I don't normally write about Filipino food. It is odd knowing that it is the food served on our dining tables day in and day out. Tapa and tuyo in the morning, ginisang munggo (mungbean soup) and piniritong isda (fried fish) in the afternoon, adobong manok at baboy (chicken and pork adobo) in the evening. This is the common refrain in a Filipino household's meal plan. It is easy to take the familiar for granted. And I am guilty of this.

As a glaring example, I recall my days as a graduate student abroad. Back when I was home, I did not really like sinigang, the Filipino sour soup. When it was served at home, I would normally skip it. But after a few months away from home, I began craving for it. I longed for that sharp, tangy flavor that only sinigang could give. I could not, of course, find it anywhere on campus. In no time, I was calling my mother on Skype. Please teach me how to cook sinigang, Mommy. Then an online cooking lesson followed. The finished product was dinner that night, and lunch, the day after.

When my Tita Olive whipped up her own going away dinner, she came up with a menu that took us by surprise. The years from the Philippines did not take away the Pinoy cuisine out of her. The kitchen was buzzing at 7 a.m., for dinner that was to be served 12 hours later. I would take a peek at what's cooking on several occasions. I wondered, did she invite the whole barangay? It was all for the family, she said. And she made sure there was plenty of food to take away!

She had evil plans for this special dinner, as soon as she arrived from New York. She had such grand plans, and even took charge of our dining garden renovation. She turned our dining space into a regal dining hall. The amazing transformation took all of two Sundays. Did we enter the wrong house? A statement red wall, elaborate chandelier, lush greenery? Where did our dining area go?!


Marvelling at our brand new dining space, it was time to sit down for refreshments. This dinner was thought out, through and through. The beverage for the evening was not cola, or wine, but a sweet cold drink of gulaman at sago.


Gulaman at Sago: Ice cold brown sugar syrup, with strips of Pinoy gelatin, and mini tapioca pearls, scented with banana extract and pandan leaves


Soon, the clock struck 7. And hungry tummies were ready for the festivities.  When we called out that it was dinner time, everyone was in a frenzy to get his share. There wasn't time to get photos of all of the dishes. I managed to get a few.



Dinuguan at Puto

The dinuguan took almost all day to make. My cousin Michael, who grew up in New York, fondly called his dinuguan chocolate pork. And he absolutely loved it while he was growing up. That was until he found out what it was really made of.

Dinuguan is a pork blood stew, with unpopular pig parts cooked slowly in pork blood, garlic, banana chilis and cane vinegar. I guess the trick here is not to tell your guests what it's made of. Because chances are they will be more open to try it. I am not wild about dinuguan per se. But I am wild about dinuguan made at our home. It is fantastic with Goldilocks' Butter Puto (ricecakes), if we can smuggle one or two pieces from the kids! An odd combo I know, but it just works!


Bulalo Soup

We each had a steaming bowl of bulalo soup on the side. It was so appetizing, but was, in fact, a complete meal all by itself. Falling off the bone beef shank complete with bone marrow, boiled cabbage, corn and plantains. Splash a bit of fish sauce and calamansi, and you got it made.


Olivia's Roast Chicken

What is a celebration without roast chicken? Tita Olive knew that all too well. She was ready with hers, with guns a-blazing. She did an American twist on her roast chicken. She served it with stuffing. With true Pinoy flair, her stuffing was made with softened bread, green peas, corn, canned meat and raisins. She said she could have made it even more special with velveeta cheese. Truth is, it was like two meals in one. The stuffing went so well with steamed rice!


Lumpiang Shanghai

We always keep the kids in mind when planning the menu. And this dish was originally intended for them. For some reason though, the kiddie dish always turns out as the crowd favorite. Everytime the mound of lumpiang shanghai is laid down at the table, it causes a commotion. Everybody makes a mad dash for it! And I'd say, we dash to it with good reason.

Lumpiang Shanghai is a spring roll of ground pork, jicama (singkamas), carrots, and minced shrimp and deep fried to a golden brown crisp. There is some sweet chili sauce on the side for your dipping sauce. Even in food, it is the simplest that warms the heart the most. This is a smash hit everytime!

Our dessert is a spin on a childhood favorite. We all grew up eating sansrival cake from Goldilocks. But for tonight, we had Purple Oven's Chocolate Sansrival. So yummy and sinful. It was a perfect cap to an excellent and nostalgic meal.


Purple Oven's Chocolate Sansrival

I know everyone will agree with me. When it comes to Filipino cuisine, there is really no place like home. Every mother is our queen of the kitchen. But reality sets in. If you can't squeeze in any kitchen time into your schedule, what are you to do?

There is Cafe 162 to the rescue. We accept private dining engagements for parties of 10 to 15 guests. A Filipino feast of your dreams is just a phone call away. Call our resident chef, Chef Celia Africa for more details.

P.S. This article was originally posted in my personal blog, Chowpowwows, where chow is always on the lowdown.

Cafe 162 (open for private dining engagements)
Call Chef Celia Africa for reservations at +639178870415
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Published by Michelle Africa