A Farewell Dinner for Diplomats…


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, din2to 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 – large roasts, a turkey, steaks, paellas, stews, etc. rather than a local menu. Don’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 take…

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 din3doable was harder than I thought. And toying with the whole “we need to make dishes more visually appealing and interesting argument” (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 here’s the menu – I wanted to do a light pako salad with tomatoes, but a frantic trip to Farmer’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. I’ll admit this isn’t really Filipino per se… 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 don’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…


22 Responses

  1. I have been experimenting on serving Filipino food gourmet style for my non-Filipino friends. Always a sure hit is the crispy tilapia filet on a sauce of reduced gata^ with baby bokchoy. Marinade the tilapia with salt, pepper & lemon for 30 minutes, coat it with cornstarch then pan fry. Meanwhile, you can prepare the gata as follows: minced garlic, ginger, onions, then a can of coconut oil, salt, pepper, and the baby bokchoy of course. Let it boil, then simmer until it is reduced to the consistency that you like for a sauce. By the way, take out the bokchoy when you feel it has been cooked al-dente. To plate it: put a spoonful of sauce, then the bokchoy, top it with a couple of crispy tilapia. Finish the dish with a drizzle of sauce and voila!

    BTW, your blog really rocks! Thank you, thank you and thank you! :-)


  2. i’ve always been meaning to ask you, what pinoy dish/menu to best serve non-pinoys when you want to have a dinner party?, especially when you’re not really an experienced/good cook/host? :) …. i hope you’ll feauture more of this type of menu….thanks, can’t wait for the sotanghon recipe……

  3. Great job serving a Pinoy meal! I love introducing people to the delicious aspects of our culture…which you have done excellently here :)

    Ok, now I have to ask…where’d you get the betel leaves?

  4. hi market man,
    had to prepare a pinoy lunch for a fil-am group on (super) short notice last monday and these were the big hits:
    a) pakbet – genuine ilocano version, with the small eggplants and small ampalayas, AND bagnet on top, in addition to tomatoes, onions, okra, bagoong. Once I put the pot on the fire I was freed up to set the table and do other preparations.
    b) tahong cooked in its own juice with garlic, onion, ginger, basil… since i did not have lemon grass at home i substituted with kaffir lime ( i happen to have a tree) and it got rave reviews, too! i used patis instead of salt and added a bit of white wine.

    love your website – inspires me to cook and eat (hmmm…)
    keep it up!

  5. That mango salad looks so good, and the plating terrific! A shrimp bagoong vinaigrette would have been good too I’ll bet. Is that ham I see in your sotanghon? Will await your post…

  6. Hi Marketman, I’m more of a dessert maker and from experience, non-Filipinos love cassava cake. In a fundraiser not too long ago, an American lady approached me and said that it was the best dessert over the Dulce de Leche brownies and Baklava. In a potluck, one person said he thought it was the best over others including a regular cake. He said he liked that the cassava cake was dense and not too sweet. In a Christmas party two years ago, I made sylvannas (correct spelling?) and gave them out as gifts. I was told they were the best cookies they ever tasted. I can see your dilemma in choosing the dishes to hopefully wow foreigners because I have been in a similar situation before. I can also say it is hard. What we think are delicious may not be for them. I guess this is why Cendrillon does not seem authentic Filipino but more Westernized. Oh, foreigners also love the frozen mangoes with cream and graham cracker crumbs. I hope one day foreigners will think of an amazing Filipino dish when they think of the Philippines just as we think pizza or pasta when we think of Italy.

  7. hey… the salad and chicken inasal with sotanghon guisado look really yummy…a sampling of pinoy fare to serve to non-pinoy friends!

  8. You’re such a gracious host – the male counterpart of Martha Stewart albeit the nicer the version. I hope to be like you when I grow up :-)

  9. So where do the rock cornish hens come from? Maybe somebody can try commissioning a local progressive poultry farmer to raise them for him. That was how we use to do it here in Ontario about ten or fifteen years ago with guinea fowl (pintade). Now there is a thriving small scale industry also raising Chinese black chicken (ulikba), free range organically fed chicken, partridge and pheasant. It cannot be half as attention intensive as say raising game roosters which most aficionados of the game easily engage in.

  10. Motherland is proud of your Filipiana dinner night — your well-executed inasal with a twist — Cornish hens which I bet cost more than regular chicken and sotanghon as your main course! Your Chinawares and silverwares are great! Well taken still life of the mother of pearl plate heightened up with the betel leaves background. Betel leaves part of the shrimp mango salad or just for visual effect? I know it is edible. You bring the humble betel leaves to another dimension. I know the Thais use it to wrap their ground meat dish like lettuce leaves with it and some of our folks chew it with betel nuts and apog which turn their whole orifice red. You, Mrs. MM, the Kid and your staffs really did a great job with your dinner guests – come in hungry and leave the house full! You are great host and hostess!

