Every now and then you celebrate a milestone and reflect on how you’ve started, how far you’ve gone, who you’ve met along the way and what kind of journey you had. Going on our 5th year, we’ve decided to look back on our roots and how we got here and what we’ve got for the future.
Flashback to Ang Kamalig in the mid-80s, when Ilonggos longed for a quality Ilonggo restaurant with good food served to them and relished unique Ilonggo dishes. It closed down when developments were made in SM Delgado and Marymart where the restaurant was located. We had reopened the new Ang Kamalig in 2015, almost five years ago in Atria and again, two years later, opened another branch in Robinson’s Jaro. The new Ang Kamalig was a newer and fresher take on Ilonggo food and offered dishes never offered before for the enjoyment of the Ilonggo people. The mandate was always clear: to share food from our family’s table with the Ilonggo people and make many happy through serving delicious food.
Now, faced with the challenge of the changing City scape and emerging markets, aside from more demanding consumers, we once again reflect on what we need to do to please our clientele and excite the new visitors to our stores. The cityscape is levelling up, and so must we. As with any business, evolving is a must in order to survive and also please the ever changing needs of the market. Tastes in food are now more sophisticated and, with a booming economy in the city, comes exposure and new needs and wants. The expectation in food presentation and tastes are higher nowadays.
Today, we have once again gone back to our roots, traced our history and analyzed our strength. It is the Ilonggo culture and history that gives us our strength and motivation to serve such delightful dishes that are favorites in any Ilonggo home. We must make every Ilonggo who comes to our restaurant feel like they are home and every visitor feel the love and welcome of a warm Ilonggo house. Because, this is us, Iloilo. We can be seen through our food from the care we put into choosing the freshest ingredients to the love we pour into cooking and coming up with the most delectable dish ever whether it be for our family or for our visitors. Our story will always stem from our kitchen to the table to the palates of the people we love to feed and to our guests.
The Ilonggo Table
When you meet an Ilonggo, your conversations will always revolve around the family and memories of the family meals. Many Ilonggos recall their childhood mentioning their favorite dish that their Lola made or the comfort food their mom cooked for them. Surprisingly, most visitors get the impression that Iloilo is only about grilled seafood and meats, or mangoes, La Paz Batchoy, or scallops and oysters, but we are more than that. Iloilo has still more to offer. Panay has more to offer. It is a joy to discover what it has to offer.
Perhaps, if we trace the Ilonggo cuisine we would have to go back to what was, and still are, available in the farms and the backyards of the homes. There are a variety of fruits and vegetables planted and livestock growing in the farm that we make us of in our cooking. We have a simple life after all because everything can be found in the surroundings. And to the Ilonggos, the simple life is the best life.
You can enjoy langka (jackfruit) with kadyos (pigeon peas or red gram) and pork as these ingredients are available in the farms. Kadyos is only available in our province. We even had to export to the Ilonggos in Manila who demanded this childhood favorite legume and learned we have to dry the legumes so it can last in kitchens that do not have available kadyos. The fruit and legumes are mixed in with the broth from the pork and batuan is used as the souring ingredient. Batuan is another ingredient found only in the island of Panay, and used in most of our native soups (like the sinigang of the Northerners, but theirs uses sampaloc and tomatoes). Kadyos, Baboy, Langka, or KBL for short, is a dish that Ilonggo mothers and cooks have fed to their families for many generations. Many a family memory is shared over a soup of KBL. This dish is also served on special occasions to show the family’s warmest welcome to guests. But if you ask me, I would like to just eat this soup on rainy days and times when you come from long hard work because it is my comfort food. It makes you happy and takes you back to your childhood when you chased dragonflies outside and played with your neighbors, and your mom or lola called to you to get ready for lunch. You would see KBL on the table and you shared it with all the siblings trying to grab the last kadyos. If this dish were served in a buffet of Ilonggo dishes to choose from, this is the first dish we would choose. This is one unique truly Ilonggo dish we cannot miss.
And then there is the native chicken. It runs around any farm. Even some of the big houses in the city of Iloilo have their own native chickens running around. People keep chickens in their house for the eggs, or to cook with. This native chicken is best when cooked in coconut water mixed with grated coconut and whatever fruits and veggies you can find in your backyard like lemongrass, papaya (or chayote), green leafy vegetables, and ginger. This is called the Binakol na Manok. It’s very much like tinola, but what makes it unique is it has coconut water. The use of coconut makes the soup thick and rich and adds the sweetness to it. Binakol is traditionally slow cooked in bamboo and placed under the sand with hot coal, simmered for hours, so it has that smoky taste mixed with the herby taste of the lemongrass and ginger and the sweetness of the coconut. Cooks have learned to do it in their own houses without the sand nowadays. This dish is uniquely Ilonggo that it is cooked when we have foreign visitors to show them the distinct flavors that can only be found here. It is something special that only Ilonggos can make.
Coconut also produces the ubod or the heart of palm in English. It’s a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of the coconut trees. And ubod is the famous ingredient used for the famous Ilonggo Fresh Lumpia whose garlic sauce is normally already mixed inside the wrap. Aside from ubod, there is also the mixed vegetable lumpia. These Ilonggo versions of the fresh Spring Rolls are a medley of farm fresh vegetables, pork and tofu, sometimes mixed with shrimps.
And then, there is the sea and our rivers. How lucky we Ilonggos are to be in land surrounded by water, so now we have much to offer in terms of seafood from fish to shellfish like shrimps and crabs and oysters. Who does not think of grilling fish, squid, or shellfish when in Iloilo, whether it is served as is, or filled with a stuffing of our vegetables or garnished with pickled papaya.
Fiestas also fill the landscape with color, music, dance, merriment, and good vibe. And with every fiesta comes good food. But of course, because we are Ilonggo. The quintessential requirement is the lechon, of course. Aside from the lechon, there is dinuguan. The one made by the Ilonggos come with the right mixture of sweet and sour. There’s also the pancit of which we have different versions of. We have the Pancit Bihon and the Efuven which is like the Ilonggo Canton noodles. You will see also the Spanish heritage food in fiestas such as the Lengua, the Callos, or the derivative version of a Spanish beef stew, the Bakareta. These are staples in any fiesta.
All these are part of the memories, the culture and the history of the Ilonggo people. And at Kamalig, we think of the Ilonggo culture. We bring it back to our roots, we bring you the Ilonggo Table.
Our new offer this anniversary is a take on the Ilonggo Table. This has two sets you can choose from: one called Paborito ni Toto with the famous comfort food, the KBL soup mixed with other dishes like the Ubud salad, Steamed oysters, Inasal na Manok, Rellenong Talong; and the other set, called Luto ni Inday served with the Binakol na Manok, Linusgusan nga Pasayan and the Grilled Pork Belly (Liempo) and still with Ubud Salad and Steamed Oysters. Both sets are served with Slices of Biscocho cake we especially made for Ilonggo Table and our anniversary. We also have the merienda version na Merienda ni Nene which is the Pancit Molo with biscocho and empanada and hot tsokolate. And for the whole December true to the tradition of Iloilo plaza goers, Sunday mass faithful, we will be making Bibingka — freshly baked, offered in two flavors, original and ube. This will be served until December.
Do these not remind you of your hometown’s Ilonggo Table? Try it. Visit us at Kamalig Atria.