It has been some time since I posted something here, so apologies to my friends who’ve been expecting something from me for a while. Anyway, the last time I wrote something, I gave the lunch menu for my 25th birthday. It looked daunting when I first planned it, but I was ecstatic to actually have pulled it off.
My concept was a Filipino tasting menu since I always had difficulty explaining Philippine cuisine to my friends. The best definition I could give them was “Think Southeast Asian, but not too spicy and with Chinese and Spanish influences.” That only puzzles them further. (I knew I should have brought Ma’s copy of the Kulinarya cookbook with me.)
I spent a week planning my menu and got everything I needed from the Tiger and Dragon Food Store which had a really impressive collection of Asian ingredients. Every Filipino ingredient I could think of was there. Note that in the latter dishes I will mention, everything was prepared from scratch. Yes, they even had fresh pandan leaves, powdered ube root, and coconut milk!
I did the meal twice: the first time for my PhD student friends, and the second time for my research group. So that it would be easy for me, I made sure there were no more than seven guests at a time. Also I thought it would be more practical (ie. cheaper) and impressive to just serve the food in portions and course by course.
The first time I did it, one of my guests came a few minutes early and watched me in the kitchen. I was preparing the lumpia (Philippine spring rolls) when she arrived and she was excited to learn how to prepare the peanut sauce served with it. What really made me happy was how she thought that I looked professional and asked if I studied cooking somewhere. I told her I never took formal lessons, but I’ve helped out my mom in the kitchen since I was a little kid and I enjoyed reading cookbooks, watching cooking shows & competitions, and eating in all kinds of restaurants.
She then complimented my chopping skills, which I was thankful for again. You see, as a birthday present to myself, I had bought a professional Wüsthof chef’s knife before I even secured all the ingredients just so I would have a more fun prep period.
The Birthday Kitchen
Since I served the meal course by course I was able to explain to them what each dish was. They listened intently as I explained when these dishes were usually prepared and what their influences were.
This was the menu:
Sisig na tokwa
Tofu sisig bites served with faux pork rind, eggyolk drizzle, and aioli
(Served with shots of San Miguel Beer / SMB)
Origin/Influence: Original Pampanga creation
(came from the alternative use of meat parts the Americans at Clark Airbase didn’t want)
In Chinese soup spoons for easy eating
I had to serve this in small bites since I just wanted an appetizer. Sisig is usually prepared with boiled and grilled pork (pig face to be exact), but I used tofu for easy prep and a healtier alternative. As an amuse, it was good that the sisig packed a punch with the salt and spices. Since I couldn’t find quail eggs the day before, I decided to just drizzle heated egg yolk and cook the egg white with the sisig. The “pork rind” was a cheap German snack which looked like chicharon, but tasted like a Philippine snack called Fritos Ring. Really nice alternative since real pork rind was expensive and sold only in large bags.
I thought of pairing the sisig with SMB (San Miguel Beer) for them to taste the most famous beer in the Philippines. However, since SMB was expensive (about 3x as expensive as German beers), I decided to do shots of it. Most of them really liked the lightness and fruity tones of SMB. One of them who didn’t drink beer a lot really liked it as well. An Indian friend commented that I should just cook this dish and we should have a beer party with it. Great suggestion. I mean the Germans love grilled food, pork, onions, vinegar, and beer. Why wouldn’t they love sisig, right?
Philippine fresh vegetable roll with egg net
served with peanut sauce
Origin/Influence: Chinese, Southeast Asian
Salad with the amuse
For the lumpia, I originally wanted to use ubod / hearts of palm, but the only available ones were canned and really expensive. I decided to just use carrots, togue/mungbean sprouts, and preserved bamboo shoots. It turned out to be really tasty, especially with the sweet-salty peanut garlic sauce. Since I wanted it to look pretty as well, I made the lumpia wrapper into a net instead of a plain crepe. Got great reviews on the taste and presentation of this one. Some of them couldn’t stop eating the sauce!
Pansit Canton at Kropek
Philippine style lo mein noodles and shrimp crackers
Since it’s tradition to eat pansit on one’s birthday (for long life), I decided to have this as the prelude to the main course. I used dried pancit canton, various fresh veggies, and an oyster-based sauce for this. This was the only dish I cooked from scratch on the actual party day. Got the kropek from my favorite Chinese restaurant in Bismarckplatz.
Dalawang luto sa karne: Adobo at Kaldereta
Duo of Philippine meat dishes:
Chicken & Pork Adobo* and
Lamb & Pork Caldereta
Origin/Influence: Adobo-Native, Caldereta-Spanish
(Served with steamed jasmine rice)
*also as vegetarian option with tofu and mushrooms
The adobo was the star of the lunch. Everyone kept raving about it. I prepared it the night before and let the meat absorb the oil and sauce. Then, just before serving it, I seared the skin to almost crisp and drizzled the sauce on it on the serving platter. The kaldereta was stewed for three hours the day before as well. It cooked for so long that the lamb cubes just melted in one’s mouth. The meat dishes went well with the red wine that my roommate bought for the occasion. For the adobo, I had to try it out as a vegitarian option as well since one of my labmates was vegitarian.
Samu’t saring minatamis:
Ube puto, turon, buko-pandan
Sampler platter of sweets:
Purple yam rice cake with coconut toffee and coco-butterscotch sauce
Origin/Influence: Puto-Native, Coconut desserts-Native and Malay, Eggroll-Chinese
For dessert, I had so many things in mind I ended up with a tasting platter. For the frozen dessert, I originally planned to make a buko-pandan gelatin salad. Unfortunately, my pandan jello did not set so I just mashed it together with the cream and made some kind of sherbet that still had the refreshing taste of pandan. They really liked the taste of pandan and kept on asking about it. The rice cake / puto turned out well and I was surprised since it was the first time I made it.
Restaurant-feel: plating the dessert
In the end everyone enjoyed the lunch and thanked me for the meal. They all agreed they had a blast on the “culinary adventure”. My boss even commented that I should already extend my Ph.D. to seven years, haha. My friends now call me “Chef.” Not really, but why not? Well, if things don’t go well with my Ph.D. at least I know I have a fallback! A Filipino restaurant in Europe would really be something interesting, wouldn’t it? I’m sure the folk here in Heidelberg would welcome it.
*All recipes to be featured later (hopefully)