The history of the Philippines isn’t just found within the dusty, yellowing pages of textbooks or in age-old museums where you can look but not touch. A big chunk of our untapped past also lies in the food we cook…and eat!
The ingredients our ancestors used, the cooking methods they applied, and the way they ate, all hold important pieces of our story. But for something that’s so vital to life, food sure isn’t talked about much in history lessons! All we have to hold onto are scattered pieces of information found in family cookbooks passed on from one generation to the next.
This is where Alab Restaurant comes in. Co-owned by actress and restaurateur Cherry Pie Picache, she shares her passion for the rich local cuisine by featuring undiscovered food from the Philippines’ different provinces. Having gathered traditional, unaltered recipes from unknown kusineros and kusineras around the country, Alab cooks up authentic, true-to-taste Filipino fare, each dish with an interesting tale to tell.
Take a food tour around the Philippines at Alab Restaurant
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in a particular culture is to eat with the locals. But that would mean having to travel to eighty-one provinces in eighteen different regions just to dine with every ethnic group in the Philippines!
But fortunately for those of us with money and time constraints, Alab’s menu lets us go on a gustatory adventure around the country without having to leave Manila or empty our pockets. A melting pot of the country’s diverse cuisine, Alab shows off local dishes we didn’t even know existed. Talk about a delicious way to brush up on some Philippine history!
One of the all-time favorites at Alab is the Pianggang (₱290), grilled chicken cooked in coconut milk and flavored with a spice paste made from aromatics and burnt coconut. It’s virtually unheard of in Manila but it’s a staple dish for the Tausug tribe of the Sulu archipelago.
With their proximity to Malaysia and a culture untouched by colonizers, the Tausug cuisine has not strayed far from its Malay roots. They’re generous when it comes to incorporating coconut, spices, and chili into their food and the Pianggang is the perfect representation of their distinct flavors!
Another Alab specialty is the Tinumok (₱195), a Bicolano dish that’s unfamiliar to the palate of most Manilenyos. While the Bicolanos speak diverse tongues and practice different customs, their indigenous cuisine is what binds them together.
And in Bicolano cooking, there are two ingredients that never disappear–coconut milk and chili! This is very evident in the Tinumok, an entree of coconut noodles and chopped shrimp delicately enveloped in taro leaves, stewed in rich coconut cream and topped off with bagoong alamang!
Moving on to the North! The Ilocanos are known for being the most tight-fisted people of the country. Born into an environment with harsh living conditions, they’ve been shaped to become frugal and resourceful. Their food is simple, making use only of locally available ingredients, which fortunately, involve a lot of healthy greens!
One dish born out of the Ilocano’s thriftiness is the Poqui Poqui, an uncomplicated eggplant dish with flavors that impress. For a taste of this classic Ilocano fare, order up the Poqui Poqui ala Alab (₱220), made with grilled eggplants, tomatoes, and Vigan sausage, sauteed with eggs, and topped off with kesong puti!
Other bestsellers here are the Okoy (₱120), shrimp and vegetables deep-fried in a light batter, the Penuneng (₱150), blood sausages prepared the Ilocano way, the Adobong Pula (₱290), the oldest documented version of the classic that leaves out the toyo, the Palabok Negra (₱150), rice noodles made black and flavorful by squid ink, and the Lechon na Crispy Pata (₱590), a platter of roasted pork leg stuffed with lemongrass and leeks.
The lineup of rare food finds at Alab reveals an unexplored side of the Filipino cuisine–one that goes beyond the predictable adobo, sinigang, and nilaga!
It doesn’t get any more Filipino than laing ice cream!
Any respectable Filipino restaurant would know that we can’t let an epic meal end without panghimagas! And Alab has done a fine job at creating a dessert menu that not only gets rid of the umay factor, but continues to tickle the tastebuds with traditionally Pinoy flavors.
Take the New York Cubao Bibingka Cheesecake for example! Atop a crust made out of crushed graham crackers sits a hybrid of the NY cheesecake and the Pinoy bibingka! Its texture is an interesting tug-of-war between airy and dense and its sweet tanginess is punctuated by the unmistakable flavor of itlog na maalat! To be able to fully wrap your head around this one, you’d have to try it out for yourself!
But if you think that’s extraordinary, wait ‘til you get a hold of their Laing Ice Cream! It’s bizarre how it tastes exactly like the real thing, marked by the distinct flavors of gabi leaves, gata, luya, and even sili! It plays games with your brain, deceiving you into thinking you’re eating ulam but then the sweetness and the creaminess kick in, reminding you that it is a dessert after all. It may be weird but it’s also incredibly delicious, making it hard to stop at just one bite. Again, it’s something you need to experience with your own senses to understand!
Their other (tamer) ice cream flavors include Kamote-Que, Quezo de Bola, Kalamansi, and Mangga, all sold at ₱120 per tub!
The great thing about Alab’s desserts is that you can order them for take-out. They make very unique additions to potlucks, birthday parties, and get-togethers, guaranteed to make you the talk of the town!
Bring the whole family, round up the big barkada!
Alab Restaurant’s branch at Scout Rallos, Tomas Morato exudes a warm vibe that draws in families for lunch and dinner. Don’t be worried about bringing your lolos and lolas, as well as your titos and titas, because there’s enough space for everyone in this two-storey abode.
For the younger crowd, you can have your barkada hangouts at Alab’s brand new branch at UP Town Center! Be sure to invite the whole gang to get a 10% discount for students who come in groups of three or more!
Alab Restaurant can be found at 67 Sct. Rallos St., Tomas Morato, Quezon City and at the 3/F of UP Town Center, Katipunan Ave., Diliman, Quezon City.