From chicken kaldereta and tinolang manok to beef tapa and palabok, if the flavors of the Philippines are calling you, answer your cravings at Westin Resort Guam’s Taste buffet.
Coinciding with the celebration of Philippine Independence Day – held earlier this week on June 12 – the popular Tumon restaurant opened its third annual weeklong Filipino-styled buffet on Monday, featuring over 50 culturally infused cuisines from several Philippine provinces.
Executive Sous Chef Sean Jung said he suggested the idea of putting on a Filipino themed buffet in 2015 and since then, Taste’s slice of Philippine Independence has been a hit with members of the local Filipino community looking for a taste of home on Guam.
“When we do our promotions we go all out and we don’t hold back,” Chef Jung said. “The Philippine independence promotion is one of the best ones we do. We have the opportunity to go all out in our cooking with all of the different cuisines here, so just to have all of these items here in one place and have people try them in one setting is something that were very proud of.”
Bringing Filipino comfort to Guam
After the inaugural buffet was successful, Chef Jung turned the reins over to Sous Chef Bryan Conducto, who would further conduct the highly esteemed Philippine Independence buffet at Taste, now on its third year.
Originally from Pasig, Manila, Conducto grew up surrounded by Filipino food because his mom would serve cultural crowd favorites out of a small canteen back in his hometown.
Inspired by a childhood that revolved around Filipino delicacies and the happy customers who would bask in his mom’s cooking, the young chef went on to embark on his own cooking career 17 years ago.
Conducto distinctly recalled first arriving in Guam a day before Philippine Independence Day on June 11, 2000, ready to hit the kitchen for the first time on his own.
Fast-forward 15 years later, Conducto was tapped by Chef Jung to take over operations and planning for the annual, signature Philippine Independence buffet, leaving the hands of a proud Filipino son to serve traditional cuisines to the masses.
Heading the buffet for the first time last year, Conducto said he gathered the many Filipino cooks and kitchen staff of Taste for a brainstorming session on what they could all contribute to make for Guam’s most all-inclusive Filipino buffet.
“I want them to see all the different cuisines of the Philippines in one place, from Visayas all the way to Manila,” Chef Conducto said. “We’re trying to bring that comfort of home back to the Filipino community here on Guam and I think there’s something for everybody here.”
Exotic cuisines from different provinces
Chef Jung explained that among the many Filipino cooks and staff members Taste employs, most were also from different regions of the Philippines, meaning there were a variety of exotic dishes to go around the table.
Whether they were originally from the northern Ilocos region to southern Bohol, Taste’s cooks and staffers of Filipino heritage were all able to contribute to a plentiful menu filled with over 50 traditional foods from home.
If you’re Filipino and missing home or another ethnicity and looking to try authentic Philippine dishes otherwise only available three hours away, you might want to consider treating your taste buds to Taste.
“We didn’t want to change too much from the buffet last year because it was such a hit and these are foods that we know our Filipino community and guests will expect when they come here,” Chef Jung said. “We could change it, but it’s a matter of giving our guests what they want.”
One growing aspect of Filipino culture and cuisine – street food – is a prominent feature at the Tumon buffet this week. With 14 different street items to sample, including a Philippine ice cream cart, or “sorebetero,” these bite-sized bits hold a lot of new flavors and textures to try for residents not so familiar with food found along the streets of Manila.
Under a tropical themed display lie a variety of finger foods including fish balls, squid balls, calamares, chicharon bulaklak, and sisig.
From the streets of Manila
I was able to try “kwek kwek,” or quail eggs, miniature bird eggs coated and fried in an orange flour. While quail aren’t exactly exotic birds, nor are their eggs a rarity, it was my first time to sample this light Filipino snack, which had no outward taste, but did have a peculiar texture.
Fish cake, or “kikian,” probably won’t sound appetizing to the average American, however, this Philippine street food also made its way on to the menu and into my mouth. While it’s not as bad as you’d think, semi-sweet, floury fish meat is another oddity of the Filipino food world.
Another Filipino street food, “isaw,” or barbecued intestines, looked really appetizing … key word – “looked.” Barbecued meat on a stick would probably look appetizing to any Guam resident. However, I happened to overlook the word "intestine" in my food selection, and found myself at the end of tasteful, well marinated meat, but just not the meat for me.
On the main entrée side, there are plenty of beef, pork and chicken dishes to choose from that are so fresh that it's plausible they came straight to your plate from Philippine rivers and farms that same day.
Seafood lovers will be delighted to see gatan alimasag (crab in coconut sauce), ginisang halaan (sautéed baby clam) or even nilasing na hipon (drunken shrimp).
I stayed a little more within my comfort zone as far as entrées went, sampling “chickeni,” or Bacolod City barbecued chicken, which was tender and very flavorful to the point that I filled my plate with it twice.
Conducto added that there are other familiar, more intricate Filipino cuisines on the main buffet such as bistek tagalog, dinuguan (pork blood stew) and even rarities such as “lengua pastel,” or cow tongue.
“When you see a particular dish, I want you to say ‘Oh wow, it’s been a while since I’ve eaten this.’ You should feel very special,” Conducto said.
Keep an open mind, mouth
One of my favorites on the Filipino cuisine lineup was the “tapsihan,” or teppanyaki corner, where you can choose a variety of meats to be fried fresh in front of you. With familiar Philippine commodities like longanisa, pork and chicken tocino, beef tapa, milkfish (basa) and tilapia, this is one part of the buffet you can gorge on with confidence.
Of course, to cap off a meal extraordinaire of different cuisines you either haven’t had in a while or are completely new to you, dessert is in order – and here you can’t go wrong.
I had a whole bowl of champorado (sweet chocolate rice porridge) accompanied by a plate of banana cues (banana lumpia). The champorado, which is practically the same as Chamorro champulådo, was divine and one of the best I’ve ever had. The banana cues were also special in their own way at Taste for something found at many local fiestas.
The sweetness doesn’t stop there, a halo halo station is also on site, as well as ginataang mais (sweet rice with corn or beans) and palitaw (rice cake with coconut).
All in all, while my personal favorites of the buffet were items Guam residents are all too familiar with, if you do happen to try Taste’s Philippine buffet, go with an open mind and mouth to sample Philippine delicacies that won’t be as plentifully available for another year.