As we commemorate his birthday, we are reminded of the sacrifices that he has made for our country. How he fought for our freedom and equality that we are all enjoying at present. For that I give him the highest respect and I salute him for his courage. Dr. Jose Rizal was also an awesome writer. Actually, he fought not with a sword but with his pen. Through his works he revealed the abuse and pains of the Filipinos and eventually got the attention of the Spanish government. I actually enjoyed reading his Noli Me Tangere that talks about the life of a man called Crisostomo Ibarra and his love story with his object of affection, Maria Clara.
The Philippines is known for a number of good things : our hospitality, the arts, our music, our beautiful beaches to name a few...however, I often wonder how come the Filipino cuisine still falls way behind in terms of popularity when compared to the Chinese, American, Italian and Japanese. My mom would point out that in terms of aesthetic, ours would need a little bit more tweaking and some explaining. Could she be right?
For example, would you instantly be attractive to the pitch dark Dinuguan or the Balut that has a tiny duck embryo inside? Definitely a far cry from a plate of colorful sushi or some hand-tossed pizza.Still, I would crave for a bowl of Dinuguan and sticky Puto or go for a Balut snack once in a while.
I think it's high time that we promote our local cuisine as each dish has a rich culture and interesting story to tell. Thanks to Unilever Food Solutions for inviting Paul and I to join a fun food trip one Saturday. Here, we were able to visit a number of restaurants and eateries presenting dishes that are part of our country's history.
The campaign is called Sooo Pinoy and this was initiated by the Unilever Food Solutions team last year as an advocacy to increase our appreciation for our local cuisine. They began with an online voting last year where they ask Pinoys what's the ultimate local dish for them and not quite surprisingly for me, Sinigang came out as the top choice.
Sinigang is a tamarind-based soup traditionally simmered in a palayok (clay pot) and cooked with either pork, milk fish or shrimp. I personally like my Sinigang with Shrimp.
As mentioned during the event: "Sooo Pinoy aims to inspire local restaurants to create unforgettable dishes that their customers will be proud to proclaim as truly Pinoy."
Our tour began at Adarna Food & Culture in Quezon City. I've been hearing about this very Filipino restaurant that highlights the culinary heritage of our country by serving heirloom recipes in a warm, elegant and truly Pinoy ambiance. I had the chance to go around the restaurant and even saw a copy of Rizal's Noli Me Tangere encased in a glass cabinet. We tried a couple of dishes such as the Seafood Espesyal, the spicy Bicol Express, the delicious Adobong Batangas ala Adarna and the unique Kesong Puti and Langka Fry. I liked the interiors which showcased the olden Filipino times but still has hints of being modern here and there. It didn't feel stuffy or too antiqued at all.
After lunch, we headed to Nathaniel's along Timog Avenue in Quezon City. Of all the places that were part of our itinerary that day, it's only Nathaniel's that I'm familiar with simply because my in-laws are from Pampanga and for the past 8 years I've introduced my taste buds to a number of favorite Capampangan desserts like Nathaniel's Buko Pandan that my Mom-in-Law would buy in their San Fernando branch. I also love their Pork Puto Pao which I bought a pack to take home. Yum! It's a cross between the local puto (rice cake) and the Chinese Siopao which I am both fond of. It's truly a must-try.
We were only on our second stop and we're starting to feel quite full. Well, our stomachs all had to accommodate more food that day as we had a total of 7 food stops lined up. After Nathaniel's, we had our Halo Halo stop at Kabigting's Halo Halo in N.S. Amoranto, Quezon City. This one also originated in Pampanga and is famous for their unique halo-halo blend.
Unlike the regular halo-halo that has a wide-array of filling from ube halaya, leche flan, beans, kaong, coconut and a lot more -- Kabigting's Halo Halo only has three major ingredients that's cream of corn, mashed white beans and homemade pastillas made from carabao's milk. Unfortunately, I can't take anything with corn kernels, I'm glad that the kitchen offered to make me a special Halo-Halo with just the pastillas and white beans and lots of crushed ice and milk. It was good but I still love Razon's Halo Halo more.
From Quezon City, our magic tour bus took us to Manila and we were dropped off right at the heart of busy Quiapo. I will be honest, I have never been to Quiapo ever in my life much more to actually have the chance to walk around. Thus, it took me a while to adjust to the chaotic environment that makes Quiapo pretty much interesting to the adventure visitor.
We were brought to Nihaya Halal Food, a small eatery that serves local Halal dishes. There's a special way of preparing each dish as well as the technique of enjoying this. Of course, pork is a no-no in this eatery as it's not allowed in the Muslim religion and people use their hands to eat their meal. However, utensils are available for those who still prefer to enjoy their food using spoon and fork.
From there, we made our way to the other side of Quiapo where you can see the strong influence of the Chinese. We visited the Master Hopia Factory which has been in business since the 1960s and continues to serve their best-selling hopia with their growing list of flavors. I grew up enjoying packs of hopia for my afternoon snack and I'm surprised that I've never heard of Master Hopia before. I guess my family's pretty loyal to the more commercialized ones such as Poland, Holland and Eng Bee Tin. I'm lucky to be able to be introduced to another loyal hopia brand that is pretty popular in this side of town.
Our last stop in Quiapo was the Excellente Ham. I made sure to save some space for this as my mom told me that their ham is well-known since way back. I was one of the first who was able to try their samples and I love how tender and well glazed the ham was. It had just the right amount of sweetness that complemented the salty meat. I enjoyed it very much that I'm willing to go back to Quiapo for more ham.
The humid weather has made us all feel so sticky and tired. While all I really wanted was to take a long refreshing bath, my stomach was in game mode. I was not ready to end the tour and was pretty much excited for our next and final stop.
We're heading to Cafe Adriatico and I hope they won't disappoint. Well, I'll tell you more about it on my next entry -- the 2nd part of my Sooo Pinoy Food Trip. Till then!
Visit the Sooo Pinoy Facebook Page to know more about our local dishes and how we can be truly proud of them.
*photo credit: Paul Ang
Check them out:
Adarna Food and Culture is located at 119 Kalayaan Avenue in Quezon City.
Nathaniel's is at Unit 3 & 4 ITC Commercial Complex Timog Avenue corner Panay Avenue in Quezon City.
Kabigting's Halo Halo is located at 592 N.S. Amoranto cor. Banawe Streets in Quezon City (it's right across Tasty Dumplings)
Excellente Ham is located at 157 C. Palanca street, Quiapo, Manila.