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
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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