Around this time every year, a bunch of us foodies are rounded up and sent to judge cooking competitions all over the country. This is in preparation for the finals of the National Food Showdown organized by our dear friend, Myrna Segismundo.
It takes a lot of our time and it is hard work, but if you’re having a great time, the experience virtually transforms into a vacation.
We judge hundreds of entries, frown on many dishes, learn from many others or simply widen our imagination with new ideas. The participants include students from various schools who cheer as if they’re in a UAAP championship game, and professionals from various hotel and restaurant establishments all over the country.
We travel to Baguio for the Luzon eliminations, Bacolod and Cebu for the Visayas eliminations, and Cagayan de Oro for the Mindanao elims. We then combine the three divisions and add NCR. The final four winners compete with each other in the grand finals at the World Trade Center in September.
Imagine sampling 24 entries of three courses each: appetizer, main and dessert. That’s a total of 72 dishes.
Judges in Cagayan alone were I, Claude Tayag, Mickey Fenix and Maricris Encarnacion of Cebu Magazine. Being close friends and food writers of various publications, we easily agreed on the good and the bad dishes most of the time.
Our hosts are mostly from the hospitality industry and are, therefore, also foodies. I always look forward to surprising dishes.
I discovered, for instance, that the sometimes almost 1-kilo santol mostly found in the streets of Bangkok can be bought in Cagayan de Oro. One of the officers and organizers, Joanna, grows them on her farm.
Marang is another notable fruit—it reminds me of durian and atis combined. In the hotel, we also had dinner of delicious Cagayan de Oro lechon and lechon manok using native chicken.
Cebu was another story. We dined in the popular KBL restaurant—an ancestral home converted into a successful restaurant of mostly inihaw dishes. The lovely owner was gracious enough to point out her best-selling dishes.
Another memorable dining experience was lunch at Cebuchon. Here, we feasted on delicious kilawin—perfectly sour and spicy, and one of the best I have experienced. There was also ukoy made from what many say is the tiniest freshwater fish.
I was floored when I ate the white adobo made with tender, sticky and tasty liempo. What a winner. Then came another bestseller in inihaw na pusit stuffed with sisig. Heaven! With this meal, we had santol juice and ducat juice, which tasted fantastic and is a great cleanser.
I can’t wait for these competitions to happen. Great food, good company and happy tummy—what else can beat that?
New discovery! Bulgur wheat or Crack wheat—with more fiber and fewer calories than brown rice. Sauté garlic and onions in olive oil, season with salt, add 2 cups bulgur wheat and 5 cups water. Super sarap!
Found at S & L Foods Makati—135-B Yakal St.; tel. 8432996 and 8432997.
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