MANILA, JULY 20, 2006 (STAR) TURO-TURO By Claude Tayag - Some pleasant delights come into our lives like accidents. Take Mona Bishier Valdes, a pretty Indonesian lady who was born and raised in Java, got married to Filipino Robin Valdes, and moved to Manila in 1999 with their brood of four boys with ages from five to 19. I cannot say she was born with a sandok in her hand, because she learned how to cook only after she got married, learning from cookbooks, and TV shows, taking short cooking courses, and from helpful tips from friends and relatives. And if this aren’t enough to impress you about this Tagalog-fluent Indonesian lady, she’s a medical doctor by profession and does competitive running and cycling as sports.

She now does private catering of Indonesian food for small groups in Manila. If you ask her how she got started in the catering business, her stock reply is quite amusing: "I started by force," she says. When an Indonesian friend decided to serve Indonesian food at her daughter’s baptismal party, she was "forced" to cook Indonesian food and cater the party. The guests were very impressed and started asking her to cater their parties. That is what she meant by being "forced." Word spread around about her delicious food and she hasn’t stopped cooking since.

Sometime last week, I was fortunate to try her cooking at a press lunch at Restaurant 9501, the exclusive corporate dining restaurant of ABS-CBN in Quezon City. The upcoming Indonesian food festival, slated from July 24 to 28, is aptly called "Makan-Makan!" The word "makan" means "to eat" in Indonesian, but when said twice, it means to throw a party or eat out, to celebrate, a treat or, as most Filipinos would say, a blowout.

The lunch was set on a long low table covered with batik, with cushions strewn on the banig-covered floor. The savory dishes were served family style, with two of the soupy dishes served individually. There was saté ayam; charcoal grilled barbecue chicken with peanut sauce; nasi tumpeng, or yellow coned rice; soto sapi, a rich and savory beef tripe soup with condiments; a lamb curry using the spices of Moluccas simmered over low flame; a mixed seafood curry; martabak with atjara or Indonesian flat lumpia, filled with ground beef, egg, and leeks; an aromatic Balinese duck dish redolent of lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, and sambal; the Indonesian signature vegetable dish gado-gado; opor ayam or chicken stew, a must-serve lebaran (after Ramadan festival) dish, complete with lontong rice cakes cooked in banana leaves topped with either a green chili and tausi sambal sauce, or a chayote sambal sauce.

For dessert, an Indonesian halo-halo, called es teller, was served. The fruit mix consisted of fresh avocado, jackfruit, and buko meat, then drizzled with condensed milk and coconut cream mixture and a little rose syrup. And if that wasn’t enough, enten-enten or crepes filled with grated young coconut and cooked in panutsa and pandan leaves, then topped with coconut cream sauce, were served, too.

"Makan-Makan!", this Indonesian food festival, will be a first of sorts to both chef Mona and Restaurant 9501. This will be the first time Mona will be cooking in a restaurant; likewise, it will be the first time the exclusive 9501 will open its doors to the public.

Catch running chef Mona if you can at "Makan-Makan!" at Restaurant 9501, at the 14th floor, ELJ Communications Center, Eugenio Lopez Drive, Quezon City. The food festival is available for lunch only. For reservations, call Leah or Neris at 411-1434 or 411-1564. For private catering, call chef/Dr. Mona Bishier Valdes at 0928-5018222.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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