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Philippines Dinner

Manila, October 17, 2014

Bailliage of Manila recreates The Malolos Congress Dinner from 1898

Following the declaration of independence from Spain in June 1898, and the transfer of power to a revolutionary government, the Malolos Congress election was held. The Malolos Congress, formally known as the 'National Assembly' of representatives, was the constituent assembly of the First Philippine Republic. It met at the Barasoain Church in Malolos City hence the name of the Congress and the Constitution that resulted.

With increasing interest in Filipino national heroes, food critics have been writing about this dinner served to the heroes who created our Republic. I too have often wondered at the logistics and planning of this French-themed multi-course dinner.

The world had to be shown that Filipino leaders were just as educated as those in cultured Europe. This is why a French menu was chosen as at the time it was the only civilized form of dining. Although resources and materials were limited, the Filipino chefs of the day achieved success for this major catering event.

As a chef, I have studied the event both from a kitchen and service brigade’s point of view, attempting to analyse why particular dishes or beverages came to be part of that great historical dinner.

The menu included:

Hors d’oeuvres
Oysters – Crevettes – Dressed crab
Salmon hollandaise – Sardines in tomato sauce
Lyon sausage – Radishes – Olives

Vol-au-vent ‘à la financière’
(i.e. a filling of tongue, mushroom, sweetbread, tinned truffle and ham in a rich demi-glace sauce)

Fast-braised chicken giblets in a white butter velouté

Mutton cutlets cooked ‘en papillote’

Straw potatoes

Truffled turkey braised Manila-style

Chateaubriand with haricots verts

Cold ham with asparagus

Cheese with fruit and jam

Strawberry jelly, ice-cream

Bordeaux – Sauterne (sic) – Sherry – Champagne

Chartreuse – Cognac

Coffee or tea

Besides the availability of the produce, other insights into the choice of menu are equally related to practicality.

The hot courses were all cooked in the oven since the service was ‘Russian’ style meaning the platters or trays had to pass by everyone. It was therefore logical to keep the food hot in the oven.

Turkeys of that period were no good for roasting so braising was the only option. Although based on a local Filipino cooking method, hence the ‘Manila-style’ description, a good helping of truffles gave the course a French accent!

What baffles me is the cold ham course. I can but think that it was probably an afterthought on the menu because it breaks the logic of food sequencing such as cold to hot and mild to richer food. This is also true when considering why the mutton came before the turkey and beef. It could simply have been a printing error!

The cheese could well have been hard, such as Quezo de Bola or Manchego, or even a blue such as Stilton. As they were imported these were more likely to stand up to a long sea voyage.

The drinks listed are also in an unusual order – another printing error? One would have started with the sherry, probably had the ‘Sauterne’ with the vol-au-vent, then the Bordeaux (probably a Margaux) with the meats. Finally, whoever designed the menu was cultured enough to cap the meal with Champagne.

The Bailliage of Manila’s recreation of the event applied modern-day pragmatism yet more than faithfully followed the gastronomy of the original event

Gene Gonzalez, Conseiller Culinaire

Photo below left: Barasoain Church, Malolos City, in 2012  /  Photo below right: General Aguinaldo (seated, centre) and ten of the delegates to the first assembly that passed the Constitution, in the Barasoain Church, Malolos