Chasing the elusive flavors of Pinoy cuisine

TURO-TURO By Claude Tayag

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Purple Yam’s best-selling chicken adobo with gata (coconut milk)

What?!” exclaimed the lady of the house on the other end of the phone, quite incredulously. I had suggested we just order pizza to feed my TV crew of six, since she didn’t have any staff on the appointed date of the interview.

“How could you even think of doing that?” she admonished me.

 “We’re Filipinos, don’t you know? I will not allow it in my house. Don’t worry, I’ll think of something to serve you guys,” she assured me.

That lady is Amy Besa, and the house is Purple Yam in Malate, Manila, the Besas’s ancestral house turned by-reservation-only restaurant. And served us she did, with so much tender, loving care. After all, she’s my kabalen (Kapampangan) from Tarlac City.

(For inquiries on Purple Yam Malate and bookings, call 0917-8705760 and 523-3497.)                                                                                                                                                                                          

That, basically set the tone for all the interviews for my TV show Chasing Flavors. Everywhere my TV crew and I went, whether a home or establishment, no matter how humble, from north to south of the archipelago, we were accorded the same warm reception and feted with so much memorable stories and food that lingered on in my mouth even days after the shoot.

The most poignant image that sums it all up was a split-second eye contact with a road construction laborer having lunch with his co-workers. We were on our way to Baguio City from Bontoc, waiting for our turn to pass a landslide along the Halsema Highway. As our van passed by the workers eating with their hands, one man looked up, saw me looking at them, and extended his feeding hand towards me as he nodded with a smile. That, in essence, captures the heart and soul of what truly the national Filipino cuisine is. It’s neither just the food, nor can it be defined by a singular dish that many try to pin it down with. It’s that innate Filipino trait of not just sharing a meal with a stranger, no matter how meager.

Mangan tayom. Mangan tana. Kain na tayo. Kaon tabi. Kumaon na kita. Kaon ta anay. Manga-on na ta. Said in any Filipino dialect, these are the most welcoming words one will encounter anywhere you go in the country.   

This general didn’t fade away 

I’d like to extend my sincerest sympathies to the family of the late Honesto General, best known as one of the stalwarts in the local insurance industry. But to us foodies, we’d always remember him as the pioneering Filipino cookbook author of the seminal The Coconut Cookery of Bicol (published by Bookmark in 1994). He was 91. 

Just two months before his demise, I got to interview the only “honest general” I know at Amy Besa’s Purple Yam Malate. I had met him and tried his cooking way back in 2003, at the Perfect Loaf restaurant of my friends Gerry and Marsha Nepomuceno in Angeles City, who were his insurance clients. He prepared a mean eight-course meaI, all dishes containing some sort of coconut, from appetizers to desserts. I used to kid him that his name was an oxymoron and he’d take it good humoredly.

The honest General shared the concept of pairing dishes in Bicolano cooking. Laing and pinangat, both vegetable dishes made from the gabi (taro) plant cooked in a rich coconut cream (gata), are usually served with cocido, a light sour soup with fish. The sour broth cuts through the richness of the gata cream.

That interview will appear in the coconut episode of my show, whose airing date is yet to be determined. Abangan!

Nuts about coconuts

Speaking of coconut, what better way to learn about its use in our cuisine than from the source itself — at the Villa Escudero Coconut Plantations and Resort in Tiaong, Quezon. True to its tagline “Where Filipino culture and history come to life,” one can experience the best of our culture in its many attractions like the museum, outdoor recreational activities, native dances, and, of course, its world-renowned main attraction, the Labasin Waterfalls Restaurant.

The plantation’s founder and owner Don Ado Escudero himself gave me a quick rundown of its history, the struggles and hardships he went through in making it into the most successful and largest theme park in the country. Chef Cocoy Ventura, F&B manager, demonstrated several coconut-based dishes during the interview.  My overnight stay at the resort went so fast there wasn’t enough time (and belly space) to try all the gastronomic delights on the menu.

(Villa Escudero is at Km 91, Tiaong, Quezon. Call 523-0392, 0917-5837727, 0919-9934744, 0923-7410605. Email info@villaescudero.com.)

 

 

 

 

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Chasing Flavors on the Lifestyle Network (Skycable channel 52) airs every Saturday at 9 p.m. Replays are on Sunday, 11 a.m.; Monday, 10 a.m.; Friday, 2 a.m., 8 a.m., 11 a.m., 7 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m.

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