25 November 2010

Regional Delicacies


The College of International Hospitality and Tourism Management has this delightful habit of organizing these colorful little events; and I always get invited. Whenever I can, I make it a point to cross the road at the very least for a look-see.

Today, they had this affair held in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the school’s tertiary education department. There were simple ceremonies held at the lobby of the laboratory hotel early in the morning to kick off the event. I had a meeting, so I was unable to attend the ceremonies.


Immediately after my meeting, I crossed over to see what the big to-do was all about. My first stop was the Culinary Arts laboratory kitchen where the student chefs were busy preparing orders for lunch. Somebody handed me a small paper bag and said that would cost me a mere 25 pesos.

In fairness, two small packets of singaling already cost – at the cafeteria whenever I crave for junk food – 20 Pesos. So, I asked for two more paper bags to take back to the two girls at the office.

Inside each bag was an especially-made ham sandwich by the Culinary Arts students: toasted bread, a thin slice of brown ham and thinner slices of cucumber. A bit bland perhaps – but then again, as a light and healthy snack, it was perfect!

The sandwich also came with this strange-tasting drink the name of which I unfortunately forgot to ask. It tasted a little bit of coffee with a little bit of milk – and naturally I was immediately wary of having a loperamide moment, lactose intolerant that I can unpredictably be at times. I am still reserving judgment for the drink as certain tastes are acquired.

A Culinary Arts student helped me bring the sandwiches and drinks to the office. Afterwards, I returned to the hotel lobby where the Tourism students, seeing that I was – at the moment – the only visitor to the food exhibition, immediately gathered around the table, welcomed me cordially and began reciting scripted descriptions of the regional delicacies on display atop the long table.

It was fascinating! One of the costume-clad ladies would point to a plate and begin reciting her script; as soon as she finished, somebody else would point to another plate on the table and then recite hers. I felt like a pinball being tossed all over the place; but since the lovely ladies were all polite and eager to please, I actually also had a lot of fun.

I was also taking pictures with my camera-phone, only half paying attention to what was being said all the time I was there. What I am trying to say is that there was so much information being given that I ended up remembering very little. I asked for documentation, thinking as I was that I would describe each delicacy in tonight’s story. I do not think they were expecting a blogger to come a-visiting; and so hence you are reading this version instead.

The girls were so much fun to be with. I caught one of them by surprise when I asked where Region 7, the delicacy of which she was confidently describing, might possibly be. The girl started looking at the others and the others started looking at everyone else.

Honest, I was not being cute! My undergraduate major was East Asian Studies and I taught mostly European History. I have a vague idea of where each region might be; but hey, I was not the Tourism student of the moment and had every right to ask to be enlightened.

Dean Joy, assignment for these students next week: memorize the regions of these beautiful islands of ours!

The girls were all good sports, though; and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my brief stay at the exhibition. I suppose if this was a food blog, I would be obligated to describe each of the plates the girls dutifully described for me.

Unfortunately, of the lot, only a few plates significantly registered in my mind for posterity and for different reasons at that. First, there was the tilapia plate which transformed a totally plebian fish into a work of Art. The fish was meticulously carved and plated to look almost like the petals of a flower. I was so impressed with it that I forgot to take a picture. Tsk! Senior moment…

Second, there was the humble okoy which was plated with green garnish on top along with a red bell pepper carved to look like a flower. An okoy is an okoy is an okoy… But the way it was presented gave it the prestige of a 5-star restaurant…

Finally, there was the adobong balut. Surprised you, didn’t this? And Anthony Bourdain thought the balut eaten off its shell was already strange… I honestly never thought you could make adobo out of balut until this morning. Swear…

I am sure this delicacy falls under the category pampabatâ. The presentation was elegant; but being Pinoy, I knew there were a couple of ducks in there that never saw the light of day and would never try the dish unless it was served to me in the dark.

There is just one more thing that I feel is worth a mention. The students themselves directed my attention to this food carving set atop a small table next to the long one that held all the regional delicacies. Amazing! Simply amazing!

Where I come from, food was always something you placed inside your mouth, chewed and swallowed. Suddenly, I was face-to-face with a different dimension to food – that as a work of art, and by no means in a culinary sense. A whole squash was carved to look like rose blossoms; and weren’t those carrots carved to look like fish?

For a moment, I thought about doing a Mike Myers by crying out, “I’m not worthy…!!!”

If I may offer the whole exhibition exercise a bit of criticism, though… Not including the balut, the octopus tentacles (which I do not eat) and anything on the table that was raw, how do I know the delicacies on that long table tasted half as good as they looked? Ahem…



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