Dining on Quiapo’s history

DARING and tropical flair was at a fever pitch in Manila in the years before the Second World War. Once the most glamorous city in the region because of its multiple colonial influences and prosperity, it all had to end when the city was decimated in 1945 during the Battle of Manila.

A dinner by the Mama Sita Foundation and a class from the Cultural Heritage Studies Program of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the Ateneo de Manila University (helmed by anthropologist and historian Fernando Zialcita, PhD) honored this glamorous legacy by presenting a four-course dinner with recipes from some of Quiapo’s more prominent families. The dinner was organized by students Joshua Ephraim Imperio, Earl Joy Lopina, Yuan Gabriel Reyes, Maria Victoria Tenido, and Simone Andrea Yatco; with the dinner and details curated by food writer and book designer Ige Ramos.

Last year, the same program highlighted meals from Quiapo’s more recent past: the lumpiang sariwa (fresh spring rolls) and hams of the stalls that populate the district’s sidewalks. This year, it brought meals from some of the mansions that once graced the area. These dishes, meanwhile, were prepared from heirloom recipes by celebrity chef and Gourmand World Cookbook Awards-winner Myke “Tatung” Sarthou, at his new restaurant, Lore.

The dinner was inspired by a diary entry of Peping Bautista, a young man who went abroad with his parents, encountering European-style dining.

The courses were divided in the style of the Italians: for example, an antipasto was the Araneta Jewel Salad, borrowed from a recipe provided by Patricia Araneta. “The Jewel Salad features gelatin with pineapple slices and shredded cucumbers, blanketed with mayonnaise and decorated with olives. Though the dish is usually eaten with ham, it is also served as a complement to many other main dishes. The charming dish owes its looks to a special mold made with copper,” said Mr. Ramos on a Facebook status, identical to notes read during the dinner on Nov. 5., with references from Christine Crisol’s “A Halo-Halo Menu,” from the book Quiapo: Heart of Manila.

In a previous BusinessWorld story (“Of canned goods and vegetable peels: cooking during World War II,” https://www.bworldonline.com/editors-picks/2020/12/03/331823/of-canned-goods-and-vegetable-peels-cooking-during-world-war-ii/), another food historian and author, Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, noted the novelties present in Filipino cuisine during the pre-war period, due to Home Economics classes brought in by the Americans, as well as access to goods (including modern kitchen appliances) from Europe and the United States.

A Primo Piatto (First Plate) was a Fettucine with Liver Paté, with a recipe borrowed from the Nakpil Family. The recipe contains an anecdote of Gregoria de Jesus-Nakpil (the widow of hero Andres Bonifacio married into the family in 1898, after Bonifacio’s execution in 1897). “Gregoria de Jesus-Nakpil loved to observe guest chefs who were hired for special occasions, and it is said that her nose was so fine that by smelling a dish, she could tell what ingredients made up the recipe,” said Mr. Ramos. The noodles had been cooked in chicken stock and baked with grated queso de bola (Edam cheese), cream, and chicken liver pâté infused with brandy, as well as a slathering of tomato paste.

A more modern palate cleanser, a Green Mango Sorbet with Chili and Bagoong Sugar by Sebastian’s Ice Cream, came between the courses, inspired by the vendors in Quiapo.

The Secondo Piatto (Second Plate) was a pre-war style Lengua, with ox tongue “bathed” in gin then cooked in a gravy of olives, mushrooms, onions, and red wine. Finally, the meal ended with a dessert of Champorado (chocolate rice porridge) topped with pinipig (popped rice) and dried fish bits, inspired by the markets of Quiapo, and made with an heirloom rice from the Cordilleras called Balatinaw.

“What you have experienced here tonight is the ‘burgis’ (the Filipino corruption of the word “bourgeois”) version of Quiapo,” Mr. Ramos said during the end of the dinner. “I think burgis history is underserved,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “Burgis is such a dirty word for some, parang nawawala (like it’s being lost). The burgis have always been quiet.

“We really need to build a middle class in this country.”

While Quiapo now may be identified with Quiapo church and the surrounding vendors of potions and prayers, Mr. Zialcita was quick to remind that Quiapo had been cosmopolitan at one point in time. “Quiapo has many faces. One face is restaurants and shop food. The other face, is of course the families,” he said. “Quiapo is multi-faceted.”

It was also announced during the dinner that the Mama Sita Foundation (itself with an advocacy for culinary heritage preservation) has extended its deadline to Dec. 31 for the submission of entries to the Mga Kwentong Pagkain food writing competition. Participants can win up to ₱20,000 in prizes. For more details, visit https://tinyurl.com/MKP2022Form. — Joseph L. Garcia