Manila Grill chefs share their views on the finest Filipino food
On Friday June 12, Filipinos around the world will celebrate their country’s Independence Day. Here in Dubai, the Pinoy population is thought to be more than 20 percent. Wondering how one fifth of our emirate will be celebrating, we dig deeper into the country’s diverse cuisine and learn more about its key dishes. It turns out there are more than 50 indigenous languages spoken in the Philippines, its cuisine is just as ethnically diverse. Combined with South East Asian character, you’ll discover culinary influences from the Spanish, as well as from other countries including India and China. The country itself is divided between three key regions: Luzon, where sautéing is a common cooking technique; Visayas, where boiling and the use of vinegar is prevalent; and Mindanao, where grilling and seafood are most common in the diet. Chefs Ferdie Tinonas and Noel del Rosario of Dubai’s first upmarket Filipino restaurant, Manila Grill, cook and talk us through eight of the most famous Filipino dishes on its menu. Asiana Hotel, Salahuddin Road, Deira (04 608 2140).
Beef kare kare (Dhs45) The dish is made with oxtail and oxtripe, and vegetables such as Chinese cabbage and aubergine. There is also a seafood version on the menu at Manila Grill. The sauce is a combination of peanut and coconut milk, which has been inspired by Indian culinary references. The dish is traditionally served with a side of ‘alamang’ (shrimp paste).
Tofu sisig (Dhs35) This dish originates from chef Noel’s hometown, Tarlac City. There is a more famous version of sisig made with meat, which is also on the menu at Manila Grill, but this dish is a vegetarian version. The profile is spicy and sour (the sourness comes from lemon), and it is presented on a sizzling, ‘smoking’ hot plate.
Bistek Tagalog (Dhs39) This is one of the most popular native dishes in the Philippines. It is made by marinating beef tenderloin in soy, vinegar and lemon (which helps to tenderise the meat) for around three hours. This is then sautéed in a wok with onion and garlic.
Pancit Canton (Dhs29) This variety of thin noodles (similar to mee) originates from China and this dish is similar to a more familiar chop suey, but made with ‘Filipino taste’, chef Noel says. Egg noodles are stir-fried with soy sauce and shrimp and served with fresh lemon on the side for diners who want to add more sourness.
Tinolang manok (Dhs35) Soup dishes are a common feature of Filipino food, and this chicken recipe is one of the best known. The soup contains chicken wings and legs, along with ginger and chunks of green papaya. Traditionally, chef Ferdie explains, the recipe is made with chilli leaves, but this ingredient is difficult to source in Dubai, so Manila Grill makes it with Chinese cabbage.
Leche flan (Dhs18) Revealing a Hispanic culinary reference, this dessert is a custard made with egg yolk (and no egg white). For this reason, chef Ferdie explains, the texture is firm. Adding Asian technique to the dish, this custard recipe is steamed in a wok.
Beef bulalo (Dhs35) For bulalo, beef shank is boiled for one to two hours until tender. You can also use a pressure cooker for a speedier result, but chef Ferdie believes the old fashioned method of boiling gets a better result, because it is less aggressive, so the meat stays on the bone. The beef is cooked with beef stock, baby corn, beans, bok choy and banana.
Turon in butterscotch syrup (Dhs18) Typically seen as street food in the Philippines, this recipe is essentially a Filipino version of banana fritters. It is made using ‘saba’ (a Filipino variety of banana), sprinkled with sugar and wrapped in a thin sheet of pastry (rather than batter), and then shallow fried. Chef Noel tells us this means the turon is crispy, but not hard in texture.