Coconut, crab and fermented mango: Rizal writes, “One who does not know where he came from will never get to his destination.”
MANILA, Philippines – Once a French chef had our 10-course Kapampangan menu in Bale Dutung, which hubby Claude aptly called “decathlon.”
“This is degustation,” I said.
“Non,” the Frenchman said, “this is an exaggerated degustation.”
“Oh,” I said, “Filipinos will never be happy with your French degustacion. Nothing is more than a spoonful; no sauces on the dishes but instead brushed like rainbow of oil paint on the sides of the plate. That will never happen to Filipino food. We want our food oozing with sauce that we put on rice. We want to rip the whole quail and entire chicken wing. Never mind if there is still the barbecue stick on it. We want everything big like our American brothers. And somehow we don’t have the patience to sit and dine for hours nibbling. We want to gobble our food.”
One of the most-asked questions about Filipino food is why presentation is not as “beautiful” as other cuisines. Many foodies have given their two cents’ worth about it but I like my historian friend Ambeth Ocampo’s answer most of all. He said, “It is because we have no court food to follow or imitate.” He further pointed out to me that the food for the family and food for the helpers are served the same way, except the family may be using porcelain or stoneware.
Another often-asked question is our fondness for buffets and how we load everything on our plate. Never mind if the kare-kare sauce and lechon sarsa get mixed together on the cold rice. Never mind about distinct flavors and textures mixing together. Never mind if it the dishes turn cold. It is always the riotous but happy fiesta atmosphere common in the rural areas that we Filipinos love. It is because seeing lots of food whets our appetite but we have Juan Tamad in all of us. We are too lazy to go back to the buffet table and worry that the fruit will drop on someone else’s plate. Thus we put everything on in one go.
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With access to cable TV and Internet and budget travel, the Pinoy diner has become sophisticated and demanding. His taste for variety is growing rapidly. Big brand names like Tim Ho Wan and Todd English from abroad have invaded us, creating a David and Goliath food scene. Even some holes-in-the-wall in the US have their first branches outside the US in the Philippines, like the soon-to-open Hallal guys and Pink Hotdogs. Competition among restaurateurs has never been this stiff. Which truthfully concerns me because we are the only country where we have more restaurants serving foreign than our local cuisine and our five-star hotels do not have in-house Filipino restaurants. Which makes me wonder also if we are probably trendsetters and that someday other countries will follow us; Bangkok, for example, will have more foreign than Thai food. Hard to believe but some tourists leave our country without tasting Philippine cuisine and the closest they get is Jollibee.
Finding Filipino restaurants for a tourist in Metro Manila can be very challenging. Kudos to Cabalen, Aristocrat, Sentro, Via Mare, the LJC group of Companies, Milky Way, Aracama, Mesa, Sarsa and Wooden Spoon for their nationalism and conviction. I love them all.
The Goose Station, pronounced “De-Gus-Tation” (the play on words downplays the formality associated with degustacions) is known for a limited but masterfully done pricey menu. The ambiance is simple with unadorned walls but has the feel of casual romantic elegance. Its owner, celebrity chef Rob Pengson, now dares to present Filipino food the French degustacion way. He has my admiration, for such is no mean feat.
He calls it the Rizal Menu. Quoting chef Rob, “Each course is inspired by a time in the hero’s life that combines his emotions, struggles, views and writings and connects that with culinary creativity and the gastronomic experience.”
We had eight courses and I must say some were more successful than others in pleasing my taste buds, but all are beautifully plated. The younger generation has a term for such beauty: Instagram-worthy. Cameras started to click as the dishes were served.
Of the eight, the third was the most memorable for me. First wasnthe foie gras taho. Maybe because I love both taho (soft silky tofu) and foie gras (duck liver) but more than that, the combination of flavors was indeed clever, not forced but right and of melt-in-the-mouth delicateness. Imagine our humble taho flavored with cloyingly rich foie gras. I do not only remember the dish and the flavor, I also remember what chef Rob said when he came to introduce the dish: “Rizal, upon setting foot in Madrid, was called Chinese, Japanese, American, anything but Filipino. He must have had the feeling of having to speak louder just to be heard. We take that feeling and use it to transform something simple into another thing.” Hmm, I thought, “Rizal must be the taho trying to coexist with the Westerners (foie gras) without losing his color and fiber of character.”
That is the kind of experience you will have with the Rizal Menu. Another is the nice and crisp suckling pig and achara (pickled green papaya) with pickled shallots and pistachios, and the last and definitely the least was the lechon kawali, egg and pickles because, though the organic egg with hollandaise was masterfully done, I could not find and taste the lechon kawali. Oh, yes, I enjoyed the sampaguita in the coconut dessert.
Would I recommend the Rizal Menu? This is definitely not for everyone, but a definite yes for the jaded ones, who have been there and done it all. Those, who like to wine and dine, for this Philippine cuisine must be appreciated with wine. For those who like the finer things in life. For those who are inspired by the possibilities of using our local ingredients, and appreciating the dishes presented in a western way. For those who find eureka moments in connecting the ingredients to culture and history. Those who can imagine or wish for a diamond ring coming out of the wonderful and tender pigeon seared with foie gras. And, of course, who have money in the pocket to burn.
Like some upscale restaurants, The Goose Station takes the challenge of answering the often-asked questions about our food and its presentation. There is definitely a market for this. I often hear that we Filipinos do not want to eat Filipino food outside because we can cook it at home. Well, this is definitely something we cannot cook at home. I imagine foreigners appreciating this menu more than the locals, except the jaded ones. I imagine hearing the locals’ opposing opinions on such a new variety of Filipiniana cuisine. I imagine Filipinos celebrating very special occasions with this. I imagine the baffled French chef reading this and visiting the Philippines again to be lured by the Rizal Menu of The Goose Station.
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The Goose Station is located at W Tower, 1117 39th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. For information, call 556-9068; 0917-854-6673 (GOOSE)
Operating hours are from Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m.; Monday to Saturday, 6 p.m.
For information, visit http://thegoosestation.ph/ .
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Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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