Mindanao has long been known as the food basket of the Philippines, and its bountiful boodle fight highlights island cuisine at its best. Davao and General Santos are known for their fishing industries, while Sarangani is known for bangus (milkfish) farming. Overall, coconut is used in many dishes.
This spread, a collaboration between chef Gigi Ang Kaw, and home cook and writer Marie Pascual — both of whom work in the test kitchen of leading milkfish exporter Sarangani Bay — highlights the unique flavor profile of the region. “The food in Mindanao, especially in Lanao del Sur, is very spicy,” says Marie. “The combination of shallots, sili (chili) and turmeric is often used. It’s a very distinct way of flavoring the food that is unique to the region.” Another notable aspect is the absence of pork, which is only fitting for a region with a large Muslim population.
The elements of a Mindanaoan boodle
Inihaw na pusit
Fresh pusit or squid is stuffed with lemongrass, then grilled to enhance the flavors.
The kinilaw (fish cooked in acid) in General Santos stands out from the kinilaw of other regions because of the use of fresh coconut cream. “It cuts the acidity of the dressing, and gives this spicy dish that’s punctuated with a lot of sili and pungent spices a slightly creamy feel,” says Marie.
Bangus is farmed in Sarangani Bay, and as the bay is clean and leads to the open sea, the fish is particularly plump and healthy. Gigi’s recipe calls for brushing the bangus in coconut cream before baking it.
Curacha, shrimp and alimango
The best way to enjoy fresh seafood is to have it steamed or grilled. Soy sauce, sili and calamansi are served on the side.
“Sate (grilled beef skewers) is usually associated with Indonesia,” says Marie. “And you can tell there are cross-cultural references because of the presence of curry and peanuts.” But the difference is that the sate in Mindanao is sweet. Also, instead of the sauce being brushed on to the beef, it’s served as a dip.”
The chicken sate of Mindanao includes a flavor base of shallots, sili and turmeric. What’s interesting is that aside from just using coconut cream, grated coconut is included in this recipe.
Davao is known for its tuna panga or jaw, but the best cut will always be the belly. “Tuna is usually grilled,” says Marie. “The belly is served during special occasions, or if the person you are serving it to is special.”
“Typically, on any Filipino table, there needs to be the prerequisite sabaw or soup,” says Marie. In a region blessed with seafood, tinola (a ginger and onion-based soup) is prepared with clams.
This story first appeared in the October 2017 issue of Smile magazine.