Their Favorite Foodstuff | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Reggie Aspiras (Inquirer Photo)
Reggie Aspiras (Inquirer Photo)

Talk about gustatory delights. Have you ever wondered what foodstuff the country’s most influential palates crave most often?  What’s in their secret stash or at the deepest end of their personal ref, to be savored in secret solitary pleasure? Here’s their list—Ruel S. De Vera

Reggie Aspiras

1. Ana Ong’s Congee Buffet: Each bowl is an experience, the first taste can be so different from the next. It is not just congee, this is luxury congee-smooth, fine and simply, sublime!  Ana jokingly calls her add-ons and condiments the “8 Principal Sponsors”—(pork, beef, shrimp, chicken, tito (pig stomach), fish-fillet (grouper), meatball and crab ball) and the “16 secondary sponsors”—leeks, wansoy (coriander), fresh cucumber and pickled cucumber, century egg, salted egg, jelly fish, crispy garlic, fried shallots, mushroom, pork blood, fresh egg, fried wanton wrapper, nori, tong chai (preserved radish), crispy tofu and ginger. Then there are the 10 seasonings: sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce, white vinegar, black vinegar, lemon juice, special sauce, chili sauce, red vinegar and hot sauce. (Call 0918-9235879; 0916-7021585).

2. Aling Nene’s Pancit Malabon: It’s like no other. Unlike the many cornstarch-thickened sauce versions, Aling Nene’s is comparable to Italian pasta, cooked al dente and tossed in oil that’s been infused with pork fat and toasted garlic. It’s then sprinkled generously with ground tinapa (smoked fish), chicharon (pork rind), pechay and green onions then mixed well. As Aling Nene says, the secret of her pancit ay nasa halo (in the mix). The noodles are then generously topped with shrimps, pork, toasted garlic and eggs garnished with kalamansi. Have a taste of her kakanin (native rice sweets) too, delicious! (Call 293-4007; 446-4121).

Myrna Segismundo (Inquirer Photo)

3. Chef Nick Rodriguez’s Homemade Bagoong: Chef Nick is one of the few who makes his own bagoong (shrimp paste), which I would describe as a reduction of pristine seawater from some remote, uninhabited island; the best flavors of the sea in a bottle-thick, dark in color and intensely flavorful. It is unlike any bagoong that I have tasted before; the aroma is not fishy but more like a strong scent, a whiff of the seabreeze. Chef Nick shared the secret of his bagoong with me on my column, Kitchen Rescue: “I use dilis, the black one. We call it ’taburkik.’ It is soft and fatty and has a nice texture. The fish also has a lot of oil.” Chef Nick says you have to mix it at once “straight from the seashore to your kitchen.”  He adds, “I make sure that the only hands that touch the fish are the fisherman’s and mine. These are delicate fish.”  Aside from Nick’s bagoong, order his bagnet too. Truly special! (0917-8922244)

4. Qouzi by Khalil Darwish of Jerusalem Restaurant:  This is a whole goat simmered in spices then baked, and presented over a bed of three kinds of rice:  qouzi rice (brown), kabsa rice (red) and biryani rice (yellow). It is served with Salonas (a saucy vegetables dish) and an Arabic side salad of cucumbers, lettuce and tomato dressed in olive oil and lemon juice. The meat (which could be either goat or lamb) falls off the bone, is soft and succulent, subtly seasoned and spiced. Jerusalem Restaurant (523-6568).

5. The Vegetables at Happy Delicious Kitchen along Benavidez St. in Binondo: Never have I craved for nor wanted to eat only vegetables till I tried these greens. Few can cook vegetables as masterfully! A must! Happy Delicious Kitchen (244-0120).

Norma O. Chikiamco

DIWAL OR ANGEL WING CLAMS: Better than oysters (Inquirer Photo)

1.  Jamon Iberico de Bellota: This exquisite ham has excellent marbling and perfectly balanced flavor and is so delicate and tender it practically melts in the mouth.  Corollary to the jamon is the chorizo Iberico.  Both are made from black-footed pigs that live only on acorns while being raised in the ecological fields of Spain’s Extremadura region. Available in Terry’s Selection (tel. no. 844-1816; 889-3198), Cirkulo Restaurant (810-8735) and Gaudi Restaurant (856-0473).

