Flavours of the Philippines

The Grace Hotel is currently hosting a food festival showcasing the flavours of the Philippines. They flew down three chefs from the Philippines to cater for the buffet which will run lunch and dinner every day until this Sunday. It costed us $38 for the lunch time buffet, which makes it an expensive work lunch, but that is the price one pays for curiosity of foreign cuisine without flying to that foreign land.

Being a Filo food virgin, I literally had a bit of everything (except the shaved ice, discussed below). And let me disclaim now that I wasted approximately one heaping plate of food, plus a coffee. And yes, I agree such flippant regard to food where millions of people around the world are dying of starvation is atrocious behaviour. But hey, I pay penance for my sins the rest of my life where I am not buffeting (which is a rare event in itself), and I was at a buffet of a cuisine I have never tasted, I’m allowed some leeway.

First plate of salads is piled high, showing great enthusiam. Half goes to waste. In contrast, all of Friend 1’s plates was like a course at a degustation. She of course is stick thin.
Course two of tangy sour prawn soup is washed down with half a pan del sal (it was a rather dry bread so I didn’t waste the rest of my limited stomach space)
Showing more restraint with plate 3 for hot foods. Less goes to waste, mostly rice and noodles, although still enough to cause distress in Friend 1
I made marked improvement with my final plate of desserts – cleaned the plate! (helped that most of them weren’t sweet)

I had another small plate of seconds, and all that left me quite full, not uncomfortable but overeaten and comfortable πŸ™‚

The appetiser salads selection:

Fresh Lumpia, which is crepes filled with hearts of palm, shrimp and pork.
I really enjoyed my first one, but my second one seemed to miss the shrimp and pork, which was lifted that first crepe to a higher level. Second one seemed to only have salad, it was also falling apart and difficult to eat.
The bitter melons in the bitter melon salad with prawns were very bitter!
Crab salad with mango (alimango at mangga)
The crab was very dry, like a moister version of pork floss. My friend thinks it’s frozen crab meat
The okra salad with salted duck egg was quite nice. The sign actually said it was with “salted duck”, but of course, it tasted quite eggy. Friend 2 made a horrifying comment, “Is it duck embryo?”
I think the very sour adobo mushroom with mussles was my favourite from the salads
Green mango with turnip salad was refreshing
Not sure what this was, there was no sign, probably potato salad

The hot mains selection

This was a beef rendang esque dish, which I really enjoyed and called for seconds. The beef was so tender!
This chicken dish also quite nice, and justified going back for a second piece. Not sure what it was called, started with c
BBQ pork ribs is delicious and requires second servings no matter which style
Deep fried milk fish with vinegrette was a bit sour and dry for my palate
I ate a few of the “prawn crabfat”, but I don’t remember the taste
I did not appreciate the dry and hard crispy pork belly
Fresh vegetable spring rolls (lumpiang gulay) was standard
Sauteed egg with noodles and prawns was once again quite standard…veering on nice

Since last Saturday, I’ve been on a sugar-free diet/detox, where I don’t eat (or try very hard to avoid) anything that contains sugar. Only because last few weeks I embarked on a baking frenzy (cleaning out pantry at full turbo), and binge eating my creations, which in turn made me feel quite unwell. I’ve been doing so well this week, I never said to some really tempting carrot cake during a morning tea at work. But I was unable to say no today (there are no cheat days in the sugar-free diet diet/detox). I steered clear of the shaved ice desserts (the toppings included jelly, adzuki beans, honey beans), but only because I don’t appreciate shaved iced desserts nor do I get hankerings for jelly or canned beans. I am told by a Filippino man at the dessert bar with me that shaved ice is a summer favourite. But THESE (below) were Asian dessert heaven! And I’m so glad I didn’t say no, because aside from the egg custard and the banana spring roll, everything else was only mildly sweet so I don’t feel so guilty (yay for Asian desserts!).

Lurved the molded tapioca (/sago) with jackfruit topping. Although the jackfruit did not stand out, it was coconuty, and not sweet at all
The unlikely combination of steamed cassava cake with cheddar cheese was surprisingly good, probably because I couldn’t taste the cheddar πŸ˜› I learned cassava is a root vege (but is not pink, that is thanks to colouring). It was quite dense, and starchy like taro, and also not sweet at all
Sticky rice balls with shredded coconut was bland to me, although it was the only dessert Friend 2 enjoyed
Egg yolk caramel custard with orange topping (tocino del cielo) is the Filo version of creme caramel. It was the only “Western” dessert in the sense that it was very, bordering on sickeningly, sweet. However amongst the context of all the other non-sweet desserts, it was enjoyable and most importantly tolerable. The wonderful combination of orange and caramel was inexplicable.
Turon is a spring roll bananas (somehow it tasted slightly different, banana-wise) coated with melted sugar(?) and receives two thumbs up from me

After lunch, we helped ourselves to coffee and tea. I tried the cappucino from their coffee machine just to compare to the nuclear-weapon-of-mass-destruction-in-disguise we have at work.

And what does Filippino taste like? It likens to any other South East Asian cuisine, to me anyway. When I told a manager, who is Malaysian, about my lunch time food adventure, he said, “Filo food? They’re very bland aren’t they? They don’t use a lot of spices” And I guess that is true, none of the dishes were in your face with spice & flavour, it was ladida, very neutral, and homely, my style.

When I asked for that Filippino man from the dessert bar’s opinion of the meal, he said, “It’s quite good, for us.” Friend 1, who is Cambodian and perhaps in a better position to critique this buffet than me, felt it wasn’t authentic Filo food, but rather tailored to suit the Western palate. Perhaps that is true. But overall I enjoyed my lunch, and at the end of the day, I guess that’s all that counts.

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