in a platter and finished with the toppings. Another difference is the size of the rice noodles, while the classic palabok uses the thin variety, malabon uses the thick variety.

Ingredients

500 grams thick rice noodles
250 grams medium size shrimp
1 cup fine tinapa (smoked fish) flakes
1 cup of crushed chicharon pork rind cracklings
3 eggs
¼ cup fish sauce
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp. annatto seeds
Vegetable oil or any neutral oil you prefer
Pepper
Spring onions for garnish
Calamansi (Philippine lime

Procedure

1. Soak annatto seeds in ¼ cup of water. The seeds will dye the water red, a natural food coloring we use to color certain dishes. The longer you soak, the deeper the color.
2. Cook noodles according to package instructions. In my case, the instructions detailed that the noodles should be soaked first in tap water for 10 minutes. Then cook in boiling water for 10 minutes and let sit in hot water for another 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. To make the sauce, deshell shrimp and set the heads aside. Using mortar and pestle, crush and pound shrimp heads until juices come out. Then pour in a small saucepan and add 1 ½ cup of water and boil. After it boils, turn off heat and strain broth. Then cook shrimp body/tail separately in ½ cup of water. Cook shrimp until it turns pink, then set aside. You can also slice the shrimp tails in half, cutting it along the spine. Add the used water in the shrimp head broth.
4. Hard boil eggs, slice then set aside. Chop spring onions, set aside.
5. In a wok or big pan, sauté garlic and onion in about 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil for a couple of minutes. Then add shrimp broth then add fish sauce and pepper to taste. Add annatto water, don’t add everything, just enough to color the broth an orange hue. When the broth boils, add noodles and mix well. Then add half of the pork rind cracklings and tinapa, mix well. Make sure that the noodles is well coated by the sauce. The natural starch from the noodles will thicken the sauce. The cracklings will also thicken the sauce. Add about 2 tbsp. of oil and mix thoroughly.
6. Pour noodles in a large serving platter. Then top with remaining cracklings and tinapa. Top also with sliced egg, shrimp, and spring onions. Serve with sliced calamansi for squeezing (calamansi is squeezed over a serving of the pancit, the juice adds freshness and acidity). Enjoy!

Serves 8 to 10

Recipe: Five-Ingredient Filipino Roast Chicken

Turbo broiler is such a popular kitchen appliance here that every household has one. One dish that we always cook in this round oven is roast chicken. Traditional means of cooking is rotisserie (constantly rotating the chicken over hot charcoal) but the turbo broiler has made it easier. It is so common that Filipinos even call the dish “turbong chicken.” This recipe, which I grew up eating and making is easy and uses a few ingredients. This roast has a darker and slightly crispy skin. It is usually accompanied by the traditional Filipino roast chicken gravy which is a thick liver sauce but in this recipe, I made a basic gravy. TBH, you can eat this roast without any sauce.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken (1250 grams or 2.75 lbs.)
½ cup soy sauce
10 pcs. calamansi (Philippine lime)
3 stalks lemon grass
2 tbsp. osyter sauce
Ground black pepper

For gravy (optional)
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. Flour
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 cup water
Drippings

Procedure

1. Prep the chicken by cleaning it and patting it dry.
2. Trim the tops of the lemon grass by removing the long green parts. Bash the bulb part enough until it splits open. Do this to all three stalks then tie them into knots. Then push them inside the cavity of the chicken.
3. In a large bowl, pour in soy sauce and squeeze in the juice of all 10 calamansi. Add ground pepper into the marinade. Put chicken in and scoop some of the marinade inside the cavity of the chicken. Marinate for at least an hour, occasionally flipping chicken.
4. Remove from marinade then rub oyster sauce outside the chicken. Then put the chicken inside the turbo broiler and cook for 35 minutes at 250° C (480° F).  After the time, flip the chicken over and cook for another 25 minutes. When done, remove the chicken, set aside, and let it rest before chopping. If making gravy, collect drippings.
5. Melt chicken bouillon cube in one cup of hot water. In a sauce pan make a roux, do this by melting butter and adding the flour. Let the flour cook for a couple of minutes. Then add drippings to the roux, stir well. Then slowly add chicken broth. Wait until it boils, this will allow the sauce to thicken. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with chicken.

Serves 6

turbong chicken 02
Filipinos don’t carve roast chicken, we chop it.

Elevating Filipino chocolate

Filipinos are very lucky. Why? Because the location of our country makes it one of the perfect places on Earth to grow cacao. Yes, chocolaaaaate.

Traditionally, Filipinos have been drinking and using chocolate in dishes. Like our Mexican brothers, chocolate is an important part of our diet. If Mexico has its mole sauce we have our tablea. Tablea is a chocolate product of different provinces of the Philippines, from Cavite to Cebu to Davao.

Tablea is a processed cocoa—a small puck-like disc made of compressed ground roasted cacao beans. It is used for tsokolate or traditional hot chocolate drink, our version of hot coco. Tablea is also used to flavor champorado, a chocolate rice porridge served during breakfast or afternoon merienda.

