Episode 100: Zubuchon comes to Manila!

sam_1274Dreams do come true! Zubuchon, Cebu’s famous lechon, is coming to Manila!

Social media went abuzz when Joel Binamira (@therealmarketman) posted on Instagram about the preparations for a Manila branch. Binamira (also known as Marketman) is behind the Market Manila blog, and the same person who launched Zubuchon.

zubu2Netizens immediately inquired where this new branch will open. Binamira revealed that the branch will be located “about 100 meters behind the Makati Fire Station”, which is just around the San Antonio area. The target date, he added, is around February.

zubu1Another well-anticipated news is the menu. Zubuchon’s Manila fans are hoping they could try out here the same dishes and drinks as the ones in the main Cebu branch. (Some items they’re clamoring for are the lechon belly sandwich and the kamias shake.) Binamira also hinted that he’ll do taste-testing with selected Instagram followers this February.

Zubuchon was established in 2009. The name comes from a combination of “Zubu”, (the name of Cebu in old Spanish and Portugese maps) and “Chon” (lechon).

Binamira’s lechon gained fame earlier when celebrity chef and “No Reservations” host Anthony Bourdain came to Cebu in 2008 to shoot his unique way of cooking lechon. Bourdain called this lechon “the best pig ever”.

Zubuchon takes pride of using organic pigs, fresh fruits and vegetables, homegrown spices, and good olive oil in cooking their lechon. The best part is that it doesn’t have MSG, and the best meaty parts are kept intact while roasting. The result is a unique lechon with crunchy skin and juicy, tender meat.

It’s been six years since I first tried out Zubuchon in Cebu as part of a writing project on lechon. Finding Zubuchon was quite an adventure, but it was worth the trip because the lechon was just that good.  (It’s Anthony Bourdain’s fault why I became a fan of lechon in the first place.)

Now that Zubuchon is coming to Manila, our cravings for great Cebu lechon should be tempered a bit. The biggest question now is: how do we get invited to the opening?

Zubuchon on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/zubuchonph/
Zubuchon Website http://zubuchon.com/



Episode 65: The Filipino National Dish

Hear, hear. There’s a proposed bill that is making the buzz among netizens now, and it’s not the Freedom of Information Bill. You see, Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos has just filed House Bill No. 3926, AKA the proposed National Symbols Act of 2014, which will name several objects synonymous to Filipino culture as national symbols. The most talked about of these symbols is the proposed national food, adobo.

This Interaksyon article explains this for us:

“On making adobo the country’s national food, Relampagos said the dish deserves the title because of its versatility and variety.

“Whethere (sic) using chicken, pork, fish, squid, kangkong, sitaw, puson ng saging and ithers (sic) as main ingredient, there are many ways to cook adobo – adobo sa gata, adobong matamis, adobong tuyo, adobong masabaw, adobo sulipan, adobo sa pinya, adobo sa kalamansi, adobong malutong, adobong puti, adobo flakes, spicy adobo, just to name a few,” Relampagos said.”

While the discussion over the bill (which I refer to as the “adobo bill”) has become non-serious and taken in stride, the thought of having a dish that defines the Philippines is a good matter to ponder, as far as a foodie like me is concerned.

Adobo, by origin, is a Spanish invention, except their version – immersing meat in a sauce with spices – is different from ours. The Spanish adobo pertains to the cooking of food with a certain type of marinade (called “adobo”); the Filipino one – independent of Spanish influence – is the dish itself, as well as its cooking method, with vinegar as the primary ingredient. (It’s said the Spanish colonizers saw Filipinos perform the same technique and gave it that name; the original term is now lost.)

The Philippine adobo has many versions, all of which are based on the ingredients in cooking. This is why adobo is a favorite anywhere in the country. Every region has its own version, they even say. Even in other countries, adobo is recognizable; the scent of meat stewing in vinegar, soy sauce, and spices is uniquely Filipino.

It’s also good to note that adobo is a staple dish in every household, eatery, restaurant, feast, and food-related gathering that Filipinos host. The dish barely spoils (thanks to the vinegar), it’s easy to cook, and it can be enjoyed anytime (especially when there’s rice).

Back to the adobo bill. Should we officially call “adobo” our national dish? As mentioned by Relampagos, given its popularity, versatility, and variety, we might as well should. The original recipe of the adobo may be enshrined as the standard for adobo. (Then again, we’ll leave the discussion on the adobo recipe to the culinary experts.) We could market adobo as the quintessential Filipino home recipe, something we could prepare, enjoy, and share to the world.

Which begs the question: is there a Filipino dish that can challenge adobo for the title of “national dish”?

So far, I can think of only one: lechon.

Yeah, I know. Lechon is luxury food, and more representative of the rich. But it’s also the star of every Filipino feast, synonymous to the Filipino’s love for food and festivity. The Filipino roasted pig has even gained international attention (Anthony Bourdain? Best pork in the world? Remember?), and it’s just as popular by name.

