You can still order their signature Arroz Caldo on your next Philippine Airlines flight but in case you’re traveling to or from North America via Business Class in the next couple of months, we highly suggest you live a little and try the Kalabasa Soup.
Local media recently had a chance to sample most of the dishes in PAL’s 10-course inflight menu prepared by Chef Tina Legarda, the creative force behind BF Homes Parañaque’s pride, Bamba Bistro. A common favorite among the dishes that were served was the chef’s version of the Kalabasa Soup, which we spooned up to the last drop. It’s roasted kalabasa zhooshed a little bit with lemon gremolata (a green sauce made of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic). And as if that’s not enough, a delightful crunch was added courtesy of—guess what—candied pili nuts.
Legarda is known for her heirloom home-cooked meals that reflect both her Filipino and Spanish roots. Her recipes are heavily inspired by her family’s dinner table repertoire and her extensive professional training in Italian, French and Asian cooking here and abroad.
Chef Tina immediately captures the PAL and Bamba Bistro collaboration in the menu’s Amuse Bouche. One is called The Filly, representing the flag carrier—a duck adobo cooked for six hours, pulled, then placed on a toast that has some scallion cream. The hint of sweetness comes from the caramelized lychee on top which is cooked in Tanduay.
Another is “Maria’s Toast,” which is inspired by Bamba Bistro’s bestselling salad called Tindahan ni Maria. It has homemade longganisa, salted egg cream, guava jam, arugula and shallots.
Legarda says she kept the salad simple because her mains are quite rich and flavorful. The Luzviminda Salad might suggest there’s pomelo or pako in it but what’s really there, according to the chef, are mushroom and corn marinated in a sherry vinegar-sweet soy mixture and then roasted. This combo is served on top of crunchy lettuce, red onions, and kesong puti with a lychee vinaigrette perfectly complementing everything.
A burrito on the plane? Wouldn’t that be messy? Well, yeah. But this one’s so good you’ll tolerate the mess. Consider the contents of the Chef Tina taco: chicken barbecue, scrambled eggs, java rice, tomato salsa, ranch dressing, sweet garlic soy glaze, and hash brown potatoes. This burrito is included in the breakfast menu and, as per the guest chef, best eaten by hand—but no one will stop you if want to use the cutlery.
The inflight menu also includes a great noodle dish: the Crab Mie Goreng—thin noodles tossed in an Indonesian sweet-and-spicy sauce and topped with a creamy crab mixture cooked in white wine, celery, and onions. There’s scrambled egg on the side which you can mix in with the noodles to take out the “umay.” If you like your noodles spicy, feel free to smash in the siling labuyo that Chef Tina thoughtfully places on the dish like a cherry on top.
Another great dish is the Pan-fried Snapper, which is served with sweet potatoes, roasted garlic butter sauce, lemon chimichurri, white onions, and blanched asparagus. For something very Filipino, there’s the Nasi ng Bayan. Instead of the usual chicken barbecue, Legarda marinates the meat in a special coffee-inasal glaze and serves it with coconut fried rice, peanut sauce, and pineapple scallion atchara.
A festive dish included in the menu is the Boeuf Short Ribs which, according to Legarda, was inspired by her lola’s beef bourguignon. It’s cooked with red wine, shallots, mushrooms, and garlic. Up in the air, it’s served with caramelized carrots, French beans, and some risoni aglio olio.
There are two other dishes we didn’t get to try during the launch event: the Gyu-silog (beef yakiniku in sesame butter, egg roll, and roasted leeks fried rice); and the Milkfish Inasal which is served with banana fried rice, salted eggs and atsara.
The holiday vibe is carried on to the dessert, which is the Banana Budino Trifle. It’s got layers of banana cake, caramelized bananas, whipped cream, Spanish natillas, walnuts, and chocolates.
Legarda admits she found it quite challenging to conceptualize an inflight menu due to considerations like turbulence. “We kept [the food] as simple and as appealing as possible,” she says.
Ethel Francisco, PAL’s AVP for products and services management, says 90 percent of the inflight menu was created by Legarda who was highly recommended by Manila’s gourmands. The PAL exec admits she was new to the guest chef’s cooking so the inflight menu proved a revelation for her. “The balance is so good,” she says. “Her flavor profile is so vibrant. There are familiar parts of it, but there are also surprises.” She says it’s important to make the menu very special because “we’re not just selling [the plane] ticket, we’re selling an experience.”
The collaboration with Legarda is part of the many developments and innovations PAL is whipping up for its passengers. A few months back, PAL worked with Sarsa’s Chef JP Anglo and it’s looking to onboard more talented chefs to make its business class flights even more of an inviting proposition in the future.
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