‘Amboys’–Celebrated Fil-Am Chefs–Rediscover their ‘Authentic Filipino’ Food Roots

 Sinugba of “lumot” (big squid) and scallops of Provenciana Restaurant

Sinugba of “lumot” (big squid) and scallops of Provenciana Restaurant

"Amboy” is a term I haven’t heard in a long time. That’s what my family called male cousins who were born and grew up in the United States. It was short for “American boy”—though not regarded as American in their adopted country, or Filipino when they visited the home country.

I thought that moniker was no longer used. But Amboy was how the Filipino-American chefs and restaurant managers visiting from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York called themselves.

The Amboys were on a 10-day culinary tour of Manila on the invitation by the Consulate in Los Angeles and organized by Clang Garcia of Jeepney Tours. They visited markets, restaurants, Chinatown, a lechonan in Metro Manila, and even reached Pampanga, Cavite, Batangas, Quezon and Subic, the latter for their lessons on Aeta jungle cooking.

They were impressed with Jordy Navarra’s Toyo Eatery, and though they didn’t say exactly why, the language of smacking lips spoke of truly Filipino flavors of dishes not done the traditional way.

That’s what these chefs aspire for and are achieving, in fact, judging from the glowing write-ups about them in blogs and newspapers like the Los Angeles Times.

 Billy Dec of Sunda in Chicago and Rick Olalia of RiceBar

Billy Dec of Sunda in Chicago and Rick Olalia of RiceBar

Visayan dishes

We met at Provenciano Restaurant on Maginhawa Street in Quezon City, where chef Chris de Jesus was asked to do Visayan dishes because the group wasn’t going to the middle provinces. A few days after, the farewell dinner was at Top of the Citi by Chef Jessie in Makati, where chef Datu Shariff Pendatun III was serving Moro cuisine cooked with coconut.

It was a quick tour of the country’s cuisine, but the experience gave the Amboys a glimpse of how varied Filipino cooking is, especially since many of the chefs have experienced only their family’s regional dishes.

Johneric and Christine Concordia described their barbecue place, The Park’s Finest BBQ, as “American cuts… with a Filipino flavor.” The couple and the others are often questioned about their Filipino food’s authenticity, which I took to mean in terms of flavor, procedure and cut.

Writer Felice Sta. Maria, who with Nana Ozaeta and myself were there to answer their queries, gave them the answer: Food evolves.

But Sta. Maria also reminded them that while our food works in the street and out of food trucks or small eateries, it can also be elegant.

 Alvin Cailan of Eggslut and Chad Valencia of Lasa

Alvin Cailan of Eggslut and Chad Valencia of Lasa

Home cooking

Most of the chefs started and apprenticed with other countries’ cuisines. Now they have returned to home cooking—the family and barkada favorites.

Those who follow the Filipino food scene in the United States will be familiar with Alvin Cailan, who started with a food truck he named Eggslut which offered variations on eggs with Filipino flavor touches. He also had Amboy, which closed and has reopened in New York.

He said all the chefs with him want to present Filipino culture in food better than Anthony Bourdain. And Cailan does have the wherewithal to do that, having been trained by the best chefs in America, coupled with his love for cooking, understanding and eating Filipino food.

Chad Valencia started, with his brother Chase, a pop-up that became a regular restaurant called Lasa. Asked why a food critic loved his pancit, he discussed what went into his canton mix, giving us an idea of its Filipino touch with patis and calamansi flavors, along with modern riffs such as scallions and patis-cured egg shavings.

RiceBar is Rick Olalia’s version of the “silog.” As described by the Los Angeles Times, his space is just enough for a small counter where the chef works face-to-face with his customers. What makes his dishes distinct is Filipino heritage rice.

Also with the visiting group was the “man with the hat,” Billy Dec, CEO of Sunda, a Pan-Asian restaurant in Chicago that has reserved Thursdays as “kamayan feast.”

 Johneric and Christine Concordia of The Park’s Finest BBQ in Los Angeles

Johneric and Christine Concordia of The Park’s Finest BBQ in Los Angeles

Overwhelming fare

Like any feasting, we tend to overwhelm guests with lots of items, just like the Provenciano menu hosted by Mama Sita Foundation. Food from “the happy islands,” as Sta. Maria called the Visayas, had starters of okoy, lumpiang sariwa and bam-i, followed by the mains of lechon, laswa, humba, chicken inasal, kadios-baboy-langka, sinugbang lamang dagat and kilawing puso ng saging. Capping the dinner were three kinds of desserts, then delicacies of cookies and rice cakes.

At the dinner featuring Muslim Mindanao cooking, a kulintang artist provided background music.

