MANILA, Philippines - Filipino cuisine is getting a much-needed makeover.
At least, that's how it should be for veteran chef Gene Gonzalez and the Alta Cocina Filipina, a movement for contemporary Filipino cuisine which he co-founded in the 1980s.
"This movement started in the 80s when nothing could be imported into the Philippines and we had to make do with our local products. Now I think it's high time that we try to rediscover the techniques of Philippine cuisine, and bring the recipes and methods to international acceptance, try to develop more recipes and not stagnate, not to have your usual crispy pata, sisig, kare-kare, and to try to discover what still lies beyond these recipes," he said.
Crispy pata (deep fried pork leg), sizzling sisig (chopped parts of a pig's head fried and served on a sizzling platter) and kare-kare (ox tail stew in a peanut-based sauce) are only some of the Philippines' well-known dishes.
Gonzalez said these, among others, should be made more dynamic so we can keep up with the cuisines of other countries.
"We have all these islands. We have all these products. We should discover all these that our neighbors are using now that we have all the infrastructure for communication, for transportation and food preservation," he said.
He continued, "We should try to rediscover all these Filipino products together and come up with a true national cuisine."
Today, Alta Cocina Filipina is developing books and recipes that aim to encourage Filipinos to "cook more and along a Filipino line of thought."
"It all starts from a simple boiling, a simple gisa (saute), a simple sangkutsa (precook then saute heavily), and then you go into the more complex and elegant types of Filipino food. But the more important thing is to spark interest to cook a dish or 2 at home," Gonzalez said.
He added, "It's not that different. It's just that we want to get the easiest things first so the urbanite can say, 'Hey, I can do this now. It's high time for me to make a more complex kare-kare, which takes more time.'"
A modern touch
On top of Alta Cocina Filipina's efforts, Gonzalez said he is also working on a book on modern Filipino cuisine.
As an introduction, he showed Mornings@ANC's Tastebuds segment his own interpretation of a fish dish he had in Davao -- pakprit (short for paksiw na prito or fried fish stewed in vinegar).
"It's deep-fried tanigue (Spanish mackerel) tail with paksiw sauce. It's not usually served in Cafe Ysabel but we can serve it if they request for it," he shared. Gonzalez is the proprietor of Cafe Ysabel, a restaurant that has been a veritable fixture for food aficionados in Greenhills, San Juan.
Gonzalez began by deep-frying the tanigue tail which has been scored, seasoned and generously coated with cornstarch. The fish is topped with a paksiw sauce prepared with 3 types of ginger -- regular, luyang dilaw (ginger root) and langkawas (galangal or blue ginger).
"With a crispy coating and the paksiw sauce, this fish dish is delectable, bearing a lot of Filipino flavors: sweet, sour and a hint of spice," he said.