Some good friends from the diplomatic community departed for a new posting just a few days ago. Over the past three years, we had their entire family over to meals several times in the city (usually large celebrations like holiday dinners, birthdays or initially, to help introduce them to other locals) and several times as well at the beach. They were such great eaters and it was always fantastic to have them over for a meal. However, the more I thought about the several meals we had together, the more I realized that perhaps not a SINGLE one of those meals had featured a Filipino menu. Which got me thinking further, and I became increasingly more annoyed with myself, that my default party menu for major events is usually more western influenced â€“ large roasts, a turkey, steaks, paellas, stews, etc. rather than a local menu. Donâ€™t get me totally wrong, we also entertain a lot with full blown Pinoy menus, but typically when the vast majority of guests are themselves Pinoy. When there are a lot of foreigners on the guest list, I revert to a Western meal, possibly thinking it is a safer route to takeâ€¦
Determined to change this bias, I decided to serve a more Filipino inspired meal for this simple despedida dinner at home, hoping our friends would leave Manila with a favorable view of some classic Filipino dishes. Choosing a menu that was local, interesting, and doable was harder than I thought. And toying with the whole â€œwe need to make dishes more visually appealing and interesting argumentâ€ (an off-shoot from the Cendrillon post a few days back), I was determined to serve something totally common, yet gussied up for a special occasion. Okay, so hereâ€™s the menu â€“ I wanted to do a light pako salad with tomatoes, but a frantic trip to Farmerâ€™s market mid-week yielded nada ferns and that option was axed, and with only hours to the meal, I decided on a less than classic Pinoy starter, albeit with all locally sourced ingredients. I made a salad of just poached tiger prawns with cubes of spectacular Australian mangoes (grown on the Cojuangco farms in Mindanao) that I brought home from Cebu. The mangoes were terrific in a salad as they were firmer than our own carabao mangoes. The dressing was a chili, lime and wansoy concoction and the salad was served on a betel leaves atop 9 inch wide mother of pearl plates. I chilled the mango cubes but not the shrimps (they tend to toughen if chilled) and assembled the salad minutes before sitting down to the dinner table. My photos are horrific, but trust me, the salad was superb and a huge hit! Kids and adults alike enjoyed it as did local and foreign guests alike. Iâ€™ll admit this isnâ€™t really Filipino per seâ€¦ but I was nearly desperate.
For the main course, I decided on a simple chicken inasal and sotanghon guisado pairing. Usually considered more merienda-like fare, both of these dishes had to be executed really well to pull this off properly. For the chicken inasal, I used Cornish game hens split in half, so that each serving was literally half a small chicken. While they tasted pretty good and it looked terrific on a plate, I honestly donâ€™t think the gussying up was needed here at all. A classic chicken inasal would have done just as well, and the cost would have been far lower than buying the imported Cornish hens. Nevertheless, the guests really enjoyed this version of a classic Pinoy marinated and grilled item, and it presented itself rather well. What really wowed everyone that evening was a spectacular sotanghon guisado. I will do a detailed post on this dish up next but suffice it to say this was the best sotanghon guisado I have ever made and the guests requested several additional servings… The conversation even veered off to discuss kalamansi and how they would have such a hard time adjusting to their next post because there would be no kalamansi there – or mangosteens, pineapples, mangoes, etc. For dessert, we served mini-banana turons with dulce de leche and this was a nice way to close off a fairly simple but delicious Pinoy-inspired dinner. We wish them well in their next posting and hope they leave the Philippines with fond memories of the people, places and food…