“Eating Filipino food is fulfilling, you try it and you just keep eating. ... You want to eat more, but you might not have enough space. That’s how I feel abut Filipino food.”
— Chef Allan Aranas, Guam Reef & Olive Spa Resort
Filipino residents are ramping up to save for another sweet day in their home country’s history, celebrating 119 years of Philippine independence on June 12
Philippine Independence Day, or "Araw ng Kasarinla," is an annual and national holiday commemorated in Guam’s neighboring country. Observed on June 12, proud Filipino nationalists declared their independence from Spain 119 years ago in 1898.
On Guam, traditional Filipino restaurants and businesses might not be overtly patronizing their heritage, but back home, streets in Manila are preparing for grand parades and huge festivals as part of the country’s national holiday.
Locally, Filipino families craving a taste of home or residents looking to get a blast of Filipino culture on Guam might be able to fulfill their desires by checking out a few of the island’s culturally themed hotel buffets in Tumon.
The Guam Reef & Olive Spa Resort is one hotel offering a brief bite of Filipino cuisine. The Main Restaurant and Lounge at the Reef will be hosting a Philippine buffet on Monday, June 12, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Traditional Filipino specialties worth trying
Behind the scenes of this special buffet is a son of the Philippines who has made Guam his home and is emblematic of numerous island families blending Filipino and Chamorro culture.
Sous Chef Allan Aranas took the helm of creating the Reef’s annual Filipino buffet four years ago and is still crafting unique ways to sport traditional food items from home.
On the menu this year are about 10 different, delectable Philippine dishes straight from the hands of Filipino Chef Aranas himself.
For starches, Aranas said he will be making a traditional Pinoy pancit made with pork, bihon noodles, mixed vegetables and oyster sauce, as well as pinakbet, a mixed vegetable dish that has eggplant, bitter melons, string beans, fresh okra and possibly shrimp.
For your proteins, Aranas will be cooking up pork bagoong, which is pork glazed with fermented fish and shrimp sauce, as well as pork sinagang, which is pork butt mixed with eggplant and radish. There will also be lechon kawali, tenderized pork belly that is boiled, then fried and topped with a lechon or chile sauce.
On the soup side, Aranas will be stewing some home-cooked favorites like adobo manok (similar to the Chamorro chicken estufao), tenderized chicken stewed in a vinegar, soy sauce and garlic marinade. Tinolang manok, which is similar to Chamorro kådu, also uses stewed chicken with ginger flavors and bok choy.
Another specialty making its way to the lineup is tilapia sarciado, an interesting dish that comprises fried tilapia, sautéed with onion, garlic and pepper and mixed with tomato sauce and an egg.
“The only thing I can say is try it, don’t judge,” Aranas said. “If you don’t like it, try something else, but all Filipino food is worth trying. If you don’t try it, how are you going to know?”
From the dinner table to the buffet
An evolving style of cooking, Filipino food is a mix of different Asian, Spanish and American influences.
According to Chef Aranas, Filipino cuisine is centered on combinations of sweet (tamis) and salty (maalis) flavors, which more often than not can find similar dishes and styles of cooking in Guam.
“What I see on the table, between the Chamorro side and the Filipino side, is pretty much the same,” the chef of 25 years said.
Next Monday, Aranas will be taking the foods he usually makes for family dinner at home to the Reef’s Main buffet.
Aranas himself grew up in the Zambales province of the Philippines and lived close to the ocean and rivers. With that environment, the present-day chef said his childhood was filled with all-natural eats consisting mainly of seafood, vegetables and fruits.
At the age of 14, Aranas left home for Guam in 1988 and graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. The chef continued to make Guam his home and started a family with a local Chamorro woman afterwards.
Fusion of cultures, why not both?
Together, Aranas and his wife raised two kids who grew up with the best of both worlds, eating Chamorro and Filipino cuisine throughout their lives, he said.
Emblematic of several households around the island, Chamorro and Filipino cuisines find a happy marriage on island, according to Aranas.
With many similarities in terms of ingredients and cooking methods, the chef said Chamorro cuisine is a little more on the spicy end of the spectrum in contrast to typically sweet and savory Filipino foods.
A family favorite in the Aranas household is his famous chicken tinola, he said, which blends typically Chamorro and Filipino flavors into a savory meal using the chef’s secret recipe.
Although Aranas said all Filipino foods are his favorite, his personal favorite is pancit palabok, a seafood noodle dish that uses white noodles, eggs and special seafood sauce.
“Eating Filipino food is fulfilling, you try it and you just keep eating,” Aranas said. “You want to eat more, but you might not have enough space. That’s how I feel abut Filipino food.”
As the Philippines prepares to commemorate 119 years of political freedom, prepare to free your taste buds in any variety and combination of Filipino cuisine offered here on island.