Remember the dried fish lali, the seasonal sensation from Guimaras which is sold in Valladolid? For most of us, this was an ingredient we use to flavor veggie dishes, the most popular of which is the monggo guinat-an. Or we add bits of it to the fried rice. Or fry it by itself.
Well, talk of lali, which is now in season, has turned to what Good Friend F, certified foodie of the first degree, has recently found out: you can do lali ala bacalao and it is even tastier and more delicious than the Portuguese fish. The biggest news here is, F does it without any of the fishy smell that made all the bacalao trials using Pinoy fishes fail in the past; one Manila cook once served bacalao using labahita and no matter how much olive oil it was swimming in, the smell of the fish was simply overpowering.
Not so with the lali. Or make that not so with lali in the hands of F, the Negrense cook. Lali ala bacalao is so tasty and delicious – just a spoonful was enough for a cup of rice – the real bacalao from Portugal does not even come close.
F’s success with the lali is just an affirmation of one of our blessings as Negrenses: we do food differently, and deliciously so. What’s even more exciting is, these days, the current crop of Negrense chefs are looking at our most ordinary of resources and in their kitchens whip them up into something we can proudly put on the global dining table.
There is Cantina Mondo, which does a mean Camias – that’s iba for us – shake. It is interesting how such an ordinary fruit we mostly ignore could turn into a memorable drink after passing through the blender with ice and syrup. The cantina also serves kesong puti, which I understand comes from Murcia, fried and served on top of pan de sal with butter and jam on the side. Except for the butter, that’s one locavore plate of a snack.
Chef BJ Uy, on the other hand, has done magic with Calamansi, our ordinary kalamunding that we also take for granted. BJ does Calamansi Mousse and Calamansi Slush, two numbers you wouldn’t imagine the kalamunding can get involved in. It is interesting to note how much this citrus fruit can go perfectly well with sugar and cream. The calamansi must be something the family loves; BJ’s aunt, Maridel Rivero also does delicious Calamansi bars.
It is reassuring that the Negrense kitchen, which has produced such enduring culinary icons as Emma Lacson – lumpia, pili squares, senorita among others – and Sony Lacson-Cometa — ensaimada de Madrid, almondettes, cheese rolls – continue to churn out food that stand out from the rest, food that has made Negros such a name for food.
Indeed, while we continue to enjoy the magic of Lacson and Cometa in the kitchen, we are also welcoming a new generation of culinary artists who can do magic in the kitchen and our natural resources.
The plain and simple monggo guinisa and grilled pork turn gorgeous in the hands of the cooks of Kalan-an sa Dalan in Hinigaran. Sans Rival, the butter and nut cake levels up in the hands of Vincent Macasa of Felicia’s who makes it with chocolate.
Who would have thought? Who would have thought that the calamansi, the iba, the lali, the monggo and pork chop and even the good old Sans Rival can go up some more in the taste ladder? They’ve been with us forever, served in the usual, humdrum ways – until, of course, the Negrense cook took fancy on them and turned them into something even more magical than they already are.*