MANILA, June 13, 2005
(STAR) IN MY BASKET By Lydia D. Castillo - The query came to mind as we started to partake of the recent "Piging" at the Manila Mandarin Oriental in Makati. A generous buffet of what was "Filipino food served in the Paris" table in the late 1800s was laid out as one of the highlights of the five-day festival celebrating Filipino cuisine. The labels were all in Spanish and just as well because the choices varied from Pochero, Asado de Carajay to Natillas. Luckily, we were seated with historian and author Dez Bautista, who cleaared up our apparent confusion.

Much has been said of true Filipino food, and much more about the various influences infused into our adobo (some say this came from Mexico), sinigang and asado. Nature, the farms and the rivers were the early Filipinos’ source of food, and therefore one might say kinilao, nilaga, paksiw and inihaw are among our real ethnic dishes. From trees we got the flavoring ingredients, such as alagaw, as a souring agent. It would be chopped, pushed into fish bellies and/or mixed with broth. By sheer luck, for this festival, Dez found alagaw growing in the parking area of the hotel.

The arrival of the Spaniards in the country changed the locals’ cooking techniques. Indeed, Iberian food became staple fare in the bahay na bato or stone houses of the so-called ilustrados. Prior to that, househelp serving in convents were reported to have "pirated" recipes from the friars, which they handed over to the natives. Thus evolved the use of chorizo, saffron, olive oil, etc. in dishes like pochero, mechado, paella and cochinillo.

During the Revolution, Filipino cuisine had another evolution. Instead of olive oil, they substituted pork lard; in lieu of wine, cerbeza (beer) was infused and for spices, they used ginger (specially luyang dilao), chili leaves, and bay leaves.

So what’s true Filipino food? We will try and look into that some more when we talk to an expert, the multi-awarded Milagros Santiago Enriquez, who has written "Kasaysayan ng Kaluto ng Bayan", adjudged "Book of Year" by the Manila Critics’ Circle in 1995. Meantime, another query bothers us: Why has Filipino food failed–so far–to attain international recognition? We’ll get into that as well and share our findings with you.

Being at the Mandarin we always instinctively go to its Cake Shop where we used to get the best cheese bread and have quick lunches. The bread line and the items on its racks have expanded from the last time we were there. Among the new offerings are bread wheels, actually pan-de-sal size breakfast rolls that are either walnut or poppy seed flavored. They cost P28 for a couple of pieces. When toasted they are crisp on the outside and fleshy inside. Great for thin spreads. A most attractive cake is the Strawberry Tear Drop fruitcake, shaped like, yes, a tear! They have imported bottled sauces, mango chutney and sun-dried tomatoes plus small be-ribboned boxes of Cacao Filipina. One can still have lunch in this cake shop or order Roast Turkey for P790 a kilo and Oriental Honey Glazed Ham for P1000 a kilo. You can also quickly pick up a freshly made sandwich.

Moving on to Market! Market!, the good news is mangoes, sweet ones from Pelican, selling for P50 a kilo. Lychees are available at P90 a kilo. Bad news is native garlic from Ilocos is now tagged from P120 (the very small ones) to P150 (bigger cloves) which we were able to bargain to P140 a kilo. One might settle for the Taiwanese variety, but for good flavor there’s nothing like our own. Regional products seem to be doing well here, evidenced by the fact that while there was only one row of vendors sometime ago, there are now two rows, apparently doing brisk business from the crowd gathered around them.

At the Metro Supermarket on the lower level of the Gaisano department store we found the big Magnolia (1.6 kilos) chicken at P97 a kilo. In the Deli section we noted small packs (very practical) of chopped almonds (.095 gms for P128.95), dried papayas (P61 for a pack of 100 gms), dried apricots (P85.25 a pack of 105 gms). The latter we use for roast chicken sauce. There are English bangers (sausages) in the Fil—Fresh collection and a lot of Italian processed meat. Bread being one of our favorites, we stopped by Suisse Cottage, where they have Danish pastries, most of which have fillings of either chocolate or chicken. Have a great Sunday!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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