LUNCH with Lalay Jurado Lava at her Abaseria Deli Café in Villa Aurora was a delicious and delightful experience; the café owner shared her stories about the café and the food she was serving.
The café, Lalay recalled, is an offshoot of her furniture export business in 1997. Its Ethnic Ventures showroom was where visiting foreign clients usually came with their spouses. She started to serve coffee for the accompanying spouse so business talks would not bore that spouse. Soon, she had to serve bread or sandwiches with the coffee until finally, she had to serve hearty snacks, and then hearty meals, which the clients enjoyed. Soon, some of her showroom furniture could no longer be sold because they were used for meals for visiting clients. Until finally, when the export business declined, Lalay found herself with a full-blown café, offering what can best be described as home cooking because all the items in the menu are Lalay’s creations, her take on the local dishes. She never had culinary lessons but she did stay most of the time in the kitchen and even accompanied the family cook to the market.
The opportunity came to buy the house where Abaseria is now sometime in 2004, and with the decline of furniture and jewelry exports, Lalay decided to concentrate on making and selling beads for export, particularly to Japan, and made three rooms in the house for Bed and Breakfast clients (she says the rooms are always occupied), and kept one for her office.
The first floor she converted into a restaurant which she named Abaseria (a term she found in a book on old Philippines, the word meaning “a motley of unrelated articles,” or sari-sari) which also has a function room which can accommodate up to 60 people. In the restaurant, she placed items for sale from all over her travels in the Philippines which she took fancy on: delicacies that she liked, hats, baskets, old photographs particularly of old Cebu, framed necklaces including one with beads partly made of bullet casings, handicraft items she asked her friends in the industry to make when exports declined. It’s really interesting to just go around and look at all these items including a set-off dining room with a ceiling covered with coco beads; also set-off with coco beads are her ceiling lights because, she explains, “the lamps available in stores do not match the kind of interiors I was making.”
She says Abaseria has two menus: one that has items that can be ordered that day and another with items that have to be ordered the day before. She also has different menus for other special functions and when the client tells her to just come up with something, she rises to the challenge, going to the market herself. Once, she recounts, she served a gathering with what she called “deconstructed lechon,” every part of the pig served separately instead of the lechon as a whole. It was a feast that pleased her Manila client no end.
Lunch with her began with a pako with cucumber salad, the pako coming from her farm, and soup was tinolang bisaya manok (also from her farm) with coconut milk with kamunggay leaves. To go with the rest of the food, one could have either rice or corn, perfectly cooked. Customers’ favorites came next: chili talong, taugi spring roll, fried humba, salted fish bacalao (the dried fish, labahita, comes from Palawan because the local ones, she says are not constant in quality), and crispy roast pork which she describes as London-inspired because she tasted something like it in London (for this dish, the pork has to be “aged” for three days before it gets roasted, sans any other ingredient: no salt or pepper or any other spice). For drinks she has several fruit shakes including guyabano shake, the fruit also coming from her farm. For dessert she offered durian coffee along with “four corners,” a dessert made of ice cream atop a freshly fried banana slice and topped with mangosteen jam and candied iba.
There are other dishes to go back to Abaseria for, including the chicken pork adobo, humba Filipino, baked ribs with ginger and lechon kawali. But lunch as it was, was enough to savor Filipino cuisine according to the taste buds of Lalay Lava who firmly believes that there is a lot of Filipino food to offer to the world. Her restaurant, which is visited by a lot of foreigners, proves it.