MANILA, MAY 25, 2007
(TIMES) Dishes often reflect one’s society. Popular beliefs of the Chinese, for instance, are found in their usual fare: sweet and sour sauce for the balance of yin and yang, noodles for long life, etc. Thailand’s heavy Buddhist influence, on the other hand, causes many cooks to avoid large chunks of meat in favor of shredded ones.

As in most countries, food plays an important part in Philippine society. To discover our culture, all foreigners need to do is frequent our town fiestas. Aside from the usual pomp and pageantry, fiestas are known for the native dishes spread out in banquet tables as a celebration of a bountiful year, if not an offering to patron saints.

Served on banana leaves, fiesta dishes reflect the Filipinos’ love for meat and flavorful side dishes or appetizers: inihaw na liempo served with atchara; lechong manok or baboy served with pork gravy; inihaw na isda served with tomatoes and salted eggs, etc.

This hearty Pinoy dining can always be prepared and eaten even without fiestas…but devoid of the holiday spirit, of course. For those missing the festive mood often experienced in fiesta feasts, there’s always Binalot. Sticking to the novelty of fiesta dishes, Binalot offers delightful and filling meals wrapped in banana leaves.

“The Binalot menu reads like a list of favorite Pinoy meals: delicious adobo, tapa, bistek, tocino, longganisa, all atop steaming rice and garnished with appetizing sidings of either atchara or itlog na maalat and kamatis, all affordably priced. Think fiesta with an urban twist,” said Binalot president Rommel Juan.

Sticking to Pinoy traditions goes beyond the dishes that Binalot serves, though. Staying true to the Filipino value of bayanihan, people from Binalot make sure that every meal served will go to their CSR (corporate social responsibility) program called Dangal At Hanapbuhay para sa Nayon (DAHON).

DAHON’s primary beneficiaries are the banana farmers in Southern Tagalog from whom Binalot gets its banana leaves. From its inception in January, the program has brought livelihood and helped around 28 families in the area.

Binalot is striving to use the program to help subsistence farmers get more value from the lowly banana leaf. The program also allows Binalot to care for the environment and promote Philippine culture. “Our DAHON program shows that a CSR program can be win-win for all stakeholders,” said Juan.

Under the DAHON program, Binalot buys banana leaves directly from farmers. To ensure that the leaves comply with their specifications, the company trains farmers to cut the banana leaves according to their specifications and sanitize them as well.

This has enabled farmers and their families to earn more since they now cut the leaves and not just sell the whole bundle. This also eliminates the intermediaries thus, maximizing the farmers’ income. It also eliminates added costs on Binalot because the leaves are delivered to Binalot ready for use.

The program has not only boosted the farmer’s income it has also touched and changed the lives of the people in the community. “The women in the community now feel especially empowered as they earn about P200 a day from their cutting activities,” said Juan. It has also helped the elders in the community by giving them a new sense of purpose in life by making them feel productive again.

Binalot also introduced a rotation system in cutting the leaves where only select trees are harvested at a time to allow the trees time to regenerate. To ensure that more farmers would be benefited by DAHON, Binalot has enticed two other fast-food restaurants that make use of banana leaves to join its CSR program. By linking directly with the farmers, Binalot is now able to get a steady supply of freshly cut and cost-efficient banana leaves. Farmers, in turn, are assured of a ready market for their produce. This system has also enabled the company to reduce its garbage since the trimmings are disposed in the province and are used as compost materials.

Aside from just providing the people livelihood DAHON is also engaged in helping the community itself. One of such projects was the renovation of the parish church. Binalot helped renovate the church by providing paint and other materials as well as helping in the renovation itself. DAHON is also trying to expand beyond just banana leaves into other banana products to provide more livelihood opportunities for the people.

All of these measures are being taken by Binalot through the DAHON Program to help the farmers. Because in the end of the day Binalot is not just about being a business and earning money it is also about touching lives. By creating the DAHON program Binalot has shown that you do not have to be big if you wanted to help.

Dimsum master awed his students

MASTER of Dimsum Chef Chung Chi Ming unraveled the mystery of his craft and shared some of his secrets at a special dimsum class held recently at the Shang Palace of the Makati Shangri-La.

Flown in by Cathay Pacific Airways, Chef Chung brings with him 25 years of experience in preparing authentic Chinese cuisine. He started his career in 1979 at the young age of 23 as a kitchen hand on a casino ship stationed in Macau. Later in that year, he moved to Hong Kong and worked in various restaurants and nightclubs, quickly progressing through the ranks from apprentice chef to sous dimsum chef before joining Kowloon Shangri-La in 1990.

Chef Ming awed the class as his artistic hands created wonderful “little meals” making use of unique recipes and new ingredients in an innovative manner. He led the class in making delicious steamed shrimp and vegetable dumplings and steamed sticky rice and chicken with compoy dumplings among other mouth-watering dimsum creations. All class attendees were truly thrilled as they became dimsum chefs for a day, taking home some of Shangri-La’s best kept secrets.

Sample the scrumptious dimsum creations of Chef Ming at Shang Palace only until May 28.

For reservations, please call 840-0884 or 813-8888 ext. 7588/7599.

Chef Toshihisa delights sushi lovers

THE opening of Japanese restaurant Sakae Sushi at the Fort certainly excites Japanese food lovers. Famous for its conveyor belt, sushi robot and interactive menu, the restaurant is proud of its sushi chef Toshihisa Simomachi.

Born in Hokkaido, Japan, where his family runs a restaurant, Chef Toshihisa went to the Philippines in the mid-1980s and has since worked with various Japanese restaurants, including the first-rate Sugi.

His philosophy in Japanese cooking is to combine Buddhist aesthetic and simplicity in taste—or to most of us, a feast for the eyes and palate. The presentation of the dishes is always inspired by nature’s contrast of color and gracefulness of lines. When it comes to taste, the true measure of Japanese food excellence, Chef Toshihisa is dictated by preserving the essential flavors of the ingredients.

In Sakae Sushi, he showcases his mastery in traditional Japanese cooking and expertise in sushi making with his special monthly creations. His own menu includes a selection of appetizers, salads and udon; to main courses like agemono, yakimono and teppanyaki choices.

Instant favorites are Usuyaki Sirloin Steak, which is thinly sliced beef rolled with shitake mushrooms and leeks; and Cherry Blossoms, a thick maki roll made with salmon and cucumber enveloped with nori, sushi rice and tuna.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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