24 June 2016


Sinantol na Hipon and Laing at Abe
(Sin-an-TOLL nah HEEH-pon; LAH-ing)

The second friend I met for lunch this month, another fellow language learner whom we may call Choupinette (Guess what she's studying?), was very supportive about my plan to blog about Filipino restaurants while I'm doing my Philippine Literature Giveaway. She has been all over the country and is more familiar with national and regional cuisines than I am. She also loves hosting foreign friends--though I forgot to ask her what she feeds them when they are here. Perhaps she takes some of them to Abe, the urbane, upscale choice she suggested when I told her of my project.

"What do you think of sinantol?" she asked as we pored over our menus. "I really like it, but others find it too sour."

"I love sour!" I assured her, but didn't add this would be my first time trying sinantol na hipon or shrimps in grated santol (wild mangosteen) boiled in coconut milk.

Choupinette probably figured that out right after I followed that up with: "Do you like laing? Let's order laing, too!"

"Okay," she said. "But that's going to be a lot of coconut milk for one meal!"

Laing is dried gabi (taro) leaves boiled in . . . coconut milk. =P

Can you tell which is which?

Sinantol and laing even have the savouries onion, ginger, garlic, and little red chilies in common. (I haven't taught you the essential Filipino words for those yet, have I?) The other big difference between them is that sinantol is also flavoured with hipon (shrimp) and laing with tinapa (smoked mackerel). The tinapa seems to add more flavour to the laing than the shrimp does to the sinantol--or at least that was the impression I got from Abe's take on the latter dish.

Choupinette had a more nuanced critique: "I first learned to love this dish when I was doing field work in Bicol and my host mother made it all the time. But she ground the baby shrimps up along with the santol pulp. I prefer the shrimps whole, like this." And with great respect for her host mother, she pronounced Abe's version superior.

As for laing, well, I have yet to find a restaurant that can do anything wrong with laing--though I haven't had great results when I've tried to whip it up myself. ("The restaurants use meat, you know," Choupinette schooled me. "They can't get this much flavour with just the traditional ingredients." Okay, then!)

Sinantol and laing may be side dishes, but we had them as entrees with brown rice.

When we had polished everything off, Choupinette, ever the light diner, just wanted some coffee . . . and well, the Philippines does have some of the best kape in the world . . . but I thought I'd try the mysterious Sikreto ni Maria Clara or Maria Clara's Secret.

Maria Clara is a character in the Freemson Filipino classic Noli Me Tangere, by (US-government-approved) national hero Jose Rizal. She is supposed to represent the "perfect" or "ideal" Filipina woman: chaste, demure, devoutly Catholic, and of course, mestiza. And we could say she has a "secret." But I'll bet that a poll of a thousand Rizal readers (controlling for those who have already heard of this Abe concoction) would give us something a little more Spanish-Filipino fusion than what was served up to me.

Sikreto ni Maria Clara is basically suman (sticky rice cake boiled in sugar and, ahem, coconut milk =P) and sliced mango concealed (Oh, now I get it . . .) under rapidly-melting macapuno (gimp coconut) ice cream. And boy, was it weird. I would have been happier with a few scoops of still-frozen macapuno ice cream OR suman served with latik (however your region makes this coconut-derived sweetener) OR even just a chilled ripe mango. Separately, they're all winners. Together, they were a mushy mess I just didn't understand the logic or symbolism of. Oh, well.

It was still a nice lunch with a good friend. Abe at least lives up to its tagline. =) 

If you're already more fascinated by my posts on food than on this year's Marcos Pa Rin books, please consider entering the giveaway for Option #15, the mouth-watering anthology Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions, edited by Erlinda Panlilio and Felice Sta. Maria.

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Brandon said...

I like the Marcos Ra Pin posts (although the politics of another country always creates a high threshold for commenting!), but I have been enjoying these food posts quite a bit.

Enbrethiliel said...


The Marcos posts are mostly me grousing about my past. =P

Are there any Filipino restaurants where you live?

Brandon said...

You know,I hadn't really thought about it until you asked, and wouldn't have said so (I certainly hadn't seen any); but, while small, there's enough of a Filipino community here that the diocese has been doing Simbang Gabi the past few Christmases, so I started looking around a bit. There's a place called Mang Dedoy's, with very mixed reviews, and another called Little Mama's with fairly good reviews that I apparently drive past on occasion without realizing it; I might have to stop in for lunch at some point later in the summer. Just from what I can tell online they both seem to focus on the 'safe basics' -- pork adobo kinds of places.

Enbrethiliel said...


I've checked Little Mama's Facebook page and see that they have laing! And if you like coconut, the buko pandan dessert would be a nice alternative to ice cream this summer. =)

Sheila said...

I haven't been by to read in a week or two because of the utter insanity in my life right now, but it must have filtered into my dreams, because last night I dreamed I visited your family and they fed me all kinds of unfamiliar food. The whole time they were preparing it, I was wondering what it would be like (since I've had almost no Filipino food in my life) but alas, I woke up before I got a taste!

You make me want to try these dishes, but I have no idea how many hours I'd have to drive to find a Filipino restaurant. Other than Chinese (Chinese-American cuisine being as American as Tex-Mex by now), it is very hard to find ethnic restaurants in my area. :(

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm feeling flattered that I influence your dreams so often! ;-) Is there something you'd like to dream about? I'll jabber about it incessantly until you do! LOL!

Are there any Filipino families in your area? If they all go to the same church, they might also have a potluck one Sunday, and you can crash. (They won't mind! I promise!)

Anyway, when the insanity is over, be sure to send me your new address so that I can continue stalking you from afar . . . uh, I mean, so that I can send you more dried mangoes! Of course that's what I meant. =P