On the night members of the Iglesia ni Cristo were decanting themselves onto the main thoroughfares, we were in a steakhouse settling in to examine the menu of rare aged cuts of beef.
There was a vague sense of fiddling while Rome burned as we sat in a dimly lit room and examined the various cuts of meat in the aging cellar while a mob assembled itself a few kilometers away.
But then the nature of things in this city has become such that if we were to react to everything as though it were doomsday, we’d never leave our apartments and be stuck at home eating tinned food and rice. So despite reports of a possibly potent situation, we decided to push through with plans to meet for dinner.
We were determined to try out Smith, a “butcher and grill room,” which has been getting consistently good reviews. One would suppose the name is intended to invoke the famous Smith & Wollensky steakhouse, Peter Luger’s uptown competition, which incidentally were two names pulled out at random from a phone directory—unless it’s named after the profession, although I wouldn’t know what forging iron has to do with cooking a good steak.
The space on H.V. de la Costa Street in Salcedo Village is obviously the result of some fairly significant capital outlay, an expansive cavern full of flickering candlelight and couples out on dates. Romance, it would seem, is also impervious to the vagaries of state politics.
But our fears that the restaurant might be a trendy hangout, with almost necessarily bad and meager food, was assuaged by the presence of tables of rotund men—always a good sign in any restaurant.
Smith claims to be the first restaurant in the Philippines to serve aged meat, and there was a suitably carunculated haunch of meat in the aging room flaunting its desiccated and mold-ridden exterior. Not that others haven’t tried, but I have yet to hear of a successful attempt.
Aside from temperature and humidity and the bacteria present in the air, the other consideration is sheer scale. You can’t age small portions of beef; once you’ve cut off the rind of exposed surface area, there has to be a big enough piece left to slice. And this, in turn, is much lighter because of water loss, so it must be sold at a much higher price, usually higher than the market will pay.
The server offered us an off-the-menu kind of anthology of their popular steaks, called Around the World: five steaks from five different countries on a single obscene platter of carnality.
There was a slab of Japanese Matsusaka, an aged Irish sirloin, Australian wagyu, French Charolais beef filet mignon and US prime rib. This platter comes with a selection of eight possible side dishes, an assortment of sauces and a dollop of mustard or horseradish (no, they don’t let you keep the condiments).
The Matsusaka beef is easy to like and is in keeping with the kind of beef that has been increasingly popular in town: almost all marbling, a shot to the arteries that makes you feel your heart might stop pumping at any moment. This is the kind of meat that is not so much savored as survived.
The Irish was the one that most people had been raving about; it’s claimed to have been aged for 45 days, which is on the upper end of the aging spectrum. It was a bit of a letdown: It was more structured, which in my book is not a problem, as I’m not a great fan of steaks you can cut with a spoon; but it didn’t have the intense concentration of flavor that a very well-aged steak could provide.
The Charolais was the opposite: The filet mignon is the softest part of the tenderloin, and in the days when my parents were courting, ordering the filet mignon was going all out. I myself find it a bit too soft and too lean; but it had the best concentration of flavor, as is typical of any meat worthy of the appellation.
I do know that a cut of “boeuf de Charolles” is one of the best things one can cook with just salt and pepper, so I might be back for that.
But the runaway winner of the night was the Australian wagyu, which had just enough fat to be unctuous and melting but not so much as to overwhelm. The US prime rib would have been good in any other situation, but next to such exotic rarities it just failed to make a mark. It has been for such a long time the default steak of all meat lovers in Manila, so it simply felt too familiar.
The starters are forgettable; the dessert was execrable. The latter is a pity, because after a meal like that, one does look for something to seal the gullet and wind down the taste buds while digesting.
Neck and neck
And this is where I feel Elbert’s steak room still has an edge: The atmosphere there is intimate and encourages one to linger and ruminate, have a leisurely dessert and tea, or a cigar and Armagnac in the next room.
The large, impersonal atmosphere with raucous music and stygian lighting at Smith makes you want to hurry on. But when it comes to the quality and preparation of the meat, they are neck and neck, and I encourage people to try both and compare, though perhaps not one right after the other. It’s not good for your health or your wallet.
