By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent
MATI CITY, Davao Oriental — A new restaurant here, Kuzina Virginia, is serving up traditional dishes of the Mandaya, an indigenous group in the province known for their colorful attire and beadwork.
Travel and tour operator Angie M. David, whose mother Virginia runs the simple dining spot built using coconut and bamboo materials, said their aim is to highlight Mandaya cuisine and make it as much of a tourist attraction as Mati’s Dahican Beach, Pujada Bay, and empanada.
“We know Mati is also popular for empanada (filled pastries) but it is not a meal. That is why we conceptualized this restaurant. Most of the travelers will ask for local food and I want to make this, to bring people, have a taste and experience the Mandaya food,” Ms. David said in an interview where she was proudly wearing a Mandaya-inspired top and long skirt.
“My mother is a Boholana (from the province of Bohol) but my grandmother, who is a Serrano, is a Mandaya,” she said.
The basic Mandaya ingredients are coconut and camote (sweet potato), both found in abundance in Davao Oriental. Ms. David said these two are almost always present at a Mandaya dinner table.
When starting off with a drink, Kuzina Virginia offers a slightly alcoholic shake which is spiked with tuba (coconut wine).
For main dishes, there’s banami — shrimp wrapped in banana leaves and pan-grilled, a common Mandaya way of cooking.
Ms. David said shrimp is also a growing agricultural sector in the province, with more than a 100 farms now operating.
“Most of our food comes from the products we have here in Mati, Davao Oriental,” she said of the items offered in the restaurant.
And there’s L’lulot, a dish cooked inside a piece of bamboo, locally referred to as lut.
Rice and meat — either pork, chicken, or shrimp — are stuffed inside a piece of bamboo along with coconut milk, ginger, onions, and garlic, then stuffed bamboo is then cooked over an open fire for up to four hours.
“You have to order it ahead of time because lut is a labor of love and we have to cook it within three to four hours. We have to buy the lut every other day because the bamboo can be used only within 24 hours — beyond that it does not taste nice kasi wala na yung (because it loses the) moisture. The bamboo stalk… must not be too young or too old,” Ms. David said.
The paru-paru de baga, meanwhile, uses beef innards, similar to the popular Filipino dish bopis, which is usually made from pork offal.
“It’s spicy because Mandayas love spicy food… people in Davao Oriental love chili and always ask for chili,” she said.
Kuzina Virginia also offers more typical Filipino dishes such as a platter of seafood, with crabs, squid rings, and of course, shrimp.
To cap off the meal, there’s pudding de Mati for dessert which has coconut meat strips, and “coffee” made from corn.
Ms. David said being in the travel industry, she understands the value of promoting everything local, which is also what visitors crave for.
“I am now in the travel industry so I wanted to come up something that is very authentic, very Mandaya, and very Mati,” she said.
Mati City, the capital of Davao Oriental, is about 180 kilometers from Davao City, where the region’s international airport is located.