Exploring a heritage cuisine

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By Michelle Anne P. Soliman, Reporter

While some people may be surprised by the wealth of rich heritage food that can be found just one hour away from Manila in the province of Cavite, it should not really come as a surprise since Cavite was part of the galleon trade where goods and spices were exchanged between Spain and China via the Philippines and Mexico.

The San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center (SMPFCC) recently hosted a Proba Cavite Comida, a two-day food tour through the province that showcased dining spots reflecting its rich heritage cuisine. “The tour’s stops were carefully chosen to show that Cavite’s culinary scene has so much more to offer other than Bacoor’s famed halo-halo and Carmona’s classic binalot. Proba means tikman (try) and we want to use this tour as a way to promote the province as a great dining destination for anyone looking for food stops near Manila,” SMPFCC Culinary Services Manager Llena Tan-Arcenas was quoted as saying in a press release.

The chosen food establishments feature heritage cuisine and are popular among Caviteños, however these are not familiar to consumers in Manila. “Cavite is not known [destination] for [its] cuisine,” Ms. Arcenas told BusinessWorld in a phone interview, stating that it is about time that the province be recognized.

“Global flavors will continue to heighten but the heritage cuisines will remain in existence for a long time.”

Cavite Republic

City Hall Road, San Agustin, Trece Martires, Cavite

Cavite Republic was founded in 2002 by two-time president of the Cavite Provincial Tourism Board Andrew R. Pacumio, a “patriot of Cavite cuisine, history, and culture,” according to his son — and Cavite Republic owner — Matt Pacumio. The restaurant was put up “due to his (father’s) intense desire of putting up a historic landmark within the province.”

While the restaurant’s rustic interior — with landscape photographs on the white walls which are also adorned with hanging plants — is reminiscent of Hispanic architecture, the menu infuses heritage Cavite cuisine with modern twists.

“We try to keep the traditional flavors, then we infused different ingredients that would not totally change the dish,” the younger Mr. Pacumio told BusinessWorld, indicating that the menu consists of dishes that are 20% heirloom.

Among their specialties are paella valenciana done with a more umami style of cooking, grilled chicken sinampalukan (soured in tamarind), Cavite Express (braised jackfruit in coconut milk), pancit estacion negra (squid in pancit), and crispy dinuguang baboy (pork). For dessert, Cavite Republic offers Lihim ni Lola which was a dish inspired from their grandmother’s desire to create suman (glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in leaves). The suman is shaped like a puto (a small muffin-shaped rice cake) with salted egg filling and topped with latik (coconut milk curds).

Bernie’s Kitchenette

843 Midtown Bldg., Molina St., Cavite City

For restaurant owner Bernadita Rojas-Fontanilla, often called Bernie, one does not have to be a trained chef to be a good cook — she wasn’t. “Preparing food is quite challenging, it is not as easy as one might think,” Ms. Fontanilla said, noting that exposure to fastfood threatens the appreciation for real cooking and this is “what drives me to put up a restaurant and serve good food.”

At the tour stop, guests were served two different kinds of pansit (noodle dishes): pansit pusit, which incorporates squid ink in its savory sauce and is topped with chicharon (pork rind), and kinchay (Chinese celery), and mangoes (completing the terno-terno [matching] concept of mixing food of the same color), and pansit puso, served with kinilaw na puso ng saging (banana heart “cooked” in vinegar). These were complemented with crispy lao-lao (fried fish), morcon (a savory meat roll), and bacalao (sautéed salt cod), a dish that is usually served on Good Friday.

The Abad heritage house

Built in the 1820s, the Abad heritage house is one of the oldest houses in Tanza. For the three Abad brothers — Moises, a doctor; Cenon, a lawyer; and Julio, a judge — the house was not not just a home, it was a clinic (for Moises), and a center for the production of patis and bagoong(fermented fish sauce and paste). The house — which is not usually open to public — is currently maintained by Sabina Abad, the daughter of Cenon Abad.

Formerly the culinary director at the Lyceum of the Philippines, chef Chris Bautista arrived at the house to demonstrate two dishes: pipian, a Spanish-inspired chicken dish similar to kare-kare (a peanut sauce-based stew); and sampalok (tamarind) leaves-flavored tinumis which looks similar to dinuguan (a stew of pork innards and blood).

Mr. Bautista said that he has observed that Filipino chefs have been wanting to push for a greater appreciation of Filipino cuisine and the renewed interest in heritage cooking.

“Back five years or 10 years ago, there was already an emergence in Filipino cooking in the [United] States,” Mr. Bautista said. However, there was a tendency to Americanize Filipino food. “Fans of Filipino cuisine want to make sure that we keep the truest form of Filipino food. We can’t do it aboard, we have to do it here.” Mr. Bautista noted that being familiar with our cuisine and knowing what tastes good and bad would help preserve its identity.

Mang Jose’s Rolling Kitchen

Beside the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite

Mimi Hernandez worked in Cambodia where she began a small food business. Shortly, after she returned to the Philippines, she continued her business ventures in Cavite to help her family after her husband left his political career.

Mang Jose’s Rolling Store — popular for its dishes cooked in a wood-burning oven known as a pugon — began as a food truck in 2017. According to Ms. Hernandez, it was named after her husband and sons who are all called “Jose.” Its specialty dishes include boneless lechon belly, inasal(barbecue), Crispy sisig (a sizzling plate of chopped pig head and liver) partnered with talong (eggplant), and their best-selling tahong (mussels).

“We give our best when it comes to food so that people will like it,” Ms. Hernandez said.

Olivia’s Coffee

059 Bukal, Amadeo, Cavite

Being the granddaughter of a coffee and rice farmer, and the daughter of a coffee farmer and store owner, Olivia Bawag Lansang, was sent to school through the fruits of coffee farming. In Bulacan, her grandfather farmed a 20-hectare coffee plantation, while her father worked on 10 hectares.

Ms. Lansang continued her family’s legacy when she opened Olivia’s Coffee in 1995 and began coffee trading, buying raw coffee beans and selling them. A year later, the business began processing coffee beans with a locally made air roasting machine. Today, the café serves coffee made with a number of coffee bean varieties — arabica, robusta, liberica, and excelsa.

Asked what makes coffee unique from other drinks, Ms. Lansang said: “Coffee is the first drink we think of when we want to keep awake. It’s more of what coffee does for your brain and energy.

“The sentimental value of family heritage is there. It’s a legacy. Anything about coffee, that’s where my interest is,” she said.