Food and Leisure

Who says Philippine cuisine is all brown and oily?

- Mary Ann Quioc Tayag -

MANILA, Philippines - Honestly, if I had stepped into the function room without knowing that chef Myrna Segismundo had catered the event, I would surely have said it was not Filipino food but an international buffet or, more specifically, a limited English buffet. Having lived in Hong Kong and worked as a flight attendant, I have seen many buffets and tried countless cuisines. There was also no sign of palayoks, bamboos or the colorful fiesta buntings that usually go with a Filipino-themed promotion; instead there were lots of stainless steel and modern vases by glass artist Bobby Castillo. I went closer and looked at the dishes.

The first dish from the right was a carving of beef belly. Hmm, roast beef without its au jus and Yorkshire pudding? But unlike the usual English roast beef carving, this smelled so good that it was impossible to resist unless you were a Hindu. It turned out to be roast beef adobo marinated overnight, pepper-crusted and then slow-roasted for four hours, basted with its soy and vinegar marinade. Its appetizingly delicious smell permeated the room. Next to it was a roast chicken, ever present in every buffet, but this one was rubbed with tamarind powder and then roasted. It is a cross between our favorite Southern Tagalog sinampalukang manok and lechon manok. Then, a huge casserole that looked like a pastry-

Chef Myrna’s take on tokwa’t baboy: Silken tofu topped with chopped boiled pig’s ears and onions

encrusted steak and kidney pie appeared as one lifted the lid of the chafing dish. It turned out to be our traditional estofadong baboy but nicely covered with crisp pastry. It was sweetened with panocha and flavored with whole garlic bulbs and saging na saba (plantain bananas). To many, it was the most delicious surprise that day and it elicited conversation. Is estofado meant to be dry and stringy like this one, a sweet pork adobo or a sweet paksiw

Lady chef from Lipa, Batangas: Myrna Segismundo Photos by Claude Tayag

Being a rice person and one not fond of sweet dishes, I preferred the bagoong paella, which was topped with pork and salted eggs. There was also a seafood kare-kare served with sautéed chopped hibi (dried shrimps) on the side instead of the usual bagoong alamang. It was saucy and could pass for Indian seafood curry. Among the appetizers, the chef’s take on tokwa’t baboy was a medallion of chilled silken tofu topped with chopped boiled pork ears. Her dulong (pygmy goby) a la Spanish angulas, or baby eels steeped in olive oil and garlic, was a delight. The soup served was elegantly presented, called Bulalo Royale. Each guest had bone marrow topped with leek and corn custard. Thank God! I had room for the dessert, the chef’s famous queso de bola cheesecake. It looks like Edam cheese but harder and better. The cheesecake was moist, rich and super-delicious. If she told me there were pastillas inside, I would believe her. 

Crowd favorite: Estofadong baboy, pork braised in soy sauce and panucha, baked in a crust with fried saba bananas and whole garlic bulbs.

Chef Myrna Segismundo, an advocate for Philippine cuisine, has successfully made our traditional dishes look modern without changing the flavors. The word she uses is “tweaking,” and she makes it sound very easy. She first gained my admiration when I tried her lechon (deboned suckling pig) roulade years ago. Again it’s everybody’s favorite lechon, but fit for fine dining with liver sauce enhanced by red wine. She is naturally innovative. To me, her runaway dish that lunch was her roast beef adobo, while to the other guests it was her estofadong baboy. Her buffet spread is the answer to all those who say our Filipino food is all brown and ugly, cannot be presented well and worse, has no place on the international scene. She is ready to prove them all wrong.

Belly good: Slow-roasted beef belly marinated overnight in adobo mix

Chef Myrna travels extensively around the country and to other parts of the world, giving talks, culinary demonstrations, and interviews to promote progressive Filipino cuisine worldwide (I like that word “progressive”). Her most recent cooking trip was to New Delhi, India, where she impressed them with her seafood kare-kare. She is the director of 9501, the corporate dining outlet of ABS-CBN; thus I call her the chef of the stars. She is author of many cookbooks and co-author of Kulinarya. Still, unselfishly, she gives her time and shares her talent as the mastermind of the National Food Showdown, an annual competition for professionals and students in the country. But her mission to help improve their skills and raise their standards drives her to take on the job. As she said, “As long as we keep on doing it right and continually improve ourselves, we will get there.” She was, of course, referring to our very own cuisine making it to the international scene.

Chef Myrna’s signature: Queso de bola cheesecake

* * *

Catch chef Myrna’s innovative cooking at Heat in the Edsa Shangri-La Hotel, for lunch and dinner from July 22 to 31. For reservations and inquiries, call 633-8888 local 2922.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with