2. Peking Duck: Crisp, mahogany duck skin enclosed with stems of scallions and slathered with hoisin sauce, then wrapped in paper-thin Mandarin pancakes-how delicious is that?  For the best Peking duck in the city, try Peking Garden in Greenbelt 5 (729-0567; 729-0719), Tin Hau in Mandarin Oriental Hotel (750-8888) and Shang Palace in Shangri-La Makati (813-8888).

3. Lechon: Crackling, golden brown skin, tender, spit-roasted meat with just a few globules of fat to make it more sensual, all made more delightful by a sweet liver gravy—what’s not to like?  The best lechon in Manila, in my opinion, is still Elar’s (731-7551; 731-7552; 732-4116).

4.  A big bowl of fresh salad greens: For wholesome, healthy eating, there’s nothing like crunchy, fresh lettuce leaves and arugula, topped with croutons, shaved cheese and/or candied nuts and drizzled with raspberry vinaigrette, Caesar or truffle oil dressing.  For the best restaurant-made salads, I like those in Antonio’s Garden Restaurant in Tagaytay (0918-8992866), Cyma Greek Restaurant (729-4837), and Prince Albert Rotisserie, which still prepares its Caesar Salad tableside (793-7000).

5.  Caviar Pie: As if caviar by itself isn’t delectable enough, some enterprising chefs have made a pie out of these prized eggs of sturgeon.  Among those I’ve tried: Heny Sison’s (726-5316; 412-7792) and Delicioso’s (910-0301; 687-3698). Chef Jessie at Rockwell also has it on its menu (890-6543).

Micky Fenix

1.  Freshly harvested sea urchins: Just crack the shell open, sip a bit to get the full richness and then temper it by adding rice. Get this at enlightened resorts in Bohol and Cebu. The next best thing is buying it chilled at Japanese groceries.

2. Imagine an all squid fat adobo. That’s what Aboy’s in Bacolod offers if you arrive before it runs out. That’s our foie gras.

3.  Hot and sour soup at Shantung (West Avenue): A lot of ingredients and the right balance of hot and sour, this is the best place to have it.

4.  Crispy pata of Barrio Fiesta: Though now owned by another group, the restaurant still cooks the pork hock the way it has been doing all these years.

5.  Steak at Tapella (Greenbelt 3): High-grade steak cooked on the table using the restaurant’s made-up cookware with just salt and with you controlling the doneness.

J Gamboa

1.  Fried Crabs at Mr. Sun Moon: Now and then my wife and I satisfy our craving for non-Japanese seafood at Mr. Sun Moon in Greenhills.  Order the Fried Squid which are thick and tender strips of cuttlefish served with chili vinegar.  And of course don’t miss the famous Fried Crabs.  Tip: Order the males crabs if you are more interested in the meat and the female crabs if you like the roe.  Always superb!  Call ahead to reserve your table and crabs. Mr. Sun Moon: G/F 1 Kennedy Place, Ortigas cor. Club Filipino Ave., Greenhills, San Juan. (470-1257).

2.  Ube cake and caramel cakes at Costa Brava:  Juda Liu makes the best homestyle, old world cakes I want to eat for dessert on Sunday lunch, birthday parties and any merienda. So soft, delicious and fresh her cakes are.  My favorite will always be the Caramel Cake, but I have recently discovered the Ube Cake.  Her chicken pies and cupcakes are awesome too! Costa Brava: 12 Polaris St., Bel-Air I, Makati City (896-1267; 896-6872).

3.  Cinnamon Danish at The French Baker: Never do grocery shopping on an empty stomach, or you will end up buying stuff you don’t need.  So before starting my grocery run in Landmark, I swing by The French Baker for a Cinnamon Danish.  It’s hard to beat this large, crisp, sticky sweet pastry for a mid morning pre-shopping snack.

4. Sourdough Bread at L’Artisan: Best European breads in Manila, period!  Johnlu Koa is the master of breads for all.  The Oatmeal Raisin cookie is delicious and quite a bargain too for its size and quality.

