Filipino chef serves secret cuisine wonders

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Claude Tayag sees himself as a food missionary, hoping to convert people at home and abroad to the secret cuisine wonders of the Philippines.

ANGELES CITY—Claude Tayag sees himself as a food missionary, hoping to convert people at home and abroad to the secret cuisine wonders of the Philippines.

The Southeast Asian nation’s table-fare has long suffered a poor reputation internationally compared with its regional neighbors.

Across the world, Indian curry houses compete with Vietnamese noodle soup shops or Chinese dim sum restaurants in offering a taste of Asian food, but there are comparatively very few places serving Filipino dishes.

Back home, many locals also undoubtedly prefer their meals fast and cheap—in the style of their former American colonial rulers—with deep-fried chicken and hamburger chains dominating the food scene.

But standing in his kitchen over a huge pot of pork bone marrow slowly simmering in a traditional adobo-style mix of vinegar, soy sauce and garlic, Tayag insists Philippine food can “wow” as much as any other in Asia.

‘Misunderstood cuisine’

“It’s a very misunderstood cuisine. Firstly, Filipino cuisine is so diverse,” Tayag says as he stirs the pork that he is preparing for dozens of guests who have gathered at his home.

“You cannot explain it in one sentence. You need a whole day, a whole month to talk about it.”

Tayag, an artist, writer and chef, has turned his rustic home a couple of hours’ drive north of Manila into an informal restaurant, where diners feast on a 10-course meal that takes them on a culinary tour of the archipelago.

The lunchtime extravaganza lasts for three hours and one version of his menu starts with an eclectic trio of dips—fermented rice, crab fat and a pesto made from the native pili nut.

It ends with a Filipino version of the Italian panna cotta—made from carabao’s milk, which has a higher fat content and is thus richer than that produced by cows.

In between, grilled chicken is served after being marinated in lemongrass and calamansi.

Throughout the afternoon, diners wash down their food with jugs of ice-cold tea made from calamansi juice, ginger, lemongrass and honey.

Drinkers’ delight

A particular highlight for diners is when they crowd around Tayag to take photos as he prepares a pork dish called sisig that sizzles and pops on a frying pan.

Popular particularly among late-night beer drinkers around the Philippines, sisig is made of finely chopped pigs’ ears and cheeks. Tayag serves it with boiled chicken livers, calamansi extract, white onion, salt and chili.

Bookings often have to be made weeks in advance for the restaurant that Tayag runs with his effervescent wife, Mary Ann, who entertains the guests as hostess with in-depth descriptions of all the dishes.

Tayag, 55, says his restaurant’s popularity is testament to a small but developing food culture in the Philippines.

“In every major province, there are people like us, working for the preservation and the propagation of slow-cooked food,” Tayag says.

“And one can say there’s a rediscovery of Filipino cuisine… it’s come about slowly with the emergence of high-end Filipino restaurants in Manila, but also the cable TV travel and cooking shows. And the food bloggers.”

Indeed, 15 years ago restaurants serving top-end versions of traditional Filipino food were a rarity in Manila, let alone in out-of-the-way locations such as Tayag’s home in this city, in Pampanga province.

Junk food

Nowadays—propelled also by a fast-growing middle class—Filipino restaurants are starting to feature much more in the Philippines’ major cities.

Nevertheless, Tayag acknowledges that US-style junk food remains the most popular option for most of the nearly 100 million Filipinos when they choose to dine out, particularly the masses who need cheap options.

“We need to create awareness. We are fast losing our traditional ways… with the onslaught of fast food, the malls and all that. You know, the American lifestyle,” he says.

Tayag, who has written or coauthored three books promoting Filipino food, has won some international recognition for his efforts, with celebrity American chef Anthony Bourdain featuring him on his television show “No Reservations.”

Bourdain appeared genuinely enthusiastic with Tayag’s varied dishes, and also with a trip to Cebu City where he tasted one of the country’s favorite meals—whole roasted pig.

Raving about its crispy skin and juicy meat, Bourdain rated the pork—known as “lechon”—as the best he had eaten on his many journeys around the world, ranking it just ahead of the version found in Indonesia’s Bali.


For Tayag, such recommendations are proof that the Philippines can one day rate alongside the likes of Thailand and Malaysia as one of Southeast Asia’s famed food destinations.

“You always hear why Filipino cuisine hasn’t made it internationally, like our Asian neighbors. Well basically it’s just not understood very well,” he says.

Asked to describe Filipino food, Tayag says it does not necessarily have the obviously bold, intense flavors like spicy Indian or hot Thai dishes.

“Our flavors are more nuanced… there’s a nuance of sweet, sour, salty and bitter,” he says.

Tayag then explains one of his favorite expressions to describe how people in the Philippines feel when they eat the food they love—linamnam.

