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Around the Philippines in 80 plates |

Travel and Tourism

Around the Philippines in 80 plates

- Ching M. Alano -

MANILA, Philippines - So here we are, brimming with excitement and curiosity as we’re about to embark on a trip around the Philippines.

First stop is Luzon, where our eyes are riveted on a chafing dish on which deliciously sit a tray of sinigang na sugpo (tamarind-based Filipino stew) laden with giant shrimps and another tray carrying beef morcon (Filipino meat roll) with tomato sauce. Beside them, glasses of halo-halo (icy dreamy concoction of assorted sweets topped by a scoop of ice cream) make a mouthwatering sight.

Soup opera

Second stop is the Visayas, where the pancit molo soup awaits to warm the heart and the belly on a rainy day like today. This popular dumpling soup, to which sotanghon noodles are sometimes added, originated from Molo, Iloilo City. Beside this is another popular Visayan dish called humba, braised pork belly with palm sugar and black beans. It’s the sweet version of pork adobo. To further sweeten Visayas’ culinary offerings is the turon dessert (fried sliced saging na saba with jackfruit in spring roll wrap dusted with brown sugar). As far as our panghimagas go, turon truly deserves to be in the honor roll.

The third and final stop — by now, our stomachs are about to burst, but like I always say, “Never say diet!” — is Mindanao, where we get a warm (make that hot) and crispy welcome from a plateful of kropek and a tray of beef caldereta (Spanish-influenced beef stew with assorted vegetables). For dessert, the sight of the buko pandan salad is enough to make me go nuts. We sure know how to use our coconuts!

Eat’s sooo delicious: Milky Way cooks up an array of regional specialties from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Like Luzon’s sinigang na sugpo and beef morcon with tomato sauce.

Surely, this is one trip that’s bound to broaden your culinary horizons — as well as your waistline. And for this food trip, Milky Way that’s given us good food all these decades, with chef/owner Jay Gamboa presiding in the kitchen, takes us around the country’s culinary attractions without leaving Metro Manila.

Sooo pinoy, sooo vibrantly diverse

“Everyone who comes to the Philippines definitely has to savor the wealth of our cuisine,” says a beaming Ace Durano, former Tourism Secretary and now, the new Sooo Pinoy ambassador. “When I was with the Department of Tourism, we made food part of our overall promotion of the Philippines, to crystallize a Filipino identity. The Filipino is quite difficult to describe because of his many different international/regional influences. Filipino food is quite a good analogy of the Filipino — a mix of international/regional influences. How we use food reflects our spirituality, our open-mindedness — the different ingredients reflect the vibrancy of our country. So when Unilever talked to me about this, I was so impressed that a multinational company would use its resources to embark on a campaign like this.”

Pinakbet: ace’s best bet

Asked what his favorite Pinoy dish is, Ace replies with gusto, “Pinakbet! I’m kinda a healthy eater. I like all kinds of pinakbet because it’s a balanced food. The Ilocano version is saltier. Cebu’s pinakbet has no bagoong while Iloilo’s has plenty of meat, but it’s still pinakbet. But whatever version is served to me, I will gladly eat.” 

Ace grew up in Cebu, where a dish called casajos took center stage in family Sunday get-togethers. For the non-Cebuanos, Ace tells us it’s like beef jerky or dried carabao meat in a special marinade. Then there’s the Cebuano version of the beef stew called ginamay, the first thing you’ll see on the table, aside from the famous Cebu lechon, during fiestas.

For Unilever Food Solutions’ Sooo Pinoy campaign, Ace doesn’t have to don a chef’s hat or an apron; he simply has to wear his heart on his sleeve.

Visayas’ molo soup and pork humba with saba.

“One of the projects of Ace Durano is he will help us come up with a resolution promoting Filipino cuisine in restaurants and also in culinary schools because in culinary schools here, there’s no course on preparing Filipino food,” notes Gino Cruz of Unilever Food Solutions. “When we got him as a partner in this Sooo Pinoy campaign, a movement promoting Filipino food, we thought the best person to talk about it was someone who had experience in tourism. We told him about the whole movement, we asked him what he thought about it, what he could contribute to it, during the brainstorming and he said, ‘There are a lot of good Filipino food, but they’re not being promoted in these restaurants, maybe I can be there as a partner in coming up with a resolution through my friends in politics.’”