Though when things are as uncertain as they are in the political sphere, it might be best when all hell breaks loose to go down with a full stomach.
Smith Butcher and Grill Room, 147 H.V. de la Costa Street; tel. 0927-3759467
Everything ostrich you can find at The Ostrich Farm.
Entering the restaurant, you’ll notice a cute illustration of an ostrich hanging on the wall to your right, telling you that 100 grams of ostrich meat has 26.9 percent protein, only 2.8 percent fat, 83 milligrams cholesterol and 140 calories.
When you are seated, a waiter hands over a hardbound menu that puts all those numbers in context.
A page tells you that the protein content of the ostrich is not too far from the more conventional meats, such as pork (29.3) and chicken (28.9), but that it is so much healthier: The 2.8 percent fat is a far cry from chicken’s 7 percent, beef’s 9.3 and pork’s 9.7.
The illustration further makes the assurance: “100 percent good for you.”
“It is the healthiest kind of meat,” says Ostrich Farm executive Ginalyn Rivera Ancheta. That should be very obvious to the diner in his first few minutes at The Ostrich Farm at Blue Bay Walk, Pasay City.
Ostrich meat is an uncommon protein source, said Ancheta. This is why Kristine Lim—with newlyweds Yan Asuncion and Yeng Constantino— put up the restaurant.
The Ostrich Farm cooks ostrich meat sourced from Mindanao. The ostriches eat only organic feeds and are grown for nine months.
With a carefully curated listing of food choices, the resto offers a healthy alternative integrated into food loved by Filipinos, such as burgers, sandwiches and pasta. Ostrich meat also appears as fixing for appetizers like nacho, even salad.
Try the ostrich burgers, which are on a buy-one, take-one promo Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Rice pairs are prepared with ostrich meat: salpicao, Salisbury steak, teriyaki, adobo, tapa.
“People do not hesitate to try because the food is not high-end,” says Ancheta. “It is the usual menu with a twist.”
Another good thing about the food joint is that, while it makes known that ostrich meat is the star, it also gives you options, explains Ancheta. “If you haven’t tried ostrich meat, you can; but if you don’t want to, we have other offerings.”
This is because the rice pairs also come in beef, which is akin to the flavor of ostrich meat. The restaurant also serves chicken tocino, boneless bangus, breaded fish fillet. For appetizers, you can have cheese balls. They also offer chicken wings and tenders with bleu cheese as dip.
Flip the menu to the drinks and you’ll find floats in classic rootbeer and rootbeer caramel, aside from choco cola and strawberry. They also have shakes and hot beverages.
Try Detox Water, a mug of water with a generous amount of fruit slices and mint leaves. Their hot choco, Ancheta says, is an original recipe. Don’t miss the Desserts in a Jar.
In the coming days, the restaurant might serve up omelettes and sunny-side-ups from the gigantic ostrich eggs, and maybe in new locations, says Ancheta.
Visit theostrichfarm on Facebook, theostrichfarmbpw on Twitter; theostrichfarm8 on Instagram; www.theostrichfarmbpw. com. It is open Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
A land known for its rich heritage and culture, Iloilo City is actually so much more. People with a sweet tooth have a wide range of treats to choose from, such as their crunchy biscocho and tarts, meringues and butterscotch.
On top of these is a new food craze that is getting the sweet-toothed Ilonggos and visitors talking—the oversized, generously-topped ensaymada of Richmonde Hotel Iloilo.
Blending the perfect balance of soft bread, a layer of light butter cream, and a lavish topping of grated cheese, the classic Filipino baked goodie is an explosion of sweet, creamy flavors.
Whether plain or ube-flavored, Richmonde’s Ensaymada can be enjoyed with a hot cup of cocoa or espresso, both drinks served in the hotel’s all-day dining restaurant, The Granary.
Natalie Lim, the hotel’s general manager, said the ensaymada is the most sought-after item on the menu.
