Serving Filipino food to a market that hardly knows anything about the cuisine, let alone the Philippines, can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
For the clueless, it could be the proper introduction, and for people who have heard or read about it, a challenge to live up to the hype.
And so our team flew to four cities in Scandinavia not just with a luggage full of chicharon and atchara, but also with a sense of pressure and privilege to present the country’s food and culture.
Tapped by the Office of the Undersecretary for International Economic Relations (OUIER)-Department of Foreign Affairs, chefs Margarita Forés, Jorge Mendez, Maicey Sacramento, Juvy Lorca and this writer spent 19 days in the Nordics introducing traditional Filipino dishes with sour flavors—a halibut kinilaw cured by calamansi dressing, sinigang flavored with fresh tamarind, adobo cooked with coconut vinegar and served with heart of palm atchara and pinakbet, and maja blanca paired with the subtle sourness of candied calamansi.
On the road
Hoping to attract the city folk, media and key figures in the food and beverage industry, we did a four-city tour consisting of activities that let guests learn how to make the featured dishes and taste them. This was to inspire the audience to try the dishes at home or in their restaurants.
In Oslo, Norway, the Philippine Embassy, along with the Philippine team and Philippine Trade and Investment Center, hosted a strictly by-invitation, five-course dinner at the famous Mathallen food hall for 75 guests.
A folk dance performance kicked off the event, followed by a brief speech by Philippine Ambassador Jocelyn Batoon-Garcia.
Held the next day were two cooking demonstrations on making kinilaw and adobo.
Chef Karl Torbjörn Andersen of Smalhans restaurant in St. Haugen, Oslo, liked the
kinilaw, was curious about the adlai, and thought that the corn pudding was very similar to a local delicacy.
“It was a great experience,” he said.
The CPH Cooking School was the intimate and dramatic setting in Copenhagen, Denmark. A Filipino lunch feast was served to 30 media guests, some of whom liked the meal so much that they crashed the kitchen to thank the chefs.
In Stockholm, Sweden, the team held a special dinner at Pontus Frithiof Atelier 23. The scenic bird’s eye view from the 23rd floor served as backdrop for the old world wines paired with the five delicious courses.
Celebrity chef Magnus Ek must have enjoyed the meal so much, he cleaned up his plate.
Diners said the experience made them want to visit the Philippines to know the country better through its food. As in previous events, there was great curiosity about the adlai.
Our last stop was Malmo, where Forés collaborated with one of Stockholm’s most recognized and awarded female chefs, Titti Qvarnstrom.
Each chef prepared two signature dishes and collaborated on one.
Fores started with tuna kinilaw with fried corn, before preparing an entree of Beef Short Rib Adobo.
Qvarnstrom made a complement of Langoustines with Cauliflower Puree and a dessert composed of Basmati Rice Bavarois and Stewed Apples picked from her own backyard.
Then the duo worked on a medley of vegetables, including roasted squash and sautéed okra and ampalaya in bagoong.
In all the events, guests got to take home an adobo sampler kit containing a bottle of soy sauce and vinegar, a packet of whole black peppercorns and bay leaves, and a copy of the adobo recipe from the #Kulinarya” cookbook. This should encourage them to try the well received dish.
Not only did we sow seeds of inspiration, but we also got to enjoy some harvest on our farm tours.
In Copenhagen, we visited Christian Puglisi’s Farm of Ideas which supplies edible flowers, crops, meat, fruits and vegetables to all four of his restaurants.
It was farm-to-table in the strictest sense.
The produce are harvested every morning and delivered to the restaurants by noon, in time for dinner service and lunch the next day.
Our host, farm co-owner Sara Mohlenberg, toured us around the vast land and introduced us to their processes.
In Stockholm, chef Mikael Einarsson, whom the team coordinated with for the dinner, took us around the city, specifically the food halls, Asian markets, and notable food communities.
In Malmo, Qvarnstrom brought us to three farms, each one noteworthy. The first was at Bokeslundsgarden where we met farmer Johan Widing who showed us ingenious ways to raise ducks, chickens and pigs.
Inspiring was how he champions and preserves heritage crops, which many people thought were extinct already.
Take for example the Swedish white cabbage, which he was trying to grow in abundance so he could offer it to restaurants and hopefully create a demand for it.
He showed us green eggs from a particular breed of chickens. It had the same content as a regular one, but with a green shell.
We went to Gardsfisk, a firm started by Mikael Olenmark who came up with a solution to the declining quality of the oceans by restoring old farmhouses and setting up fish pens in them.
We were surprised to know that he was breeding red tilapia and catfish, both of which we have in the Philippines.
Olenmark was doing something inspiring, proof that it could be done. Not only does he sell the fish fresh, he also has choice cuts and ready-to-eat smoked fillets.
Lastly, the team went to visit Adala, the family residence/deli and restaurant of the lovely Malin Kumberg.
She led us to her backyard for us sample her wide variety and abundant produce—from pears and apples to grapes, tomatoes and peppers.
She even has a swimming pool in her lush greenhouse. But what she’s really recognized for is her line of cheeses and jams, which she does herself next door.
It was very Martha Stewart-like for Kumberg to come up with products from her garden produce.
The Nordic food tour succeeded in creating buzz and curiosity about Filipino cuisine among the Scandinavians.
The fact that we had a good lineup of guests, from notable bloggers to big-name chefs, means that there definitely was interest in Filipino cuisine.
A good number of people requested for second servings of the dishes.–CONTRIBUTED
Special thanks to Sen. Loren Legarda, Ambassador Manuel Teehankee, OUIER executive director J. Susana Paez, OUIER Cultural Diplomacy Unit and Support Staff, PTIC, Philippine Embassy in Oslo; also to Destileria Limtuaco, ARK gin and Malagos Chocolates.