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07 September 2015

Purple Yam Restaurant: Launching of the Filipino Food Week in the Netherlands


I have often been asked how the Philippine cuisine is and I always answer in the same way. Confused look, then an explanation that needs a few minutes of listening because it's not as simple as any Asian cuisine. There are a lot of seafood, being an archipelago comprised of more than 7,000 islands. Most of the time they are grilled as is or wrapped in banana leaves then dipped in differents sauces made with citrus fruits, soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, garlic, chiles and onions. Adobo is the unofficial national dish that everyone loves, even non-Filipinos. There are a lot of variant recipes of adobo from all over the country but the most basic ingredient is vinegar. Coconut is used a lot in Filipino cooking as well as souring agents like vinegar & citrus fruits, soy sauce, fish sauce and ginger. Rice is staple as it is eaten 3 times a day (including breakfast) along with the main course.


I love the simplicity of Filipino dishes where simple local ingredients are used. I even remember picking fresh sweet potato tops as a kid for our lunch salads and munching on fresh sugar cane that our neighbors' gardener would chop off from his plants. I also remember picking fruits from our neighbors' and our trees as my snacks. Because of the fond memories I hold of the Filipino kitchen, I try to keep my own plants (even if it means combating with non-tropical climate) at home in Italy. I have calamansi plants so that I can have a good flow of calamansi lemons for making pitchers of juice and mixing in dipping sauces and cooking, malunggay or moringa oleifera tree for cooking with its celebrated healthy leaves, bananas to wrap my food with the leaves and bay plants to flavor dishes with the leaves.
 

Filipino food has undergone changes from the time I was small until present times and even more from the time of my grandparents. Everytime I go back to the Philippines, changes are more  evident and little have been left on the dishes I loved most when I was growing up in Manila. I guess the Filipino palate has changed a lot too. Being a melting pot of different cuisines and being open to different kinds of flavors and tastes, Filipinos like to adopt foreign dishes in their regular meals.


There is a new hype on fusion of dishes, creative new ideas that can make any food lover explore new combination of flavors with excitement. I am a food lover and I love new combination of flavors but I also love classic dishes that represent the genuine Philippine flavors using ingredients from the past. My life in the Philippines stopped so many years ago but my Filipino palate continues to yearn for the aromas and flavors that I left behind. And the answer to my food cravings for the long lost flavors came out in the kitchen of Chef Romy Dorotan.


A few days ago, I flew to the Netherlands for the launching of the Philippine Cuisine Week at the Philippine Ambassador's residence in the Hague. Purple Yam Restaurant owners Amy Besa and Chef Romy Dorotan along with their team of young chefs from their branches in New York City and Manila regaled us with Filipino food using artisanal ingredients from all over the Philippines. They took with them fruit preserves of 3 varieties of bananas from Benguet: Tumok, Gloria and Lakatan; bugnay preserves from Abra, wild honey from Abra, Quezon and Iloilo and spices like the Maguindanao palapa which is a coconut and spice mix that represents the southern flavors of the Philippines.

Top: Philippine Ambassador Jaime Victor Ledda speaking Bottom left: Me with Chef Romy Dorotan Bottom right: Amy Besa

Quoting Amy Besa, "Purple Yam Malate and Brooklyn have always espoused the philosophy of bringing many undiscovered, underappreciated and ignored ingredients within our environment back to our table." Thus, Chef Dorotan presented traditional Filipino dishes like adobo, sinigang, kilawin, lumpia, fried rice and suman using good quality ingredients from the Philippines cooked with fresh Dutch ingredients. 


The event started with cocktail drinks created by a team of Dutch barmen using Don Papa Philippine rum. It was very aromatic, good and quite strong but I couldn't resist the wonderful smell wafting around me everytime a waiter passes by with a tray.


Initially, the tables were adorned with bowls of popcorn but not the regular flavors that I encounter because they were Garlic Popcorn with Danggit (salted, sun-dried rabbitfish). It is a surprising combination but very good at that! It had a mild garlic flavor that stayed well with the danggit.


Sinigang is sour soup using souring agents in the forms of sour fruits like tamarind, guava and lemons. They are mixed with vegetables and meat, fish or shrimp then seasoned with fish sauce then generally eaten with steamed white rice. Levels of sourness differ from kitchen to kitchen in the Philippines. Chef Dorotan's version used tamarind paste and lemon juice with just the perfect mildness, mixed with tomatoes, radish, watercress, leeks and chiles then seasoned with artisanal fish sauce. I normally love my sinigang very strong, the kind that can make your eyes water and that's how I do it when I am eating it alone. This version, however mild and moderate the sourness was, came out a genuinely delicious sinigang, the kind that my husband loved (and he never eats sinigang) which he asked me to make at home.

