Little known dishes north and south of the Philippines

Filipino food champion Angelo Comsti partners up with Singapore food explorer Bryan Koh on a four hands dinner menu for the 10th edition of Amorita Resort’s culinary project Bohol Eats

VALENCIANA KYUNING Bacolod's Arroz Valenciana with a touch of kiyuning, a rice dish prized among the Maranaos of Lanao del Norte

There’s no denying it—eating in the Philippines is becoming more and more an experience, not just sustenance or enjoyment, but also an exploration, an excursion, an expression, even education.

Enter Filipino food champion Angelo Comsti and Bryan Koh, a Singaporean food explorer whose curiosities are centered on the diversities and complexities of the food culture in Southeast Asia.

When these two cooks agreed to partner up for the 10th edition of Amorita Resort’s passion project BEats (Bohol Eats), the theme readily presented itself. Before long, they were lining up dishes, unfamiliar even to them, from distant regions in Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao and testing availability—or even replaceability—of ingredients.

'LOWAL' Tawi-Tawi’s seafood kinilaw in spiced gata

Aside from culinary skills and a palate open to all possibilities of taste, Angelo and Bryan are equipped with a storyteller’s flair and so their adventures on the street, on the table, in the kitchen, and wherever food can be experienced intimately go not only to their stomachs but also on record. Between them, there are at least nine books and counting.

Angelo’s works, from From Our Table to Yours: A Collection of Family Heirloom Recipes to Also Filipino: 75 Regional Dishes I Never Had Growing Up,, his latest, which is shortlisted for this year’s National Book Awards for non-literary books, are a palate opener, inviting the reader to be more open to the diversity of flavors, aromas, textures, and narratives of food available, as culled from family memories and culinary legacies, in the Philippines.

ON THE CLIFF The four hands dinner was held at Saffron, Amorita's signature restaurant

Bryan’s, on the other hand, are a Southeast Asian cultural immersion. Aside from Kain Na: An Illustrated Guide to Philippine Food, which he co-wrote with Filipino food historian Felice Sta. Maria, he also wrote Milkier Pigs & Violet Gold: Philippine Food Stories. His other books are Bekwoh: Stories & Recipes from Peninsula Malaysia’s East Coast and Tamu: A Guest at the Bornean Table.

Unfazed, Angelo and Bryan put on their hardworking aprons, focusing on dishes from outlying regions north and south of the Philippines that, aside from pleasing the palate, would educate the mind.

Their turn at BEats, being the 10th since Amorita launched it as a pivot during the pandemic to provide Bohol’s food producers, farmers, and fishermen more opportunities to showcase their produce, was special, if only because they were preceded by heavyweights in Philippine cooking like Florabel Co Yatco, Josh Boutwood, Margarita Fores, and Jordy Navarra.

NORTH AND SOUTH Ilocos Norte's inkalti, turned into a drink with pandan arnibal, sweet potato, saba, and sago and the Tausug darar, crêpe filled with sweetened coconut meat

Unfazed, Angelo and Bryan put on their hardworking aprons, focusing on dishes from outlying regions north and south of the Philippines that, aside from pleasing the palate, would educate the mind.

First served at the four hands edition of BEats at Amorita’s signature restaurant Saffron was “lowal,” Bryan’s take on Tawi-Tawi’s lawal, seafood kinilaw, featuring conch and squid, in spiced gata. Next was arroz Valenciana from Bacolod, far from little known, but Angelo gave it a touch of kiyuning or turmeric rice cooked in coconut milk, a rice dish prized among the Maranaos of Lanao del Norte.

For the mains, Bryan’s “tamalos” or tamales from Samar, pork humba with peanuts wrapped in banana leaf, was served, immediately followed by Angelo’s tiyula itum from Sulu, ribs braised in lemongrass-burnt coco broth with mashed squash.

A north-and-south mashup wrapped up the meal—Angelo’s inkalti, a molasses-based dessert from Ilocos Norte, which he turned into a drink, replete with pandan arnibal, sweet potato, saba, and sago the size of boba, and Bryan’s daral or darar, a Tausug crêpe filled with sweetened coconut meat.

To Angelo and Bryan, food is the medium as well as the message, the object of conquest as well as the path toward it. Besides food and cooking, they share many things in common, such as travel and breaking through the barrier of time to give meat to their experiences and discoveries.

KITCHEN MASTERS The chefs behind the 10th Amorita BEats, Bryan Koh and Angelo Comsti

Bryan grew up with two Filipino yayas, Evelyn and Lydia, in Singapore. “Because of them, I grew up eating sinigang, adobo, pinakbet,” he said, adding that such dishes became as much a staple in their family meals as Singaporean curries. “They were the flavors of my childhood.” No wonder, in his early adulthood, Bryan would find himself traveling from north to south of the Philippines trying to discover more of the food that shaped his sense of taste, the result of which was his 2014 book Milkier Pigs & Violet Gold.

Angelo, too, has vivid recollections of food in his childhood, such as his father’s special adobo with fermented soybean and mashed chicken liver. The impact of such memorable food experiences has turned him not only to cooking but also to championing other cooks or chefs, or even restaurants, eateries, carinderias, street stalls, and other food establishments, or particular dishes or delicacies therein, as long as they have something new or unique or special to bring to the Filipino table.

PRE-DINNER COCKTAILS Kata Agmata, Lyba Godio, Tessa Villalon, Leeds Trompeta, Greg Villalon, the author, Pam Pastor, and Pepper Teehankee

Bryan and Angelo, and more and more of today’s cooks and chefs, are crafting experiences on the table that surely, especially with establishments like Amorita Resort in Bohol providing them with the platform to broaden their reach, are doing to this generation of eaters what the Filipino yayas Evelyn and Lydia and Angelo’s father had done to their young wards.

The future looks bright—and yummy!

Kudos to Amorita Resort—Lyba Godio, COO; Leeds Trompeta, general manager; Greg Villalon, corporate chef, and Kata Agmata, marketing head. Amorita Resort partnered with Cebu Pacific and Don Papa Rum for this four hands dinner with Angelo Comsti and Bryan Koh on the 10th edition of BEats.