Chef Pendatun added a touch of aroma by burning incense. Three tribes were represented by the dishes: Tausug Pyanggang (chicken cooked in burnt coconut) and Piayalam (white pompano in lemon grass); Maranao’s Urang Piyarem (crawfish with coconut meat sauteed in turmeric and chili) and Inaluban a Haruan (snake head in coconut milk and sweet potato leaves); and the Maguindanaon Lininggil a Kambing (goat with roasted coconut) and Sangkerat (saba plantain in coconut cream).

So, even if the Amboys didn’t get to see the central and southern parts of the Philippines, they were able to travel through their taste buds.

 Fil-am chefs, organizers and resource persons at Provenciano Restaurant

Fil-am chefs, organizers and resource persons at Provenciano Restaurant

‘Tropical rejoicing’

But, apart from the variety of our cuisine, it is that sense of happiness and friendship that also defines our culinary culture.

In “A Kipper with my Tea,” Alan Davidson described his first experience at a Manila restaurant as “a revelation: People were laughing and singing, expressing their enjoyment and relishing the food and drink.” He termed that sense of fun and camaraderie while eating as “tropical rejoicing syndrome.”

For the Fil-Am chefs, I suppose it is that “rejoicing” they were able to experience that they would want to transmit the most through the food in their eateries. That would make their offerings “authentic Filipino” in my book.

Source: Micky Fenix, Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 1, 2018




LOOK: Philpost Releases Mama Sita Commemorative Stamp

MANILA, Philippines – In celebration of her birth centennial, Teresita 'Mama Sita' Reyes was honored with a commemorative stamp by the Philippine Postal Corporation (Philpost).

 MAMA SITA. The Philippine Postal Office has released a special stamp in honor of Mama Sita

MAMA SITA. The Philippine Postal Office has released a special stamp in honor of Mama Sita

 CELEBRATION. The Philpost has released limited collections of Mama Sita stamps since 2013

CELEBRATION. The Philpost has released limited collections of Mama Sita stamps since 2013

Philpost released 80,000 stamps, which were designed by by Ian Darren Aycocho and Cristian Molina. The design is accompanied with the slogan “Kababayan, Ina, Kusinera.”.

In a statement, Postmaster General Joel Otarra said that they "are proud to be part of this important milestone in paying tribute to 'Mama Sita’s Birth Centenary' and her untiring effort and dedication to keeping the flavors of Filipino Food one of the world’s best.”

Stamps are available at P12 at the Post shop in Manila and other post offices nationwide.

Mama Sita became a household name for the mixes and sauces she made for Filipino cuisine. Her line has also been used in other parts of the world, and especially loved by Filipinos abroad who miss Filipino home-cooked meals. – Rappler.com

Source: rappler.com January 18, 2018




‘Mama Sita Makopa’ Offers Cultivation Opportunities For Pinoy Farmers

 ‘Mama Sita Makopa’ offers new opportunity for local star ruby growth.

‘Mama Sita Makopa’ offers new opportunity for local star ruby growth.

When we think of Mama Sita, we think of delicious sauces and mixes that have enabled harried homemakers to cook quick, delicious, and budget-friendly family meals. The brand is also synonymous with giving Filipino overseas workers a taste of home.

Not a lot of people know that the well-loved brand is also a champion of Philippine agriculture via the Mama Sita Foundation (MSF), whose main goal is the support and promotion of Philippine heritage and agricultural sustainability.

One of MSF’s projects is the development of the star ruby, a cultivar of the fruit commonly known as makopa (Syzygium malaccense). The makopa is seedless, crunchy, and has a neural taste.

Rediscovering the Makopa

MSF partnered with PCARRD and Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. to introduce fruit cultivars from different countries in order for local farmers and agricultural enthusiasts to grow for mass production.

The project report, authored by Benito S. Vergara, Felipe S. dela Cruz, Jr., and Bert Lapus, stated that:

“Four rooted cuttings of Star Ruby from Bangkok, Thailand were introduced on February 9, 2007. The cuttings were transplanted in 80-liter containers, grown under full sun in Los Baños.

“The plants were evaluated for their growth, productivity, taste of the fruits and comparability to the Thai-grown crop.”

Easy to Grow

Results were as follows:

“The transplanted plants had vigorous growth. By January 13, 2009 or 22 months of growth, the plants flowered. On April 30, 2009 or 75 days after flowering, the first fruits were harvested.

“The fruits were comparable to Thai-grown makopa. The excellent quality and flavor was acceptable by the Board of Trustees of the MSF that they decided to name it ‘Mama Sita Makopa.’

“The fruiting ‘Mama Sita Makopa’ is less than two meeters tall with pinkinsh young leaves, oblong, and pointed. The ruby colored fruits are seedless, flesh white, juicy, crispy and not spongy; and pleasant mild taste (sic). The average size of the 2009 October-November harvest is 7.9 cm long and 6.2 cm in diameter. Average weight of the fruit is 118.3 grams. There is no curled remnant of the corolla where ants usually stay.

