This is our second time to go to Dubai in the last four months. The first event last December was well received, as many of our kabayans wanted to go home for the holidays, but couldn't.
This time around, we didn't know what to expect and we honestly didn't even know if we would make it to Dubai because the government had just declared ECQ and the number of COVID cases daily were insane.
My wife and I were anxious all the way until we got to our hotel in Dubai, where we quarantined for 24 hours while we waited for the results of our COVID tests.
Although I already made my menu weeks before going to Dubai, I tweaked it when I had a clearer sense of the vibe of the kitchen and the mood of the people. I also wanted to prepare something meaningful for our kabayans, who miss home so bad.
For my starters, I prepared lechon manok skewers with atchara gata sauce, sinigang crispy dilis and a tortang talong salad with grilled halloumi cheese and talangka. We served a small portion of palabok negra right before the main courses so that there would still be room for everything left in the menu.
Then there was the crispy beef tadyang with sweet soy pandan, tanglad na hipon with bagoong gata and, of course, a really hearty garlic rice because the meal is never complete without garlic rice.
To finish, we made a mango jubilee pie, an ode to the Jollibee Mango Peach Pie we all love and the mango jubilee dessert I grew up having at L'Fisher Hotel in Bacolod. I remember saving up all my allowance just to eat that Mango Jubilee. That may have been the start of my culinary journey as I know it.
I have always loved cooking with different nationalities because it's like going back to school and at the same time attending a history class.
The chefs in the kitchen were a mix of Indian, Thai, Syrian, Nepalese, Vietnamese and Filipino, and the hardest part was explaining to them what Filipino food is and how it should taste. But that was also the fun part. We struggled in the beginning and we were exhausted, but the outcome was better than I expected. When you put Filipino recipes in the hands of different nationalities, crazy and beautiful things can happen.
We ended up cooking for over 700 people in the course of eight days. Though 90 percent were Filipino, we were glad to see some foreigners who were trying Filipino food for the first time and some who had tried it before, but still didn't have a clue what it really was.
It was such an absolute pleasure telling them about our cuisine, the dishes we made and the inspirations behind them. I may have invited a few of them over to the Philippines already.
Meeting nearly 700 kabayans, my wife and I could barely remember all the names, but each and every one's stories were something that we will never forget. There were a lot of familiar faces from last December's event and there were some who went twice to this round of dinners, once in each location. There was a large Ilonggo group that showed up and it was such a nice feeling to see them there. I had such a fun time speaking in Ilonggo and talking about our childhood food memories. Nothing beats a good, old-fashioned promdi kwentuhan.
There were guests who drove as far as Abu Dhabi just to get a little taste of home. So, as a cook, it was very fulfilling to feed them and to see the smiles on their faces.
“Not only did you make us so full and happy, but you uplifted our souls,” one woman said to us. This really moved us and made us forget for a little while what was really happening in the Philippines. This made everything we did worthwhile. It is truly an absolute honor and pleasure to cook for the real heroes of our country.
Mabuhay ang pagkaing Pinoy. Maraming salamat at sa uulitin.