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Filipino food to enhance your holiday meals

By SHARWIN TEE, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 29, 2022 5:00 am

It’s that time of the year again, but to be perfectly honest, people can find the Filipino Christmas season to be a little stressful.

From figuring out what to bring to a potluck party, to planning an impressive New Year meal, to entertaining balikbayan friends and family, there are many things to figure out. My foodie holiday list is designed to make those tasks just a little bit easier.

Meals to remember 

It wouldn’t be New Year without friends or family coming home to celebrate the holidays. Normally, that would mean an automatic trip to some classic Filipino restaurants, but if your returning friend or relative is a gourmand looking for unique dining experiences, perhaps you can book a table at these places.

Alegria Manila, located in Uptown Parade in BGC, has a 16-course tasting menu (reservations needed) and it is just the dining experience travelers look for. Chef Charles and his team have created a menu full of innovative dishes that perfectly marry Latin American and Filipino flavors. Each of the 16 courses comes artfully plated, and what makes the experience fun for me is that a lot of the dishes can be eaten with your hands.

Alegria MNL features Latin-Filipino fusion, like this Empanada Birria Taco.

The highlights for me were the Inihaw na Talaba, fresh oysters lightly grilled and doused with a leche de tigre made with Yakult, and the Ilocos Empanada Birria, a playful combination of both the empanada and birria taco experiences. My ultimate favorite, though, is the Squid Silog— squid ink rice, squid, egg yolk and bonito flakes. This was a bowl of pure comfort, rich, deep in umami and seafood flavor. While each dish may seem small taken individually, having all 16 courses will have you leaving the restaurant full, satisfied and most importantly, happy.

For older relatives and friends looking for nostalgia but also long for creativity, Lore is the perfect place. Chef Tatung’s new place, located in One Bonifacio High Street, allows him the room to create a menu that is somehow innovative but somehow familiar.

You may choose to have the six- or eight-course menu, but I must insist you get the 10-course “Tapestry” menu to truly experience the story he wants to tell. A proudly Filipino menu, each dish features cooking techniques or dishes that are not seen too often on the Filipino table, yet have been integral parts of our history.

Lore features modern Filipino with nostalgic flavors like this Adlai Bringhe with foie gras, ham and clam foam.

Highlights of the menu include Pato con Salsa Tsokolate, duck breast and leg meat served with a salsa infused with chocolate tablea, and the Bringhe, coconut-infused adlai with jamon de Bulacan, and clam foam.

My personal favorite would have to be Moros y Kristiano, slow-braised beef short ribs topped with two sauces: one a more familiar coconut sauce and the other a coconut sauce blackened with a Tausug-inspired palapa itum or burnt coconut condiment. The ribs were absolutely tender and the two sauces could not look and taste more different, and yet somehow are harmonious.

I think it is in this dish’s name and flavors where Tatung tells a truly wonderful story. Each of the 10 courses are a little bit larger than a normal tasting menu, so you will definitely leave feeling satisfied and just a bit more learned about our local cuisine.

Party powerhouses 

Whether you have to contribute to a potluck or prepare a new year meal, it’s key to bring something impressive but also something that everyone can enjoy. Here are just some of my suggestions to make you the hero of the party.

If beef is called for, why not the Angus Lechon Baka from Mang Cesar?

Instead of buying ham, which, lets face it, is something one of your friends will probably gift you, buy a portion of two of some lovely lechon baka from Mang Cesar. It’s Angus beef, marinated in lemongrass, garlic and spices and lovingly grilled over a charcoal fire. Dipped in vinegar or eaten plain, it is delicious. The beef is tender, not too fatty and the marinade really gets in there. This could easily be the main event on your New Year table.

The Lehon Belly from Lechoneria is as good as it gets: Crispy skin, flavorful and tender meat.

If pork is truly the name of the game, and you don’t have a particularly large family, a pork belly lechon is the best option. Speaking of best options, the Lechon Belly from Lechoneria is wonderfully cooked, with the skin sexily thin and crispy and the meat juicy and flavorful. Super-charge it by asking the resto to fry the lechon with garlic and labuyo. What results is pure magic. The meat becomes even more flavorful with just the right amount of spiciness and the skin remains crisp!

Holiday meals won’t be complete without some sweet treats. There is nothing wrong with ice cream, of course, but why not go for gusto? Sebastian’s ice creams, already excellent in themselves, can now be enjoyed as ice cream cakes and crinkle cookie sandwiches. If that sounds mind-blowing to you, I assure you they are.

The ice cream cakes are made with several wonderful layers and amazingly you taste each of those layers. Enhance the holiday feeling by getting the Puto Bumbong ice cream cake! Meanwhile, I never knew that crinkle cookies, my favorite, could still be enhanced, but put premium ice cream in between two of them? Sugar heaven.

Sebastian's Ice Cream also enhances the crinkle cookie experience by adding their ice cream.
Sebastian's ice cream cakes are experiences in themselves, with Filipino holiday classics like Puto Bumbong, Sapin Sapin, Ensaymada and Leche Flan.

Help the helper 

The New Year has always been about love, no question about it. As a person whose love language is to cook for people, it is understandable to want to cook for your friends and family. It is, however, also understandable to not have the time or the opportunity to cook everything for everyone. If you can, take the help. Whether it’s making restaurant reservations or ordering for delivery, they are smart choices that will lift a tremendous load off your shoulders.