IMG_2852
‘Chocolate Queen of Cebu,’ Raquel Choa

Today, the humble tablea’s use is not only limited to tsokolate or champorado because it’s now also used in more Western chocolate desserts like truffles, cakes, and bars. There is one Filipina who is bringing this traditional local product to greater heights. Known as the “Chocolate Queen of Cebu,” Raquel Choa is using traditional tablea in artisan treats that elevates the Filipino chocolate.

Choa, who owns Ralfe Gourmet, Casa de Cacao, and The Chocolate Chamber—all located in Cebu—has been churning out chocolate treats out of tablea. Her shops actually one of the stops during the APEC Summit. Since then, her shops became more popular and her truffles are selling more and more. She also offers regular Chocolate Appreciation Tours to tourists.

IMG_5205
Raquel Choa touring APEC delegates inside Casa de Cacao.

The “Chocolate Ambassador” first learned how to make chocolate through her lola. When she was younger, she lived with her grandmother whose livelihood was making traditional tablea. Her grandmother’s house was located in the mountains of Balamban, Cebu, which she also considers as a mystical place. Her lola told her the legend of Maria Cacao.

“I believe that tablea making is a Filipino treasure especially in the Visayas but it hasn’t been given much importance. That is why I elevated it. It’s not only for sikwate (hot chocolate drink) or champorado, I elevated it to other chocolate products,” Raquel says.

One of her best selling products is the hand-rolled chocolate truffles. Two truffle variants I was, which came straight from Cebu were the Ganache Truffle (made of tablea ganache, sprinkled with cacao powder) and Caramel Truffle (tablea caramel garnished with pure cocoa nibs). Both were really good. The chocolate has a mild bitterness and not overly sweet—it’s perfectly balanced.

truffle box
Ralfe Gourmet’s hand-rolled truffles

I’m just very happy that there are more Filipinos who are taking local products to higher levels. I guess entrepreneur Richard Sanz (I’ll post a story about him soon) is correct by saying that local brands are upping the ante because Filipinos are getting more sophisticated and more international brands are making the market more challenging.

Read my detailed Manila Bulletin Lifestyle article here.

Ralfe Gourmet, 3349 Topaz St., Cebu City (www.ralfegourmet.com)/ The Chocolate Chamber, 22 Pres. Quirino St. Villa Aurora, Cebu City

Ube is taking over the world

Okay, maybe just North America. Purple yam dessert creations have been popping up in US and Canadian eateries because of its increasing popularity—from the classic ice cream, cake, donuts, waffles, cupcakes, pancakes, milk shakes, among others.

“..you can now get down with ube in cheesecake and sweet potato pie form, as well as hipster-inflected varieties of cookies, ice cream, and other bakery standbys,” said a GQ article.

ube golden cristal donut MSC
Golden Cristal Donut by Manila Social Club (Photo by @manilasocialclub)

Ube is a type of yam that has a bright purple color. Used mostly in sweet dishes, it’s one of Filipinos’ favorite dessert ingredients. One popular dessert here is the ube halaya—boiled ube, mashed and cooked (for hours) with condensed milk, sugar, and butter—this is eaten as it is or used as topping for another traditional Filipino dessert, halo-halo. Ube is likewise used in various kakanin. It’s also used in modern desserts like cakes, ice cream, and cupcakes. To say Filipinos like ube is an understatement.

In the same GQ article, it introduced the world how to pronounce the brightly colored root crop—“OO-BAE.” That’s right. Now, more Millennials will have fun with this amazing Filipino export. “Want some ube, bae?” “This is one good, ube-bae.” “This bae won’t leave me and it’s sweet, too.” Alright, enough, you get it.

GQ also mentioned how Chef Björn dela Cruz of Manila Social Club, a Filipino restaurant based in Brooklyn, New York, elevated the humble Filipino dessert. Its Golden Cristal Donut recently made headlines because of its over-the-top nature. The donut is made of ube batter with Cristal champagne and then covered with gold flakes. A dozen is worth $1,000! But don’t worry, the resto also sells its bestselling Ube Bae donuts (pictured on top @manilasocialclub)  or regular ube donuts. (Bae, LOL)

ube bon appetit
Ube Cheesecake (photo by @bonappetitmag)

The Filipino food movement currently happening in North America has also helped its popularity. More and more North American diners are being introduced to different ube desserts. It’s Instagram worthy, too! It’s bright and unusual color (for food) is perfect for the photo-sharing social media app. Bon Appétit magazine’s Instagram account (1.5m followers) even featured the ube cheesecake made by Jeepney and Maharlika restaurants of New York.

In Canada, on the other hand, blogTO declared that ube desserts is the “next big thing” in Toronto. The blog that has more than 150,000 followers on Instagram cited several Filipino restaurants that offer the dessert like Tito Ron’s (Turon Ice Cream Sundae), Platito (Fried Chicken and Ube Waffles), Lamesa (Ube Leche Flan).

So, if you’re looking for a new dessert to munch on, try ube. We assure you, you’re going to love it.

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