I remember the first time I had kinilaw (kee-knee-lau…not the “law” in “lawyer”), Filipino cured seafood similar to the more well-known ceviche. It was a weeknight back in Saudi Arabia and my mom was hit with one of those rare nights of laziness so we bought food from the corner kalinderya serving the local Filipino workforce. Amongst the requisite containers full of greasy adobo, menudo, and chop suey was one filled with cubes of white fish and Thai chilis swimming in a milky white liquid. Looking back, that shit wasn’t good at all: the fish overcooked and chewy, the acidity overpowered by the too finely minced peppers, and the onions beginning to seep their purple into the liquid. But without a frame of reference, I remember my eyes widening…the perfect moment of childhood discovery. The burst of sharp sourness from the Datu Puti vinegar, the firm flesh…the rawness! Ever since then, kinilaw was a treat. From lunches during sweltering Saudi summers to seaside feasts back in our hometown of Iloilo, kinilaw provided the much needed bite to cut through the rich Filipino spaghetti (it contains condensed milk…a story for another day) and meat-heavy dishes without the tired pretension that ceviche sometimes carries (ceviche does NOT belong in a martini glass slathered with guacamole and salsa…gtfo!).
The origins of kinilaw are murky and I’m sure indigenous cultures all over the world began using acid to cure their seafood and extend its shelf life. However, I really like this legend I stumbled upon on the Bisaya blog Huni sa Daplin:
(Side Note: maybe I should Instagram my pictures first before posting them here…or get a better camera :P)
I once read that you shouldn’t buy pizza in Italy. That unless you’re in Naples, pizza in Italy is a far cry quality-wise from the deep dish varieties in Chicago or their $1 foldable cousins in Manhattan. I wonder if that holds true for other cultures when eating out.
In the Philippines, it’s quite true (most of the time). Sinigang (a staple of every Filipino household, a light broth soured with tamarind and usually accompanied by pork spare ribs or fish depending on your region) sprinkled with a scant few pieces of wilted lettuce and a few lonely radish slices. Adobo (vinegar/soy sauce-braised chicken) that’s more gristle than meat. Lumpia (incorrectly translated as “Spring Roll”) where there was more wrapper than filling. I guess these are more a symptom of our economic circumstance than culinary prowess…but I digress.
However, we were pleasantly surprised by a visit to the Kanin Club at the Ayala Triangle Gardens, an atmospheric green zone in the middle of bustling Manila where wait lists for the simplest cafes rivaled those of Michelin-starred powerhouses in Midtown New York. A friend I had met at the embassy the other day recommended the place based on their focus on quality ingredients and not being skimpy on the food though the place has been open for some time now.