With 7,107 islands and vast bodies of water in and around this archipelago, it is no wonder that landmasses in the Philippines have diversified their traditions, customs, and naturally, even their cuisine.
It is precisely for this diversity that Filipinos and foreigners alike, with their adventurous palates, travel around the country to discover a hodgepodge of tastes.
And while most of us have a general idea of what makes dishes unique to different parts of the Philippines, bursts of new flavors literally surprise us whenever regional cuisines are revisited.
This in mind, The Manila Times turns to three different chefs who hail from Manila, Iloilo and Davao City respectively with the goal of finding something new to characterize the food from “LuzViMinda.”
Luzon: rich, colonial food
For the highly respected chef Nancy Reyes-Lumen, the common denominator when it comes to identifying dishes from Luzon—the largest and most populous island in the country—is that they are inherited from generations past.
“Because there are more land lock regions in Luzon, there’s a lot of remaining colonial food—every region has its own heirloom cuisine,” she shared.
Pampanga’s Bringhe and Bulanglang; Batangas’ Bulalo, Lomi, and Sinaing na Tulingan; Bicol’s Laing and Bicol Express; and Igado, and Dinengdeng of Ilocos are just some of the delicious dishes of Luzon.
From these, the chef cum cooking show host noted the following characteristics of Luzon’s dishes as richer and creamier.
“Being so they are unlike those of Mindanao and Visayas who have fresher dishes because they both have the sea around them, and more access to more fresh ingredients.”
Reyes-Lumen herself is a testament of the prevalence of heirloom recipes. The niece of Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes has penned books and collaborated with culinary brands to feature some of their family’s best-kept recipes.
But perhaps, Lumen is best known today for championing another heirloom dish, the adobo. Proclaimed as the “Adobo Queen,” Lumen is vigorously campaigning for adobo to be the national dish of the Philippines.
“It’s so Pinoy—the character ng adobo dish is so Filipino, di ba? Strike anywhere—pwede sa punerarya, pwede sa airport, pwede sa disco, pwede sa simbahan. Hindi kailangan ng refrigeration! You can eat it anywhere because it doesn’t have to be hot. Unlike sinigang or other dishes that you have to boil to enjoy. Also, you can have it with bread, with rice, with gulay,” the chef-author elaborated.
Visayas: all things sweet
While Luzon’s cuisine is rich and creamy, Chef Pauline Gorriceta-Banusing identifies sweetness as the main characteristic of Visayan cuisine. If there’s one ingredient that almost all of their dishes have, it would be sugar.
“That’s because we are sweet people!” Gorriceta-Banusing jested.
But turning serious, the “palangga” of Gruppo Al Dente Catering Service shared that the prevalence of sugar in their dishes is linked to the fact that Visayas is of course the sugar capital of the Philippines.
“I grew up in a sugarcane field, my dad was a farmer and agriculturist and we really have a sweet tooth. That’s why siguro sanay kami to put sugar in every in almost everything that we cook—from, you would be surprised, batchoy to Kadios Baboy Langka [KBL], you name it. Even our bagoong, has sugar! That’s really the defining factor,” Banusing expounded.
Some of the most popular dishes of the Visayas, besides Iloilo’s batchoy and inasal, include, as the chef said, KBL (a pork and unripe jackfruit soup with kadios or black beans, and soured by batuan seeds, which in turn is a cross between sampaloc and kamias, exclusively grown in Visayas), and pinamalhan (the paksiw of Visayas cooked in the region’s native vinegar).
Mindanao’s fruity secrets
Finally, Mindanao—which is currently taking its much-deserved spotlight, thanks to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte—becomes distinctive in the culinary landscape because of two equally distinctive fruits: mangosteen and durian.
Chef Maria Kristina Collantes, a young chef from Mindanao, is proud to say that they can make just about any dish out of those two.
“There’s a lot of things that you can innovate from soup to salad to desert, and to main dishes. For durian you can make it durian curry; mangosteen can be prepared as seafood sa mangosteen sinigang. Really, you can cook anything with them,” the 26-year old chef shared.
Mindanaoans also take pride in their festive heirloom dish, the Biasong boneless lechon which they serve during special feasts.
“Biasong is a native kind of lime. It’s smaller and it has tougher skin. We use it as a filling of lechon, which is something different from the usual lemon grass and lemon stuffing,” Collantes noted.
These distinct flavors of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao are currently the stars of F1 Hotel’s annual Philippine food festival, bringing together the expertise of Nancy Reyes-Lumen, Pauline Gorriceta-Banusing, and Maria Kristina Collantes. F1 Hotel is located in Bonifacio Global City.