Linamnam, which has no direct translation in English, refers to a thrill, an excitement, a tingling sensation.  AFP

Originally posted at 12:02 pm | Wednesday, April 25,  2012

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  • Simon Ward

    For some Filipino dishes to appeal to an international clientele, some small and very easy modifications would really help. Just two examples, speaking as an Englishman …

    1) I love pork menudo and rice, but it sends a shiver down my spine when I get a piece of rubbery skin. Maybe it reminds me of school lunches 45 years ago. Remove the skin and I’ll wolf down menudo all day.

    2) BBQ chicken with lemon grass = masarap! But never chop-chop, with shards of broken bone sticking out of unidentifiable limbs. I know that for many Westerners, that’s a real appetite-killer.

    Just food for thought :) Oh, and Bicol Express – minus the skin, of course!- rules!

    • bumbleyeahs

      Take the food for what it is. Western culture is not the benchmark of world cuisine. Filipinos should never bastardize their original recipes just to please foreigners it takes away its identity (sad to say most Pinoys are willing to do just that to please American Joe) .  Do you always eat fried chicken whole? The last time I ordered KFC it’s always served chop-chop even abroad. Do you think an Italian cook would change his rabbit menu just because a Pinoy says he’s not used to eating the cute bunnies?

      • Simon Ward

        Well, my comments were simply made in the context of the article, which in part is about turning foreigners on to Filipino cuisine.
        And your points are incorrect. Italian cuisine has diversified enormously to meet non-Italian tastes, the classic example being spaghetti bolognese, which is not even an original Italian recipe. And most foreigners, the first time they try a genuine pizza Napolitana, wonder where all the topping has gone.
        And KFC is never served “chop chop”. The wings and legs are separated, and the breast cleaved in two. “Chop chop” is the practice of chopping a chicken directly across its whole body, side to side, into four or five pieces.

      • WeAry_Bat

         Try balbakoa, the skin of cow stewed for a long time into a soft, rubbery, gelatin-like consistency.  Most often found in the Visayas and Mindanao region.  I like it very much but can’t find it here in Manila except in small quantities in kare-kare.

      • bumbleyeahs

         From your description above you meant by chop-chop is quartering the chicken then? I see that type of cut in in North America so give me a break it’s not an exotic thing and nobody is complaining about the bones either in America. That KFC reasoning of yours the best joke I’ve ever read no matter how you spin it you still cut or chop the chicken to separate its parts.  To say my point is incorrect is totally way off. The way  to educate foreigners about a country’s cuisine is to stick to their purer form . Your example of the spaghetti bolognese & genuine pizza Napolitana embodies my point about bastardization, why do you think a foreigner expects a topping in this case? The local Italians have been eating the true form of the pizza since they were born so nothing unusual in their point of view, right? For so many decades people from all over the world have been duped by the Italians for business reasons only to find out that the locals are eating simplest, truer form of the pizza.  Do you think it would be fair for anyone who appreciates world cuisine and has the passion to learn about indigenous food be served something that is inauthentic? Can you imagine the kick the Chinese, Italians, Thai, Greek and Japanese are getting when they serve their westernized recipes. Highway robbery at its best.

      • Ako

        That is so true. Have you ever tried to order Hawaiian Pizza in Italy, you know the ones with pineapples? My Italian classmates would go nuts over it. To quote them, “There is NO such thing as pineapples in pizza! You can put them as toppings and eat them but never call it pizza!!!” (with all the hand gestures hehehe)

        Or even order California Maki, the one with mangoes, in Japan? My Japanese friends would tighten their eyes, think deep and say, we do not put mangoes in there, is that Japanese? hehe

        Pinoy cuisine, like any other cuisine, would be at its best on it true and original form.

      • Belden Marte


      • Benjamin

        Dumbleyeahs does not understand nor is able to differentiate how KFC chicken is separated and your description of ‘chop-chop’ chicken which leaves ‘shards of bones’ (probably not in dumbleyeahs’ vocabulary). I suspect dumble here is an intellectual wannabe. It is futile to converse with a person that has a false sense of nationalism.

      • bumbleyeahs

         Hahahaha you are so funny Benjamidiot. Keep playing suck-up.

    • Karabkatab

      Nice suggestion Simon.  This variant will pitch sales and make money.  Will send your view to a friend who operates a small restaurant here in our place.  Thanks

  • JeremyinDC

    I agree with bumbleyeahs. Filipino food is what it is – it should not be bastardized to attract foreign visitors. Although there is a strong force that compels Fiipinos to invite tourists by the droves, tourism has many ills. They can turn rich cultures into capitalist banalities and beautiful countries into matrices of crime and prostitution. Food culture is the soul of any country – it reflects the local and the familiar. That said, because everything is dynamic, recipes will change – using balsamic vinegar in adobo for instance can enhance that recipe. These subtle changes must happen organically and never in the service of what appeals to foreign tourists.