5. Mang Enting’s Kilawin and Lechon Stuffed with Whole Native Chickens: When you find yourself in Bacolod or Sagay, you should not leave without experiencing the best kilawin (ceviche) and lechon I have tasted so far.  Heck, you should make a special trip just to eat it! Mang Enting’s: 17th and Lacson Sts. in Bacolod City (0918-221-0026)

Ed Quimson

1. Amber’s spaghetti: Something you can order. Keep in the fridge and eat when you want. Amber (533-1111).

2. Terrine of duck liver from the Mandarin Deli with some lavosh: You have to order this ahead of time. Nice to eat atop some good steaks or a good grilled Chilean sea bass. Mandarin Deli (750-8888).

3. Sebastian’s Ice Cream. Blue Cheese ice cream with Palawan honey and Walnuts: They also have other yummy ice cream flavors. The best chewy ice cream in the Metro. Sebastian’s (0927-4537426; 0915-4895753);

4. Ensaymada of Sylvia Cancio.  The most pleasantly stringy with a nice buttery flavor. She also makes ensaymada with chorizo bilbao and queso de bola. Ensaymada (810-7196).

5. Judy Ann’s crispy pata:  Finger-licking good with a sweet pickle glaze on a very crispy yummy adorable pata (pig hock).   Jamico Restaurant (281-4193).

Felice Sta. Maria

1. Coconut Butter Cake with Salted Eggs and Kesong Puti created by Jill Sandique: Often bibingka is served as a dessert rather than as merienda food.  I still believe the common varieties are strictly for merienda.  But Jill created her cake that was inspired by bibingka.  Now that is bibingka to end a meal, indeed.

2. Full-cream carabao milk with the thick layer of cream floating at the top and forming a mustache when you drink it:  It’s also made into quesong puti, paneer, butter, yogurt and ice cream—all of which are Philippine culinary gems.  We should be proud of our carabao dairy heritage and keep it alive and popular.

3. Durian, perfectly ripe:  Durian King in Davao serves many varieties.  The local hybrid with a small seed and thick, buttery, sweetish meat is heaven. I was once at an indigenous peoples’ ancestral domain in the mountains near Davao.  The people’s treat to us: height-of-season durian on tables filling a room end-to-end.  A feast!

4. Lumpiang ubod:  The best I ever had was made at Panaderia de Molo in Iloilo when I was a guest there in the 1980s.  The egg-enriched wrapper was paper thin and melted in the mouth.  So did the ubod (coconut pith) which was so young and tender.  The Panaderia’s recipe had nothing to dominate the texture and the taste of the ubod.  A true delight.

5.  Bottled pastillas de leche made with full-cream carabao milk and the finest first-class white sugar:  Slow-cooking over low heat makes every tiny grain melt and marry the milk. One bottle (about the height of a hand-spread) per foodie!  It is calorific excess worth every teaspoonful. We must be sure to conserve this culinary treasure.

Myrna Segismundo

1. Marrons Glaces: These utterly delicious candied or glazed chestnuts are found in France and Italy but also in Japan when chestnuts are in season. Quite expensive but worth a try!

2. Fresh Uni or Sea Urchin Roe: My best sushi or sashimi selection will have this sea treasure as a main ingredient. For me, it’s the seafood counterpart of goose liver or foie gras. Best of all, it can be found in the rich waters of the Philippines.

3. Jamon Iberico de Bellota: Once you’ve tried this top-of- the- line aged Spanish ham from free-range black-footed pigs that are fed only with acorns (bellota), all other hams will suffer in comparison. This includes the more popular Jamon Serrano which, by the way, ranks last in the grading system of Spanish hams. It’s the fat on the cured meat that gives the umami taste profile. And as scary as it seems to ingest all that fat in your digestive system, fear not. The curing process of jamon de bellota converts much of the remaining fat into good cholesterol, much like extra virgin olive oil. What an irresistible experience!

4. Diwal or Angel Wing Clams: A seasonal shellfish found mostly in Capiz, the seafood capital of the Philippines, the appropriate word to describe diwal is succulent. At its freshest when grilled or baked, the angel wing clam is sweet with the resulting broth on it’s half shell one slurps “con todo gusto.” Better than oysters!

5. Pan-fried Veal Sweetbreads: I’m not a fan of offal cookery but when I had this dish at Tom Collichio’s Craft Restaurant in New York City many years ago, the experience stayed with me. How often will you encounter the thymus gland perfectly transformed into a delicious entree: it’s all about texture—crisp light crust on the outside but moist and tender on the inside. There’s definitely life after the “de rigueur” meat, poultry and seafood offerings found in restaurant menus.