MANILA, Philippines - Food speaks volumes about culture. But Beth Angsioco and Chef Giney Villar have taken the concept of having a national culinary tradition even farther with their Adarna Food and Culture Restaurant.
Adarna advocates heritage or heirloom cuisine, which draws an appreciation for a rich tradition of Filipino food from recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, sans the MSG.
"Adarna has 3 tracks. We serve historical, regional and heirloom cuisine," Chef Villar said.
"Historical because we try to research on food that had been served before. It's a way of connecting with your past.
"Regional because there are so many things that we still haven't experienced at least here in the city that might be common place in other places. If you go to Kalinga or Sulu, you'd be surprised at the kind of Filipino food that they have.
"And heirloom because there are families with food traditions and it would be such a waste if that cannot be shared by other people. So I try to ask friends, threaten, bribe them to share recipes so we don't lose [them]."
Recreating old recipes
Chef Villar said the recipe for Adobong Batangas was shared by a friend whose family is prominent in Batangas.
"We had to recreate it. My friend doesn't know how to cook but has gustatory memory. I sat down with her, asked her how it tastes like, how it was cooked, if she saw what went into the pot, and from there I tried to recreate it," she said, adding it took them 3 tries to get it right.
"We try to bring a little bit of everything. We have a dish called Piassok . It's a dish served in Sulu shared by Tawi-tawi and Basilan. It doesn't taste Filipino because of the influences of the trade with Malaysia and other southeast Asian countries. We have Adobong Batangas which took us a year before we could introduce. Sinigang took me 1 1/2 years.
"I had to research on the other souring agents that were used before that we don't use anymore that we're not familiar with. We discovered that people also use batuan in the south, a small hard fruit, and catmon, a sour fruit common in southern Tagalog, even alibangbang."
Catmon is an interesting pulpy fruit with a firm outer cover found in Laguna. Once peeled, it has the same color as lanzones fruit, only beautifully broken up into slanting sections, topped by veins exploding into a red sunburst, the likeness of an eye straight out of Halloween.
|The catmon fruit is common in southern Tagalog.
"There is this resurgence of being proud of what is Filipino. Adarna is a contribution to that end even with the way we source materials for food. I was very happy when we found the source of catmon or of batuan," Angsioco added. "But even they themselves, nakakalimutan na. Now that they know we're using it, they're also trying it locally."
Vignettes of history and culture
Today, nearly 3 years into the business, Chef Villar said there's a lot more to work to do.
"I still have so much to do in terms of the research. What we've discovered about Filipino food, we just cannot fit it into the menu, so we have specials every 3 months so those who come here can get what they look for. But there's always something new for those who come regularly," Chef Villar said.
"We were not hitting for a very specific period in time but what we wanted was to show people vignettes of history, of culture," Angsioco said.
The vignettes can be gleaned from the selection of antique decoration that adorn the dining halls: an old jukebox, old records and photos, artistic brass and metalwork, a sungka set, vintage colored panes for the doors and windows, and antique lamp fixtures with subdued lighting, which Angsioco and Chef Villar have collected from their travels, and which give the restaurant an authentic Filipino feel.
Two specially designed function rooms--one called "Silid ng Bituin," the other "Silid ng Reyna"--also add to its classic character.
"Silid ng Bituin" features the golden era of Philippine cinema, while "Silid ng Reyna" pays tribute to carnival queens.
Then there's the menu itself which features items spanning different regions, generations and flavors, such as pancit, following a well-kept recipe that traces its roots back to the early 1900's.
"We have 7,100 islands. Each of these places has unique food that we just have to rediscover," said Angsioco.
"We have a very distinct culinary identity," Chef Villar said. "I think we should celebrate it because it is diverse and that's what makes us distinct. If you just study cuisine very well and highlight the things that we have because we have so much more, we'd come out and show we have a very clear identity and that's what's going to make us stand out."
But how would it be possible to recreate a dish when there is no recollection of what went into it?
"If it doesn't quite pan out to taste, then you research further," Chef Villar said. "What were the other dishes your lola cooked? I would probably look at the other spices that went into the dish and check her pantry and ask her what year was this and ask what was happening in that province."
Sense of home
For a true Filipino feel, the restaurant had to have a Filipino name: thus, Adarna. But Angsioco added, they also strive to provide visitors with a sense of home.
"We don't want the kind of restaurant where people just eat and go. We want people to converse to have a relaxing time. Adarna is also a healing bird and when people come to Adarna, we want them to have a good time. It's an oasis. We'd like to think that when you're inside you won't feel that you're in the middle of the city. Some say it's like being in lola's house where food is good," Angsioco said.
Traditional tertulia (social or artistic gathering) events have also added an entertainment aspect to the food-venue mix.
"We try hard to bring certain traditions back. We hold events and we call these events tertulias because in the old days people gather and entertain themselves. During the Linggo ng Wika, we had poetry reading, open mic, love of one's country, bugtungan, translation day. It was fun," Angsioco said. "People realized that we tend to forget our language."
"The first time we did it was Independence Day when we asked guests to come in Filipiniana," Chef Villar said. "One came as a renegade soldier, someone as dalagang bukid, [another one as] heredero.
"When we had the Valentine's tertulia, we asked people to come as famous Filipino couples. Some came as Ferdinand and Imelda (Marcos) and Guy and Pip (cinema heartthrobs Tirso Cruz III and Nora Aunor) complete with the doll.
"Food is a great purveyor of culture. If you go to a place and you want to connect, you ask what the locals eat. When people come here, they bring balikbayans, foreigners. People who just want to connect with their Filipino-ness come here and they can't go wrong," Chef Villar added.
Yusi and poqui-poqui
In this week's episode of "Taste Buds" on [email protected], Chef Villar showed us how to prepare an Ilocano breakfast: a version of yusi, an Ilocano meat soup, and an ovo-vegetarian dish called poqui-poqui.
Chef Villar began cooking the yusi by rendering the bacon pork cutlets in a little oil, adding garlic, some onion and ginger, then adding a little patis (fish sauce) and pepper for flavor. Then finally, the soup stock was added.
For the poqui-poqui, she sauteed garlic, onion and tomato in a pan with some oil. She added pepper and fish sauce, then the mashed eggplant (which has been grilled and peeled) and the beaten eggs, which were cooked while stirring, but not to the point they were completely done.
With the mix of ginger and chives, the yusi makes for a wake-upper. The grilled eggplant gives the poqui-poqui a smoky flavor and has an interesting texture.
Adarna Food and Culture Restaurant is at 119 Kalayaan Avenue, Quezon City, Philippines , tel. nos. (632) 9268712 and (+63917) 9618113 . It is open Mon-Sat: 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. and Sun: 11:30 a.m.-10:00 p.m.
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. garlic (minced)
1 tbsp. onion (diced)
3-4 thin slices of ginger
150 grams liempo (bacon cut)
1 1/2 cup pork or beef stock
1 tsp. spring onions (chopped)
1 tsp. chives (chopped)
Saute garlic, onion, and ginger in vegetable oil.
Add liempo. Render slightly.
Add patis and pepper. Cover. Cook for 1-3 minutes.
Add stock or water.
Boil then simmer for 5 minutes.
Add spring onions and chives just before serving.
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1/4 cup onion (diced)
1/4 cup tomato (diced)
patis, to taste
pepper, to taste
2 eggplants, grilled, peeled and mashed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Saute garlic, onion, and tomato in oil.
Add patis and pepper.
Add scrambled eggs and mix slightly. Temper then transfer to plate.
Return to hot pan and continue stirring until eggs are cooked but not dry.