Author Claude Tayag with Underdocks owner Burhan Schawich and chef Omet
It’s more fun cooking in Hamburg
TURO-TURO - Claude Tayag (The Philippine Star) - October 31, 2019 - 12:00am

After my talk and cooking demo at the Philippine booth at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I was flown to Hamburg on the early morning of Oct. 18. The Philippine Tourism Office in Frankfurt arranged for a weekend of cooking at the Underdocks restaurant, a hip, casual joint serving all-seafood rolls, tacos and, of course, German beer. Underdocks is located in a trendy district in Hamburg known for their creative spins on local cuisine. Fisch brötchens, which are traditionally fried fish with remoulade sauce (similar to tartar sauce) sandwiched in between a bread bun, are turned into fish tacos and meaty lobster rolls on brioche buns, with some versions influenced by the owner’s travels around the world.

A special treat for the seafood-loving Hamburgers: Kare-kare with peanut sauce and honest-to-goodness shrimp bagoong

“This is the first time we’re doing an event that focuses on the German consumers in Hamburg,” says Margarita Valdes, our tourism attaché. “Hamburg has a more affluent population, and being a port city, they love seafood. Underdocks is known as an urban fish restaurant, and has been recognized by the Hamburg government for their efforts to develop local culture. This was the perfect venue to integrate the dynamism and creativity of our own cuisine and culture into the local Hamburg scene, and give them a firsthand experience of the Fun in the Philippines.”

Philippine Ambassador to Germany Theresa Dizon-De Vega, Claude Tayag, Laura Hutter of Food Guide: Taste Your City, and Tourism Attaché Meggie Valdes. I t’s more fun cooking in hamburg

Giving full support to the event was our ambassador to Germany Theresa Dizon de Vega, who welcomed a group of 20 journalists from Hamburg on Oct. 18, a Friday night, and again at Saturday lunch with the paying guests. 

“The Philippine Embassy fully supports the Filipino Food Weekend in Hamburg as yet another means of introducing to the German and international community the diversity and richness of our culture through cuisine,” she said during the media night.

Soft-shell crabs with taba ng talangka (crab fat) sauce

Media attendees ranged from leading local newspapers to food and lifestyle magazines and a travel trade magazine catering to German tour operators and travel agents. 

Miss Valdes also noted that the large turnout was in itself quite a revelation. “The Germans were very curious and were pleasantly surprised by our dishes; they said our food tasted very different from their own expectations of the typical Asian food, which made them even more curious about visiting our country.”

Underdocks owner Burhan Schawich and I conferred over several calls and emails — some two weeks prior to the event — on not only what I was going to serve, but also, more importantly, to acquaint me with what I would face with the German market.

Being an all-seafood restaurant, I could not serve anything with meat — no problemo.

Underdocks international kitchen crew with our Frankfurt Tourism Attaché Meggie Valdes

Underdocks would still be serving their regular menu at the same time as the Filipino offerings — could be a little problematic but could be resolved.

Most Germans, when eating out, would generally order one dish per person. The idea of sharing a dish is foreign to them, yet German portions are very hefty — double check.

They don’t like their food hot and spicy, either — check. 

I also had to work with whatever Filipino products were available in the Asian stores in Hamburg and Frankfurt. Bagoong alamang (shrimp paste) — check; Datu Puti vinegar — check; fresh calamansi — check (available in Frankfurt); macapuno strips — check; banana leaves — check.

I had to bring taba ng talangka (Claude’9 Crab Fat), black Banaue heirloom rice, and pandan-flavored green gelatin, though.

Hitting Hamburg running at Friday noontime, Burhan lost no time in acquainting me with the kitchen and its staff. Right after the lunch service, the prepping for my dishes started with the help of two cooks assigned to me. With a few hiccups here and there, we managed to be ready for the 6 p.m. media reception. And indeed, being on German soil, it started exactly on time.

Though we were forewarned about the way Germans have their meals with individual servings, Ambassador Tess decided to serve it the Filipino way of sharing family-style, to give the guests a homey feel of our warmth and hospitality. True enough, after a round of a Don Papa rum cocktail prepared by an Underdocks lady barista, a very lively and convivial mood was set. 

The dishes appeared one after the other and were passed around. Tuna Kinilaw came out first, followed by an open-spring-roll vegetable salad (lumpiang hubad); soft-shell crab with talangka sauce; seafood kare-kare; fried calamares with adobong pusit black rice, and lastly, buko pandan gelatin with vanilla ice cream. The Germans had fun sharing the food with everybody. 

Fried calamares on top of Banaue heirloom rice cooked with adobong pusi

But what truly capped the evening for us was the announcement that the Underdocks receptionist had to stop accepting Filipino menu reservations that evening because they were already fully booked for lunch and dinner, both on Saturday and Sunday.

It was truly fun cooking in Hamburg.

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