  11. For Colleen —
    I’m interested in your “reduced gata” and want to clarify: is it really coconut oil (can’t imagine this reduced), or could it be coconut cream, or coconut milk?

    I want to make this dish so a reply would be much appreciated. Thanks very much.

  12. One of the comments compared you to Martha Stewart and coincidentally, this month’s issue of her magazine features Filipino classics such as lumpia, pancit, and flan, albeit Americanized versions.

  13. You know what my husband and I were talking about serving food to guests when we have visitors.We both think that a common mistake that we overseas Pinoy do when we have Pinoy tourists over for dinner is that we tend to serve them Pinoy foods!We realized awhile ago this mistake hahahahahaahha.So if we have Pinoy tourists acquaintances that we invite for dinner we try to serve Australian food.But for the pinoys that’s already here for yonks we do serve Pinoy foods.

  14. hi MM,
    Your mango salad looks very appetizing.
    I’m curious about what drinks did you served your non-pinoy guests.
    With our non-pinoy friends who come to visit, I serve Bistek Tagalog and Pancit Canton because they always get the biggest attention.

  15. Kristine, thanks! Colleen, that dish sounds good…and if there isn’t tilapia, several other firm white fish fillets might work like maya-maya (snapper) or lapu-lapu (grouper)…yum! Edee, in the months ahead, I will try to do more Pinoy menus for entertaining… sotanghon coming up soon. Joey, I have a small betel plant in my garden, it was a gift from an in-law last Christmas. While it is thriving, I have only about 50 leaves so far, but if you need some (say a dozen or so, I am more than happy to share them with you… I haven’t gotten around to doing the Thai dish with dried shrimps but if you could use the leaves, let me know… The plant is growing proudly beside my oldish kaffir lime tree. Yella, sounds like a great menu to me… did the guests find the fish or shrimp paste in the pakbet a bit strong? I am curious… ykmd, yes that is ham, more on that on the sotanghon post… Johnny, I totally agree with you…there are few pinoy desserts that don’t seem to wow foreign guests… perhaps the blander rice based desserts aren’t so much of a hit but yes the cassava and certainly the baked goods all do very well. Aileen, it came out as good as I could have hoped for! Candygirl, thanks! Gosh, I hope I don’t end up in jail for insider trading when I hit 60…heehee. Apicio, the rock cornish game hens are imported frozen from the U.S. There are local farmers raising the same chicken as the French Bresse variety…I just bought one but haven’t cooked it yet. And the weirdest part, the country is chockfull of quail’s eggs, but I can’t find a single darn quail to cook!! Maria Clara, the betel leaf had two purposes…visual and color impact against the salad and perhpas more important, as a way to block the dressing of the salad from sitting on the mother of pearl plate. Many folks may not be aware, but the acids in a vinaigrette strips the plates of their lacquer, so it is best not to have direct exposure and wash your plates as soon as the appetizer is eaten. I have had these MOP plates for nearly 20 years (a gift from my mother) and they are still in perfect condition. Grace, I would imagine Colleen starts with milk and reduces that down… Grazia, hmmm, I should remember to look for that issue of the magazine, I don’t normally purchase Martha Stewart magazines here unless they are the old issues and marked down in price… peanut, it is funny that we have these food menu biases… Mrs. M, thanks for asking, I forgot to mention, we served a rather modest Californian Chardonnay with the meal and it worked VERY WELL with the menu!

  16. MM, you rule! I finally tried your bistek tagalog recipe with lotsa onions for dinner tonight and it was a hit. I made lotsa rice and it was almost all gone. Thank you! I would like to try your sotanghon guisado recipe on sunday.

  17. I should have known the answer was “i have a plant in my garden…” :) Thanks for the kind offer! If I find interesting recipes using them I will likewise pass on to you! :)

  18. To Grace:

    I use the coconut milk (in cans). Reduce it until you have a semblance of the cream. I have tried using the coconut cream in cans but it is too sweet for my taste. What i am trying to achieve is the kakang gata^, as my mom would call it. The more you simmer the coconut milk, the more it takes on the taste of the ginger, garlic and onions.

    To Marketman:

    I have not tried this dish with other types of fish since tilapia fillets are of abundance here (in DC). And since tilapia is bland, you can control the seasoning to your liking.

  19. Hi Marketman. Great job with the blog. I went on a Pampanga culinary tour last month and was told that you can actually buy dressed quail in Pampanga supermarkets. Turns out that quail is common fare for the Capampangan.

  20. MM, I read Apicio’s comment on the Sotanghon Guisado post and I think the leaf on your plate is a pepper vine leaf or “ikmo” in Tagalog (I think Apicio calls it “samat”). The leaf is what the Lola’s wrap the betel nut or “nga-nga” with before chewing it. The betel nut comes from a kind of palm tree.

  21. I’ll take good ole Philippine Adobo anytime. It’s simple to make, clean taste of soy sauce, garlic, laurel and vinegar.
    Caldereta? No, thanks.. sauce too heavy with all the junk in it.

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