“Since we opened over a month ago, guests have been coming over, looking for it. It has become famous,” she said. “Some guests enjoy the delectable treat as merienda or dessert, and others drop by to order boxes they could bring as pasalubong.”
Because of the strong demand, supply sometimes runs out, she added.
The special ensaymadas are actually a signature item from the Richmonde Eastwood and Ortigas branches. The hotel flew in its pastry chef from Manila to share the special recipe and those of other sumptuous pastries.
Soon, the hotel will have a quaint café and nifty gourmet corner serving decadent and freshly baked pastries which are already in demand in Manila.
Richmonde Hotel Iloilo, which had a soft opening last July, is the first of its kind in Iloilo City to provide discriminating travelers with service quality and facilities that can easily rival those of deluxe brands, but at more affordable rates.
It has a contemporary design by Getty’s, but with thoughtful references to Iloilo culture. Richmonde Hotel Iloilo has a distinct vibe that ultimately reflects the cheery and affectionate character of the Ilonggos.
The hotel in the 72-hectare Iloilo Business Park (IBP) township of real estate giant Megaworld will be in close proximity to Iloilo’s exciting developments in the next few years.
“The entry of Richmonde Hotel Iloilo completes IBP as a vibrant township that follows the revolutionary live-work-play lifestyle concept of Megaworld,” says Jennifer Ann Palmares-Fong, marketing head for Iloilo Business Park, Megaworld.
“We are hopeful that IBP will soon be the benchmark of constant progress in transforming the lifestyle landscape of Iloilo.”
Aside from Richmonde Hotel Iloilo, IBP will be home to the biggest multinational corporations, high-end commercial establishments, topnotch residential condominiums, other world-class hotels, as well as a government institution and an entertainment complex.
There are four badminton groups I join at Valle Verde Country Club—MWF, TTh, Saturday and Sunday groups.
Each group talks to me about food. I must look like some sort of crispy pata, or perpetually hungry.
Our MWF group has traveled to Asia—Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and, most recently, South Korea.
My Sunday group usually celebrates someone’s birthday by treating the celebrator to a restaurant of his choice or one of our “blessed” members just treats us to some buffet of his choice. “La lang, type nya lang.”
Last Monday, we had lunch in a hotel. This took two weeks of planning. On the day of the lamon, I skipped breakfast and stretched my tummy space to maximize this feast.
Since I am always so hungry when I start, my mind tells me, “This is such a delicious spread.”
The only time I realize how good it really is or isn’t is when I leave the place. And most of the time, it is a letdown.
Between a huge spread and one with fewer items but where almost everything is a winner, I would choose the latter.
We all have our own strategy in attacking a buffet. I check out the spread twice, then plan my approach. I like to start with the salads, then move on to tiny portions of what appeals to my eyes and imagination, then finally go back and focus on those I like.
This spread we tried recently had a salad bar with cold cuts, soups, a tray of European cheeses, oysters, steamed clams and mussels, an assortment of sashimi and sushi, fresh chilled shrimps, a handful of Pinoy dishes, a few roasts, European stews, an Italian spread, assorted pastries and New Zealand ice cream.
With my cardiologist and badminton buddy, Doc Eric Pascual, seated across from me, I started with two plates of salad with blue cheese dressing, some turkey pastrami which I thought was delicious, and a couple of slices of Spanish Manchego cheese. On the side, I also had crusty farmer’s bread. Fantastic!
For my third round, I had some fresh peeled shrimps with the light red shrimp cocktail sauce. Sarap! I paused and joined the banter then went back and had the lengua which had a fantastic sauce but I felt the meat could be a bit more tender.
I got a beef Burgundy that was made very well with the authentic taste of red wine sauce. The lamb minted stew was also outstanding. The chunks of lamb were sticky-tender and the aroma of the meat and richness of the sauce made me want to go back.
The barbecue ribs were very good but a bit dry, possibly left over from the night before. I still loved it. The striploin roast with baked potato on the side and gravy also looked very good but, like I said, my cardiologist was right across from me. I’ll return for that.
I had a cheese platter of Emmental, blue cheese and my favorite Manchego after the meal.
