Sunday, April 23, 2017

Le jour des livres 2017

Coming from French class at AFM, my brain's still working in French but I stumbled upon an event sponsored by Instituto Cervantes, the centre for Spanish culture and language education. It's Dia del Libro, absolutely a haven for bookworms and who Pogs refer to as "culture vultures". 

As people weaved in and out of book stalls and rows upon rows of painting reprints at the Ayala Triangle, they were serenaded by the Manila Symphony Orchestra. It played classics by Spanish artists... I am not a classical music expert but I definitely enjoyed the live musical performance. 

As the event faded to a close, I was ended up buying a few books. It's the day of books, after all... might as well indulge myself on a few hardbound books rather than PDFs.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Aurora Filipino Cuisine

Since La Cocina de Tita Moning bid farewell last year, I've been looking for restaurants that presented Filipino food with a historical angle: heirloom recipes, old house, local ingredients. Yes, there's Café Ysabel but it's closing its doors soon too. 

As I was scanning Facebook posts from food bloggers, I noticed that many of them are actually featuring restaurants in my province. There's Calle Arco in Pagsanjan, also one of my go-to's in Laguna, but I am not counting it because it doesn't have the heritage feel I am looking for. There used to be Raha Sulaiman, also in Pagsanjan. It has the old house feel that attracted me to try the food out years ago but I felt that the restaurant was struggling with its identity back then. I'm not sure if it's still there and if it has finally found its niche in the restaurant industry in a town teeming with yummy food. There's Sulyap, a restaurant in San Pablo that checks all my heritage restaurant boxes. But somehow, it doesn't have a homey feel for me.

And then as I was walking in procession on Good Friday, I saw, amid the smoke of the isawan grills at the town plaza, I noticed this old house finally having its lights all lit up on the ground floor. I wondered what's in it... so sometime after the procession, I checked it out. Ah, it's now home to a restaurant called Aurora Filipino Cuisine. I took note of it, a possible restaurant suggestion for weekday dinners in Sta Cruz.

The opportunity to eat there cropped up soon after. I was in Sta Cruz one afternoon and asked Tita Mely and the rest of the gang if they're up to have dinner at Aurora's later that day. They all said yes so we walked over at dinner time. The interiors reminded me a lot of Tita Moning's mansion... not the creature comforts and the artwork (Aurora's didn't have those). There's a feel of warmth and hospitality that's typical of an old, lived-in house. Just looking at the art deco interiors, I decided that I'd eat here again if the food was delicious.

It definitely helps that while my aunts were ordering food, I could explore the rest of the mansion with my nephew and my niece. 

And when the food arrived, it was so good! The chefs did such an awesome job of bringing good memories of my Lola Estay's cooking to the table. It's not surprising because the restaurant is featuring recipes that feature authentic Laguna cuisine... food that I've always taken for granted because I live in Laguna. I mean, I drive all the way to Pampanga and to Ilocandia to try regional fare.

The highlight of my visit to Aurora, surprisingly, was the minanok. It's banana heart slices cooked with coconut milk and eaten with a piece of banana fritters. There was no chicken in it at all!

I'm going to bring more family and friends here when I get the chance. This may be our next go-to spot... and it's so close to home too!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tasting rice in style

On rare occasions, I get a request from Management to "cater" snacks for the Board of Trustees. This was one of those occasions... But there's a caveat: I wasn't supposed to prepare the typical, academic rice tasting session. The DDG-R, Jackie, wanted me to approach this as food service rather than an experiment.

So inspired by Madrid Fusion Manila 2017, I prepared vision boards to inspire me about the pegs. What the colour motif would be; what would be the presentation style; what would be the rice varieties to be featured...

Good thing I got Ana, Tita Nollie, and Ate Lucy to help out in mise-en-place. It was so much fun seeing my idea come to life in a span of two hours. The table was so different from the other set-ups I've done before that this latest one was actually Instagrammable! I was surprised!

Will we do this again soon? We'll find out.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Coffee, anyone?

During my visit to the Madrid Fusión Manila 2017, I chanced upon a coffee-tasting session hosted by Chit Juan. You know, the Chit Juan! She used to be the CEO of Figaro, who now is what is known as a social entrepreneur. More importantly, for the purposes of my visit to this coffee-tasting session, she leads the Philippine Coffee Board and is one of the experts on the nuances of flavours in that cup of joe.

