Southeast Asian food is among the international cuisines that make the American culinary landscape. Thai and Vietnamese cuisines have long been mainstays in the restaurant scene, but Filipino fare has also been moving to the forefront. With more and more Filipino joints opening up, more people are becoming familiar with the cuisine’s dishes and flavors.

PART 1: Top Trends From the 2019 StarChefs International Chefs Congress

One of the most recognizable Filipino ingredients/ flavors is ube. The purple yam has grown popular over the years with its iconic shade and distinct taste, essentially becoming the poster child for the cuisine, especially when it comes to sweets. Dishes such as ube soft serve, ube waffles, ube pancakes, and ube lattes have become trendy and worthy of Instagram posts. However, there’s so much more to Filipino desserts than ube.

“You know, a lot of people talk about ube when talking about Filipino desserts. I think it's overrated. That's just my opinion,” said Magna Kusina’s Chef Carlo Lamagna. For Lamagna, there are other ingredients and flavors that tell much more about the rich history of Philippine cuisine.

“The versatility of rice and desserts, the Spanish influence coming in from Spain and colonizing the Philippines for 300 years, things are left over, you know, the usage of red beans in our desserts because of the Japanese influence,” Lamagna said. “It's all there. We’re a veritable melting pot, a true melting pot.”

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On the exhibition floor, the chef prepared a pandan panna cotta made with reduced coconut milk, a little bit of soy sauce to add just a hint of umami to the dish for contrast, and topped with a brown butter polvoron (Filipino shortbread), coconut flakes, and small tapioca pearls. “People are starting to understand that savory components in desserts are almost a must,” Lamagna said. The dish was a definite crowd pleaser that had attendees coming back for seconds.

On the menu of Magna Kusina in Portland, Lamagna makes sure to be inventive and playful, while keeping Filipino flavor profiles in mind. He puts a twist on some classic Filipino desserts, including the sans rival cake. The popular Pampangan sweet is traditionally made of layers of buttercream, meringue, and cashews. The chef’s recipe involves hazelnut meringue, calamansi crema, citrus, and spiced hazelnuts.

Lamagna continued, “Those are things I'm most excited about when it comes to desserts, mainly. [It’s] bringing out those Filipino flavors of the grassiness of pandan, the sharpness of calamansi, like the guyabano or the bayabas (guava), mangosteen — all these different flavors that people have not even tried in the US.”

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