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:
Early Spring is now a season I really look forward to with its promises of patio brunches, beautiful people watching, and the ability to wear something more flattering than a poofy jacket paired with chapped skin. But Spring during my college years wasn’t as…”Spring-y”. Most student groups plan their largest events during these months and for me, I somewhat dreaded spring as it meant back-to-back meetings planning event after event. However, Spring also heralded the start of Bake Sale season as groups sought to fund events and as an equal open diner, this was open season for all things carby. Sure there were the usual cookies and brownies (in varying shades of chocolate) but the real treats were the cultural delicacies: the orange, sticky Indian Jalebis that had to be washed down with tea, the Chinese Moon Cakes, the Arabic Baklava, and when you hit the jackpot and stumble on an all out ten item dessert buffet? Well…makes you forget the next five planning meetings on your calendar.
“But that’s not reeaalllly Filipino food though isn’t it?”. Definitely an if-I-had-a-penny question if I’ve ever heard one mentioned. Talking about the cultural aspects of food is so difficult that I’m constantly tempted to drop the label and just call it…”food”; pure, unadulterated, homogeneous, boring, it-just-is, food. Of course that’s just as irresponsible as creating imaginary divisions by arguing what makes a food Filipino (or *gasp* “authentic”) enough but it’s tempting nonetheless. But what IS Filipino food anyway? Who gets to decide and mandate the confines by which it’s labeled by? Is there some tome or someone’s lola I can just go to and get a final say?
Menu-writing for multi-course dinner sucks. There…I said it. Until recently, I never really enjoyed it and when I asked professionals how they compose/curate/conjure one up, I was met with two parts mysticism (“I just write what the Universe says through me…it’s all about connecting with the Divine”), a heaping of cryptic shade-throwing (“Well, you have to first study and really understand the seasonality of the local terroir after which you compose layers of sometimes contradictory but simultaneously harmonious flavors”), and a pinch of astringency (“Actually…I don’t know. I make what I want OK?”).
“Artful” menu-writing seemed so mysterious, shrouded in veils of secrecy to prevent us uninitiated commoners from discovering just how the Stewards of Sauce-ry know to follow a biting Mizuna-Shiso salad with lightly roasted cod under a citrus foam. Without much insight into their cabalistic procedures, I often resorted to cobbling together pieces of different menus/recipes into some Frankenstein-esque monstrosity where beef curry was somehow followed by roast chicken on biscuits & gravy with bok choy (true story!). For a data geek like me whose Accounting degree had no business being in the kitchen, it was infuriating!
With a month away from my third pop-up dinner, a collaboration with the Filipino Kitchen and Pilipino-American Unity for Progress, and the bad taste of gravy-soaked bok choy in my mouth, I attempted to apply some unartistic nerdery to come up with a menu centered around our chosen theme of Philippine Independence Day. Unorthodox? Perhaps. Time-consuming? Oh yes indeed! But did it work? Read on…
A few weeks ago, #FKEDUP collaborator UniPro posed the question:
“What Filipino food/dish do you identify with the most and why?”
I cringed when I saw the response by contributor Cris Mercado: Bangus (aka the Milkfish), that rich, fatty fish that’s got the soft creaminess of its namesake. I’m still traumatized by the one time I accidentally swallowed one of its tiny bones and was rushed to the hospital, too scared to breathe. I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me from seeking out its crisp skin and salty flavors again as I would have led the rest of my life deprived of this truly unique and flavorful fish!
Here’s Cris’s piece, a veritable ode to a fish that makes you work for it!
If we truly are what we eat, then I’m Bangus – otherwise known as Milkfish. But I’m not that sanitized, boneless small version you see at restaurants. I’m grown. I’m full-flavored and I’m prickly as hell. See that’s the thing with me and Bangús: It will take some patience and effort to enjoy the unique taste we bring.
Every year, a group of tastemakers and trenderati pontificate on what they believe are going to be the top food trends for this year. Whether or not these trends are actually just self-fulfilling prophecies is beyond us. However, one particular “trend” that’s consistently made it in recent years, from Andrew Zimmern proclaiming it the “next big thing” in 2012 all the way up to this year’s list, is “Filipino Food. It’s supposedly going to gain a huge following, an increased appreciation outside of the iconic adobos and halo-halos, and ever more restaurants pushing our heady flavors to the hungry masses. But what exactly does saying Pinoy food is a 2015 trend mean? Filipino cuisine is such a rich topic, full of historical context and ripe with stories that to say it’s a “trend” this year is quite an oversimplification and implies we’re being given a limited time on the proverbial stage to strut our stuff! What does “trendiness” look like? Prolific to the point of cheap Pinoy takeout via Seamless? A Filipino Michelin-starred restaurant on Park Avenue? Whatever your opinion is, we’re just as excited as you for the opportunities Filipino cuisine faces this year!
Elected by a not-as-secret sect of foodies (us….duhhh), we’ve tasked ourself on compiling the next stages in the evolution of the Filipino cuisine and why we believe this is one “trend” that’s going to be around for a while.
To say it was humid that day was an understatement. Having to walk 15 blocks to the supermarket in a polo and jeans, walk back with several bottles of patis and coconut oil, and then proceed to cook in a sweltering kitchen with an industrial size oven and gas range on full blast? Yeah…humid my ass. It was in these conditions that I first met Sarahlynn of Filipino Kitchen (and a few months later, her co-conspirator Natalia) as I sous chef’d (is that even a verb?) for my friend Yana Gilbuena of the SALO Series (covered said dinner here and a previous one here). We didn’t speak much. Just a few pleasantries and some polite commentary on the bangus that was dripping its guts onto my arms.
It wasn’t until several semi-chance encounters here in NYC and in Chicago when the thought of collaborating came up. I’m an automatic supporter of food bloggers and side hustlers and when we got into a conversation around Filipino food culture in the middle of a loud beercade in Lakeview, Chicago, I had a feeling we were going to be working together soon. Well that soon is right now and without further ado, I’d like to introduce our first post in this #FKEDUP series care-of the Filipino Kitchen gals featuring the best Pinoy eats of 2014. (Disclaimer: this list is neither comprehensive nor definitive…that’s where you come in! Think anything’s missing from this list? Let us know!) Let’s get to it!
Oh wow…it’s been a good minute since my last post and boy let me tell you…it feels like I’m starting over again!
For those who’ve been asking me what ever happened to the blog and what culinary adventures I’m been throwing myself into, suffice it to say that it’s been a wild ride and perhaps I’ll write about it some other time.
For now, just know that the Errant Diner is back and has some straight up delisyoso news! I’ll now be posting on the regular and the blog is back in business!