When I received an invitation from my friend Joebert Opulencia, president of Orientours USA, to the fifth edition of their virtual Kapihan Sa New York, I was surprised because I didn’t know there is this US-based series of online chats about our country, and excited, as I was curious to find out what their discussion would be all about.
Naturally, I made sure I calendar’d the event and woke up early to be ready for its 8:00 a.m. kick-off.
This edition was hosted by the Fil-Am Press Club of New York, with representatives from the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut), in cooperation with the Philippine Consulate General, our Department of Tourism, Philippine Airlines, and Orientours Co. Ltd.
The discussion centered on my favorite topic, Filipino cuisine, and had a stellar list of food mavens known for their culinary wizardry.
Clang Garcia is a popular curator of gastronomic experiences, a heritage food mapper, and has championed efforts to promote the Philippines as a culinary destination. Her Food Holidays, which is a heritage food guide cum cookbook, was awarded as one of the Best in the World in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
She points to the USA as one of the prime markets for Philippine culinary tourism because there are a lot of second-generation Fil-Am chefs and restaurateurs trying to trace their culinary roots and, along the way, showcasing our heirloom dishes to their family, friends, and customers. I agree with what she said about food being a marriage of tangible (the food) and intangible (the rituals) cultural heritage that gives people and places identity.
Her knack for learning new things led her to discover new cooking techniques in the provinces. She told us about Plantsadong Lamang Lupa, a healthy and delicious snack made with root crop wrapped in banana leaves and cooked by using an old-fashioned Filipino clothes iron. She also narrated how she discovered a very delicious Spiced Shrimp Cake in Romblon, which pleased her no end because her advocacy includes the empowerment of local communities through its culinary offerings.
Amy Besa is a very familiar name among the Fil-Am foodies in New York. She and her husband published an award-winning book, Memories of Philippine Kitchens, and introduced lumpia and adobo to New Yorkers through their Cendrillon restaurant in the city’s Soho district. This later closed as the couple opened the now-famous Purple Yam in Brooklyn.
She pointed out something quite remarkable, about how we, Filipinos, leave our mark in the things we cook: When we borrow a foreign recipe, the resulting dish becomes “Filipino.” She further compared Filipino food cooked here in the country with those cooked by Filipino immigrants in the US, and those cooked by Fil-Ams born in the US. Although based on the same recipe, the resulting dish made by each group has its own identity and uniqueness.
I was happy to see that Department of Tourism (DOT) Assistant Secretary Verna Buensuceso was also a panelist. She cited facts and figures important to us in the industry: The United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) declaration that Gastronomic Tourism is an emerging phenomenon is backed up by the fact that 53 percent of tourists could be considered culinary travelers. In fact, seven out of 10 travelers put a lot of importance on its culinary offerings when choosing a destination. This is why the DOT has set up a lot of food-related events, the most popular of which is the Kain Na caravan, staged in partnership with Ayala Malls, which showcases the unique and mouthwatering culinary delights of the different regions in the country.
These festivals are also designed to promote farm tourism which, because of the new reality’s clamor for outdoor experiences, has led to new discoveries. One of these is a tour in Sasmuan, Pampanga, where travelers are taken to a mangrove of Pagatpat trees. The fruit of these trees are used by the locals to relieve sprain and its fermented juice is believed to be a potent cure for hemorrhages.
The lively event ended with the talk of the very popular Margarita “Gaita” Fores who is currently UNWTO’s Ambassador for Gastronomy Tourism and was Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2016. She credits the success of her culinary career to the months she spent in Italy, undergoing intensive training in that country’s cuisine. This explains why the menus offered in her restaurants are Italian inspired.
She showed us the wealth of fresh produce and seafood available daily in our markets here in the country, especially at the Farmers Market in Cubao. She has, in fact, taken guests there, on a market tour, and ended in a hearty meal consisting of items they saw during the tour. She hopes to reach out to the world with our cuisine with the help of the government; she was, in fact, one of the prime movers of the highly successful Madrid Fusion, where the best Filipino chefs had the chance to interact with the best chefs from Europe.
Chef Gaita teased everyone’s taste buds with a demo of her version of the common kinilaw, using nothing but fresh ingredients—tanigue (Filipino mackerel), ginger, green mangoes, chives, red onions, finger pepper, salt, sugar, and vinegar, capped with some crunchy corn and whole chilis. Yum! Excuse me, while I make a rush order for this and the other items pictured on this page! Thank you, Joebert for this blazing move to highlight another facet of Filipino brilliance!
YOUR WEEKEND CHUCKLE:
WIFE: I hate that beggar.
WIFE: Yesterday, I gave him food. Today he gave me a book on “How To Cook.”
For feedback, I’m at [email protected]
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