When I was a student in a hotel and restaurant school, I stayed in a dorm where a group of schoolmates and I put up a food group. We were eight in the group, with seven coming from different countries all over the world.
Each of us was assigned to cook something from his native country. Our dinner for the seven-day week cost each of us $20. Once a week, each member would write his $20 market list and hand it to the eighth member who went shopping for our weekly needs.
It was something I looked forward to after a hard day at school. I learned so much about various cuisines and its influences. I had a taste of African, Greek, Jordanian, Fijian, Bangladeshi and a variety of other dishes.
We also invited guest chefs to try their cooking skills or invite guests to dine with us.
One cuisine I hardly tried though was that from Latin America. I sampled a few, but never really remembered much about it. But the ones I got to taste reminded me so much of our cuisine with the Spanish influence in it. It actually had a huge resemblance to Mexican cuisine, with a lot of rice, meats and sauces.
One night in Manila, I was blessed to be invited to a Cuban dinner. Ada Rivera Leon made us sample some dishes of her country. I was amazed with the variety of dishes and how delicious everything was.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t share it with others then, for her cooking was limited to us for that night only.
All that has changed, because she and her partner Raymond have opened a Cuban food stall called Dsabor Cubano at the Salcedo market in Makati. It is open every Saturday morning.
I remember trying a few dishes with rice, beans and beef—which reminded me of our bulalo and many others. You have to check them out.
Another friend from our bible group, Maritza Lopez, also from Cuba, occasionally makes dishes and her cooking has made me want to visit her country to discover this very interesting cuisine. She once made parmesan balls that I just kept popping in my mouth. Loved them.
Latin American street food
After Sunday church, I walk around SM Megamall or Podium to look for whatever late lunch I could have. In the last two weeks, I have gone back to Brasas.
It is a restaurant that serves very interesting Latin American street food. I noticed, as the weeks went on, that the place was getting packed with more people. I realized these diners were discovering something and I was missing out.
Here, then, are the dishes I’ve tried so far:
Chicken wraps are morsels of chicken with an assortment of veggies and some melted cheese. All this is wrapped in a flour tortilla and grilled until crunchy. They come in pork or beef variants.
Patacones are thin strips of deep-fried saba bananas topped with pulled pork and some kind of salsa. Good, too.
The chicken salad had a cilantro sauce with chicken strips and the Pastel de Choclo is like shepherd’s pie. It is minced meat with some red sauce, which is a bit sweet, and topped with mashed corn and torched-toasted. Also very good.
Tender pork ‘liempo’
What I liked most was the Puerco Asado Cuba. This is a tender chunk of pork liempo, flavored with lime and served on top of bean rice. You take a bite of the tender pork, a spoonful of the black bean rice and have a small bite of the thin strip of chicharon that goes with it. My Cuban spies told me it still lacked authenticity, but I loved it. The dessert, however, was bitin.
Brasas and Sabor Cubano have become places of craving for me. At Sabor though, one has to come early, for I am told it is always full.
I love learning about new cuisines. It’s like opening a gift for Christmas—you don’t know what to expect.
Lately, I have been feasting on authentic Davao suha (pomelo). It’s the first thing I do in the morning with an empty stomach—eat suha chilled, and sprinkled with a little rock salt.
I love how refreshing it is and how it cleanses your body. Sarap! I just saw a new shipment arrive. Call 0917-6292778 or 7091627.
Brasas Latin American street food is at 5/F, Podium, ADB Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig.
Sabor Cubano is at the Saturday Salcedo market in Makati.