MANILA,  September 17
, 2004 (STAR) By Julie Cabatit-Alegre - You know what they say about a visit to Iloilo, that it is not complete unless you’ve tasted their famous pancit molo and La Paz batchoy.

"Good food is an important part of our Ilonggo culture and heritage," remarks Ross Paul "RP" Gorriceta at the opening of Marina Restaurant, which serves authentic Ilonggo specialties, at Glorietta 4 in Makati.

For starters, guests had their fill of the freshest oysters or talabang Ilonggo, served fresh, steamed, grilled, baked, sizzling or kinilaw. Enting Lacson Lobaton, kinilaw master from Sagay, Negros Occidental, who was a special guest at the Marina opening, declares that, "Anything fresh can become kinilaw." And this includes not only freshwater fish or crustaceans, like prawns, lobster and shellfish, but also meat, vegetables, fruits and even seaweed.

"Ilonggo cuisine does not rely too much on garnishes or sauces," Gorriceta observes. "What is important is freshness. Our seafoods, especially our oysters, are flown in fresh, daily from Iloilo."

The diwal, with shells shaped like angel wings, is harvested from the deep waters north of Iloilo. It is served either as soup, steamed or grilled.

"When grilled, you get a sharp, salty taste," Gorriceta explains, "while steaming captures the juices so that the taste lingers in your palate."

A favorite Ilonggo side dish is the lato salad made from newly-harvested seaweed.

"The seaweed is harvested from different parts of the sea, which gives it its distinct taste," Gorriceta points out. And, a favorite condiment is the sinamak or coco vinegar spiced with pepper and ginger.

Lyn Besa Gamboa, doyenne of culture in Western Negros, whipped up a special menu for the Marina opening using ingredients from Iloilo and Bacolod. Iloilo’s closeness to Western Negros is not only geographic. Many Negrense old rich trace their roots to Iloilo, where the boom in the sugar industry originated in the late 1800s.

Gamboa, who is the president of the Negros Cultural Foundation and the Silay City Arts Association, has her own gourmet food company named Savor de Silay. Its products include classy bottled jalea de tomate, mermelada de cebolla and salsa manga, her own version of the salsa monia, comfort food of the old Spanish nuns. Her new products include the bijod pasta sauce and guapple pie filling.

"Bijod sauce goes well with pancit efuven, the Ilonggo answer to pasta, that is available only in Iloilo and Negros," Gamboa remarks. "It features flat noodles, finer than the Italian version, and is made of flour instead of semolina."

Kinilaw na salmonete, grilled sea bass (bulgan), adobadong alimusan (cat fish), chicken inasal and linutik (a creamy squash dish) were among the dishes served at the Marina opening. Our culinary vocabulary was expanded once more with the addition of appetizing Ilonggo words, such as sisi (little oysters pickled in brine), apan-apan (kangkong stalks), kansi (nilagang baka), batuan (a souring ingredient for sinigang), sinugba (grill) and KBL for a stew made of kadios, baboy and langka.

And to demonstrate how Ilonggo culture and cuisine are so closely intertwined, the lunch guests during the Marina opening were entertained with a mini-fashion show featuring creations by Iloilo-born young designer Eric de los Santos, who used native hand-woven hablon fabric, made from jusi (banana fiber) and piña (pineapple fiber). De los Santos successfully translated the traditional fabric into modern clothing with the clever interplay of accessories and bright colors.

Marina at Glorietta 4 is the fifth branch in Metro Manila. Other branches are along Jupiter St. in Makati, Ortigas Center in Pasig, Pearl Plaza in Ortigas and Boom na Boom Complex along Roxas Blvd. in Pasay City.

"Our mother branch opened in 1987 in Iloilo City, not far from the airport and the mall," Gorriceta relates. "We named it Marina for three reasons – it is the name of my mother, we serve seafood and the restaurant is located near a body of water, a small lake where a creek meets the Iloilo river."

It is almost like a metaphor of Ilonggo cuisine, where geography and gastronomy meet. "Ma kaon ta." Let’s eat!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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