Around the Philippines in small plates – Manila Bulletin

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Published June 11, 2022, 11:30 PM
by Jules Vivas
For Filipinos, food is multidimensional, defining attitudes, rituals, beliefs, traditions, and our sense of self and nation. The Philippines, with over 7,640 islands, has a food culture just as diverse as its landscape, which makes local gastronomy one of the strongest pillars of the tourism sector.
Both the outgoing secretary for the Department of Tourism (DOT), Berna Romulo Puyat, and the agency’s incoming new chief Christina Frasco, recognize the potential of food tourism.
“Food tourism is quite important not only in the Philippines but all over the world. If you’d notice, people who travel in their itinerary, it’s not only museums and the sights, the restaurants are included,” says Berna.
“The experience of being in the Philippines and our provinces, cities, and municipalities can be made more unique by having a multi-sensory approach to it. Not only to please the eyes as far as the beauty of our natural resources is concerned but also to please the other senses such as taste, smell, and all of this,” says Christina. “We have a very unique identity for our food in every region. And I believe that we will be able to harness the tourism potential of this by including in our tourism platform and our tourism packages food tours throughout our regions.”
There is an increasing trend of tourists traveling to a certain site motivated by gastronomy tourism. The sudden rise in popularity of Filipino cuisine helps entice travelers everywhere to visit the Philippines. As the host of Bizarre Foods Andrew Zimmern and American celebrity-chef, Anthony Bourdain had predicted, Filipino food has become the next big thing.
The appeal of Pinoy fare today can partly be attributed to some of the country’s top chefs who continue to champion and elevate Filipino food to international standards while staying true to the essence and culture of Philippine cuisine. One of these said chefs is Myke Tatung, a culinary heritage advocate, author, and documentarist, who, for the longest time, has been offering the world a clear and comprehensive look at Filipino heritage through his books, shows, and personal cooking.
Amid the pandemic, the chef known for his Simpol branding had been busy with the development of his new home that doubles as a private dining restaurant in Antipolo, Rizal, next to the Maximo Gatlabayan Memorial High School. 
The place, with its Spanish-inspired design, feels more like a ski lodge, a rustic retreat in the mountains. The property has two main structures for guests, a cabana that acts as the holding area, and further up is a formal dining room. Only24 diners can be accommodated at a time on a strict reservation basis only.
The property also has pools, which diners can use for free, and a beautiful garden. The overall ambiance is relaxing. Inside the dining area are textured white walls, a high wooden ceiling, Machuca tiles, and solihiya chairs.
At his new establishment, Chef Tatung offers a 10-course tasting menu themed “Around the archipelago,” not to be confused with his latest collaboration with Diamond Hotel dubbed “Rediscovering the flavors of the archipelago.” The latter is a specially curated buffet with entirely different dishes. Both take from the restaurateur’s travels across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, and focus on the idea that a re-familiarization with regional cuisines is due as we brave the new world after years of isolation.
The thoughtfully executed dining experience began with “memories of the sea from Cebu,” featuring seafood amuse-bouche prepared in three ways. There’s a tinapa mousse in barquillos, a paksiw on black rice crackers, and tuyom (sea urchin) kinilaw on banana fritters.
A soup of coconut water cooked in fresh bamboo tube, binakol na halaan at kabute came in next. Instead of the usual chicken, clams and labahita (saltwater fish) were used for the meat. Cooked separately, the dashi-like broth infused with lemon grass and ginger is very clear.
Next, a salad of pako (fiddlehead) fern dressed with spiced vinegar, the Igorot specialty kini-ing (smoked pork), and burong pajo or seasonal tiny mangoes brined with palm vinegar, sugar, and salt.
‘We have a very unique identity for our food in every region. And I believe that we will be able to harness the tourism potential of this by including in our tourism platform and our tourism packages food tours throughout our regions.’
For the embutido at tinapay, chicken galantine was served with a raisin jam, chicken liver pate, fruit compote, and freshly baked pan de bonete (dinner rolls) and sourdough pan de sal.
The protein on carbs was a Kapampangan dish of Cebuana dry adobong itik is topped on Agos-os, a centuries-old recipe of fermented camote mash, over another layer of shredded duck meat with garlic on the side.
Chef Tatung’s version of the pianggang, a Tausug burnt curry, followed. His iteration consists of squid stuffed with shrimp with black curry sauce over Maranao yellow rice called kyuning, cooked in a clay pot.
The palate cleanser was a sorbetes piña colada made of local rum, coconut cream, fresh pineapple, and artisanal salt from Bohol, asin tibuok.
A marriage of Mexican and Chinese flavors, the last of the mains is balbacua, a collagen-rich Filipino beef stew from Cebu. Slow-cooked beef short ribs are garnished with pickled bell pepper and a light and creamy polenta.
The first of the desserts was the torta Cebu, an anise-flavored cake, served with local eggnog of tsokolate, tuba, and native egg. It is a fiesta dessert that as Chef Tatung recalls would be kept by his grandmother in biscuit pans. The spongy cake pairs well with the kinutil or the Cebu tablea chocolate drink.
Last, but not least, is manga at kasuy, sweet Antipolo mangoes, cashews, and meringue in a play of textures—think mango float but hyper-localized.
With Chef Tatung, founder of Digital Walker Charles Paw, co-founder of Fine Dining Club of the Philippines JC Cailles Lo, head of finance and operations for Philippines and Indonesia at Moët Hennessy Kevin Syling, Singapore-based food innovator Dennis Hipolito, and Manila Bulletin lifestyle editor AA Patawaran, the dinner extended way past midnight. It was a night of good company, a wonderful meal, and meaningful conversations that tackled anything and everything about food.
Reservations are made via @tatungsprivatedinners. Dietary requirements can be accommodated as long as the request is made in advance. The best way to get to the restaurant is by searching for Maximo Gatlabayan Memorial High School. Once you reach the landmark turn right then head straight until you reach a big, elevated gate.
Photos by the author.
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