Lydia presents best recipes from her travels | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Her travels span 40 years but she has been cooking since childhood. Now, wouldn’t that constitute perfect credentials for a successful travel cookbook?

Former travel executive and now food columnist Lydia D. Castillo has just launched her second cookbook, “In My Basket Cookbook: Travel Collection and Recollections.” It talks about her journey around the globe and her encounters with all kinds of dishes, including the exotic and the unfamiliar she has tried out in her kitchen.

Her vast recipe collection from her trips—some original, others enhanced and given a yummier twist (Chili Crab, Veal with Honey and Soy Sauce, Sambal Udang Galah, Tangy Chicken Shawaerma etc.)—is interspersed with interesting anecdotes.

Castillo’s first book “In My Basket,” published more than 10 years ago, was on vintage Laguna cookery. It was a best-seller and bagged the National Book Award for Best Cookbook from the Manila Critics Circle.

For the second book, from HK, Egypt to Europe and the Americas, she studied, researched and traced how different cuisines evolved. She also interviewed chefs and home cooks.

The cookbook is spiced with Castillo’s recollections of visits to country markets, Michelin-rated restaurants, international hotel chains, large commissaries and home kitchens.

“I started gathering the recipes about three years ago,” says Castillo. “But I was collecting them for my autobiography.”

“It was only upon the encouragement of a good friend Thelma (Sioson-San Juan, Inquirer Lifestyle editor), who told me that I should instead do a travel book, that I thought of food and travel. She said if I would write my autobiography I should inject my collection of recipes that would correspond to all my travels; after all, I’ve gone around.”

Castillo did just that, but there was no publisher.

“One afternoon, I had a catching-up lunch with Ernie and Lourdes Fajardo of Maya Kitchen. They knew I was working on my second book. I said it was done but I had no publisher, so they introduced me to Gwen Galvez of Anvil. We started the ball rolling after our meeting.”

Traveling and eating

Castillo has been traveling all her life even when she was society editor of Philippine Herald in the ’70s and an airline executive for 25 years. Her airline job brought her places and got her involved in a culinary exchange promotion within the region.

“We would promote Filipino food in different countries, and they, in turn, introduced us to their own food. So, I was able to collect tons of recipes from these countries,” says Castillo, a mother of two, Mina and Doreen, and a doting grandma to Matthew d.L. Northcott and Belynda Pacannuayan.

“In fact, the first time I encountered steamed lapu-lapu was in HK in the ’50s,” Castillo recalls.

With daughter Mina married to an executive chef, Graham Peter Northcott, whose job brings the family to different countries, such as Guam, Taipei, South Korea, Egypt. The Northcotts are now in Doha, Qatar. Lydia also gets to explore the culinary scene with them.

“Every time I’d visit them I find something I could include in my collection. Even on the Internet, my children would send me tested recipes which I would then try at home.”

All the recipes in Castillo’s book have been kitchen-tested. There’s nothing not doable.

“I love all the recipes in the book and we eat them at home. These are the food we have enjoyed, cooked properly and innovated on so that the book has to come out desirable and that I do justice to whatever type of dish I included.”

Other recipes have been contributed by Castillo’s friends here and abroad, like the Australian recipes from Serge Dansereau, a creative chef who is among those in the book “Great Australian Chefs,” and who brought Australian cuisine to world acclaim; Indonesian dishes from Rory Subida of the The Maya Kitchen.

From all corners of the world

The book, with 128 recipes, is categorized according to region, starting with neighboring countries—HK, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, Japan.

Each country is given an introduction, a culinary background and how its cuisine evolved through the years. For instance, what is Chinese food, or how was it influenced by Indian cuisine, or how adobo came from Mexico, not Spain.

Castillo also dwells on Singapore’s curry and what it has in common with Malaysia and Indonesia. Then, there’s Japan’s favorite sushi and sashimi, and how the culture of eating raw food has also crept onto the dining table of many Filipinos.

Also in the book are Australia (Roast Sole in Ratatouille, Ultimate Fruit Cake), Egypt (Curried Potato Soup, Moussaka) and other European countries (Pollo Iberia, Pastel de Lengua, Turkey Macaroni Casserole).

“I believe there’s no such thing as original cuisine because every cuisine is influenced somehow by a country that has either colonized or subjugated it, or people who have come and visited each other’s country,” says Castillo. “Cooking is an everlasting education, never-ending. There’s no closure.”

For passionate cooks

Castillo’s travel cookbook caters to both beginners and professionals.

“A lot of women now are getting lessons from either private chefs or culinary institutions, big and small,” says Castillo. “So they are always searching for a cookbook that they would find much easier to follow. I suppose those who travel a lot can relate to the dishes.”

Castillo has no professional culinary training. It’s simply her passion for good food that gives her the drive to explore and cook all the time.