For dessert, I had a pecan pie and a slice of bittersweet chocolate cake with two scoops of creamy New Zealand ice cream, salted caramel and chocolate Oreo. The salted caramel is to die for.
I know I will be going back because, as soon as I took my first bite, I was on my cell calling my other buffet partners, my two boys Franco and Arturo. Both athletes, they also love to eat and eat a lot. They took after their mother.
You can use that as an indicator of how good the food is. If your loved ones come to mind when you’re eating, that’s a sign you’re enjoying the meal. I still dream about this buffet.
My plan was not to eat too much since I wanted to play badminton a few hours after. Of course, I was a miserable failure at that attempt.
Today, this has become one of my two favorite buffet spreads. Not too much but quality is outstanding. Check it out!
Spectrum is at Fairmont Hotel in Makati; tel. 7951888.
Visit the author’s blog sandydaza.blogspot.com and follow on Twitter @sandydaza
My son Diego, his friends and I spent the long weekend indulging ourselves in all sorts of cookie creations at Cookie Bar. Each of us had our way of enjoying the rather fascinating creations of Ivorie Acosta, Cookie Bar’s owner and baker.
I had two favorites; not only were they tasteful, they also could be enjoyed in many ways.
The Cookie Shot Glass is a chocolate chip cookie that is shaped like a shot glass. The inside of the cookie glass is lined with a thick coating of chocolate.
Since it’s been kept refrigerated, I let my glass thaw a bit before adding a hefty scoop of coffee ice cream. The bittersweet flavors worked wonders for me.
Diego was so amused by the Cookie Shot Glass that he first filled it with milk and, after gulping it down, had cookies and cream ice cream scooped into it.
The cookie glass is so versatile and so much fun that you can use it as espresso cup (imagine that delicious chocolate melting as you sip your espresso) or to serve your liquor in, particularly Kahlua or Bailey’s.
This cookie, according to Ivorie, is a tribute to its creator, New York-based chef Dominique Ansel.
I love raw cookie dough. I like it more than baked cookie, so much so that I look forward to baking to get my fix. Though raw cookie dough is not exactly suitable for eating, I find it simply too tempting.
Acosta’s cookie dough can be had as is. The mixture was made edible by eliminating eggs and using milk to bind the rest of the ingredients. To make sure the cookie dough is safe to eat, the flour is heated.
Cookie Bar’s Cookie Dough can be had raw, cut into chunks, and mixed into a vanilla ice cream base or added to milkshake.
For lovers of nonraw dough, the mixture can be baked in the oven. Simply make a ball and flatten the dough to your desired size. Or, you can also press it on to a pie pan or cast iron skillet, and bake it for 8-15 minutes in preheated (350 degrees Fahrenheit) oven. The length of time it is baked depends on the doneness you prefer.
Cookie Dough Tubs come in Chocolate Chip, Dark Chocolate, and a combination of white and dark chocolate chip.
Diego’s friends enjoyed the Stuffies—stuffed chocolate chip cookies.
I believe that this cookie was primarily created to delight children.
The centers of the doughy chocolate chip cookies were generously stuffed with Nutella, Oreo, Marshmallow Cream, Reese’s, Timtam and brownies.
It’s too decadent for me, but the kids absolutely love it. These cookies with milk make a perfect play-date snack.
Cookie Bar was inspired by Ivorie’s favorite shop in New York—Levain Bakery, famous for its cookies with a crisp exterior and soft, chewy interior.
Acosta was determined to replicate these cookies. However, she recalled, “Even after numerous tries and tons of ingredients used, my test results were not on par with the cookies in New York.”
She went back to New York and took a two-week course at the Institute of Culinary Education to hone her baking skills and understand the science behind it.
It was quite by surprise that Ivorie developed one of her more popular products, the cookie cup.
In one of her trials, she decided to use cupcake tins to stop the cookies from blending. She succeeded in doing that, and the cookies turned out moist and chewy as well, just as she had been hoping.
With newfound confidence brought about by the success of her cookie cup, Ivorie expanded her product line and has since won over a loyal band of cookie lovers.
Acosta shares her favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. This does not require a mixer!
