Local cuisine is a window to a people’s culture and identity. From the sour pork stew known as laoya to the Vietnamese-influenced chao long noodles, the Palaweño kitchen offers adventures as exciting and varied as the island’s geography.
“One way by which a people expresses its interpretation of the world is through its kitchen,” said Dr. Fernando Zialcita, director of Ateneo de Manila’s Cultural Heritage Program, in his introductory speech for Puerto Princesa’s Cuisine: A Creative Encounter, a celebration of Palawan’s food and a research endeavor for the preservation of cultural history through cuisine. The event, which took place in Alab Restaurant in Scout Rallos, Quezon City, was conceived by the Cultural Heritage Program and sponsored by the Mama Sita Foundation.
Guests from Palawan, professors of Ateneo de Manila, and the media watched presentations from students of Dr. Zialcita’s Introduction to Cultural Heritage class. A requirement of the class was an immersion in Palawan to apply basic qualitative research methods in documenting features of the locale’s cultural heritage.
The presentations highlighted samples of authentic Palawan cuisine, cooking methods, and the cultural background of each dish. They identified three Palaweño food traditions: Tagbanua, Cuyonon, and Vietnamese. The Tagbanua tradition emphasizes the relationship of the people with nature by incorporating local vegetation in activities and chores. For example, kulyat seeds, extracted from fruit that can be found around the trunks of forest trees, are eaten during long journeys across mountains and rivers to strengthen the immune system.
The Cuyonon tradition uses tropical sour fruits rather than spices or condiments to flavor dishes. Calamansi, sampaloc, kamias, mango, and tomato balance the saltiness of fish and meat. Dishes such as the laoya, a pork or beef stew, also use lumabeng beans. The lumabeng beans originate from the Agutaynen river of Northern Palawan and are used to provide an earthy counterpoint to the soup. The Vietnamese tradition of Palawan is a curious thing; the cuisine is rooted in the Vietnamese “blueprint” but it has evolved significantly through its immersion in the Palawan way of life. The Vietnamese pho, called chao long in Puerto Princesa, is paired with a French-Vietnamese bread called banh mi.
Cecille Nepomuceno, Information Officer of Mama Sita Foundation, introduced Mga Kuwentong Pagkain, an annual food writing competition sponsored by the Mama Sita Foundation. In accordance with Mama Sita Foundation’s advocacy of preserving food heritage, Mga Kuwentong Pagkain seeks to spread awareness of food heritage by gathering stories of Filipino cuisine and unique methods of food preparation.
A night celebrating cuisine calls for the consumption of good food. Alab’s Chef Myke Sarthou prepared a special dinner menu featuring authentic Palawan dishes. Guests were first treated to kinilaw – raw portions of oysters, tuna, and shrimps with onions, tomatoes, ginger, chilies, and various Mama Sita vinegars. This was followed by a pot of inasleman, or boiled pork hocks with local beans and jackfruit. The main course was a Puerto Princesa staple: charcoal-grilled native chicken and pork liempo.
A welcome surprise of the night came when Alab waiters began handing out craft beers from Palaweño Brewery, the first and only craft beer brewery in Palawan. Guests tasted five different flavors of Ayahay (which means “relaxing”) craft beers – American Amber Ale, Belgian Wheat Beer, Honey Kolsch, AyahayIpa, and Honey Nut Brown – all of which are created in Palawan.
The dinner ended with a serving of pinasingaw, rich egg yolk and honey custard (leche flan) coupled with toasted Palawan cashew, and sticky rice balls cooked in coconut milk, drizzled with wild Palawan honey and a Palawan mango-and-cashew fruit jam.
In his speech, Dr. Zialcita said, “Through experience, we have found out that one way to elicit enthusiasm for Filipino heritage is by making the kitchen the centerpiece of attention.” In this respect, Puerto Princesa’s Cuisine: A Creative Encounter was a great success.
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