We also have halo-halo, the popular Filipino summer cooler with its wide selection of ingredients, a perfect dessert in this tropical paradise.

Oh yeah, hasn’t anyone considered balut, the Filipino duck egg dish from Hell?

And now I’m out of ideas.

Philippine cuisine is so vast in scope, pinpointing a dish aside from adobo that will represent the country is. It’s because Filipinos love food so much, the list of favorites is so long. But back to our adobo bill. Do we actually need a law like this in the first place, while more important ones are being sent to the backburner (cough*FOI*cough). Maybe we can send this one to the shelves too, and give the task of determining the symbols of our country to the experts, including the food.

For now, though, let’s just retreat to our homes and favorite food establishments, and ponder on the wonders of Filipino food, especially adobo.

Which reminds me, back when Dan Brown’s “Manila as the gates of hell” brouhaha erupted, there was this restaurant that promised to make an adobo version in his honor. Where’s this adobo from hell now, I wonder? Dan Brown, please come to the Philippines and make it happen. The adobo from hell, I mean.

Episode 21: Balut is Luv

My doctor once told me to lay off the balut because of its high cholesterol content. Easier said than done, or so I thought. I actually found it easy to stay away from balut, though when I get really hungry, I storm the nearest balut stand and chomp one. Thankfully, my blood pressure hasn’t shot up.

While eating balut is normal in the Philippines, foreigners (except, probably, the ones I dined with in Binondo) still get queasy looking at, much more eating, that developed duck fetus lying on a partly-raw yolk in a half-shell. Still, this hasn’t stopped various people from having a taste of this thing.

Anthony Bourdain, for example, didn’t eat balut (referred to as fetal duck egg) when he visited the Philippines, but he did so in Vietnam. Hột vịt lộn, as it is called, is served there like a regular breakfast meal or snack. He found the dish to be just fine.

Andrew Zimmern (of “Bizzare Foods” fame) ventured to the Philippines once, and ended up in Pateros, where he learned how balut is made. The balut exceeded his expectations, and even called the egg’s juices “funky”. (This is Part 1 of the Philippines’ episode. Balut-chomping begins at 6:37.)

American Idol champion Kris Allen was challenged to eat balut when he came to the Philippines around last year. Good thing he endured it.

Ten-year old Remy of “Food Oddities” featured balut in one of his episodes. “Food Oddities,” by the way, is “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” hosted by a kid. (Heck, Zimmern himself liked the kid’s show.) He sampled weird food and then tells his fellow Americans how they taste like.

While there are brave souls who enjoyed eating balut, there also are unfortunate ones who are swallowed by fear and succumb to the sick feeling that goes with the damned duck egg… Such as this guy.

For some people, eating balut is a test of manhood, as in the case of these guys, Bau and Zeth, who were challenged by some Filipino bloggers to have one. The two kept playing with the eggs for a while, but they passed the test, eventually.

Seriously, balut, even in its high-protein, high-cholesterol glory, has been a symbol of a Filipino’s culinary prowess. It’s best eaten on its own, with beer, rice, or with any meal imaginable. It’s a “funky” (to borrow Andrew’s words), freaky dish that challenges the sensibilities of any food-lover, and rewards those who endure biting on its grotesque, abortion-reminiscent features with a rich, velvety flavor and a filling experience. It gives bonus bragging points too.

As for me, I’m still not allowed to eat balut.

Episode 18: Pilipinas, Say WHAT?!

There’s this raging debate over the Department of Tourism’s new slogan for the Philippines, “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” (which means “Philippines, so beautiful” or something to that effect). This is the branding that replaced the “WOW Philippines” slogan, which we’ve been using for eight years now.

“Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” works wth the concept that the country is best loved for its beautiful scenery and the warmth of its people.

The slogan shows a smiling coconut tree, a tarsier, the sun, and waves. The word “Pilipinas” represents our pride for the country. The logo shows our joyful character and the country’s tropical beauty. The phrase ‘Kay Ganda!’ is our way of showing appreciation.

Despite the elaborate symbolism, “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” received a lot of flak when it was released to the public. The furor by critics is that it’s bland, dishonest, half-baked, and doesn’t attract attention. Many say it sounds like a title of a TV show. Others just aren’t happy we’re representing the Philippines with such a slogan. Some only have this to say:


It doesn’t help that the website for this is one letter away from directing users to a porn site. (Just so you’d know, that site has nothing to do with our women, but given the way some a-holes market our women over the Internet, well, you get the drift.)

(EDIT: Just a few hours after this article was posted, I learned that the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” logo came under fire again, this time for bearing similarities with the “Polska” logo from Poland’s own tourism campaign.)

