MANILA -- Asian street food reigns supreme at the Food Exchange of the Novotel Manila Araneta Center as celebrity chef Sau Del Rosario leads a team of seven young chefs as they showcase Thai, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Chinese, Japanese, and, of course, Filipino street food dishes on the buffet line.
“After the blockbuster event last month, the expectations are so high, because people are expecting a lot of things from the [Food Exchange] buffet. So we came up with the idea that is very timely because of the ASEAN summit here in the Philippines, and of course, [because] I was also part of the World Street Food Congress,” explained Del Rosario on coming up with the idea behind the Asian Street Food Festival.
Until September 3, Food Exchange’s regular stations get amped up with street food additions.
For example, the Japanese station offers freshly made takoyaki, while the pizza station has Asian-inspired flavors like the Beef Rendang Pizza, which has sweet and spicy pulled-beef toppings; and the Sisig Pizza, featuring big pieces of pig’s ear on top.
The grill station adds Chicken Satay to the menu, while the Noodle Section offers a tamely spiced Laksa (you can spice to your taste). Salads have more variety with additions like the Pineapple Salad from India and the Pako Salad from the Philippines.
Dessert was a feast festooned with Filipino delicacies like pulvoron, leche flan, various iterations of ube (cake and roll), buko pandan cake, meringue, and sapin-sapin, to name some. A make-your-own halo-halo station will all the trimmings was available, right beside the gelato station (chocolate, ube, etc) for that scoop on top of your halo-halo, if you so desire.
Various pockets of street food adorn the buffet—fried fish balls and kikiam to be had, complete with barbecue sticks for the street food ‘tusok-tusok’ experience. The Indian section has a DIY pani puri section, where you take a fried hollow ball, poke a hole in it, and fill it with potatoes and spices, then dip it in a special sauce—the best of Indian street food.
But it’s in the main courses that the Food Exchange’s Asian Street Food Festival truly shines. Two tables are laden with multicolored pots containing bubbling stews and sautés, and even, noodles in some.
“Food among us, especially Asians, it’s an experience -- a very personal, emotional thing for us because it comes with stories. That’s what we’re trying to do in Novotel, we want to tell a story. You don’t need a passport or a visa to go out and feast and enjoy the food of Asia. We’ve got it here in Novotel,” shared Del Rosario.
“I chose food that you can see along Myeongdong, and the streets of Seoul,” said chef Michael Cheng, who handles the Korean dishes at the Asian Street Food Festival.
Korean standouts include the Chap Chae, which had chewy noodles, wasn’t too over seasoned, and had a balanced sweet-soy taste; as well as the Bulgogi, which fared well in the buffet set-up—tender beef, and sweet sauce, begging for a cup or two of rice.
Go for the Lamb Curry on Vegetable Biryani -- lamb stewed until tender with a thick gravy to go on fragrant yellow rice. Fill your plate with other chutneys from mango to lime, found at the Indian station in the Food Exchange.
Depending on when you go, you can find either chili crabs or chili prawns on the buffet. Seafood sticky with chili and spices, slather the sauce onto your rice, and enjoy!
Another must-try in the Singaporean side of things is the Hainanese chicken, although I did miss eating the dish with Hainanese chicken rice. Other rice dishes make-up for it though, more on that later.
Chef Aof Suwannalert has been staying in the Philippines for a few months now. In this spread, she aimed to showcase dishes that would suit the Filipino palette, opting for dishes like the Massaman Beef Curry. Once voted as the top dish in a CNN survey on the world’s most delicious food, the sauce of the curry is sweet and thick, enhanced with herbs and spices like cinnamon and anise. It’s a dish that’s heavenly paired with white rice. Or if you want a bite to be more complex, there’s a huge pot of Nasi Goreng, seasoned with shrimp paste that you can eat the curry with.
Other Thai dishes in the menu include a milky Tom Kha Gai, which had a tinge of sourness and spice (could do with a little fish sauce, which is available); and a spicy curry-tinged Seafood Basil, which had squid that stood up very well in the buffet.
For the Thai dessert, she presented the Tako, a coconut Thai pudding that’s usually in a pandan leaf cup. Suwannalert makes it more convenient by putting in a ramekin with her version featuring little tapioca pearls/jelly at the bottom layer, topped with thickened coconut cream.
Chinese stir-fried vegetables was a healthy buffet option, but we returned again and again to take pieces of crispy Lechon Macau, and sweet Pork Char Sui. There was also a stir-fry of chicken and cashews that had big pieces of scary looking red peppers –sticky and sweet, had crunch from the cashews, and spice that lingered-- it was one of the best dishes in the buffet.
As Del Rosario leads this team, the Filipino spread was impressive, starting with his signature Sisig Paella -- yellow and laden with chilies and pieces of sisig. The Beef Kaldereta was a great version of the stew, and stacked up nicely against the rest of the Asian stews on the table. Pork Kare-Kare was also another dish in the main entrees — this version was all-meat, no veggies – with a sweetish bagoong.
The Asian Food Street Festival at the Food Exchange is available for lunch and dinner, weekdays at P1,200 per head and weekends at P1,499 per head. Diners will also get a chance to win a three-night stay at an Accor hotel in Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand.