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

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.

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: 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

Recipe: Adobong Pusit

I love seafood and squid is at the top of the list along with shrimp. One of the best Filipino squid dishes is adobo. It’s basically squid, stewed in vinegar and its own ink. This recipe is very easy and it’s one of my favorites and is best eaten with rice.

Ingredients:

1 kg (2..2 lbs.) squid
1 garlic bulb, chopped
½ cup white vinegar
1 tbsp. whole pepper corns
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 piece siling Tagalog (finger chili), sliced

Procedure

1. Clean squid by removing guts and cartilage. Remove and save ink sacs of each squid. If you don’t know how to do this, ask market vendor or grocery staff too do the cleaning and extracting of ink sacs for you. Slice squid into rings.
2. In a pot put in squid, vinegar, garlic, and pepper corns. Put over low heat and let simmer for about 45 minutes until squid meat is tender.
3. In a small bowl, mash and break ink sacs to extract ink. When squid is done, pour in ink and vegetable oil. Mix well. Let simmer for another 10 minutes to cook ink, then add sliced chili at the last minute.
4. Serve over steaming white rice and enjoy!

Serves 4

Recipe: Buko Pandan Salad

We love our fruit salads. Occasions are not complete without a cold bowl of creamy fruit salad. One such salad dessert is buko pandan. This is a favorite especially during fiestas. Pandan is an aromatic plant used in Southeast Asian cooking. Here, it is mostly used in rice cakes and desserts. When cooked, it has an almost vanilla characteristic. This recipe uses this amazing plant and highlights its full flavor. It also requires a few ingredients, making it easy to make.

Ingredients

Meat from two young coconuts
1 pack green jelly, unflavored
2 packs 250 ml all-purpose cream
1 can 300 ml condensed milk
4 pcs. pandan leaves
1 tsp. pandan extract

Procedure

1. Cook jelly according to package instructions but instead of using plain water, use pandan water. To achieve this, in a pot boil some water with the four pieces of pandan leaves. Knot the leaves to ensure proper extraction. Let jelly completely cool. When cool, cut jelly into cubes.
2. Using a melon shredder/stripper (a common Filipino kitchen tool that looks like this), shred coconut meat stripping them from the shell. Set aside.
3. In a bowl mix the cream and condensed milk together, combine well. Then pour in jelly and coconut milk, stir well. Then add the pandan extract. The extract is color green, which will turn the salad into a light green color.
4. Chill for at least two hours. Serve and enjoy!

Serves 12

Recipe: Filipino Sopas

The name sopas originates from Spain which translates to soup. Sopas is like many Spanish words that has been adopted into the Filipino language. There are many local soup recipes but sopas is directly associated with one Filipino soup recipe that uses pork limb for the broth, chicken, and elbow macaroni pasta. It’s a comfort food that Filipinos love eating especially during rainy days. My mom’s recipe doesn’t require a lot of ingredients but I like mine with veggies.

Ingredients

1 pc. whole pork limb bone (cut in half then both cracked lengthwise)
2 liters water
250 grams elbow macaroni pasta
Half a chicken breast
Quarter of a whole cabbage
1 pc. carrot
1 yellow onion
6 cloves garlic
¼ cup evaporated milk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. fish sauce
2 tbsp. oyster sauce
Salt and pepper

Procedure

1. Put water and pork limb with 1 tbsp. salt in a pot, bring to a boil and let simmer (covered) for at least an hour. The longer the better to make flavor richer. But when water boils, put in chicken breast and let cook for abut 10 minutes. Remove chicken from broth and let cool.
2. When completely cool, shred chicken. Chop carrots and cabbage. Mince garlic and dice onions.
3. In a separate pan, saute garlic and onions for about a couple of minutes. Add shredded chicken and saute for another minute. Then add fish sauce and stir well. Remove from heat and pour in the soup pot with the broth. Stir well.
4. Add macaroni pasta and stir occasionally. Cover and wait for the pasta to cook. When pasta is done, add oyster sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Add carrots and cook for about three minutes.
5. Then add evaporated milk and mix well. Lastly, add cabbage and stir. Turn off heat and let sit for five minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Serves 6