As I took my seat, I noticed that the participants were provided with granola bars and other healthy goodies (goodbye junk food!) that would help cleanse our palates in between coffee samples... after all, coffee is known for its strong flavours. As someone with very sensitive taste receptors (which make bitter food and drink, like coffee, taste extra bitter for me), the bits of side munchies might not be enough to cleanse my palate.

What I needed was lots and lots of water. Thankfully, a bottle of water was given to each participant. I was finally able to rest easy.

And so as the program started, we were introduced to different types of coffee. I learned that there are coffee varieties that grow best in the uplands, such as the Coffea arabica varietals (also known as the "mountain coffee"). During the session, we were presented with three samples of arabica coffee: the Catimor variety (harvested in Davao), the Typica variety (with regular beans, sourced from Benguet), and Typica peaberry beans (the shape of the coffee beans are different from regular coffee beans because of a mutation).

As a rice taster, the tasting opportunity was something that I couldn't pass without taking notes about the flavours I perceived during the session. It was fascinating to note that the peaberry tasted very differently from the Catimor (naturally because they are different varieties) and the Typica regular beans (which is strange because they're from the same variety). However, I could hardly say that the peaberry really is the best among the three because I had to consider the way the samples were prepared.

And this was the point when I just had to raise my hand to ask Chit about the effects of the preparation to the taste and texture of the coffee. After all, Catimor and Typical regular beans were cooked in a coffee maker (the regular drip coffee) while the peaberry (which, I had the impression, was precious to the coffee enthusiasts because these beans are extremely rare) was prepared using the Hario V60 coffee brewer. Apparently, using the V60 allows the ground beans to aerate and the added air causes the beans to release more flavour and aromas... leading to a more tasty and a unique coffee-drinking experience. Imagine perceiving citrusy flavours while drinking coffee!

While thinking about what I learned, I couldn't help but think that the Filipinos have journeyed a long distance... from drinking dissolved powdered coffee mixed with creamer and sugar, they have now reached a level of sophistication that has elevated coffee drinking into an art form. V60 is one; preparing cappuccinos with "latte art". 

Cool, huh? It's almost tempting to not drink the coffee and just take a whole lot of Instagram-ready photos.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Third time's the charm: Another gastronomic journey at Madrid Fusion Manila 2017

This year marks the third time that the Philippines hosted Madrid Fusion Manila. It was also my third time to be in it. But this time I wasn't a member of any exhibit team. I was there to learn a bit more about Philippine gastronomy and culture, and to visit my friends in the food industry.
While Tita Nollie and Ana were with the representatives of the Department of Agriculture (heirloom rice was featured in their booth after all, I chatted with one of the organisers, Joel, who instructed me on how to claim my badge.
This year's theme, based on the display outside the exhibition hall, was all about sustainability and food... it's about time because food production should always be viewed from a systems perspective, rather than with a more narrow focus... if we want to help farmers improve their livelihoods.
I recognise, however, that this kind of mentality belongs more to people who are involved in influencing policy... not necessarily (but highly valuable) for scientists who need to take the narrow view more often than the general perspective in order to create solutions that are projected to be needed a few years down the road.
And one more thing: "heirloom" is not just about rice anymore. 
The exhibits communicate that there are other crops that are equally precious, like bananas... the different varieties of bananas. I can readily name four: saba, lacatan, latundan, and señorita. I've never seen cardaba, morado, and inabaniko til Madrid Fusion Manila 2017. In fact, this is timely because some fungal disease is plaguing Cavendish bananas and scientists are most likely going back to the older varieties to see if these have resistance genes against this fungal disease.
On the other hand, I wonder why I haven't seen a feature on the diversity of Philippine mangoes yet...

There was also a feature on Job's tears (Coix lacryma-jobi), locally known as adlay in Southern Tagalog, a potential alternative to rice as a staple because it is a more resilient crop during periods of drought. Not sure how it could ever replace rice, though. Fancy marketing approaches are probably needed to convince regular rice-eaters to switch.
After looking at all these good stuff, for me, the highlight of my visit (as has always been for the past three years) was my visit to Terry's booth where I have befriended Michael, the cortador de jamones, who was made ham-cutting an art form worthy of several visits to Terry's booth.
He was, as always, cutting jamon iberico, the famous Spanish black pig fed with acorns. As usual, I had a brief chat with him before I bought some of the world's finest jamon iberico, manchego cheese, and fruit jam... perfect for when my parents visit this year. They'd get to taste the best ham.
I might not have been an exhibitor this time around but I had a lot of fun being in this year's Madrid Fusion Manila. The DOT did a splendid job once again! Looking forward to next year's edition!