All you need are a mixing bowl, spatula and measuring cups.
Easy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 stick butter (melted)
¾ cup light-brown sugar
¾ c white sugar
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ¼ c all-purpose flour
1 c semisweet chocolate chips or any add-ons you like (M&M’S, chopped Reese’s, nuts, etc.)
Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla in a bowl using spatula until well combined. Add salt and baking soda, and mix until these dissolve into the mixture.
Add flour one cup at a time, mixing by hand, just until the flour has been incorporated. Do not overmix.
Fold in chocolate chips.
Cover dough and chill in the refrigerator for one hour.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare baking sheet by lining it with nonstick baking paper.
Scoop 1/8 cup of dough. Shape it into a ball and flatten on baking sheet, about ¼ inch thick.
Arrange cookies in a pan, keeping them 2 inches apart.
Bake cookies for 7-8 minutes.
Cookies have to look a bit raw in the middle when you take them out of the oven. They will continue to cook when you take them out. Do not overbake, or your cookies will be dry and hard.
Take the cookies out of the pan once cool, and enjoy. Store in airtight container at room temperature.
Best consumed within three days.
For details, call Cookie Bar at 09175551228.
This column was inspired by Nora Ephron’s “The Story of My Life in 3,500 Words or Less.” It’s the story of my cooking life in 800 words or less, and will hopefully answer the husbands of my classmates, who have asked if Micky cooks.
My grandmother who was known for her cooking didn’t want children in her kitchen until they were old enough to help make mayonnaise from scratch or to stir the pasty heavy jaleang ube (purple yam jam) as it simmered.
It didn’t matter that I was only four years old and had to still build the muscles for the task. I was an extra hand.
My sisters and a brother grew up knowing our station in life. Either you cooked or you washed the dishes. I belonged to the latter group and, to this day, I am happiest when I’m before the kitchen sink.
I also belonged to the taste-test group with my younger siblings and, every summer, my weight would balloon, which I would lose anyway come school time because my baon was always inedible.
I dared to make my sister Tin’s brownies during a cooking party at my boss Marilyn’s place. When one of the pieces fell and landed on a crack in the tiles, it created an urban myth that Micky’s brownies were so hard they cracked floor tiles.
My mother didn’t worry that I didn’t know enough about cooking when I got married. She just gave me Nora Daza’s “Let’s Cook with Nora.”
I thought I’d get by like Mama who was an architect and didn’t have time to cook every day. She had a cook, after all, just as I had all these years.
My husband’s family, however, may have been alarmed because my mother-in-law and her sisters came to the house and taught me the basic Waray dishes my husband loved.
That was when I learned how to make humba, those sinful blocks of pork with jiggly fat cut in squares and which the longer you keep, the better the taste.
They taught me the family’s version of binagoongang baboy, where the secret is the clavo de comer (cloves) added to the mix of shrimp paste.
Then the fish cooked as escabeche, fried fish simmered in very sour vinegar colored with dilaw or turmeric.
My sister-in-law, much later in her kitchen in Tacloban, showed just how to do hinatukang manok, chicken cooked in coconut milk.
The moral of the story, however, is if you teach me, I will teach the cook.
The greatest cooking lesson, but really noncooking, was when my husband’s uncle and cousins came for a drinking session and taught me how to do various kinilaw (ceviche). The variety surprised me, each one done a different way, depending on the fish or crustacean.
In Leyte, kinilaw is usually done by the men because this is sumsuman or food that accompanies their tuba drinking.
During the town fiesta, I would always steal a few bites before the dishes were brought to the men who gathered in another place to tell the same stories and sing the same songs.
My forays into the kitchen may have been limited. But there was a time I decided to try my hand at baking, and every day I made different kinds of cookies and brownies. That was stopped immediately when I noticed how my eldest boy, Federico, was getting bigger.
Yet I did try to upgrade my cooking skills by going to classes. Chinese lessons were done with Cecile Chua Chiaco whose recipe of noodles with kutsay flowers I still do to great success (at least to my boys). She was bewildered that I was inept at making dumplings. To this day, wrapping food is my Waterloo.