“Even before flowering, branches of ‘Mama Sita Makopa’ were marcotted as it appeared a sure winner. The plant is very easy to propagate by Marco ting and cuttings. Since then, more than a hundred seedlings have been sold and are now being sold in plant nurseries. Large scale plantings have been made.

“The same experimental trees were sprayed with pachlobutrasol on July 22, 2009. Flower buds appeared 49 days later (September 9, 2009). First fruits were harvested in November 2009 or 60 days after full opening of the flowers.”

Clara Lapus, President of the Mama Sita Foundation, adds, “The makopa needs further study and I hope that (we) can encourage agronomist to experiment on how to control the fruit flies that attack the fruit. I heard that DOST has funds to fund such research at 0% interest (from Land Bank) which might interest agri-entrepreneurial students who want to earn from growing macopas.”

Business Opportunity

Those interested to grow them can order from Mama Sita Foundation the marcotted rooted seedlings, but they have to commit to get their ordered rooted seedlings which will be ready within 1-2 months. All they have to do is plant the seedling in soil and they can grow their own mother plant and do their own marcotting.

Source: Yvette Tan, http://agriculture.com.ph/2017/11/09/mama-sita-makopa-offers-cultivation-opportunities/, November 9, 2017




Kamote vs. Global warming

Kamote was the star at a memorable dinner with the Ateneo de Manila’s students of SA 157:  Introduction to Cultural  Heritage, under the Cultural Heritage Studies Program of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Every first semester, the class, under Fernando N. Zialcita, organizes a dinner featuring the cooking of a particular region where the Ateneo Cultural Laboratory took place during the Intersession. This year Vigan and the northern towns of Ilocos Sur were the setting.

Nov 02 2017 photo 1.jpg

With the focus on Ilocano cuisine, the class thought of connecting their topic to the major crisis of our time, global warming, which endangers the very survival of our human species.

Ilocanos stand out for their love for vegetables and root crops. They abhor a largely carnivorous diet. In the barrios, bagnet, igado, and other meat dishes are for fiestas, not for everyday eating. While many urban Filipinos consider themselves kawawa if they eat only vegetables as their daily fare, Ilocano farmers say that when they visit Manila, they feel weak because of the lack of truly fresh vegetables.

Congressman Deogracias Victor Savellano, owner of Victorino’s Restaurant, shared with the students his mother Virginia Savellano’s collection of recipes featuring kamote dishes. Thus was born “Ilocano Recipes for a Warmer Planet,” a dinner planned around kamote, a root crop that flourishes even under harsh conditions.

Dr. Zialcita noted that throughout East Asia, rice is prestigious while root crops are considered low-class. But rice is a crop that requires more water and demands more care. Another reason to prefer root crops is the nutritional value of root crops over rice. Kamote is a good source of protein, fiber, and other basic nutrients in the roots and green leaves.

This school year, the class did seven projects in Ilocos relating to cultural heritage.  1) A study of the Ilocano’s fondness for vegetable; 2) an ethnography of the weaving of binakul cloth in a coastal barangay;   3) a history of binakul weaving in that same barangay over the past 70 years; 4) the making of gold tambourine jewelry; 5) local perceptions of birds and their utility, 6) a script for a tour of craftmaking; and 7) a module for teaching appreciation for local crafts in high school.

Once a year, the Cultural Studies Program of Ateneo’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology organizes a field school that focuses on the cultural heritage of a particular region. Its partners are the History Department, the Fine Arts Program, and the School of Management Business Accelerator Program. In June to July, students and faculty members stayed for three weeks in Vigan and the northern towns of Ilocos Sur.

Participants concluded that root crops would play a big role in food production when global warming peaks. The humble kamote will rise, not only because it is filling, but also because it is delicious. This year’s batch for Introduction to Cultural Heritage under the Cultural Heritage Program of Ateneo de Manila University traveled north to Vigan to learn all about Ilocano cuisine, arts, and crafts.

Kamote dishes, inspired by the recipes of Jean Savellano, were served at dinner, followed by an open forum encouraging dialogue between students, guests, culinary experts, and heritage advocates, including Congressman Savellano.

“This kind of dialogue is precisely what the foundation strives to inspire through our projects like Mga Kuwentong Pagkain,” says Clara Reyes-Lapus, president of Mama Sita Foundation. “Mama Sita loved to promote local foods and how they are prepared. She traveled to different places to search for the most authentic flavors and, in turn, she spread it out to share it with the world.”

After the Ateneo presentation, the MMSF launched the foundation’s annual food writing contest, Mga Kuwentong Pagkain. The contest encourages Filipinos nationwide to talk about a special dish, what makes it special, and how it is made and enjoyed in an effort to make known and preserve the flavors of homegrown cuisine. Deadline for entries is on Jan. 26, 2018.

Source: Sol Vanzi, https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2017/11/02/kamote-vs-global-warming/, November 2, 2017