A Filipino Perspective on Indian Cuisine through Marco Polo Plaza Cebu's Khana Festival

Khana is the Hindi word for food and one great way to celebrate the Festival of Lights or Diwali is to explore the rich cuisine of India. Marco Polo Plaza Cebu brings us to the culinary world of South Asia. Khana is a special buffet that is available for both lunch and dinner from October 17 to 24, 2017.

Something that I've read from Claude Tayag's book, Linamnam, came into mind as I was filling my plate with my second helping of lamb rogan josh at Marco Polo Plaza Cebu's Khana FestivalWe were having dinner at Cafe Marco to celebrate Diwali when I remembered a passage in the book that narrates the origins of kare-kare and the karinderia.

We sometimes take for granted the ties that bind us with India. As eclectic and diverse our sociey is, a part of the Philippine kaleidoscope owes a great deal to the influences of the Asian sub-continent of India. Long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived, early Filipinos have had interaction with Indian traders and products. 

From 1762-1764, the port cities of Manila and Cavite came under British rule. The British under King George III wanted to add us to their territories to strengthen their trading routes in the East. They tried to advance their troops in Luzon but was met by resistance from the remaining Spanish forces. 

The British occupation ended when a peace settlement for the Seven Years War was reached. The warring European empires (United Kingdom, France, Spain) dominated world politics at that time. 

After the last British ship left Manila, what was left behind was the Sepoys (Indian soldiers) who jumped ship and who chose to live in the Philippines. They settled in Cainta, Taytay, and in some areas of present-day Pasig. That's one of the reasons why a lot of folks from these places have deep-set eyes and long eyelashes. 

The Sepoys also integrated their influence in our food culture. A great example is the kare-kare which was the local variation of the kaikaari or curry dish. As described in the Linamnam book, this Indian dish is a "sauce, gravy, or stew of vegetables cooked with many spices, including chilies, mustard, tamarind, coriander, turmeric, cloves, ginger, red and black pepper, cinnamon, black and green cardamom, roasted cumin seeds, and some other spices." 

Eventually, they had to substitute local ingredients since a lot of these spices were not readily available in Spanish Philippines. Thus, the birth of kare-kare which is an oxtail stew with peanut sauce. The touch of bagoong (shrimp paste) is a homage to Southeast dining. 

My family prefers to cook kare-kare with beef cubes instead of oxtail or tripe. I also learned that kare-kare is more popular in Luzon than in the Visayas or Mindanao. 

And since the roads of Cainta and Taytay led to Antipolo which is a pilgrimmage site for Our Lady of Good Voyage, the Sepoys and their families started serving these kaikaari dishes to travelers. These roadside eateries became known as karinderia or karihan (adding the Spanish term "eria" or the Tagalog suffix "han" to mean place). 

I also 
noticed the similarity in texture of the Rogan josh to my Mom's caldereta (kaldereta) which is a meat stew that has been brought by the Spaniards. The meat used in caldereta (from the Spanish word caldera or cauldron) can either be goat or beef. It's an Iberian-influenced dish that uses olive oil, butter, tomatoes, chilies, chorizo de bilbao, onions, bay or laurel leaves, black pepper, garlic, and the most important ingredient is liver spread which is the thickening agent in the stew. 

Lamb rogan josh

The Rogan josh uses either mutton, lamb, or goat meat. It's also braised in aromatic spices, yogurt, and chilies that results in a thick gravy or sauce. It went well with the Biryani rice (mixed rice with spices and meat) that was one of the options in the Khana Festival buffet. 

It could have been the result of the hours long process of cooking the dish or the multitudes of herbs and spices that went with the dish, but there was something that I found familiar as I was savoring every morsel of that lamb stew. 

If you notice in Indian dishes, they don't use pork as their ingredient. We all know Filipinos love pork but when you indulge in Indian food, you won't get to have it. You'll see other meats like mutton, lamb, goat and even seafood in their dishes. It could be a religious aspect or a cultural one; most often it would be a dietary choice. 

Indian cuisine also has a lot of plant-based products that make it easier for those who are vegetarians or vegans to enjoy. Lentils, chickpeas (garbanzos), quinoa, spinach (paneer), corn, cauliflower --- they have numerous ways of cooking vegetables. 

Their samosas (either fried or baked) are similar to our empanadas. They're either filled with potatoes, chicken, lentils, peas, minced beef, or minced lamb. One thing that is common with the samosas that I have eaten --- their spice or hotness level. 

Chicken Samosa

Similar to when eating naan (leavened oven-baked flatbread) or roti (unleavened flatbread), I like shoveling my samosas in a bowl of mango chutney or if you're the adventurous type, green chilies would also work. Just make sure you have glasses of milk on hand if you decide on the chilies. 

An array of chutneys

It wouldn't be a proper Diwali Festival if there weren't any sweets on the menu. The golden brown Gulab Jamun are fried flour balls made of khoya. The dough is softened by the sugar syrup that glazes it. The flavor of the syrup is enhanced by cardamom, rose water or saffron.

Sweet and soft Gulab Jamun

Chewing on the Peda reminded me of the milk pastillas made from Bulacan. It's main ingredients are khoya, sugar, cardamom, pistachio, and saffron. 

Milky Peda

Khoya or khoa is the common denominator for most Indian desserts. It's composed of either dried whole milk or pan-thickened milk. 

That could also be the reason why the Barfi tasted like polvoron. They have identical food texture. 

Sweet desserts

One of the dessert offerings in the buffet is carrot halwa. I recently found out that halwa or halva which is a dense type of cake is also popular in Mindanao. 

I only had a very thin slice of the rich Rose cheesecake but it was worth packing the extra pound or two because of it. 

Rose cheesecake

We might not get to travel to India and experience first-hand their delicacies and specialties but having these themed buffets that are thoughtfully prepared by authentic chefs and consultants guide us through our food journeys.