When you decide to send two Filipinos from the I Ate My Way Through team to a Filipino buffet, you can certainly expect that there would be high expectations for this event. Just like many other cultures, food has always been an integral part of celebrations within Filipino culture, and Philippine Food Week was no exception.
Every year Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney transforms Café Mix into a Filipino dining experience for the Philippine Food Week Festival. Top Chefs Darel Pajarito, Edgar Santiago and Ireneo De Mesa from Makati Shangri-La, Manila were flown into Sydney to ensure that nobody misses out on an authentic, mouthwatering menu. This week-long festival, running 2nd – 10th of October, successfully showcases the best of the best dishes of the Philippines. With plenty of dishes on offer, these are a few of our personal favourites:
Pork and Chicken Inasal
Originally a common street food, Inasal is basically meat grilled over hot coal. You’re hit with the strong BBQ aroma first, and as you take a bite of these meats, you’ll be able to taste vinegar undertones, calamansi and other spices such as ginger, garlic and onion. Each ingredient was highlighted and used to develop the distinct flavour of this dish, and the char grilling added depth and smokiness to the meat itself.
Traditionally, Sisig is made from cheaper and unused parts of a pig such as the head and liver, and served with iced cold beer. Shangri-La’s version opted for diced pork belly instead, which was quickly stir-fried with a marinade blend of chilli, peppers, sour vinegar, calamansi juice and soy sauce, to suit the Western palate. This was complemented well by the crispness of green bell peppers, and green onion, to create a rich bouquet of aromatic flavours.
It looks like your average roast beef dish, but don’t be fooled. In true ‘Filipino style’, it all depends on the marinade and the spreading of garlic and salty flavours, while at the same time maintaining the natural juices to give you that intense meaty taste.
It’s only fitting to include Lechón (crispy pork belly) on the menu for a special occasion like the Philippine Food Week Festival. Although the Lechón was presented in slices, Lechón is prepared by placing a whole pig over charcoal, turning it on all sides for several hours until done. Usually this whole cooked pig is then placed on the table to serve. This dish was definitely a standout from the array of dishes on offer. With its salty crispy shards of pork crackling, alternating layers of fat and succulent meat, it truly gives a rich, juicy textual experience. Dip this into Lechón sauce to heighten the flavour.
A Filipino event can never go without Pancit Palabok. This stir-fried seafood and noodle dish is a seamless layering of flavours, having been made up of palabok noodles, prawns, minced pork, hard-boiled eggs, smoked fish flakes, and crushed chicharon (pork crackling), chopped green onions, and a squeeze of calamansi on top. The sauce brought an intense seafood taste from the prawns and dried fish condiments; whilst the noodles used were different to what we’re use to, having a chewy texture with a firmer bite. The Palabok used a small amount of chicharon as a topping, but personally the more chicharon the better the dish gets!
Growing up, we’re sure every Filipino would joke and tell their friends that this dish was ‘chocolate meat’. This dish may not look very appetising, but as the saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! Commonly referred to as Pork Blood Stew and almost similar to British Black Pudding, the complexity in flavour is what makes this dish memorable. The first thing you’re hit with is a strong aroma of spices, and the intensity in both taste and smell is carried throughout the dish through the use of strong ingredients like chilli peppers and sour vinegar, which compliments the richness of the sauce and tenderness of the pork.
Turon would have to be one of our favourite Filipino desserts. Encased in a spring roll wrapper, this caramelised banana spring roll is made up of bananas, jackfruit, and brown sugar, rolled together and fried. The brown sugar creates a toffee basting, adding just enough sweetness. Saba or cardaba bananas were used as per tradition, but if you’re a sweet tooth, using normal bananas and lots of brown sugar is the way to go. Unfortunately the Turon had cooled down by the time we arrived, and it’s definitely better served and eaten straight after cooking.
Brazo de Mercedes
Another one of our favourite Filipino desserts, Brazo de Mercedes is a type of rolled cake made from soft meringue with custard filling. Aside from making your own, it is very hard to find a good quality Brazo de Mercedes in Sydney nowadays. This version far exceeded our expectations, and our taste buds were happily impressed. The light and fluffy, sponge-like texture of the meringue melts in your mouth, where the subtle flavour of the meringue balances out the richness from the custard filling. Modern elements however were added to this dish, with passion fruit and lychee pearls making an appearance.
Aside from Brazo de Mercedes and Turon, Sans Rival is another favourite. This dessert cake takes you on a textual journey with each alternating later. You start off with the crispness of the meringue, followed by the crunch and subtle saltiness of the crunched cashews, which is then balanced out with the sweetness and creaminess of the butter cream.
Literally meaning ‘mixed together’; Halo Halo is a popular mixed-fruit dessert in the Philippines offering both a textual and flavourful experience. One of the best things about making this dessert is having the freedom to customise your own creation to suit your taste and of course, your cravings. Halo Halo is made up of shaved ice, evaporated milk, and your choice from an array of toppings including jelly, fruits, sweet beans, leche flam, ube (purple yam) and ice cream, to be then all mixed together. All these ingredients have different textures (crunchy, smooth, crisp and creamy), making each bite more exciting than the last.
Overall, our experience at the Philippine Food Week Festival was a success. The event highlighted what our culture has to offer, from the food itself to bringing people together – and if we’ve enjoyed devouring this cuisine for 20+ years, you’re bound to enjoy it too 😉
The Philippine Food Week buffet is available at Café Mix at the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney, from the 2nd to the 10th of October 2015. Lunch is available at $55 per person from 12pm to 2:30pm. Dinner is available for $75 per person from 6pm to 10:30pm. Bookings are essential, and you can make reservations online or through the phone (02) 9250 6000. Be quick, this feast ends Saturday 10th October!
Shangri-La Hotel Sydney
176 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9250 6000
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Shangri-La Hotel Sydney