We enjoy Thai restaurants all over the western world. The Philippines produces magnificent cuisine as well. Yet, given the enormous Filipino diaspora worldwide, why do we seldom find Filipino restaurants? Why hasn’t that cuisine taken off?
Perhaps you’ve never noticed that. But through the new Silversea Cruises S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste) program, Nicole Ponseca will set you straight on a cuisine that has for centuries been deeply enriched by Chinese, Malay, Arab, Spanish and even United States influences. The Filipina-American, California-native chef is co-founder of Jeepney restaurant in New York City and co-author of the colorful and highly-regarded cookbook “I am a Filipino: And This Is How We Cook.”
Chef Ponseca is among a number of culinary figures who have started to collaborate with Silversea’s S.A.L.T. program. Set for its maiden voyage this spring in the Mediterranean, the new Silver Moon will be the first Silversea ship to incorporate the S.A.L.T. program in which chefs will come on board to share their knowledge and enthusiasm of the regional cuisine in which they specialize.
An extension of the S.A.L.T Lab on board (see recent post), the program’s land excursions will further expose guests to local foods in markets and on farms and to local dining and wine and drinks experiences. On a 2019 trial run S.A.L.T sailing from Bali to Manila on the Silver Muse, participants made some of the following stops which will typify the sorts of experiences you can expect to find in future sailings worldwide.
At the Potato Head Beach Club, the Rem Koolhaas-designed resort hotel in Seminyak in southern Bali, Kaum restaurant serves guests on picnic-size tables on the terrace overlooking the sea, using tableware that comes from the local island ceramic maker Gaya. Indoors, a more urban level of buzz reigns.
While he trained and worked in the states, Chef Wayan Kresna Yasa was born and raised on the small island of Nusa Penida off of southern Bali. The larger of his Kaum dishes to be shared between two to four guests allow diners to experience an array of flavors from around his Indonesian homeland. From West Nusa Tenggara, ayam bakar taliwang is a chargrilled smoked chicken marinated in Lombok style spices. From North Sulawesi, ikan barramundi bakar sambal dabu dabu is grilled fillet of barramundi marinated with tamarind water and turmeric paste. A crispy half duck served with a green mango and red chili relish is from West Java.
Up in the famous highland town of Ubud, Nusantara opened two years ago as an offshoot of Dutch-born Eelke Plasmeijer’s and Jakarta-born Ray Adriansyah’s Locavore restaurant, known for its local sourcing. The name Nusantara is the Bahasan Indonesian word for archipelago, and here indeed diners find another chance to explore cuisines from the nation’s diverse regions.
The popular nasi campur rice dish might include mixtures of pork belly, pickled vegetables and the spicy chili sauce sambal, while sambal goreng consists of fried shallots, chilis and garlic in coconut oil and sea salt. From North Sumatra, sambal ganja consists of chilis, lemongrass, shrimp, shallots and garlic. Grilled king prawns served with shallots, garlic, chilis and more make up udang bakar kecombrang, found all over West Java.
In a room upstairs, the Nusantara team operates a sort of experimental fermentation lab with glass and ceramic jars filled with herbal and plant concoctions that would wow a botanist. On the Silver Muse S.A.L.T. test sailing, the Nusantara chefs took guests out for a light hike in the rice fields and forest patches to share the riches found there. Along the way, an older farmer came out from his small house to climb and collect sap from a palm tree in order to demonstrate how to make coconut sugar. At hike’s end a hipster food truck appeared in a clearing in the woods to serve babi guling, Bali’s ubiquitous roasted suckling pig.
At the port of call of Sandakan in Malaysia’s portion of northern Borneo, the Sandakan Central Market may not be the most charming of massive concrete structures, but it is a true working market and far cry from a tourist trap. With the market facing the sea, fishing boats deliver their catch right there. Full of colorful dry and wet goods, the market also offers a chance for Silver Muse executive chef Anne-Mari Cornelius and team to peruse all sorts of halal and Chinese ingredients.
Sometimes the best food is the simplest and Sandakan’s nondescript Good Taste restaurant with its plastic chairs and tables is the place for a Chinese pork rib broth called bak kut teh and all manner of other spicy seafood.
At the stylish and artsy San Da Gen Kopitiam café an old trishaw out front and marble tables and tiles inside make for a retro vibe. From enjoying beef rendang in toasted coconut curry to puff pastries and a custard and meringue tart called UFO, Silver Muse guests went on to take a turn there at preparing their own mackerel cakes.
Non-food experiences on a S.A.L.T. sail might include an excursion an hour outside of Sandakan where dozens of orphaned orangutans live in the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Protected within more than sixteen-square-miles of terrain, the apes are trained on rope structures and trees in order to prepare them to go back to the wild. Visitors remain on walkways, but can watch the orphans closely as they move about their dedicated practice/play area.
Just north of the Sulu Sea and the Philippines’ Visayan Islands, the small island of Romblon is known for its marble. There, Clang Garcia, author of Food Holidays Philippines, can arrange food tours such as a motorized tricycle trip to the countryside. Guests who visit Milagros Montero will find her giving demonstrations in front of her house and likely busy grabbing river prawns as they crawl out and away from a basket. Her family is expert at grinding and mixing them with coconut, hot chilis, ginger, and shallots to make sarsa na uyang, delicious steamed fish cake snacks cooked in banana leaves.
By the sea in Romblon town, Clang Garcia also arranged on the S.A.L.T. sailing for a lunch feast of dishes such as chicken tinola soup with fish sauce, grilled tanique fish, and fruits and salads that featured chilis.
Finally, to cap off the cruise in Manila, guests followed chef Nicole Ponseca to the home of the founders of the Center for Culinary Arts, Manila (CCA). There, movie star-handsome chef, and author of Twenty Years of Love + Cooking, Sau Del Rosario served an indoor/outdoor feast that included lamb shank cladereta and sinigang sa bayabas (Ulang or river prawns) among some two dozen other foods and desserts.
All of which means that you’d have to come back again and again on a Silversea Cruises S.A.L.T. sailing to even begin to sample all the dishes out there yet to discover, let alone yourself master all those recipes and flavors that have come together over centuries.