“Unlike other Southeast Asian foods like Thai cuisine – Vietnamese, even – Filipino food is still relatively less known outside The Philippines.”
But that’s changing one dish at a time, according to Claude. His evidence: the Battle of the Burger in New York City; the contest’s reigning champion: the Filipino-inspired Jeepney’s Chori Burger, assembled with a patty of beef and longganisa – the Philippine chorizo-like pork sausage – banana ketchup, soy sauce mayo and pickled papaya.
Nations may not become connoisseurs of the Filipino cuisine overnight, yet with the success of an unusual constitution manifesting in a recognisable food item, the familiarisation has finally gained a foothold in the international taste arena, spreading the gospel one flavour and ingredient at a time.
More plates arrived on the table and Claude insisted that I tucked in; when the local artist from Pampanga province wanted to showcase his own twist of classic Filipino dishes, he opened Downtown Café in Angeles City within Claude’s home region, where I quizzed him about his creations.
And having originated from Pampanga, the dubbed culinary capital of The Philippines, his explanations were nothing short of passionate and erudite.
There may be countless interpretations of every Filipino classic dish, from varying dryness of the adobo to what beef cuts to put in a kare-kare, what binds them all is always the purpose behind the conception of each; that may be traced as far back as the archipelago’s pre-colonial days, its Spanish and American occupation, and as recent as contemporary globalisation and immigration.
As Claude delved into the history of her food, so was The Philippines’ overall history represented and illuminated in my peripherals.
Flavour in ingredients
Emphasis on the natural flavours of singular ingredients: where, Claude theorised, dwells the precise constitution and essence of Filipino cooking. The biodiversity of his beloved Pampanga is the very agrarian attribution of the province’s culinary status, and what I’d been tasting at Downtown Café weren’t disputing his conjecture – the freshwater tilapia, the duck, the young curly ferns down to the rice from nearby paddies.
But I wasn’t able to wholly verify the claim until, after departing Angeles, my full-day food tour brought me to the Farmers Market in Quezon City, within metropolitan Manila, and saw the ingredients up close and in their rawest form.
Adjacent to the market within the same building, the novelty of having your recent market buys cooked mere steps away from where you purchased them – or, alternatively, ask the kitchen staff to do the shopping and preparing for you.