“It was my mother who encouraged us rather strongly. She was born an only child and she didn’t know how to cook, and she was pitted against, like, nine sisters-in-law who were all making sipsip to my grandmother. She would sulk or cry in her bedroom because she couldn’t help. She resolved that all her children would know how to cook,” Castillo says.

Book launch

“In My Basket Cookbook: Travel Collection and Recollections,” available at leading bookstores for P195, was launched at Le Bistro Vert in Makati. Its launch had a banner with a reproduction of the book cover tied with a ribbon. The ribbon was cut by Castillo’s three-year-old granddaughter B (for Belynda) Pacannuayan, assisted by good friend Sonia Roco. B also cut the cake, which had the facsimile of the book cover on the icing.

Reena Francisco and the kitchen staff of Le Bistro perfectly executed the degustation dishes served.

The guests represented college chums, close friends who love eating with her, and various groups tracing Castillo’s career—media, airline/travel industry. Her family was in full attendance.

A video of congratulatory greetings from son-in-law Graham Northcott in Qatar and grandson Matthew in England was also shown.

Cooking tips

For those who like to try her recipes, Castillo offers some tips for a stress-free kitchen experience.

It’s always better to cook on a low-fire than a full flame, unless you want a nearly boiling oil for your deep-fryer.

Mushroom is one of the most versatile ingredients and an ideal substitute for meat. It also adds flavor. There are many types of mushrooms. Portobello is quite expensive, and the most commonly used is the button mushroom. If you don’t need to consume the whole can you can always freeze the remaining mushrooms and use them for some other dishes.

Do not marinate for a very long time, like for more than 15 hours, especially if the dish is prepared with soy sauce. It becomes too salty and the meat becomes tougher.

Black olives have stronger flavor than green olives, so if you prefer stronger, tastier pasta dishes, use the black kind.

Extra virgin olive oil is used only for salads, while pure olive oil is for cooking.

Canned products, such as tomato sauce, mushrooms, always come in handy.

Kitchen must-haves: wok, casserole or stock pots for boiling, sharp knives, frying pans, nonstick pans, wooden chopping board and kitchen scissors.

Hainanese Chicken


1 whole Magnolia Fresh chicken, cleaned and drained of water

1 chicken cube


1 stalk onion leek, cut small

1 stub ginger, cut thinly but broad

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp sesame oil

2 tsp soy sauce

1 medium carrot, sliced

1 courgette (or cucumber), sliced

1 egg, beaten lightly

Lettuce leaves

Boil chicken in stock, leek, peppercorns and ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until done. Take the chicken out and baste it with soy sauce mixed with sesame oil. Put the chicken on a bed of lettuce and cucumber . Set aside. Keep the stock for the soup. Pour in sesame oil and egg on broth. Serve broth in individual bowls.

Sauce: Mix sesame oil, ginger and soy sauce with sesame oil and 1 g red hot chili paste.

Teriyaki Beef Rolls with Kuchay (or Asparagus)

½ kg Monterey top round beef (ask your butcher to slice like thin tapa)

1/3 c teriyaki sauce

Dash of pepper

1 thumb-size ginger, crushed

2 bunches kuchay tips


Cooking oil

Wash beef and drain. Mix teriyaki sauce, pepper and ginger. Marinate beef in mixture and let stand for at least two hours (better if overnight). Roll each beef piece with the kuchay tips. Seal with toothpick.  Fry in oil according to one’s preference (medium or well-done). When done, pour the sauce from the frying pan. Simmer for about two minutes. Make a well in a mound of white rice and spoon beef into it.

Fish with Sesame Oil and Oyster Sauce

1 whole fish

Salt and pepper

Onions, sliced thinly

Ginger, sliced thinly

3 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp vegetable oil

¼ c oyster sauce

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp water

Green onions

Season fish with salt and pepper. Put fish in greased aluminum foil (big enough to cover it). Slice peeled ginger and onions and place over fish. Loosely cover fish with the aluminum foil, folding edges together. Bake at 350 °F for about an hour (depending on the size of fish). Place cooked fish in a serving platter, brushing off the ginger and onions. In a frying pan, mix together sesame oil and vegetable oil. In a bowl, mix together oyster sauce, soy sauce and water. Heat mixed oil until hot. Remove frying pan from fire and pour mixed sauce into hot oil. Pour the mixed oil and sauces over the cooked fish. Garnish with sliced green onions.

Chinese Spinach Sauté

Bunch  Chinese spinach

1 clove ginger, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

Onions, chopped

1 tbsp oyster sauce

¼ c water

Salt and pepper

Sesame oil

Cut the stalks of the spinach into 1-in pieces. Cut the leaves into smaller pieces. Saute ginger, followed by minced garlic and chopped onions. Add the cut stalks. Turn heat to high and stir-fry for two minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add a mixture of oyster sauce and water. Cook until stalks are tender. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Add leaves, making sure not to overcook them. Add one pinch of sesame oil.

E-mail the author at [email protected].

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