By Nikki Magbanua from the Bacolod City Government Center and Julius D Mariveles
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – It was no black tie event. Almost everyone was in Filipiniana attire – barongs Tagalog for the men and ternos for the women, almost an echo of the sartorial savvy in the inaugural of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr at the National Museum of the Fine Arts.
As new Mayor Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez gave his inaugural speech that lasted close to an hour, and as he focused on a global vision to, among others, make the city “green, digital and smart, the buffet tables were groaning with Filipino dishes that trace their roots to places around the country.
Soup was chicken binakol, a dish that some culinary experts say is rooted in the Visayas region, a seemingly apt dish for Benitez who founded the Visayan bloc of legislators when he was serving in Congress.
Binakol is similar to chicken tinola, a broth of native or Bisaya chicken cooked with aromatics like onions, garlic and ginger with fresh green papaya and malunggay or chili leaves.
In binakol, it is cooked in fresh, young coconut water, sometimes (depending on the cook) with the coconut meat included.
Salad included another Visayan ingredient and prized delicacy, sun-dried danggit, rabbit fish commonly found in the waters of another Visayas island, Cebu.
The golden brown danggit flakes were strewn on lettuce leaves splashed with lemon juice for acid.
Pasta, an Italian dish, got a Filipino twist with its sauce: tinapa or sardines, a fish abundant in the Visayas Sea.
The sauce was made with dried sardines cooked Spanish style that were then mixed with salted duck eggs, crushed chicharon or pork cracklings, and grated Parmesan cheese.
The mains were pork, poultry and fish.
Roasted chicken was cooked with local spices, lemongrass or tanglad and batuan, a fruit widely used, some say almost exclusively in the Visayas, as a souring ingredient.
The fish were seared cream dory fillets with a soy-ginger sauce topped with minced ginger and scallions.
And then there was the kare-kare. This dish, once served to royalty, is reportedly one of the favorites of President Marcos Jr.
The name, localized by the Kapampangans, one of the six major ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines, comes from curry that means sauce in other Asian countries.
Friday’s curry was the usual pork shanks (pata in Hiligaynon) in peanut sauce with boiled vegetables served with bagoong or fermented shrimp paste that cuts through the rich sweetness of the sauce.
The meat with skin on was fork tender.
Desserts were buko lychee salad, young coconut meat with lychee-flavored gelatin squares in cream, carrot cake and buko pandan.