Early on in my writing career, I just had to go to the Thai Cooking School at The Oriental in Bangkok after having read about it in a food article. Chef Sansern was a good teacher, and funny. I can still quote his many missives, but my friends would rather I cook what I learned.
My excuse has always been: I study cooking to learn about technique.
My work has brought me to many parts of the country and the world, getting to know cooks, chefs, artisans, nutritionists, anthropologists, historians and writers, and adding to my knowledge of cooking techniques and ingredients.
Most of my work has given my palate a multitude of taste memories.
And so to answer my classmates’ husbands, a very good food writer (and cook), MFK Fisher, wrote that it may be better that a food writer doesn’t cook because if her cooking is not good enough, people may say that she has no right to write about food.
But can I cook? I do a mean crab cooked in ginger sauce, Nora Daza’s party pork and beans is a family favorite, and my roast turkey costars at the Christmas table with the lechon.
My greatest achievement is inspiring my son, Horacio, to cook. He does an even meaner pata tim, sukiyaki, pansit pusit and shrimp gumbo.
E-mail the author, firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW YORK — Don DeLillo is receiving an honorary National Book Award for lifetime achievement.
The author of “White Noise,” ”Underworld” and other celebrated novels will receive his medal on Nov. 18 at the 66th annual awards ceremony in New York City, the National Book Foundation told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan will introduce DeLillo, who won the fiction award in 1985 for “White Noise.”
DeLillo, 78, is also known for the novels “Underworld,” ”Libra” and “Mao II.” TVJ
AsiaPOP Comicon Manila 2015 (APCC Manila), Asia’s biggest pop culture gathering slated on September 17 to 20 at the World Trade Center in Pasay City, just got hotter with another Hollywood superstar.
Adding to the headliners of the mega event is American actor and model Colton Haynes, best known for his role as Jackson Whittemore in MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and as Roy Harper/Arsenal in the TV series “Arrow.” Most recently, he starred alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the action-packed film, “San Andreas.”
No stranger to the world of television werewolves, Colton also starred as Brett Crezski, the town’s football star and resident werewolf on ABC’s 2010 series “The Gates.” In his young acting career, Haynes was able to garner several notable television roles. He has appeared as one of the stars of Showtime’s controversial miniseries “Look,” in addition to guest starring roles on “Privileged,” “Pushing Daisies,” and “Melrose Place.” He has also been the face for campaigns by fashion brand, Diesel. Haynes currently resides in Los Angeles.
APCC Manila tickets are now on sale at https://asiapopcomicon.com/manila/tickets/book-tickets. Prices are pegged at PhP500 (one-day pass), PhP800 (two-day pass), and PhP 1,000 (three-day pass) and will give the ticketholder access to stage activities, performances and the main show floor. In addition, there will be exclusive VIP and Experience convention passes that will offer special entitlements to its holders, such as 3-day priority entry to APCC, exclusive APCC merchandise, priority VIP seating, and photo opportunities with celebrities, among others.
For more info on ticket prices, passes, and event updates on APCC Manila 2015, please visit www.asiapopcomicon.com/manila, like APCC Manila on Facebook (www.facebook.com/apccmanila), and follow on Twitter @AsiaPOPComicon.
There was no music when the 2015 Ramon Magsaysay awardee and celebrated dance scholar obliged on Friday with a short demonstration of what has become her life’s work: the Pangalay, Sulu’s once endangered dance that was saved from extinction through her efforts.
Amilbangsa needed no beat, no rhythmic count nor the clanking of the kulintang that usually accompanied a Pangalay performance. To give life to this intangible treasure, she had to listen only to the cadence of her breath.
Slowly, she dipped and rose, her hands stretched out as her fingers flicked inward and out. She turned and bent forward at an angle, her regal form sculpted by four decades of study, documentation and practice.
“(Pangalay) follows the internal rhythm, the music within the dancer, not the extraneous music,” Amilbangsa told the Inquirer in an interview. “I follow my internal rhythm, that is, (my) breath.”
