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How well do you really know Filipino food? |

Sunday Lifestyle

How well do you really know Filipino food?

OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes -

Eating Pinoy food in a fancy restaurant is not something Filipinos would save for or look forward to. For most of us, dishes like adobong palaka, binukadkad na pla-pla, and inihaw na hito with matching buro are best enjoyed with our bare hands…in the comfort of our own homes. Besides, why would we even spend on something we can readily whip up at home?

Well, times have changed. The number of reputable restaurants in the metro offering Filipino fare proves that there’s a growing number of Pinoy families who still go out of their way to sample the best sinigang na bangus sa miso, sisig, papaitan, bulalo, and kare-kare there is in the market.

Sure, you can cook up your own version of Bicol Express at home but is it as good, spicy and creamy as the one prepared by Tita Cely?

Regarded by food critics as the doyenne of Filipino cuisine, Cecilia “Tita Cely” Villanueva-Kalaw set our taste buds on fire with her “invention,” a fiery dish we’ve come to love as Bicol Express.

Kare-kare is sooo Pinoy, but how much do Filipinos know about this delicious dish?  

Contrary to popular belief, Bicol Express didn’t originate in Bicol. It was a labor of love of two siblings — Tita Cely and her brother Etring — who share a passion for all things spicy and yummy. Tita Cely told me this trivia during the opening of Tita Cely’s Sinigang Bar, Atbp. at the foodcourt of Market! Market! in 2005.

As the story goes, Tita Cely and her Kuya Etring had opened a hole-in-the-wall eatery in Malate, Manila which they called “The Grove—Luto ni Inay” way back in the ’60s. One of their signature dishes is the spicy laing, which was a big hit to their customers.

However, the late food critic Doreen Fernandez advised Tita Cely that they need to come up with a tamer version of the dish because their “sosyal” customers just couldn’t take it.

Once again, the siblings experimented with chopped siling haba and coconut milk. In a snap, the dish was cooked. Soon, Tita Cely invited Doreen and other friends for an intimate lunch to try their new dish. At that moment, Tita Cely didn’t have a name for the dish yet so she pressured Kuya Etring to think of a name before their guests arrived.

So many ways to cook and serve pinakbet, but which one is the best?  

Tita Cely’s house was located at the back of The Grove along M.H. del Pilar, where the PNR train passes. Fifteen minutes before their guests arrived, the siblings heard the train pass so Tita Cely shouted: “Kuya Etring, biyaheng Bicol!” To which her doting brother replied: “Cely, let’s call the dish Bicol Express.”

Well, the rest as they say, is history.

Stories like this remind us of the innate talent, ingenuity and passion of Filipinos when it comes to preparing dishes.

Authentic Pinoy fare such as kare-kare, caldereta, bulalo and even adobo take time to prepare. And with your busy schedule, enjoying home-cooked dishes is indeed a luxury. So when the craving knocks on our palate, we go out of our comfort zones, rush to the restaurant that specializes in that particular dish just to savor the comforting taste of the familiar.

The question remains: “Where should diners spend their hard-earned money to sample the best say, sinigang, in the metro?”

Only the Best for Pinoy Diners

In an effort to put the Philippines on the cuisine map and to guide diners on their culinary journey, Unilever Food Solutions, in cooperation with the Department of Tourism, and Team Manila, launches the “Sooo Pinoy: Inspiring Filipino Cuisine” campaign, a movement that educates people on the rich and flavorful history of Pinoy cuisine in order to give people a more meaningful appreciation of Pinoy food even when they dine out.

Chef Joanne Limoanco-Gendrano, executive chef of Unilever Food Solutions, encourages everybody to find out more about their well-loved Filipino dishes through the Sooo Pinoy campaign.

After identifying 10 of the best Pinoy dishes through online voting, we now want to come up with a list of the best restaurants in Metro Manila that serve the ultimate sinigang, crispy pata, or kare-kare,” explains chef Joanne Limoanco-Gendrano, executive chef, Unilever Food Solutions.

Starting this June, The Philippine Star’s Lifestyle Section and UFS will introduce the Sooo Pinoy dish of the month and the Filipino restaurants that are known for it. 

“The restaurants to be featured will be selected by a panel industry experts which consists of chefs, food critics, and bloggers” said chef Limoanco. A UFS Sooo Pinoy Facebook fan page will be set up where diners can vote for the restaurant that serves the best sinigang, which is the featured dish for the month of June.

Every month, the resto, which serves the best featured dish, will be chosen based on the online votes and declared as a winner.

To create more hype for the campaign, Team Manila will come up with special Sooo Pinoy tees such as Sooo Pinoy Pancit, Halox2, Berto’s Bulalo, and Sinigang the Movie.

Pancit canton, everybody's comfort food from China has been adopted into local cuisine.   

In August, Unilever Food Solutions Sooo Pinoy Facebook “friends” can also join the SalawiKAINan Tayo! Create your own SalawiKAIN that contains a Pinoy dish. Submit your creative quotes and see how well it looks on the shirt. Who knows? Team Manila might produce a limited-edition tee with your SalawiKAIN on it. So open your mouth and make a statement.

Let’s not wait for Anthony Bourdain to show us once again the culinary treasures we have on our shores and the best restaurants that serve them. With Unilever Food Solutions’ “Sooo Pinoy: Inspiring Filipino Cuisine,’ dining at a Filipino restaurant indeed becomes a very tasty option for Pinoy food aficionados.

* * *

Log onto Facebook and search for the Sooo Pinoy fan page ( to learn little known facts about Filipino cuisine and vote for what you think is the best restaurant that serves the featured dish of the month. Also, keep reading Philippine Star’s Lifestyle section for more delicious updates on the campaign.

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