Gino adds, “He’s the most credible person to talk about tourism because he was the past Tourism Secretary. And he really wanted to help. What do you do after serving as Tourism Secretary? Still talk about tourism, but now being single-minded about it, focusing on food.”

Juana change: a dash of nationalism

Adding a dash of humor to this campaign to promote Filipino cuisine is the inimitable Mae Paner, a.k.a. Juana Change, a star on YouTube known for her open criticism of our political leaders and biting commentary on current issues. She does not mince her words and does not do anything half-baked.

“This time, Juana Change is bringing her nationalism to food,” asserts Gino.

 And now, from October 5 to 24, Unilever invites food enthusiasts nationwide to get a shot at becoming the Ultimate Sooo Pinoy Blogger by simply sharing their love of Filipino cuisine through their blogs. Just post a photo blog about your recent dining experience in a restaurant in the Philippines. The blog entry should be at least 300 words long, and accompanied by at least three food shots and a photo of you dining in the restaurant.

Mindanao’s beef caldereta.

To join the search, simply take a screen shot of your blog entry and e-mail it to The e-mail must contain the following: blog post URL, contestant’s name and mobile number, and the blog article itself (preferably in .doc or .docx format). The blog post must not be altered or deleted until December 15, 2011.

Contestants with the most creative entries that reflect a genuine passion for Filipino food and enthusiasm about promoting Filipino culture will move on to the next round and take on more challenges. Finally, the lucky foodie who hurdles all the challenges wins a 30-day journey to 10 Philippine destinations to enjoy culinary treats in 101 restaurants, and gets to share his/her adventures with the world.

For more details on the Ultimate Sooo Pinoy Blogger mechanics, like Sooo Pinoy on Facebook.

The yummiest job in the world

“It’s the worst job in the world,” Gino says with a hearty laugh. “The winner is going to travel for free to 10 key cities in the Philippines — Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, Iloilo, Davao, Bicol, Pampanga, Tagaytay, Ilocos, Mindanao — and eat there for free. That’s a minimum of 30 days and more than three meals a day.”

And what are these restaurants?

“These are restos recommended by people based on our research,” says Gino. “It can be a dampa-like restaurant, to a Milky Way to a Sentro type of resto.”

Gino elaborates, “It’s about time we promoted Filipino food and made it known abroad, side by side other popular foreign food like, say, Thailand’s pad thai. It’s interesting to note that our Filipino dishes have a history. Like, did you know that our sisig was originally prepared for the pregnant women of Pampanga to make their bones and joints strong? Claude Tayag (artist/chef/writer) was telling us about it. Sisig is Pampanga’s version of the kilawin. And then it started being served on a sizzling plate. Then Trellis brought it to Manila. And now, there are so many versions of the sisig.”

The search is on for the Ultimate Sooo Pinoy Blogger: Blog your way to the yummiest job in the Philippines.

A pinoy resto in london? Follow your nose

Eating is a national pastime for Pinoys who eat more than three meals a day. Abroad, where there’s a Filipino, there must be a Filipino restaurant. “There was an English guy who asked in the Sooo Pinoy Facebook if there was a Filipino resto in London,” Gino begins to relate, “and after an hour, we were able to trace a Filipino resto in London — Josephine’s. Foreigners are particular about the look, the presentation. Now, those that appeal to them are the modern type of Filipino restos. We’re helping our food business so that our food would be acceptable not only to foreigners but also to the young generation today. But we make sure the panlasang Pinoy is still there.”

To foreigners, the message that Unilever Food Solutions is sending is this: Accept the uniqueness of Filipino food. “Of course, we will try to prepare it in an acceptable manner, but the uniqueness of the flavors of Filipino food will always be there and they will always be unique to us,” Gino stresses. “Other people’s love for our Filipino food will start with us.”

Who knows, soon everybody in the world will be saying with a burp, “It’s sooo Pinoy! And it’s sooo good!”

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