Lunching in Latin America

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012


MY LATIN American lunch at The Quiet Place last Sunday (October 14) was one of the most relaxing for a long, long time. It must be the fresh country air circulating at mid-day in the spacious open-sided pavilion. It must be the unbeatable view of rows of eucalyptus trees, rice stalks bearing their heavy golden heads of ripe grains in the rice fields, the placid swimming pool mirroring the cloudy sky, and the partly hidden elegant Garden rooms and its tree-lined pathway.

If one has to take a 30-minute ride from Bacolod to Abuanan, Bago, the trip is worth it, for where in Bacolod can we get to eat a Latin American meal in such setting? The Abuanon route is a scenic one anyway and that makes getting there such a pleasant journey.

I and the five guys I was with didn't mind. Adjie Lizares, Lynel Gaston and Michelle Gaston didn't mind either and rode all the way from Silay and Talisay. The trees forming a canopy and the crimson bandera espanola lining the road can get any jaded citified traveler pixilated to continue the ride, and, in our case, we rode all the way to Latin America which was temporarily ensconced for two days in The Quiet Place.

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The buffet lunch was a two-day affair cooked up by Ruth Cruz and the Bolivian chef Julio de la Fuente and Sunday, being Sunday, saw more diners than Saturday. Families came to enjoy the mole poblano, papas a la huancaina, quezo de chancho with llajua, aji de lengua, and many more. I especially came to try the desserts and drinks and they were chocolate con chili, agua de Jamaica, quinoa con manzana, horchata, alfajores, tres leches, and arroz con leche. They were good comfort food, something Latin American families would enjoy in the coziness of their dining rooms perhaps also on a lazy Sunday with the kitchen still warm and smoky from a morning of non-stop cooking, knife-wielding and pan banging.

Let me introduce you to the aguas frescas or the non-alcoholic coolers. The agua de Flor de Jamaica is made from roselle, which The Quiet Place grows. The tall pitcher of roselle's red juice was sweating from the ice cubes and it held all the promises of thirst-quenching healthy refreshment for our tropical climes. In Panama, this is traditionally drunk during Christmas and Chinese New Year. Just in time for the Filipinos! Daily Apple sells the powdered form so you can get some and mix your own at home.

Healthy, too, are quinoa con manzana which in Bolivia is a popular drink using tart green apples and, of course, the superfood quinoa. The Horchata or cinnamon rice milk has, well, cinnamon, rice, and milk although other Latin American countries have their own versions. This is best drunk very cold. So, bring on the ice cubes! The drinks are commonly served around Latin America. These are most likely the kind that is prepared in huge batches to be ladled out just like our pampalamig sago't gulaman.

The alfajores are small flaky butter cookies originally from Spain and are made with honey, hazelnuts and almonds. Recipes for these can go back to the 19th century at around which time the cookies came out.

Many versions can be found all over South America, but the basic form is two cookies stuck together by a caramel filling and edged with coconut flakes. Pastel de tres leches or three milks cake is a slice of sponge cake soaked in a mixture of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and whole milk, and topped with a tart meringue (others use heavy cream). Hungry yet?

Let's move on to arroz con leche which is (you got it right) rice pudding said to be introduced to Spain by the Moors. This is like merienda fare. It has rice, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. Some versions call for raisins, and even cloves and a little lemon zest but Julio's version is simpler and not overwhelming.

One memorable drink I reserved for last is the chocolate con chili served in a teeny-weeny cup which is just as well for it could be a throat-searing experience. This liquid fire is a taste of how chocolate was originally served (cold) by the Aztecs who used cocoa beans not only as food but also as currency and ritualistic materials. Hot chocolate, anyone?

Speaking of chocolate, Lynel Gaston adds about two heaping tablespoons of chocolate powder to her adobo and, to keep chocolate from turning bitter, she simmers the adobo over low fire. Lynel was one of the first contributors to the very first adobo cookbook launched by the Negros Cultural Foundation for the first Adobo Festival 15 years ago. This year will be the festival's 15th so this is something to look forward to. It's a date on November 5 (al cinco de noviembre) at the Balay Negrense where Lynel will also hold her first photo exhibit Raw featuring raw food. Vegetarians are welcome for there are no photos of meat among her collection of pictures.

I congratulate Ruth Cruz and Chef Julio for whipping up something different for the Negrenses. People are asking if there will be a repeat and Ruth's reply is a safe, "We'll see." Whenever that is, see you then!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 16, 2012.

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