MANILA -- Imagine cramming the whole Philippines into a 2,500-square meter space inside a commercial building and likewise throwing in the country's regional cuisines and world-class products into the mix.
That, in a nutshell, is Islas Pinas by Margarita Fores.
Islas Pinas is a food and heritage village located at the ground floor of DoubleDragon Plaza, at DD Meridian Park, Bay Area in Pasay City. A collaboration between DoubleDragon Group and chef Margarita “Gaita” Fores, it's a food hall that showcases everything Filipino, from the food to famous local landscapes to modern culture.
“We took a space which would traditionally be your run-of-the-mill food park and created what would be a landmark in our country. A menu that will showcase our rich history and culture and marrying both the richness of Filipino cuisine as well as the biodiversity of our landscape,” explained DoubleDragon chief investment officer Hannah Yulo during its recent launch.
The whole dining space can accommodate up to 700 guests. Photo by author
A balanghai turned into a dining space at the Pampang section. Photo by author
A real Sarao jeepney completes the street scene inside Islas Pinas. Photo by author
Various Filipino street food are offered at the 'Tusok-Tusok' section. Photo by author
Taho and balut vendors in front of the 'church ruins.' Photo by author
The food hall even has a sar-sari store or traditional neighborhood Filipino convenient store. Photo by author
Islas Pinas will offer different regional cuisines every day like this Ilonggo batchoy. Photo by author
The space, which can accommodate 700 diners, has been created to look like the Philippines. There's a life-size bahay kubo, an amphitheater entertainment area that is patterned after Ifugao's rice terraces, a Catholic church ruin, a version of Ilocos' Calle Crisologo, a real Sarao jeepney, a sari-sari store, a street scene complete with street food vendors, a steel footbridge, a whole balanghai, and a “Chocolate Hills” wall garden.
There's also a faux tree in the middle of the space that serves as a boutique for Filipino products. There are also small accents featuring indigenous animals like a wooden carabao and a Philippine deer.
Food wise, the menu was curated by Fores, Asia's Best Female Chef 2016. Islas Pinas promises authentic regional cuisines from all over the Philippines and not just the typical Filipino eats.
“When they actually asked me to be part of the project, I said, God is the best orchestrator because this has always been a dream project for me. To be able to do something that showcases everything, from Batanes to Jolo in a great way. I feel that it has been so many years that many people have been saying what's the problem of Filipino cuisine. It doesn't have any problem, it's a wonderful cuisine with so many influences and all we need to do is to use best practices and this is the best way to do that by showcasing all the food from all the regions. And that's what we want to do here at Islas Pinas,” Fores shared.
The team tapped home cooks from all over the Philippines to build the menu because Fores feels that the best Filipino food comes from the households.
“I feel like whatever I could do to help our cuisine, our culture, our history, our farmers, especially the artisan producers, this is the best way to showcase that. Apart from that, we asked the help of not restaurateurs but home cooks. For example, we asked a Maranao cook to teach us how to cook rendang and pianggang. Expect it to be a wider selection of all the regional cuisines form all over the country,” she said.
During the launch, Islas Pinas highlighted dishes from Iloilo like batchoy, KBL (kadyos, baboy, at langka), and pansit molo. Also Bicol's laing, Batangas' bulalo, Cebu's danggit and longganisa, Tuguegarao's pansit batil patung, Maranao's beef randang, and many more.
The food selection is divided into seven sections: Sinag offers Filipino breakfast favorites like tapsilog (marinated beef, egg, and garlic rice), longganisa (Filipino sausage), and many more; Alamat offers regional signature dishes; Bilao offers food usually served in a bilao (winnowing basket) like pansit (stir-fried noodles) and other kakanin (traditional rice cake); Panaderya offers traditional and upgraded neighborhood bakery favorites like the strawberry kalihim (stuffed bread); Tusok-Tusok is where all the street food are like isaw (barbecued intestine), adobong mani (stir fried peanuts with garlic), fishballs, etc.; Pampang is the live seafood and paluto (customized food request) section; and Panulak offers local beverages.
Fores assured the authenticity and freshness of the food. She also said that the menu changes every day.
“Here, the gulay (vegetable) would not be overcooked and the seafood would be moist and fresh and that's what we wold like to showcase here. What we want to do is to share the best of the Philippines to the whole population of the Philippines. We want something attainable and affordable and nothing intimidating,” she said.
Fores and her team hope to get locals, especially tourists, to appreciate Islas Pinas by "highlighting the best of the Philippines in a place where there is a high concentration of tourists." They created a venue that would introduce the Philippines to a first-time visitor. There's even a boutique and a souvenir shop that sell local handicrafts and food products.
“All our balikbayans that come home, their relatives would take them here. This is the perfect location to showcase everything, from north to south, east to west, and everywhere,” Fores said.
“We hope that Islas Pinas would not only be a gastronomic journey for visitors but will also help not only tourists but also Filipinos both young and not-so-young to remember and understand what it truly means to be Filipino,” DoubleDragon's Yulo added.