    • Simon Ward

      I think you and bumbleyeahs are taking this way too far, if the context is my original post. I suggested what are very minor adjustments that do not impact the integrity of the cuisine, and certainly do not “bastardize” it. Menudo without a little bit of pig skin is still menudo.
      Here’s a real example of Filipino cuisine that has been “adjusted” (for want of a better word) for tourists. It is clearly not a case of bastardization.
      Sweet and sour lapu lapu can be prepared with any of a variety of subspecies of this fish, with the most prized, I believe, being that made with senorita ng lapu lapu, which is black or very dark brown. Yet in tourist resorts it is generally made with the bright orange subspecies because it’s prettier and appeals to the tourists’ eye – not to mention being cheaper for the restaurateur.
      There’s surely no harm done there, right? It’s a simple accommodation of foreigners’ tastes.
      Another example, this time in a domestic setting. A large pot of rice is commonly cooked at lunch time, and served up throughout the rest of the day, even when it is cold and hard. To many foreigners this is not ideal, as they would prefer freshly cooked rice. I’m not suggesting for a minute that a foreign guest in a Filipino house should demand freshly cooked rice, but the fact remains that he would probably prefer it. So the rice is the same, but just by presenting it differently, it can appeal to different tastes. Again, no bastardization.

      • Benjamin

        And by the way, did the other readers on your comment string fail to see that this Tayag person prepares a “Filipino-version” of the Italian panna cotta? Apparently, some people think bastardization can only work one way. Don’t waste your time on them until they read this article thoroughly and have a mature, intelligent conversation.

      • bumbleyeahs

         Excuse me dude if taking the skin off the pork and the cut of the chicken is your basis of a mature and intelligent conversation that says a lot about your standard. Yo are the one who miss the point of the article so keep on sucking up like a typical Pinoy.

      • Benjamin

        You are ‘excused’ ‘dude’ or maybe you are a ‘dudette’ or pretending to be one? The man was trying to give some constructive criticism and you lambast him with all this nationalistic nonsense. You do not know me to judge my standard – ‘dude’, and I never wrote that the cut of the pork or chicken should be the basis of a mature conversation – am not as shallow as you. You think you can fool anyone with your nonsensical quips and misguided categorizations? Dream on guy (or the other gender or the third). I have read your posts on other issues – you are a troll. Keep your head under the ground or get a job or get a life. Peace out.

      • bumbleyeahs

         Feeling mo macho ka na? Typical Pinoy argument pag walang alam talaga dinadaan sa homophobia. Troll? As if you know the word. Di lang ako sumasang ayon sa kritsismo na walang katuturan. Ikaw? Yes sir lang ang alam mo basta sinabi ng banyaga. FYI may trabaho din ako masyado ka lang feeling superior.  The are commenters who sees where I’m coming from. You? Sumpsip ka na lang.

      • kwaychow

        Bravo. I just love Pinoy style of discussion of including name calling and attacks on one’s gender, religion, sex, age, etc instead of attacking and minding the issue on hand. Kill the messenger, eh? Can’t we just all focus on the issue here and avoid mentioning such things.

        Geez, until now, a lot of Pinoys are still immature in debates and discussions. It does not make me wonder why a lot of my non-Pinoy friends here rather avoid talking with Pinoys during higher levels of discussions.

        Grow up!

      • Simon Ward

        “Don’t waste your time on them until they read this article thoroughly and have a mature, intelligent conversation.”
        Thank you, Benjamin, for saving me in the nick of time :) I was about to respond again, but it’s best I just let it slide :)

  • Belden Marte

    Really?! A food missionary for Filipino Food? American chef Anthony Bourdain featuring him on his television show “No Reservations”, appeared genuinely enthusiastic with Tayag’s varied dishes?!
    Dear Author, apparently you did not watch the show. Tayag was asked about food variants of other regions and Tayag quipped that other regions have their own version but ‘ours’ (pampanga’s) is better. Bourdain did not fail to notice that statement and clearly showed the show’s viewers how fragmented our nation is due to attitudes of our famed ‘food missionary’. Way to go guy!

    • tantra101

      Yup. I saw that too, and I was quickly reminded why some Filipinos streotype people from Pampanga, not that I fully agree with such. He said something like ” Name me a regional Filipino food and we in Pampanga can do it better”. 

      And of course, surely Mr. Tayag would be so wrong in such sweeping statement, whether he believes it or not.

      But heck, why do you have to say that on international TV ?  What and where did that came offensive statement from? I was totally disgusted by that show of fragmented logic.

      How can the author then say that Mr. Tayag as a Filipino food missionary?

  • kwaychow

    Can’t we have some more healthier cuisines featuring vegetable dishes (I know, I know, pinakbet but that’s what I always see in the menus here outside of the Philippines and what is always showcased and nothing else) or anything that does not require too much meat? I know our cuisine is heavy on the meat side (especially pork) so that is one factor I observe why most of my non-Pinoy friends and colleagues shun our cuisine and prefer to eat on other Asian cuisines.

    I love our food, don’t get me wrong, but I think there are other regional cuisines (that I don’t know, so please let us know) that are far healthier but unknown to many Pinoys since the ones we always showcase to the international world are meat stuffed food and nothing much.

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