She added: “You count by your knees. One deep breath, one dip. When the dancer flexes the knees, that’s the exhale. You cannot do anything abruptly. It’s a complete integration of the body and the breath.”
Amilbangsa was introduced to the Pangalay in 1969 when she saw a group of dancers performing it during a visit in Jolo, Sulu province. She has never looked back since.
The Marikina lass married Datu Punjungan Amilbangsa and moved to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi province, in 1973, where she made the preservation of Pangalay her lifelong crusade.
Her passion for the Pangalay, which translates to “gift offering” or “temple dance” in Sanskrit, couldn’t have come at a better time. The slow dance provided breathing space in the midst of the secessionist conflict that wracked Mindanao in the 1970s.
“[The message of the Pangalay is] peace,” Amilbangsa said. “(The) No. 1 (message) is serenity. It’s very slow. While the traditional musical accompaniment for it is very fast, the dance (itself) is very slow. Those untrained in such rhythms find it difficult to adjust initially because they have not yet internalized its slow rhythm.”
Indeed, the Pangalay dance, known to be centuries old and predates the Spanish conquest of the Philippines, is in many ways a reflection of the reality of the Sulu peoples.
For one, its slow movements, similar to the gentle flowing moves of tai chi or even yoga, provide a stark contrast to the Pangalay’s upbeat music, seemingly speaking of how locals have had to live their lives: finding serenity amidst the noise of conflict.
“The (Pangalay) was a unifying force at the time of martial law, a chance for dancers to come together. When we had performances, I would talk to the CO (commanding officer in the area),” Amilbangsa recalled of her dance troupe’s adventures in the ’70s.
“And I brought (the dancers) to Manila,” she added. “We would hitch a ride in the C-130 (military plane). And before our performances, we had the teeth of our dancers fixed. We made sure they were well-nourished so that they looked good onstage,” she said, smiling at the recollection.
Performing outside their communities also gave the Sulu dancers a chance to project “a favorable” image of their tribes, (to show) “that they are not backward.”
As Amilbangsa put it, Pangalay’s rich vocabulary of around 40 poses and gestures showed the sophistication of Sulu culture.
“A dance is many things, like a microcosm of culture. You look at the dance of a people and you can tell right away the level of their culture. If it’s backward, then the dance is just stomp, stomp,” she said.
“But in the Pangalay, the poses are very dignified. And the sophistication of the musical instruments, the costumes that are embroidered—they are so beautiful,” she added.
Movement of water
The dance also mimics the movement of water, the environment of communities where the Pangalay thrives. In Amilbangsa’s words, the Sulu archipelago “looks like stepping stones” toward neighboring Sabah.
“The (Sulu) people build their homes near the water. So even their dancing is like the flow and ebb of the tide. There are no vigorous movements, or else you fall. You cannot do vigorous movements on a lepa (house boat),” Amilbangsa said.
Her devotion to the dance led the Ramon Magsaysay Awards judges to recognize Amilbangsa for “her single-minded crusade in preserving the endangered artistic heritage of southern Philippines, and (for) creatively propagating a dance form that celebrates and deepens the sense of shared cultural identity among Asians.”
“All awards are big as awards go, but some are more important than others. This is an important award. They say it might open new doors for me, maybe as a cultural warrior. I hope so. (But) even if I didn’t get this award, I think I’d still (continue) with my work,” Amilbangsa said.
Apart from documenting the Pangalay’s history in books and ensuring its preservation through instructional guides, this culture scholar added her own innovation to the dance when she introduced the use of masks in performances in 1993.
While the traditional dance required dancers to have blank expressions and convey their message through their bodies, Amilbangsa added “instant characterization” through the use of masks.
“If I need to look flirtatious, I will just change the mask. Or if when there’s no male dancer in the group and there is a male character in the dance, I use a male mask. Sometimes we use double or even triple masks,” she said, recalling the first time she used masks to represent three characters in a performance in South Korea.
To continue propagating the dance, Amilbangsa is currently working with three groups—in Tawi-Tawi, in Iligan City and in Marikina.
In the Marikina dance school, Amilbangsa’s dancers are non-Muslims enticed to learn the Mindanao dance.
