Discovering Filipino Cuisine with the London Foodie

I recently had the pleasure of spending a rather gluttonous day discovering the essence of Filipino cuisine at a Cooking Club held by Luiz Hara. The concept of the cooking club is simple – Luiz selects a particular type of cuisine or foodie theme, and a bunch of blog readers descend on his beautiful home in north london to cook their selected dish, talk, eat, drink, talk, eat, drink and so on…till some hours later when we leave with a belly full of food and wine and a head full of inspiration.

Each event is co-hosted by an expert in the cuisine, in our case, Tina P, a native Filipino with a wealth of experience in Filipino culture and food. Tina prepared an extensive menu, which was emailed to us beforehand so we could each select a dish to serve on the day. Luiz does make clear that the event is indeed a cooking ‘club’, and not a ‘course’. Whilst an expert is there to offer a helping hand, you are ultimately responsible for preparing the finished dish and so some degree of culinary competence helps!

Kinilaw na Tuna – Vinegar-cured Tuna
Pork Barbecue – Grilled Skewered Pork
Lumpiang Shanghai – Fried Spring Rolls with pineapple sweet and sour sauce
Pancit Molo – Pork Dumpling Soup
Adobong Kangkong – Braised Water Spinach
Lechon Kawali – Deep Fried Pork Belly
Guinataang Sugpo – Prawns in Coconut Milk and Vinegar
Kare Kare – Ox Tail Stewed in Peanut Sauce
Chicken Adobo – Stewed Chicken in Vinegar and Soy Sauce
Turron – Crisp Banana Rolls
Leche Flan – Milk Custard
(and heaps of wine!)

I confess to knowing very little about Filipino food.  As I scanned the menu none of the dishes sounded familiar to me by name. Not wanting to be flustered by cooking on the day, I (rather naively) opted for the Oxtail Kare Kare dish which needed to be cooked in advance.  I had never even heard of the dish before and was a little nervous not knowing what to aim for in terms of taste and texture.  Several days later I discovered that Kare Kare is often the centrepiece at family feasts and special occasions, such as weddings and baptisms.  Gulp…no pressure then!

Alas, I needn’t have worried, as all the dishes turned out just great.  The menu took us through a journey of Filipino food, strongly influenced by flavours and techniques brought over by the Chinese, Malaysians and Spanish (to name but a few). Ingredients such as coconut and vinegar featured heavily on the menu, with all dishes having a more subtle flavour in comparison to the intensity and heat that often comes with neighbouring Vietnamese or Thai food.

I was glad to be one of the first to arrive as I was given the opportunity to get my fill of Luiz’ ridiculously adorable litter of Shih Tzu puppies. If my pockets had been a little larger they would have come home with me!

Once all the guests arrived, Luiz and Tina kicked off proceedings with a little introduction and explanation of the chosen menu.  We then tucked into the appetiser courses, with Tiffany’s Kinilaw na Tuna first up.

‘Kinilaw’ means to cook, or cure in vinegar. I later learnt that this method came about from the need to preserve fish or meat. The raw tuna was marinated in vinegar, coconut milk, shallots, ginger and chilli and served with crunchy slithers of red pepper and spring onion.

BBQ Pork Skewers next up, a mixture or pork belly and shoulder marinated overnight in garlic, sugar, soy, ginger, chilli and Sprite (you heard me, Sprite), skewered and then grilled till charred and yummy.

The last of the appetisers was Lumpiang Shanghai – no prizes for guessing the origins of this dish! Crispy rolls filled with pork, glass noodles and shiitake mushrooms (amongst other things), served with a sweet and sour pineapple dipping sauce.

We then migrated to the gorgeous dining room (major house envy) for the remainder of the day. Inbetween the appetisers, a few of us helped out May (of Malaysian by May) in preparing the wonton dumplings for the Pancit Molo soup – a mixture of pork, onion, garlic, soy, ginger and carrots. Always a fan of a good dumpling!

Luiz then brought forth the triple cooked, Yes, TRIPLE COOKED pork belly. I don’t need to garnish the description any more, you KNOW it tasted good.

With our appetites sufficiently wetted, the main courses ensued. Adobong Kangkong – braised spinach with red onion, soy, vinegar and sugar, was served alongside Guinataang Sugpo – prawns with coconut, ginger, garlic, vinegar and chilli. I adore spinach and have never cooked it with vinegar before, but was surprised at how tasty it was.

Cue drum roll…time for Oxtail Kare Kare. Thankfully Mae (Pepe’s Kitchen) helped me out with serving the finished dish which was served with steamed rice and the all important Bagoong, a paste made from fermented shrimp and salt. The paste really lends a savoury kick to the stew, which by contrast is subtle in flavour. The oxtail is slow cooked with onions, celery and peppercorns, before the addition of ground toasted rice, peanut butter, lime, garlic, onion, baby aubergine, long beans and pak choi.

The last main of the day was Chicken Adobo, thigh meat stewed with coconut, vinegar, soy, chilli, garlic and bay leaves, prepared by Frederico (looking very proud below!).

Adobo is widely regarded as the national Filipino dish, with the word Adobo deriving from marinade or sauce in Spanish. A very fitting way to complete a savoury Filipino banquet!

And finally onto the desserts – we had some very morish Turon, or Crisp Banana Rolls…

And beautiful Leche Flans, with a sugar syrup surface so perfect I could see my own reflection…

I had an amazing time at the Cooking Club. Got to learn heaps about Filipino food, met a really interesting bunch of people and played with puppies to my heart’s content. Not to mention eating a whole lotta food and slurping a whole lotta wine. I forgot to add, unlike a Supper Club, the event is free. You pay your way by bringing a bottle and buying the ingredients needed for your selected dish. Luiz was a most gracious and welcoming host, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday. My eyes will be peeled for future cooking club events for sure.

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