By Mary Ann Quioc Tayag – Honestly, if I had stepped into the function room without knowing that chef Myrna Segismundo had catered the event, I would surely have said it was not Filipino food but an international buffet or, more specifically, a limited English buffet. Having lived in Hong Kong and worked as a flight attendant, I have seen many buffets and tried countless cuisines. There was also no sign of palayoks, bamboos or the colorful fiesta buntings that usually go with a Filipino-themed promotion; instead there were lots of stainless steel and modern vases by glass artist Bobby Castillo. I went closer and looked at the dishes.
The first dish from the right was a carving of beef belly. Hmm, roast beef without its au jus and Yorkshire pudding? But unlike the usual English roast beef carving, this smelled so good that it was impossible to resist unless you were a Hindu. It turned out to be roast beef adobo marinated overnight, pepper-crusted and then slow-roasted for four hours, basted with its soy and vinegar marinade. Its appetizingly delicious smell permeated the room. Next to it was a roast chicken, ever present in every buffet, but this one was rubbed with tamarind powder and then roasted. It is a cross between our favorite Southern Tagalog sinampalukang manok and lechon manok. Then, a huge casserole that looked like a pastry- encrusted steak and kidney pie appeared as one lifted the lid of the chafing dish. It turned out to be our traditional estofadong baboy but nicely covered with crisp pastry. It was sweetened with panocha and flavored with whole garlic bulbs and saging na saba (plantain bananas). To many, it was the most delicious surprise that day and it elicited conversation. Is estofado meant to be dry and stringy like this one, a sweet pork adobo or a sweet paksiw?
Being a rice person and one not fond of sweet dishes, I preferred the bagoong paella, which was topped with pork and salted eggs. There was also a seafood kare-kare served with sautéed chopped hibi (dried shrimps) on the side instead of the usual bagoong alamang. It was saucy and could pass for Indian seafood curry. Among the appetizers, the chef’s take on tokwa’t baboy was a medallion of chilled silken tofu topped with chopped boiled pork ears. Her dulong (pygmy goby) a la Spanish angulas, or baby eels steeped in olive oil and garlic, was a delight. The soup served was elegantly presented, called Bulalo Royale. Each guest had bone marrow topped with leek and corn custard. Thank God! I had room for the dessert, the chef’s famous queso de bola cheesecake. It looks like Edam cheese but harder and better. The cheesecake was moist, rich and super-delicious. If she told me there were pastillas inside, I would believe her.