“That’s the nice thing about it. This is a dance in (Muslim) Mindanao, but those who would like to learn it are Christians. And (that’s) good. It bridges the gap where there should be no gap at all,” she said.
Amilbangsa said the Pangalay should not be called a Muslim dance, which assigns it to a particular religion. Instead, it should be described by its geographical origin, which is the Philippine south.
Calling the Pangalay the closest Philippine dance to a classical form, Amilbangsa hoped her latest accolade would generate greater interest and spur support for the preservation of the dance.
“I want it to become a national symbol. Because of its antiquity, there’s no other dance we can compare to it,” she said.
“I (did) not expect anything, but now, with the award, I hope there will be more performance venues, more invitations for the group to perform, and for artists and performers to get something out of what they are doing because they are so dedicated,” Amilbangsa said.
The energetic and untiring Amilbangsa has several projects in the offing: a revision of her Pangalay book and new instructional materials for the dance set for next year, and her memoirs “maybe in two to three years’ time.”
“(The memoirs) are finished, but I probably have to rechapter,” said Amilbangsa, who still uses her trusty typewriter to write manuscripts.
Without so much fanfare, the Philippines this year has been hosting thousands of delegates to the series of Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meetings held in various parts of the country, from Boracay, Iloilo, Cebu, to Tagaytay and Makati. And we have been doing it with aplomb, creativity and taste—not a show-off of opulence.
The meetings will culminate in November when the heads of state of member nations fly to Manila for the 2015 Apec Leaders’ Summit. The last time the country hosted the Apec heads of state was in 1996.
Beginning Sept. 4, Cebu rolls out the hospitality carpet for the Apec delegates. What Cebu has in store should be something to look forward to.
What we have seen so far has been very impressive. It’s been a commendable effort that does the country proud and leaves us—a regular eyewitness to the activities and the setting—impressed with how the organizers have been marshaling Filipino resources and materials ingeniously, tastefully—and always, with a twist or surprising innovation that projects what is uniquely Filipino.
They prove that we can project ourselves on the global stage without resorting to extravagance. Nothing over the top. Indeed, all this has been in keeping with the style of this current administration—not opulent, but a tasteful, dignified projection to the world.
The Apec creative team led by former Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president Nes Jardin has been working under the Office of the President, the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, Tourism and Finance, Transportation and Communications, Energy, Agriculture, and Neda, CHED—indeed almost all the departments, the local governments and the Apec Business Council representing the private sector.
It’s a dynamic collaboration of government and private entities, and the creative team has been tapping the country’s leading artists, directors, performers—the creative industry led by the CCP under artistic director Chris Millado.
That the Apec exercise hasn’t been monopolized by a single culture faction, unlike in the past, is an encouraging sign of how this administration has been trying to level the playing field, not only in business and industry, but also in other sectors.
As these photos show, the Apec event held in Boracay last May was nothing short of spectacular. Like the other Apec shows held in the country, it had the “wow factor.”
The Apec culminating show was held on the stage designed by sculptor Leeroy New—a tantalizing art installation evoking the giant shapes of corals and sea creatures. It rose on the beachfront of Shangri-La Boracay, set against the setting sun and the “paraw” sailing behind. In the remaining light, it cut a stark silhouette against the puffy clouds. At nightfall, it became a kaleidoscope of light on which top entertainers like Bituin Escalante performed.
Apec in Boracay also showcased the sculptures of young artist Olivia D’Aboville—sea anemone and dandelion sculptures strategically placed on the garden.
Garden lights on the ground were fashioned out of reused plastic cups.
Even the meeting rooms at Shangri-La Boracay carried the sun-and-sand theme.
The center of the U-shaped seating was a carpet of sand littered with shells, twigs and arrangements of local orchids. The delegates did serious work in this vacation setting—in the confines of the conference room.
While previous and future country hosts of Apec may have the limitless logistics to produce grandeur, in the case of the Philippines, it is the Filipino design and creative talent that produces the wow factor on the global stage—progressive, dynamic, young talent. And that is working on a limited budget.