LuzViMinda 2017 at F1 Hotel Manila, Philippines

"Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan." (He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination) - Dr. Jose P. Rizal, Filipino National Hero
Today is the birthday of our country's national hero and if I must say, one of my personal favorite heroes in history too. I still remember reading the entire book on his life when I was in university much too quickly that I finished the entire book even before the semester began. It was such a joy learning about Rizal's life and his works. His death was pretty dramatic too. He was shot by firing squad at Bagumbayan (now known as Rizal Park / Luneta) at the young age of 35. That's exactly how old I am this year and for him, he has traveled the world, wrote a lot of captivating novels (I love Noli Me Tangere) and has tried his best to fight the government for the freedom of the Filipinos. Not a lot of 35 year old individuals can say that they've done that much nowadays. So, hats off to you Dr. Jose Rizal!

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In line with his birthday, June is also the month of our country's independence so F1 Hotel Manila prepared a mouthwatering line-up of delectable dishes from the three main islands of the Philippines -- Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao or was we call it, LuzViMinda. We have 7,107 islands and the entire nation is surrounded by huge bodies of water. That said, we have an abundance of seafood, local produce and some parts have amazing meat products too. I tell you, you'll never go hungry here in the Philippines.

As Paul and I have recently relocated back from the Lion City, this was a perfect welcome for us as we got to enjoy most of our favourite dishes plus a lot more from all over the country. Running until the end of June, F1 Hotel Manila tapped three distinguished chefs namely Chef Mikel Zaguirre, Chef Dennis Uy and Chef Kalel Chan to prepare an interesting repertoire of dishes to represent the different provincial specialties from their assigned island.

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Chef Mikel Zaguirre represented Luzon and aside from featuring popular heirloom dishes, he gave it a twist and gave it his own creative interpretation. Our favourite was the Adobong Short Ribs sa Gata. It was the bomb! Melt-in-your-mouth short ribs cooked with coconut milk, soy sauce and lots of garlic. This dish will make you want to have rice to go with it..lots of rice, in fact. This was definitely one of the best dishes in the buffet spread so make sure not to miss it.

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As for Chef Dennis Uy, he presented the Visayas region with a good spread of dishes that will make you go wow! Starting with the Cochinillo de Cebu, who can ever say no to that crunchy pork skin paired with a piece of tender meat too? Cebu in particular is known for its delicious roast pork (lechon) so a mini version made us equally just as excited to try it. I love it! As cochinillo uses a younger pig, expect the meat to be so tender and the skin is thinner, crunchier with less layer of fat. So good!

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He also made the Pork Humba which is a very traditional stewed dish normally prepared in most family gatherings and just like the famous Adobo, this is best eaten with rice. Look at that bite-size pieces of meat that's topped with boiled egg. This is comfort food at its finest.

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I also loved the Seafood Dinuldog with Dilis which is a very new dish to me. It's very similar to a creamy seafood bouillabaisse soup where you can quickly taste the delicious seafood stock but what makes this different is that you get to add in an assortment of toppings from shrimps, pesto sauce, seaweeds, dilis, chicpeas and coconut cream. Mix it all together and enjoy! It was really good and I initially wanted to go back for another bowl but I still had a lot more dishes to try.

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Among the three main islands, I am least familiar with Mindanao as this is the only place where I've never been. I've been wanting to visit Davao and Cagayan de Oro for decades but those trips never really pushed thru. Maybe I have to schedule that hopefully soon. Anyway, Mindanao is at the southern part of the country and it's actually close to Indonesia. So, I wasn't surprised when Chef Kalel Chan prepared the Beef Ribeye Rendang which doesn't look like anything like the typical Singaporean or Malaysian Beef Rendang and instead, it's served on a carving board but there were similar flavour profile in every bite.

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For starters, try the Sweet Potato Ukoy too. Initially, I thought Ukoy originated from Luzon as I remember always buying this whenever I go to Pampanga but I guess this vegetarian version is popular in Mindanao too.

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Crab lovers will surely love the Ginataang Curacha sa Aligue. For the uninitiated, aligue means crab fat. Yes, such a rich dish where these mini sized crabs are coated not only in coconut milk but with crab fat too. Can you feel you mouth water already?

Aside from all these specialty dishes which were prepared by our Chefs, we also got to try the rest of the buffet line-up and I got to say that this is one amazing, well-curated buffet presentation where every single dish will make you want to go back for more.

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I also got to try the Lechon Manok Bihon because I was simply craving for noodles and this one surely satisfied my craving. Paul generous drizzled the sauce from the Adobong Short Ribs over the noodles making it even more yummy! I love how springy the rice noodles were and the roast chicken on top was pretty good too.

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We also tried the Phyllo-wrapped Salmon with Itlog na Maalat and Lato Tempura. Basically, this is baked salmon with salted egg and deep-fried sea caviar. I wasn't too crazy about the taste of the salted egg though but after scraping all that aside, I happily enjoyed the fresh and tender salmon fillet inside.

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Finally, it was time for dessert. I let out a soft "wow" when I saw the dessert spread as it has everything that we love! Rice cakes (kakanin), soy pudding (taho), homemade ice cream and a couple of local baked goodies too. We also tried the Fried Sweet Potato (Kamote) Sticks which was so good! I would love to have this with a cup of hot chocolate but since I can't take a lot of caffeine, I skipped it for now.

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One thing that got me so excited for dessert was the Halo Halo station. It's incredibly warm here in Manila right now and I've been hydrating myself with ice cold water on a daily basis. Well, if life presents you with a beautiful glass of Halo Halo, who am I to say no? Halo Halo, if directly translated, means mix-mix. The concept behind this is it's a glass filled with an assortment of toppings from colorful jellos, coconut cubes, beans, shredded sweetened coconut meat, leche flan (caramel flan), ube halaya (purple yam paste), shaved ice, condensed milk and to make it special, some would add a scoop of ube ice cream. The only way to enjoy this is to mix everything well before taking your first scoop. It can be quite messy especially if you got a narrow glass but hey, that's part of the fun about eating Halo Halo.

There's still two weeks left to enjoy all these dishes so head over to F1 Hotel Manila before the end of June 2017!

Buffet rate: Php. 1,699 for lunch/dinner

*photo by Paul Ang

Check out LuzViMinda 2017 at F1 Hotel Manila, 32nd street, Bonifacio Global City. Call them at +63-2-908-7888 to make a reservation or for inquiries. 

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