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Western Visayan Cuisine Stars At The Manila Hotel Buffet

Batchoy ice cream? Lobster salad? Ilonggo heritage food advocate Rafael Jardeleza puts the spotlight on Visayan delicacies!

How enlightened of The Manila Hotel to feature regional cooking as part of their monthly buffet spread at Café Ilang-Ilang. For August the featured  cuisine comes from the region of Western Visayas, consisting of six provinces: Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental. The region's center is Iloilo City where the featured chef, Rafael ‘Tibong' Jardeleza, resides and works.


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Jardeleza is the indefatigable premier promoter of the cooking of his region. He has restaurants there. He is the organizer of Tabu-an, the Western Visayas Cooking Competitions where contestants have to cook the region's heritage dishes in the traditional way it is done whether using firewood as fuel, employing bamboo as cooking vessels, but always with ingredients that will have to be from the place.


Those of us lucky enough to have been invited to Iloilo by Jardeleza to sample the authentic recipes by him and other specialists were excited to be able to taste those once more, albeit done in the high-tech kitchen of The Manila Hotel. Some of the ingredients were not available in Manila and had to be flown in. And, in contrast to the local homey settings in Iloilo, here was a chance to showcase local Visayan dishes with the upscale presentation befitting the elegant location. Tibong Jardeleza is an old hand at presenting his native cuisine in elegant, high-end settings in Iloilo, where he has been known to serve formal dinners at the Nelly Garden, which is located in across the historic Mansion de Lopez.




Eschewing the usual big plates normally used in most buffets, Jardeleza serves his food on small dishes that will accommodate one dish at a time—a great idea, so sauces won’t intermingle with another dish and interfere with the flavors. Besides, standing up to get still another plate to sample the other dishes can be good exercise!


Most of us zoomed in to the dishes rarely available here or aren't cooked here. The diwal (angel wings) from Capiz was boiled until just done and flavored with calamansi butter and garlic sauce. The binabak from Antique is pounded river shrimps with coconut then wrapped in leaves, traditionally with tagikhik (Phyrinium sp) also known as hagikhik in other provinces. Capiz again was represented by the pusó sa tuba or wrapped rice cooked in coconut wine. The barbecued chicken with skewers made of tanglad (lemongrass) stalks was inspired by what one can order at Fort San Pedro in Iloilo where one can enjoy the afternoon breeze and wave to departing boat passengers. Those were just some specialties of the place but then again, all West Visayas provinces do share food traditions.


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Diwal and puso | Chuck Janolino

And then there was food in fiesta mode. A whole roasted pig was bathed in Cerveza Negra, an idea borrowed, according to Chef Tibong, from a recipe of Margarita Forés’s whose family is from Negros Occidental. Lobster salad and roasted duck had chopped Guimaras mangoes. The others were straight out of the book Flavors of Iloilo (Iloilo Publishing, 2022) authored by Jardeleza which features his family's callos (braised beef tripe), lengua estofado (stewed ox tongue), and the paella negra con chipirones (black paella with squid).


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Callos and lengua estofado from the chef's family recipes | Chuck Janolino

Before the event, Jardeleza called to say that he had a problem with the bingka Ilonggo, rice cake with strands of coconut. In Iloilo, these are cooked and sold on sidewalks, small in size. When he tried to do it here, he said the bingka didn't come out the way it is supposed to because of the oven. In Iloilo, vendors use makeshift ovens over charcoal that look like small cabinets with drawers. Still, the bingka cooked in the modern kitchen, he said, was good, but not the same.


Desserts (Panam-is) are always something to look forward to when traveling to Iloilo. How wonderful that we had a taste again of Maridel Padilla Uygongco's Mango Buttercream Cake, just one of her creations at her Iloilo dessert shop, Maridel's and which is also featured in Flavors of Iloilo


While dulce gatas is always presented in jars, for the food fest, that was formed into balls placed on top of Chinese soup spoons, making it easier to handle and taste.


But Jardeleza also presented one of his dessert creations and you can almost hear him snicker with every bite. It is caramelized rice cake (suman sa ibus) garnished with ube halaya (purple yam jam), sliced ripe mangoes and pieces of langka (jackfruit) preserves, doused with a vanilla sauce and which he playfully named Yves ni Tibs.


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Desserts: dulce gatas and the Yves ni Tibs | Chuck Janolino

That playful atmosphere best describes what diners must feel after sampling the best of Western Visayas cuisine—a taste of home for those who are from there, a remembrance of good eating for those of us lucky enough to be invited to the region, a delicious invitation to those who tasted Western Visayas cuisine for the first time.


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The Flavors of Western Visayas at The Manila Hotel's Café Ilang-Ilang is available until August 30, 2023 | Contact: 02 8527 011 or 5301 5500 | email: restaurantrsvn@themanilahotel.com |FB: @themanilahotel | IG: @themanilahotel |Website: www.manila-hotel.com.ph | One Rizal Park, Ermita, Manila.