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I’VE noticed that in these recent years, the Philippine food scene has been energetically transforming itself into such an exciting and richly diverse smorgasbord of cuisines and food styles! Not just in Metro Manila, but even out in the provinces. Nowadays one could pick and sample a myriad of culinary choices, from the basic and beloved Filipino dishes to popular regional dishes as well as international fare from Japanese-Peruvian fusion to Yugoslavian homecooked meals.

So I decided to list down 10 dishes which absolutely amused my bouche in 2015. It was tough to choose, but I narrowed it down to 10 dishes that I enjoyed so much, I would love to have them again and again. And here are the first 5 (not necessarily in the order of taste preference):

Suman Espesyal Combi by Aling Aging from AGING’S FOOD DELIGHTS.  No, it is not pronounced as age-ing but as a-GING, accent on the second syllable. Suman (glutinous rice cake cooked in sweetened coconut milk) may seem so run-of-the-mill Pinoy but this one is really special. The way the suman is cooked here is perfect. The texture is evenly soft and moist — no need for added sugar — sticky without being gluey or gummy. Much like the sticky rice cakes of Thailand. And the level of sweetness is just right. But what makes it brilliant is the filling of well-made halayang ube AND leche flan! Each roll of filled suman is wrapped in banana leaves, to keep it fresh. They have no dine-in restaurant. Just a take-out shop, which is located on 17 Pasig Blvd. in Bagong Ilog — from the northbound side of C5, turn right towards Julia Vargas Bridge and it  should be around there. I understand the suman products get sold out very quickly, so it is advised that one orders at least 2 days before. The landline number is  671-0172 or you may text at 0929-8410424.

While we are on the subject of Pinoy kakanin, there is another specialty that I often crave — Tibok-tibok from Susie’s Cuisine in Pampanga. This is the traditional Kapampangan rice pudding at its best. Made with real carabao’s milk and glutinous rice flour, tibok-tibok derives its name from the way the mixture bubbles up on the surface as if there’s a heart pulsating beneath — as in tumitibok-tibok — which indicates that the pudding is done. It is served with latik or toasted shredded coconut. To most, it is just like maja blanca, except that this is made with carabao’s milk, which gives the pudding a naturally salty flavor and a smooth and silky texture that’s heaven in the mouth.

I suppose you could say this is Pampanga’s version of al fresco dining? The restaurants are all designed to create an outdoorsy ambience, with bamboo-themed furnishings, in an effort to make the diner feel like he’s dining in a farm. That is what Apag Marangle essentially means. A table out in the farm all laid out with good food. And one favorite example of that is Apag Marangle’s Nasing Marangle, which literally means “farm rice”. But it’s rice fried in pork fat drippings (you read right — pork fat!!!) and topped with pinakbet cooked in bagoong alamang, then further topped with chunks of crispy lechon kawali. It sounds so simple but the dish has layers of flavors and textures that make it one of my favorites. The original Apag Marangle is all the way in Bacolor, Pampanga along the Olongapo-Gapan Road but, thankfully, they now have a branch in the heart of Makati at the Park Square.

From Central Luzon, our food trip now takes us to the Visayas for a taste of Negrense cuisine. One dish my tummy remembers with great fondness is Sarsa Kitchen+Bar’s Sizzling Kansi. Kansi is Bacolod’s variation of Batangas’s Bulalo, but with a tangy twist from batwan. Batwan is a distinctly Ilonggo fruit, round and green, that is used as a souring agent for broths and stews, like sinigang, much the same way kamias or sampaloc is used. Sinigang na bulalo? Sounds odd, doesn’t it? But let me tell you — it’s the bomb! Sarsa takes this beloved dish even further. Their Sizzling Kansi is served on a cast-iron platter, fresh and sizzling-hot from the oven.  A  slice of bone filled with rich marrow rests on a bed of tender chunks of beef shank and the whole thing is generously covered with batwan-based gravy. It’s an oddly brilliant balance of umami and sourness, with the batwan gravy cutting the unctuousness of the marrow. Sarsa can be found at The Forum in BGC and on Rada Street in Makati.

Now we move on to modern East-meets-West cuisine, starting with my next fave — Torched Salmon Donburi at Your Local, which prides itself in its superb approach to global fusion cuisine with Asia at its base. This dish is one of its best-sellers, judging by the long queue of orders the chefs have to prepare every day, every meal time. Thick slices of Norwegian salmon, seared with a torch outside but still moist and tender inside. They are laid on a bed of wild black rice mixed with shiitake mushrooms and topped with mentaiko aioli and topped with tobiko (flying fish roe), then dusted with powdered seaweed and chopped scallions. One bowl is a deliciously complete and filling meal in itself. Your Local is located at the ground floor of the Universal LMS Building on Esteban Street in Legaspi Village, Makati. As yet, they do not accept reservations and it’s almost always full. ALMOST always. So you’ll just have to take your chances on getting a table or be willing to wait until one frees up. Whichever you choose to do, know that it will be worth it.

(Part 2 to be continued…)