Gastronomic fusion in Manila

There would be no paella without Marco Polo nor a Spanish omelette without the discovery of America; culinary fusion has involved a rich exchange of ingredients and led to the creation of recipes that have become countries’ signature dishes and jewels of global gastronomy.

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Fusion cuisine, which stems from historical events such as expansion of the Roman empire and the establishment of the Manila Galleon trade route in 1565, took centre stage at the Madrid Fusion Manila international gastronomy congress.

Titled “The Manila Galleon: East Meets West,” the three-day event ran from April 7-9 in the Philippine capital.

Spain’s Fernando Perez Arellano, who recently bagged a second Michelin star for his restaurant Zaranda in Mallorca, was the first to highlight this process, noting that the much-acclaimed Mediterranean diet – characterised by olive oil, cereals and wine – “comes from the Phoenicians who pioneered the East-West encounter.”

Then came the fusion fostered by the Romans and the Arabs, giving way to dishes that Perez Arellano, whose cuisine is “based on flavours” and the use of “contemporary techniques and different presentations,” showcased at the congress.

Meanwhile Oscar Calleja, at the helm of Annua (one Michelin star), Nacar and Mexia in the northern Spanish region of Cantabria, presented dishes drawn from his Mexican roots, his travels and stays across the world and in Cantabria.

“This fusion has helped me to have my own identity,” admitted Calleja, who hailed the benefits of common ingredients such as vinegar, “used in Asian and American dishes,” and advised hotel and catering students present at the venue to follow their own path.

“Fusion began so long ago that everything is fusion,” the chef said, presenting dishes using ingredients typical of the Philippine kitchen – coconut milk, ginger, and calamondin, a citrus fruit that has caught the fancy of visiting chefs for its tangerine-like aroma and lime-like flavour.

The dishes also included elements from Mexico, such as huitlacoche, or Mexican corn truffle, and “chamoy” (a sauce), to season Spanish ingredients like Cantabrian oyster or shrimp.

Calleja said the “poor Spanish medieval cuisine” became richer thanks to contributions from other continents, adding that “neither the Andalusian gazpacho, nor the Basque marmitako would be possible without the bell pepper and the tomato that came from Mexico.”

Favouring the incorporation of foods from other cuisines, such as the Philippine spiced coconut vinegar, he noted the first Asian immigrants that arrived in Acapulco, Mexico, had taught the locals how to marinate and eat raw fish, the beginnings of today’s highly popular ceviche and aguachile in Latin America.

Ricard Camarena, who boasts one Michelin star for his namesake restaurant in Valencia in eastern Spain, demonstrated his technique of stirring up a broth without water, making use of liquids from the food items themselves, and said “the fusion of flavours creates a new flavour.”

Representing Filipino cooking, and deeply influenced by the Spanish style, were Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan from the Purple Yam restaurant (New York and Manila), who said fusion continues to take place today thanks to the exchange of ideas among chefs and travelling palates.