Eating like Magellan and Pigafetta in precolonial Philippines

Chef Don Patrick Baldosano of Linamnam dreams up what we served to the travel-weary, starving Europeans in 1521


LIKE HOMONHON A special hut of palm and banana leaves set up in the al fresco area for the the first half of the dinner reimagining the arrival of Magellan's expedition on Philippine shores

I’ve said before in a social media post that 22-year-old Don Patrick Baldosano, more than a chef, is a cultural explorer.

His restaurant Linamnam, set up in the backyard of his family home in Parañaque, is tucked away like the Spice Islands on the map toward which the Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan, with his diarist, the Italian scholar Antonio Pigafetta, and a crew of at least 268 men, set sail on a historic voyage in 1519. What Don serves at this restaurant, whose waiting list is infamously long, is a tasting menu of up to 11 courses exploring the possibilities of Philippine cuisine.

I met Don on a trip to Iloilo that, like Magellan’s expedition, was as much about food (spices, you know, in Magellan’s case, not to mention logistics and the horror of feeding hundreds of men on the high seas) as it was about anything else. I was obsessing over the details of the first circumnavigation of the world (1519-1522), having just pored over a couple of translations of Pigafetta’s breathless notes as well as the food historian Felice Sta. Maria’s book Pigafetta’s Philippine Picnic, published by the National Historical Commission to commemorate the quincentennial of this historic arrival.

I took note of how interested Don was in the details of my obsession, but I didn’t know until he told me a couple of days later that he was dreaming up a recreation of what the Spaniards ate after their armada of five ships traversed a then unknown passage now called the Strait of Magellan between the Atlantic and the Pacific in late 1520 and came upon the Philippine islands just a few months later.

Dig if you must on your own because, based on Pigafetta’s accounts, the voyage was rife with challenges worthy of adventure fiction, replete with giants, apparitions of St. Anselme or St. Elmo’s fire, mutinies, scurvy and starvation, and diets of seals, sharks, shoelaces, and the entrails of dead humans.

In this expedition of ours at Linamnam, Don interpreted Pigafetta’s jottings into courses approximating the Europeans’ first taste of our food, cooking, and way of life after the Spanish expedition crossed the Strait of Magellan to an ocean so calm it was called the Pacific where, passing through Guam, just as the men on the ships were so desperate for food they were chewing on the leather parts of their gear, they sailed into Philippine waters.

ON THE COVER Chef Don Patrick Baldosano whipped up a seven-course dinner at Linamnam using only ingredients he imagined would be available in the Philippines in 1521, long before the Spanish Galleon and foreign invasions brought in things from across the Pacific. Cover photo and design by Jules Vivas

So here’s what might have happened at least in the way Don imagined what it had been like based on Pigafetta’s notes, as he, Magellan, and the last of their crew went from island to island, discovering a wonderland Spain would later christen the Philippines.

They presented some fish and vessel of palm wine, and figs more than a foot long, and other smaller and of better savour…

Ten days after an encounter with thieves on the Marianas, the three surviving vessels of Magellan’s armada came upon a high land named Samar, though Pigafetta spelled it Zamal. Starving to death after almost a year at sea with diminished supplies, they anchored on an island next to Samar, the then uninhabited Homonhon, where they set up tents to revive themselves. A boat of nine men, “ornately adorned,” soon sailed toward them and happily welcomed them with what Don came up with for starters—a banana blossom-adorned banana-and-rice chip topped with the flesh of banana heart cooked in coconut oil and served with saba kinilaw, overripe and marinated in tuba, coco vinegar, and ginger.

CORAZÓN DE PLÁTANO Overripe saba kinilaw style, first marinated in coco vinegar and ginger, and strips of the flesh of puso ng saging on top of rice-and-banana cracker. All were served with a banana blossom, which Pigafetta described as 'figs more than a foot long'

Three china dishes with leaves full of rice, and two dorados

Pigafetta also wrote of the coconut, spelled in most translations as cocoanut, and how our forebears ate it: “Under that shell there is a white, marrowy substance one finger in thickness, which they eat fresh with meat and fish as we do bread…” This was the inspiration behind what Don served next—dry-aged dorado on grilled coconut meat, which came with a sliced raw tanigue that had been aged for seven days and seared over embers, served with matured coconut and marinated in tuba. He instructed us to eat it like a taco.