Even some of our country’s tourism pundits have a lot to say about the new slogan. Ivan Henares wrote on his tourism blog, Ivan About Town: “I can’t understand why (we) want to get rid of a brand our country has worked so hard to build and invested so much money on.” Tourist guide Carlos Celdran meanwhile said the government could have done better with “Mabuhay (Long Live the) Philippines.”

DOT Secretary Alberto Lim justified the slogan change, saying it’s no longer as catchy as before (partly because the Arroyo administration doesn’t use it much). He also says “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” can warrant a second look (for foreigners at least) since it’s in Filipino. It also reflects the Filipino’s hope and optimism to be known all over the world.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association, on the other hand, thinks “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” will still work; all we have to do is just give it some time to make it work (or sink in).

Understandably, “WOW Philippines” is old; sure it’s catchy, simple but effective, but it is admittedly old. To side a bit on this slogan, though, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. On the other hand, the new slogan DOES warrant a second look, given the symbolism that can pique the interest of anyone about the country.

The main reason for the change in branding is to give the Philippines a fresh image. And how, given the flak we got for the Quirino Grandstand Hostage Crisis, the Maguindanao Massacre, and all the problems in the country right now, which we are asking the Aquino administration to make an insta-cure for, but I digress.

I’m sure the DOT meant well when “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” was launched. It is, after all, an attempt to show the world how beautiful the Philippines is, how wonderful our tourist destinations are, and how cheerful and warm and optimistic Filipinos can be despite all their troubles. How they presented this, unfortunately, didn’t turn out as planned.

Should we go back to “WOW Philippines”? Like I said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I think it’s clear, though, that we will need to change our branding sooner or later to reflect the changing times. Should we keep “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda”? At this point, I think not.

“Think you can do better than that?” you may ask me. My answer: No. For now, at least. In any case, whatever ideas for a new slogan are being formed out there, I hope these can capture the true essesnce of the Philippines and being a Filipino.

Which leads to my own question: “What exactly do we want the Philippines to be known for?” To answer this, A LOT:


Vigan, Ilocos Sur

The Bohol Tarsier
El Nido, Palawan
Tubbataha Reefs, Sulu
Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte
Oh, and have I mentioned “FOOD”?
A few years ago “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” did an episode on Philippine cuisine. Throughout the episode (and amidst bites of sisig, salad, and lechon), Anthony repeatedly raised the question, “Who are the Filipinos?” He admits Philippine cuisine is so diverse, intensely regional even; despite this he tries to establish the relationship between Filipino identity and food, and why the Philippines is so hard to define.
Take note, this is only Filipino cuisine we’re talking about, and Tony’s racking his brains over it. (Just a side note: I think Filipino cuisine is so underrated because we have it so often at home, it already feels ordinary. Also, balut.)

This leads me back to my question: “What exactly do we want the Philippines to be known for?” What’s there for the Philippines to offer beyond lechon Cebu, sisig, medical tourism, surfing and hiking destinations, night life spots, or even the prowess of the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Charice?

I had this crazy idea that’s been on my mind since last night. It all started when I mentioned to twitmate Iya Santos (who earlier remarked that museums bore her to tears) the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum in Japan, and that we don’t have such a thing here. All she said was that somebody should make one.

Which led me thinking: Tony (and Andrew Zimmern, who chowed down on balut and frogs while in the Philippines) raved about the country’s food, so why didn’t we capitalize on that hype? I think there was this plan to make the country a food safety hub, what happened to this? How about asking our experts in Filipino cuisine for help in promoting the country? The Singing Cooks and Waiters were popular back in the early ’90s, what happened to them?

We could develop certain aspects of the Philippines and use these as a hook to arouse interest in other things about the country. We’ve done this with our natural wonders (think Palawan, Davao, the Banaue Rice Terraces), so how about other things… like food?

My point: We have Benguet as the “Salad Bowl of the Philippines”, Central Luzon as the “Rice Granary of the Philippines”, Mindanao as a potential “Food Basket” (Iloilo owns up to the “Rice Granary” and “Food Basket” title), Pampanga as the “Culinary Capital,” General Santos City as the “Tuna Capital”… This country holds so many food treasures, which I believe can put us in the world map of culinary discoveries.

For starters, we can probably have a museum just like the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum. Such a museum can promote the country’s food production sector, the various local cooking techniques staples and ingredients, the typical Filipino diet of “almusal, tanghalian, hapunan, merienda, pulutan etc.” Wishful thinking, but it could work, yes? There are definitely other, even better ways to promote Filipino cuisine, and by extension, the Philippines.

There is one setback to promoting the Philippines’ food culture: How can we promote the Philippines as a great place to dine, when three million Filipinos or 15.9% of the population experience involuntary hunger (as of September 2010)?

I guess for now we could just settle with thinking of a new slogan other than “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda.” Man, promoting the Philippines is tough!