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Food and Leisure

Reclaiming the vanishing tradition of Filipino ‘merienda’

FORTyFIED - FORTyFIED By Cecile Lopez Lilles -
Do you remember during days of old, well not really old, but back when we were children, when our parents carted us off to faraway provinces to attend some relative’s town fiesta? Well, I do, and one of the many things I miss about my childhood is immersing myself into the local color of rural settings. These were quaint places around the fringes of the big cities, where we spent the entire day merrymaking and eating the best of native Filipino kakanin made from the earth’s bounty of malagkit, cassava, ube, gatas ng kalabaw, kamote, saging na saba, langka, and dayap.

These native Filipino pastries or sweets, cooked into bibingka, puto bumbong, palitaw, ube halaya, etc., are all part of our glorious and rich Filipino tradition of the afternoon merienda, or snack time as it may be known in America, or tea time in Europe. But increasingly, this noble tradition is being lost because of the constraints of our fast-paced lives. It is easier to grab a bite from fast-food stalls and coffee houses in the middle of the afternoon. The labor-intensive and ceremony-filled preparations of native kakanin are slowly being supplanted by the quick and painless food-to-go industry.

Sadly, urbanization has crept far into those little tucked-away towns of yesteryear and has, in its wake, all but replaced the traditions of stone-grinding the galapong for palitaw and bibingka by hand with the neighborhood hamburger fast-food joint.

We do come across the commercialized incarnations of mass-produced kakanin peddled in the malls, but these are as stiff as hollow blocks and taste of cardboard. These dime-a-dozen concoctions that pose as our childhood favorites have been our replacements for the dying tradition of coming together in the provinces for fiestas and special occasions when families cook for days with only the best ingredients. They did everything by hand, never compromising on taste and quality to come up with good old-fashioned kakanin, just like our lolas of old used to make them.

We need not reminisce any further because finally, someone has taken notice of this dying art and has not only resurrected the Filipino merienda but has elevated it to unparalleled heights.

Philippe Caretti, Makati Shangri-La Hotel’s vice president and general manager, who has been slowly enamored with Filipino culture, has made Filipino high tea available to everyone. Every afternoon, Monday to Sunday, from 3 to 6 p.m., Makati Shangri-La’s Lobby Lounge serves the best of Filipino merienda. Guests get to choose from a lavish spread of authentic Filipino delicacies served with native salabat or ginger tea, or native chocolate eh. Really, it’s so Pinoy, perhaps the Makati Shang should rename it the Filipino high salabat.

As you feast on the Filipino merienda, a nine-man string ensemble play kundiman and standards to delight old-timers and young ones alike.

To complete the ambience, the Makati Shang is also featuring a monthly show of artworks by Filipino artists at the garden just across the Lobby Lounge. This month, artist Claude Tayag presents six of his recent sculptures in the show "Feria."

The idea of serving Filipino high tea as homage to our culture is Caretti’s brainchild. After a traditional Pinoy dessert was brought to the hotel by a member of his staff, he immediately enjoined the rest to encourage their mothers and grandmothers to share their recipes of traditional Filipino food to be served to Makati Shangri-La guests.

Marissa Dumangan, the hotel’s service leader from the Lobby Lounge, convinced her aunts, Tita Nene Limson, 83 years old, and Tita Lydia Limson, 75, to share their heirloom recipes, handed down from generations of Kapampangan gourmands. The two ladies are sisters and residents of barrio Sta. Filomena in Guagua, Pampanga. Tita Nene and Tita Lydia have kept their family tradition of the afternoon merienda alive and well. Their kitchen has constantly turned out kakanin in their utmost perfection. They grind their own galapong in a gilingan na bato and grate their coconut on a kudkuran na kabayo. They will have none of those canned coconut milk and preserved desiccated coconut.

They have shared their recipes with the chefs at the Makati Shangri-La so that we may all have the chance to sample them in their original and authentic glory. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Tita Nene and Tita Lydia to Filipino high tea and was thrown back to my childhood via a sentimental culinary journey with every bite of their patco, a thin, crepe-like pastry rolled in grated coconut; bibingka, a heavenly, light and airy, melt-in-the-mouth version that is simply to die for; and tibok-tibok, a panna cotta-like combination of carabao’s milk, giniling na galapong with a burst of dayap flavor, and topped with latik or fried, grated coconut. There was pandesal with kesong puti and quezo de bola, fried, crunchy empanaditas with meat fillings and mini maruya. I washed them all down with salabat. I had a peek at heaven that afternoon.

Hand-in-hand with this traditional Filipino feast, the Makati Shangri-La Lobby Lounge also serves English high tea of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and homemade jam, smoked salmon, sweet and savory tartlets, and assorted mini cakes and pastries.

Special mention needs to be made of the extraordinary selection of teas that the Shangri-La prides itself in. More than 16 blends of the finest teas from China are served to accompany the authentic English treats. According to Oriental legend, several scorched leaves blew into a pot of boiling water at the campsite of the Emperor Shennung in 2737 BC. He was so enchanted by the perfumed aroma and its subtle and delicate flavor that a tradition was born. The Dutch East India Company first brought tea to Europe in the 1600s. Yet, it was not to become popular until the 19th century Victorian era when the fashionable Duchess of Bedford, seeking to bridge the gap between lunch and late supper, created afternoon tea.

The Makati Shangri-La Lobby Lounge strictly follows Victorian tea etiquette and serves tea brewed in a teapot, then poured into a china cup, weakened with a little hot water and splashed with sugar, lemon, and milk or cream.

To enhance the entire experience of the romance and ceremony of afternoon tea, English treats are served in stunning Wedgwood china in pale yellow with a black and gold border, patterned after an Indian colonial design.

The comfort of roomy armchairs and cozy sofas, along with authentic, traditional food from both the Eastern and Western worlds, evoke memories of times past.
* * *
E-mail the author at [email protected].

AFTERNOON

CLAUDE TAYAG

FILIPINO

LOBBY LOUNGE

MAKATI

MAKATI SHANG

MAKATI SHANGRI-LA

MAKATI SHANGRI-LA LOBBY LOUNGE

TEA

TITA

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