Oh Filipino food! How much do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love you because of your sinigang and sisig and adobo, that my heart can taste even when they’re out of sight. Okay, I admit it. I’m not much of a poet, but that doesn’t make me any less of a lover of fine Philippine cuisine.
I guess that’s why I found myself plowing through three Filipino restaurants in the course of one afternoon, together with four fellow foodies, all of us finalists in the Sooo Pinoy Search for the Ultimate Food Blogger. Our task this afternoon, as we have chosen to accept it, was to visit three restaurants then try two of their signature dishes. One after another, with our only break being the walk between restaurants.
At this point, you’re probably hating me for participating in such a thing. “All that food, all hers?! There is no justice in this world!” But trust me, it’s a form of torture too. Imagine still wanting to eat, but being unable to because, “Gasp! I need to pace myself!” Tortuous! (Okay, I’m mostly lying to make you guys feel better. I loved every bit of the food trip. Sue me.)
I love you for your silly ironies
Our first stop was at one of my favorite modern Filipino restaurants, Sentro 1771. Home to sinigang na corned beef, this restaurant never fails to satisfy me, with their refreshing takes on old classics.
Where else can you marry a Pinoy homecooking staple, sinigang, and the epitome of instant food, corned beef? As slow meets instant, Sinigang na Corned Beef is easily one of Sentro’s most popular dishes. Imagine a slab of tender, thready corned beef, swimming in a sour, tamarind-infused broth, strewn with a medley of vegetables. Soured upon the diner’s instructions, the tart broth was the perfect companion to the fall off your fork tenderness of the beef. A marriage made in heaven, or in this case, a palayok, may the two never be separated ever again.
Another ironic match you can meet at Sentro is the Sizzling Tofu Sisig. Sisig, one of the poster children of cardiac delights, meets tofu, the vegetarian’s weapon of choice against meat. This combination makes for a crunchy treat, the lightly fried tofu seasoned with a mix of the sour and savory. Chopped red onions and green spring onions add color and bite, while a light mayo dressing add a bit of creaminess. While this dish will never replace authentic honest-to-goodness sisig, it stands as a wonderful dish by itself, combining the things we love about sisig: the flavors, the crunch, the bite, while making it truly its own.
I love you because of your passion for celebration
Our next stop was Krocodile Grille. A restaurant-slash-grill, this place is not just for dining, but for enjoying a few drinks as well. And as the dishes we ordered had so much pulutan potential, I happily asked for a bottle of beer (light of course) to go with my food. Time to celebrate by getting inebriated!
As if we haven’t had enough of Sentro’s tofu sisig, out came Krocodile Grille’s signature Sisig Lengua. One of the problems with lengua dishes is its tendency to be tough. Thankfully, this was softened enough, providing a chewy, tender bite with just a little crisp scorching from where the meat came in contact with the hotplate. Despite being cooked in the traditional creamy sauce lengua is known for, this new take was interesting, adding bar chow appeal to what is normally an elegant viand.
Move over buffalo chicken wings. At Krocodile Grille, it’s Frog legs in garlic that takes the cake. Crisp and lightly battered, these thin legs are suffused with a lightly sweet flavor and an interesting crunch. Dipped in their sweet and sour dip, the flavors become even more pronounced, making me want to lift my beer and chug away.
I love you because you love me back
Our last stop for the day was Fely J’s, another popular restaurant for elegant Filipino dining. It’s as Filipino as one can get, with their classic dishes that evoke the tastes of home and comfort. Over here, they serve the kind of food that you don’t just love, but loves you back.
Take, for instance, their Sinigang na Bangus Belly. Their take on this classic is much like what you’re used to having at home. Large, generous slabs of creamy milkfish belly, lined with gelatinous, yummy belly fat, swimming in a flavorful broth soured by tamarinds and tomatoes. One bite takes you back to weekends with your family, where the biggest competition is who gets the belly fat. Thankfully, Fely J’s bellies are large enough for the whole family to get their fill. Or at the very least, have a few bites at least.
Despite the TLC we felt from the sinigang, what really won us over at Fely J’s was the Lamb Kaldereta. This was perfection to a T, melding comfort and love in a bowl. The lamb was prepared well, with no trace of gaminess at all. The flavors were spot on: rich and tangy, with sour bites from the olives and a buttery-melty goodness from the lamb fat. One bite of the fat had me cursing. It was good to be alive. And it’s good to be loved, when you’re loved by a dish like this.
So much goodness, all in one afternoon. While we weren’t able to touch even a fraction of Filipino cuisine’s variety, this was a good start. Because no matter how varied Filipino food is, it always stems from one thing. Filipino food is cooked from the heart. There’s always love here. I guess that’s what it means when we say that something is Sooo Pinoy. It’s something rooted in love.