Recreating heroes’ favorite dishes for a special menu

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By Nickky F. P. de Guzman, Reporter

WHO WANTS to try Dr. Jose Rizal’s “most favorite” dish, bistek? Or perhaps, taste Melchora Aquino’s tinolang manok na tagalog?

From the same hands that prepared Pope Francis’ meals when he visited the country in 2015, and those for the heads of states and delegates’ food at the ASEAN Summit in Manila in 2017, chef Jessie Sincioco introduces some of the Philippines’ heroes’ favorite dishes at Manila Hotel’s Cafe Ilang-Ilang’s “kaBAYANIhan” menu.

In celebration of National Heroes’ Day on Aug. 27, Ms. Sincioco is tasked to prepare the heroes’ favorite food, and some more, which will be showcased in a special menu consisting of one salad, two soups, five main dishes, and three desserts. The dishes will be available for lunch and dinner on Aug. 20 to Sept. 2.

“I had to research how they were served, but I found limited materials about it so I ended up doing it with my own style,” said Ms. Sincioco during a tasting preview on Aug. 9.

Ms. Sincioco said that according to her research, bistek tagalog — a dish of flattened sirloin cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, and onions — was Rizal’s “most favorite” food. He would eat it while he was writing his novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Ms. Sincioco used soft and succulent Angus beef slices, cooked medium rare, and served with caramelized onion, homemade achara (papaya pickle relish), and garlic rice.

Also on the menu is Melchora Aquino’s tinolang manok na tagalog — a soup made with chicken slices, green papaya, and chili leaves in a ginger flavored broth. The heroine’s original recipe included the use of dried chicken blood, blocks of which, called “betamax,” are today sold as street food. The restaurant’s management opted not to use betamax in the soup. The original recipe also used native chicken, but Ms. Sincioco said since its meat is tough she opted to use free-range chicken instead, which she boiled to perfection, making it juicy and tender. Melchora Aquino, or Tandang Sora, used to serve tinolang manok na tagalog to wounded soldiers during the Philippine Revolution.

Also on the menu — but not served during the media tasting — is Gregoria del Pilar’s sapin-sapin, a multi-colored and layered treat made of glutinous rice and coconut. The Bulacan-born heroine used to sell kakanin — Philippine snacks usually made with glutinous rice and coconut — which her mother made.

For the menu’s salad there is Ms. Sincioco’s alugbati (Malabar spinach) salad in bagoong (fermented fish paste) vinaigrette with salted egg and crispy dulong (silverfish).

“It’s not any of our hero’s favorite dish but I included it in the menu to [make a] hero [of] our alugbati, our own spinach,” she said.

In 2017, during the 31st ASEAN Summit in the Philippines, she used alugbati in her menu when she served ensaladang ubod at alugbati (salad of heart of palm and Malabar spinach) with tamarind vinaigrette dressing for the gala dinner.

Ms. Sincioco also served budin, a Filipino pudding, at the ASEAN gala dinner, which is a leche flan with toasted cake sponge and macapuno (coconut sport) strips. Ms. Sincioco is including budin in Café Ilang Ilang’s heroes’ menu, which is served with a rose made of mango on top.

Also on the menu are Gabriela Silang’s pinakbet (mixed vegetables steamed in fish or shrimp sauce) with bagnet (deep fried crispy pork belly); Andres Bonifacio’s litsong manok sa saha (chicken barbecued while wrapped in the outer layer of a banana stalk), and Marcella Agoncillo’s pork adobo sa dilaw (pork stewed in vinegar and turmeric) with homemade achara.

Ms. Sincioco has become one of the go-to chefs in the country when it comes to recreating historical dishes or serving VIPs. She owns three restaurants in the metro, which are Chef Jessie Rockwell Club, Chef Jessie Top of the City, and Chef Jessie Grill at The Grove.