As a kid, my only exposure to Spanish food was what my Lola Angeles cooked for us. It was a weekly family get-together, where the menu included paella Valenciana, rellenong manok, embutido, callos, Russian salad, cannelloni and, occasionally, lechon, which my Lolo Gabriel loved. (He lived till 99.) All these became my comfort food and my standard of good Spanish food.
When I visited Spain many years after—boom!—I experienced the real taste of Spanish food. All of a sudden, many of my comfort foods no longer tasted as good.
It was harder and harder to find good, authentic-tasting paella. I could find them only in the homes of friends who had lived in Spain. A friend from Vancouver, Bebe Marquez, who had lived in Madrid, would, on occasion, cook paella for us.
I also remember the chorizos (I like the chicken version) of La Reina Foods at Salcedo Saturday Market, which taste like authentic Spanish chorizos. I am told that the chorizo maker, Renee Francisco, was once a resident of Spain. Her chorizos would work wonders in paella.
In Manila, it’s not easy to find a restaurant that makes good Spanish food. My well-traveled producer Jenny Celdran has been telling me about a new place, La Collina, which opened in Poblacion in Makati. La Collina is owned and run by a sometime Spain resident.
Lunch was set after a voiceover and I was not expecting much. Negative thoughts from past experiences can do this to me. But that changed when I walked into a newly renovated house with two floors and a private dining area. This is where I learned about the background of La Collina’s owner, Anita Celdran.
She started us with Frito Misto, a variety of fried seafood, and Gambas al Ajillo. The gambas was good. You could taste the well-seasoned, freshly cooked, garlicky, large shrimp. With crusty bread on the side, it was a nice start for this meal.
Her Fabada Asturiana was different from what I was used to because it had smaller beans. It was made with Alubias beans, pork pata, smoked ham hock, Serrano ham bits, chorizo Pamplona and morcilla. Quite delicious, too. I was told it was a recipe of Anita’s mom.
We also had a blue crab ravioli. It was pasta stuffed with the subtle flavor of crab sitting on a bed of blue cheese cream sauce. Very good. The baked bacalao fillet cooked with fresh tomato sauce was also delicious.
I also loved the Spanish cochinillo. Super tender, crispy, very flavorful and lean with its tiny bones.
Along with it, we had an outstanding Mixta Paella, yellowish Bomba rice flavored with saffron and topped with chorizos, mussels, prawns, green peas and cooked in a mini paellera. It was delicious! I could have enjoyed it with just the cochinillo.
I hardly eat rice, but with paella like this, you make an exception.
In a paella, I like the tutong or what they call socarrat. I like the mildly burnt aroma and the texture. With a few drops of lemon, patay!
That lunch was a surprise. I left and kept of thinking of the cochinillo-paella combination for days. I’ll be back. Now, I don’t need to wonder where to find good paella.
La Collina, 4558 Molina corner Quintos Streets, Poblacion, Makati; tel. 09178172487 and 8797401