An Evening in the Philippines
Last night we had the good fortune to be invited to dinner by Estela, a friend of ours who is Filipina. There was a Filipino restaurant we used to eat at occasionally in Utah, but it’s been a long time since we had real Filipino food. Estela is an amazing cook, and she prepared several classic Filipino dishes for us. We started out with two kinds of lumpia, or egg rolls. The first ones were “fresh” (i.e. unfried) lumpia, which are like a very thin, light crepe wrapped around julienne carrots, palm hearts, and curly lettuce.
Fresh lumpia usually have peanuts in them, but Estela’s were peanut-free, so my enjoyment of them was multiplied by all the peanut-laced lumpia that I had drooled over in the Philippines and been unable to eat. They were even better than I’d ever imagined, especially with the accompanying garlic/chicken broth sauce.
Possibly even yummier were the fried lumpia with tangy sweet/sour sauce.
I had to try several of both kinds in an effort to make up my mind as to which lumpia I preferred. In the end, I was unsuccessful at choosing between them, but I enjoyed the trial immensely.
Estela had also, of course, cooked quantities of that delightful, fluffy rice–every grain separate and perfect–that is extraordinarily difficult to reproduce for the uninitiated (i.e. me). No meal in the Philippines (even breakfast) is complete without rice. In fact, they have this funny word, ulam, that means “what you eat with rice.” Supposedly, the corresponding English term is “viand,” a word I’d vaguely associated with meat (in a Norman, Robin Hoodish sort of way), but certainly never uttered myself before my introduction to Filipino cuisine. If you look up viand, you’ll find it defined unhelpfully as “an article of food,” sometimes with the appellation “of a choice or delicate kind.” We just haven’t got the ulam concept in English.
In this case, the ulam was adobo, chicken braised in a savory sauce, which is a sort of national dish in the Philippines. Just like with the rest of the meal, Estela’s version was delicious.
To round it all out, Estela created a dramatic pancit, silky translucent rice noodles with vegetables and meat. So yummy.
Dessert was “sticky rice,” which is made out of exactly what it sounds like, but turns out to look something like cake. The rice is mashed into a pulp and mixed with sugar and coconut milk, and then baked (I think). Estela’s had a bonus of actual strips of buko (green coconut), like the kind they put in your buko juice (green coconut water) when you buy it off the street in the Philippines. I couldn’t find a picture, so you’ll have to imagine it.
Even more distressing, I didn’t get a picture of Tony singing Karaoke afterward. Karaoke is a sort of national pastime in the Philippines. It is ubiquitous and indulged in by young and old alike. Tony crooning schmaltzy love songs in Tagalog (to the rapturous delight of Estela and her Filipina friend), was one of the sweetest things I’ve seen in a long time.
We’re all a little homesick for the Philippines today!