Zamboanga’s cuisine is rich, its offerings a melting pot of flavors with Spanish, Malay and Muslim influences.
Though its fare is not much different from that of the rest of the country, its local ingredients and cooking techniques make it unique.
The famous Alavar sauce is an example—sweet, mildly spicy, aromatic. It is the recipe of Ma. Teresa Camins Alavar, a descendant of Filipino-Muslim and Spanish intermarriages.
The most popular way of enjoying it is with curacha (sea crab), cangrejo (mud crab) and locon (prawns).
I believe the sauce enhances just about anything. I spoon it over my rice. It is perfect with fried and grilled meats, too. It’s what put the Alavar Seafood Restaurant on the country’s culinary map.
The restaurant started out as a carinderia at Alavar’s Travelers Inn in Vitali Island, Zamboanga. It became famous for mud crabs and wide array of seafood.
In 1973, Teresa’s husband Jun Alavar moved the restaurant to Zamboanga City proper. It was around that time that the coconut milk- and chili-based Alavar sauce with aligue was concocted by Teresa, who paired it with the curacha.
Passing on the tradition
The tradition of cooking Chavacano food was passed on to Jun and Teresa’s eldest daughter Marissa Alavar Alfaro.
I had the joy of having Marissa, her husband Pedro Claraval Alfaro, and their son Jomari in my kitchen where we cooked Curacha in Alavar Sauce and Chavacano-Style Dinuguan.
The procedure of their dinuguan I found very interesting. And while the Alavar sauce is a well-kept family secret, the Alfaros showed me how they cook it with curacha. They also gave me the recipe of their Curacha Curry.
The frozen Alavar sauce and the curacha are available on weekends at Alavar stalls in Centris, Salcedo and Legazpi weekend markets. (Tel. 0915-7645837 or 0915-2848981)
Dinuguan, Chavacano Style
½ k pork belly
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium-size onion, sliced
2 c pork entrails, (laman loob or innards) for dinuguan, sliced into cubes
5 tbsp tuba vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp black pepper
2 bay leaves
¼ tbsp MSG or brown sugar
1 c pig’s blood
½ c tuba vinegar
5 leaves of fresh native oregano (the kind used as herbal remedy for cough), crushed
2 tsp sugar
3 pcs green chili for sigang, optional
Step 1: Cook the liempo like you would adobo. Slice pork belly into cubes. Marinate pork with vinegar and soy sauce.
Heat pan and brown the pork in a little oil. Put chopped garlic, sliced onions, 1 bay leaf and black pepper.
Add a little water, just enough to soften the meat. Simmer until tender.
The meat, when cooked, must be soft, the mixture dry and oil extracted from the meat.
Season to taste. Remove bay leaf. Set aside.
Step 2: Combine blood, ½ cup tubs vinegar, salt, oregano. Set aside mixture for at least an hour.
Step 3: Fry pork entrails in a little oil in hot wok until crispy.
When almost crisp, add 1 bay leaf to remove the smell of the entrails.
Step 4: Sauté the garlic and onion until brown in 5 tbsp oil extracted from the adobo and the entrails.
Add the pig’s blood and stir occasionally until mixture thickens.
Boil the blood for 30 minutes or until it is cooked (black in color).
Add a little hot water as needed if mixture is too thick.
Add adobo meat and fried entrails.
Simmer for 10 minutes.
Add green chili if desired and season with black pepper, sugar, salt and MSG.
Simmer for 5 minutes.
Serve with rice.
Curacha, Prawns or Crabs with Alavar Sauce
1 k curacha or crab or prawn
½ k Alavar sauce
1 ½ c water
Wash curacha or crab or prawns. In a wok, cook the seafood in a little water with a slice of ginger until seafood is done.
Remove ginger. Pour in water. Pour Alavar sauce.
Lower heat to medium. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove seafood.
Simmer the sauce until thick.
Pour on seafood. Serve.
Curacha, Crab or Prawn Curry a la Alavar
1 k crabs, curacha or prawns
1 c pure coconut milk
2 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp turmeric powder or 3 small fresh luyang dilaw
1 small finger fresh ginger, finely sliced
¼ c ripe tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Freshly ground peppercorn, to taste
Red or green chilli, as much as desired
Red bell pepper for garnish, julienned
Clean crabs, curacha or prawns.
Boil coconut milk. Add all ingredients except the seafood.
Cook until slightly thick over medium heat. Do not cover.
Add seafood. Cook for 10 minutes. Season to taste. Garnish with bell pepper.