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The Friendly food of the Philippines

January 26, 1989|BARBARA HANSEN | Times Staff Writer

Philippine cuisine has not yet come into its own in the United States. To comprehend the scope of this interesting food requires a trip to the island nation. Once there, the opportunity to taste will present itself constantly because warm-hearted, Latin-style hospitality is the code, and "strangers" don't exist.

My first day in Manila, I was whisked off to the town of Lucban and taken to the mayor's house, where a lavish feast was in progress. The occasion was the town's annual springtime harvest fiesta honoring San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of the farmers. Suckling pigs were carried in on poles, and dish after dish was set out on the buffet. Although an unexpected newcomer, I was as welcome there as a longtime family friend.

This atmosphere of easy-going hospitality permeates the land. And it sets the theme for Lily Gamboa O'Boyle's stunning pictorial book, "Philippine Hospitality." Each segment of the book centers around a gathering--a family reunion, a merienda by the pool, lunch in an orchid garden and much more. The photographs by Jules Alexander emphasize table settings, environment and food rather than people but still convey a sense of the Filipino life style.

Along with parties in luxurious homes, there is lunch in a farmer's hut, an Igorot ceremony at Baguio and a picnic laid out on the hood of a jeepney, one of the colorfully painted vehicles that provide public transportation. A get-well visit in the provinces shows the cool woven mat upon which the patient rests and the slatted flooring and sides of the room, designed to admit the breezes. The despedida de soltera recounts the tradition of honoring a bride-to-be in her last days of single status. And a dark scene outside a church captures the Christmas custom of pre-dawn Mass followed by snacking upon traditional foods dispensed in huts constructed outside.

History and politics are represented too, from humble coffee and cigarettes with soldiers guarding against communist insurgents to dinner in the reconstructed suite at the Manila Hotel that was once inhabited by U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The lavish entertaining of former President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, gets a mention in a brief history of Malacanang Palace, but another scene shows provisions and equipment, including a "people power" visor and Cory Aquino button, taken along by those who gathered in the streets during the 1986 Philippine revolution.

In addition to homes, settings include restaurants, hotels, a Chinese cemetery and the Villa Escudero, a coconut plantation outside Manila. The Colonial past is recaptured with a tertulia, a 19th- Century soiree devoted to music and other aspects of culture. This was recreated with costumed guests in the Casa Manila, a reconstructed 19th-Century Spanish home that is maintained as a museum.

O'Boyle, a Filipina married to an American businessman, conceived, produced and published the book herself. Formerly an actress in Manila, she now resides in New York and has included some scenes that represent Filipino entertaining in that city. Accompanied by photographer Alexander and food stylist Sidney Burstein, O'Boyle spent five weeks photographing in the Philippines in 1987, aided by a local production team that included former film and theater associates.

Some recipes are provided, but "Philippine Hospitality" is not essentially a cookbook. The recipes were tested and adapted by Reynaldo G. Alejandro, Philippine food authority who is billed as co-author.

Leading culinary figures who contributed to the book include Glenda Barretto, Manila's top caterer. Barretto, whose home is the setting for a Christmas party, is associated with Via Mare, a Manila restaurant that is opening a branch in Los Angeles. Another is Gene Gonzalez, the Philippine counterpart of today's innovative young American chefs. Gonzalez operates Gene's Bistro and Cafe Ysabel in Manila. One of the recipes in the book is his unusual violet-colored vichyssoise made with ube, a purple root vegetable. Restaurateur and caterer Millie Reyes, a former president of the Hotel and Restaurant Assn. of the Philippines, designed a black paella for a spectacular New Year's Eve layout.

The text that accompanies each celebration describes the food that would be served. This provides insight into Filipino tastes, both traditional and modern. Newer concepts include suckling pig with paella stuffing, carabao cheese on sun ripened tomato slices with fresh basil, chicken adobo garnished with three kinds of peppercorns and truffled pate de foie gras, guava crescents in kirsch-flavored syrup, mango crepes with caramel whiskey sauce and mango Bavarian accompanyed by sabayon cream sauce perfumed with ylang ylang flowers.

The recipe section leans more toward such traditional dishes as siomai (Chinese-style steamed dumplings), lumpia (egg rolls), pancit sotanghon (bean threads with chicken and vegetables), sinigang na sugpo (shrimp soup with sour broth) and leche flan (caramel custard). "Philippine Hospitality" was launched in Manila in July, and O'Boyle plans another launching for Los Angeles. The book, not available in stores, can be ordered by sending a check for $55 plus $3 for shipping and handling to Acacia Corp., P.O. Box 778, New York, N.Y. 10024-0778.

"A book like this has never been done about the Philippines. That in itself is rewarding," O'Boyle said.

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