 


Lumpia or spring rolls come in varied forms that can either be fresh or deep fried. Fresh lumpia can either be filled with vegetables or ubod (palm heart) then topped with roasted peanuts and sweet garlic sauce. Deep fried versions usually have mung bean sprouts, pork or fish mixed with vegetables and shrimp. Chef Dorotan made the fresh rice crepe wrapper filled with Napa cabbage, carrots, snowpeas, leeks, Shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, lollo rosso lettuce and fish sauce. I love fresh lumpia but generally, I avoid the sauce because of its strong garlic flavor that stays all day in my mouth but Chef Dorotan broke that by making the delicious flavor of the caramel garlic sauce linger for just a few minutes. He used two kinds of vinegar in his sauce which are sukang Iloko and Japanese rice vinegar. Needless to say, the garlic didn't knock me out which was a great relief.


Even the mangoes are imported from the Philippines (Envious....when will they arrive in Italy?). Then there is the Don Papa rum from the Philippines of course. It is the only sipping rum ever made in the country that is distilled from Negros sugarcane and aged in American oak barrels for 7 years. Palapa na Maguindanao instead is a spice mix of coconut, red onions, ginger, siling labuyo (chiles) and salt.


Vegetable fried rice is one of the best ways to combine leftover rice and vegetables because that is how fried rice was born in Asia anyway. With this version, Unoy, the heirloom red rice from the Cordillera mountains was used then mixed with a variety of vegetables and boiled egg that was lightly sprinkled with palapa.


Adobo. One word and you will get the Filipinos' attention and the non-Filipinos too who have tried this dish. It is probably every Filipino's favorite dish, whatever part of the country it is and whatever recipe variant it is. It is uniquely Filipino even if there is the Spanish adobo which is superficially similar. History says that when the Spanish explorers arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, the Filipino cooking method of stewing in vinegar already existed and because of its slight similarity to the Spanish adobo, they called it adobo. The cooking method and marinade from between both adobos are completely different from each other.


Chef Dorotan came up with two kinds of adobo, brown and white, with soy sauce and without respectively. Being the main ingredient of a basic adobo recipe, the kind of vinegar is what matters to the dish. For this Pork Baby Back Ribs Adobo, apple cider vinegar was used alongside apples, bay leaves, black peppercorns, garlic and chiles. This is served on a bed of Lasbakan rice, a variety of heirloom rice that comes from the Cordillera mountains.



Be it brown or white, adobo is always a point more in the Filipino palate as well as the non-Filipinos. This Chicken Adobo was cooked in Japanese rice vinegar, turmeric, garlic, bay leaves, black peppercorn, chiles, coconut milk and lemongrass then served on Adlai or Job's Tears from the Cordillera mountains and topped with green mangoes. Being a lover of barley, I immediately loved Adlai. It is similar in texture but the flavor is rounder and has more characteristic. Truth be told, I am presently looking at the internet on how to acquire these delicious grains.



Suman is one of the main rice cake desserts in the Philippines. It is made of glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk then wrapped in leaves of palms, bananas or bamboo then topped with sugar, coconut or sweet sauce based on these ingredients. Chef Dorotan's version, the Tinawon Diket is cooked in coconut milk and salt, wrapped in banana leaves and sweetened with Abra honey. My verdict? I could have eaten much, much more!


I love fruit preserves of every kind especially when they are not overly-sweet and when I top them on vanilla ice cream and aged cheese or slather them on warm toast. In fact, whenever I have the time and I have an abundance of fruits in season at home, I make some lightly-sweetened ones in small batches. The Purple Yam team brought with them some jars of delicious preserves using 3 varieties of bananas which are Gloria, Lakatan and Tumok, guava, santol and bugnay that we all tried with different kinds of Dutch cheese and vanilla ice cream.


Philippine cuisine is not as known as the food of the other Asian countries but there are similarities that tie them from each other because food, after all, use ingredients from the local terrain. What makes Filipino food special is the diversity of its land, the abundance of water surrounding it and the tropical climate. 

When I first tried the food of Purple Yam in the Philippines, I was impressed about the way Amy Besa focused on the artisanal ingredients that they use in the restaurant. And what struck me as the most fundamental factor of their food is that I can taste and distinguish the ingredients in my mouth. More and more, Filipino food is evolving to much stronger flavors and use of unnecessary strong ingredients or creams that cover the proper tastes that the dishes should have. To take one step back to lessen the level of strength of flavors would be pleasant and to use quality ingredients is a must just like in the old days. 

Staying in Italy for so many years and adopting the Italian food culture to my own cooking, I learned about minimizing the ingredients and maximizing on tastes and that is attained through the use of ingredients with very good quality. That passion for quality food made me pack my bags and fly to the Netherlands to have another taste of Purple Yam's food because we both believe in the same thing. If we focus on quality, we will all have healthier and much better food on our tables to feed our kids. 

Wishing you all a great week!

Amy Besa, Chef Romy Dorotan and their team of young chefs will be Guest Chefs at the Michelin-Starred Restaurant de Karpendonkse Hoeve in Eindhoven, Netherlands from 7 - 13 September 2015. You can try their dishes by booking at the restaurant.

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