PESCADO Y COCO A duo of sashimi-style fish dishes incorporating coconut meat

A dish of pig’s flesh and wine

In his notes, Pigafetta wrote, “I ate meat on holy Friday, for I could not help myself,” and neither could we, writers Angelo Comsti and Jules Vivas and myself, at Linamnam when Don brought out the belly of a suckling pig cooked in banana leaf over embers, which he served with pork broth and wilted sweet potato leaf.

We ate with such ceremonies and with other signs of friendship. I ate meat on holy Friday, for I could not help myself. —Antonio Pigafetta, March 29, 1521

Large china dishes full of rice, and the other of pig’s flesh with its broth and sauce

PRECIOSO CERDO DE SABOR Clockwise from left: Don grating Guimaras salt called duldul over the pork; the pork tinowa; and roasted baby pork

Next on the menu was the leg of a pig cooked in a clay pot tinowa-style with ginger, lemongrass, and three-day-old vinegar, langgaw in Bisaya, along with suckling pig slowly roasted over coffee wood. To accompany these dishes, Don brought out bowls of rice cooked in banana leaf, which we were encouraged to season with duldul, a solid brick of salt from Guimaras that is made by pouring seawater over driftwood ashes and, once strained, mixed with coconut milk and left to cool and harden.

Dish of fish roasted in pieces, and ginger gathered in that moment. And some wine

DORADO MEDIO ASADO Half-roasted, dry-aged mahi-mahi served with a condiment of pounded fresh ginger with libas
PESCADO NADANDO EN JUGOS Fish in its own juice or fish tinowa

“…so much drinking and eating,” wrote Pigafetta, so Don made sure our wine cups were full, dish after dish, including the next course of dry-aged maya-maya or snapper slightly grilled over charcoal so that it was almost raw to reference the Italian chronicler’s observation that some of the meats with which they were plied were half-cooked. Finished with a dressing of latik or toasted coconut milk curd and coconut vinegar, it came with a paste of fresh ginger and libas, sometimes called forest mango or common hog plum and popularly used as a souring agent, its fruit and leaves often turned into jams, jellies, and juices.

Two dishes were brought, one with fish in its sauce and the other of rice.

The finale of Don’s parade of savory dishes, tinowa of maya-maya, revisited what Pigafetta described as the “platter of roast fish cut in pieces” they partook of on a bamboo mat when Raja Calambú, one of the “kings” he referred to in his accounts, invited him and a drunk companion to share a meal with his eldest son. Don’s fish was poached in a strong fish bone broth, then served with pako or fiddleheads.

LINAMNAM EXPLORATION Don, Angelo Comsti, Jules Vivas, the author, and Gino Martin Palma, in a toast with their cups of tuba or coconut wine midway through the dinner

Mines of gold, which they find in pieces as big as a walnut or an egg.

“For dessert, I wanted to showcase something that was prized during that era—sugar and spice,” explained Don, as he wrapped up the seven-course meal with a praline of pili nuts with a confit of coconut topped with gold leaf and cinnamon ice cream, also topped with gold leaf and drenched with white chocolate.

Also invited to this dinner were the food historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria and national artist for literature F. Sionil Jose. Alas, the ongoing pandemic prevented both from joining us.

NUGGETS OF GOLD Praline of pili nuts with a confit of coconut topped with gold leaf and cinnamon ice cream, also topped with gold leaf and drenched with white chocolate

But I was happy enough that this young chef, Don Patrick Baldosano, only 22, was bold enough to embark on an expedition through our murky history. To keep our history alive and relevant, we must discover it, imagine it, explore it, experience it, even taste it.

Open from Wednesday to Sunday, Linamnam Private Dining is at 31 Greenvale 2, Marcelo Green Village, Parañaque City. Reservation required. 0917-573-0246 \ Instagram: @Linamnam_Mnl