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Laguna’s heirloom dishes to-go

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Ginataang Kalabaw.

Can you believe it? The heirloom dishes of the province of Laguna, once difficult to find and get a taste of, are now readily available in to-go food packs! So, now, when native Laguna folks crave for the unique flavors they grew up with or when domestic and foreign tourists alike feel like bingeing on local fares when they visit Laguna, there are delicious cooked portions that they can just transfer to a bowl, heat for a few minutes, and enjoy.

Making this possible is well-known and highly respected chef Theodore Day Salonga who, along with his sister Gel Salonga-Datu, owns and runs Ted’s and Aurora Filipino Cuisine in their hometown Santa Cruz, Laguna.

A family-owned diner located at Kilometer 83, National Highway, of Santa Cruz, Ted’s has been serving American comfort food, such as burgers, smoked meats, fresh pasta and specialty cakes, for eight years now. All dishes served at the restaurant are made from scratch, so the flavors are vibrant and robust and people really enjoy them. From a small diner, Ted’s has grown through the years and it now includes Ted’s Warehouse, an old rice mill that has been repurposed into an events place and bed and breakfast with 14 cabins where guests can stay and enjoy the food.

Three years ago, Aurora Filipino Cuisine opened its doors to the dining public. The Salongas opened their century-old family ancestral house to preserve their heritage and promote Southern Tagalog cuisine. No major renovations were made on the house and even the original furniture was kept. Before the Luzon lockdown, the restaurant offered mostly Laguna dishes and some heirloom dishes, too, from Quezon, from where the chef’s mother hails. With the ambiance and the food combined, Aurora became a lot of people’s favorite place for destination dining.

Although Aurora has been selling a few frozen deli products in Manila, it was during the lockdown that the Salongas decided to seriously come up with frozen, ready-to-reheat-and-eat products for pickup and delivery.

“We chose the dishes whose ingredients are the easiest to source, since all are from local farmers and fishermen, and also based it on what Manila clients usually ordered when they visited Aurora,” Chef Day explained.

MINANOK.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF DOLLY-DY ZULUETA

The final lineup of products includes cachuelang dalag (dalag or mudfish simmered in hugas bigas and flavored with kamias and kasubha) for P250; minanok (shredded puso ng saging cooked in burnt coconut cream, a survival dish during the war, when there was a scarcity of meats and the texture of puso ng saging was said to be similar to that of chicken) for P175; ginataang kalabaw (chunks of carabao meat slowly cooked in coconut milk and green papaya for three hours) for P250; sinugno na tilapia (two pieces of grilled tilapia in coconut cream) for P275; inalamangan lechon (slowly roasted pork belly in fresh alamang sauce) for P315; pata estofado (one whole pata slowly cooked in soy for two hours) for P600; tinagang na kanduli (kanduli or Manila sea catfish cooked in coconut cream with turmeric) for P275; and pinais na salmon belly (salmon belly wrapped in kulis and cooked in vinegar with garlic and ginger) for P275.

Chef Theodore Day Salonga and his sister Gel Salonga-Datu.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THEODORE DAY SALONGA

All good for two to three persons, except for the pata estofado, which is good for three to five persons, the dishes are all Laguna heirloom recipes.

Chef only altered the pinais, which originally used ayungin fish instead of salmon belly slices.

Chef Day has distributors in key towns and cities in Laguna — Los Baños, Calamba, Santa Rosa and Biñan — who deliver the Aurora Filipino Cuisine frozen ready-to-reheat-and-eat products all over the province.

PINAIS na salmon belly.

For Metro Manila, he has distributors in Parañaque and Alabang, who handle the dispatching of orders in the south. He also has a delivery service partner doing the actual delivery. Aside from that, chef’s brother-in-law, chef Dino Datu, keeps ready stock in his Quezon City residence. Datu himself has his own product line, which includes bagnet, sushi bake and seasonal food like roast turkey and roast beef shank. His wife and Chef Day’s sister, Gel Salonga-Datu, offers specialty cakes and is famous for her Brazo de Fernando and her kakanin line of cheesecakes, such as bibingka, maja blanca and ube halaya. Sometimes, customers combine orders from all three of them.

“Orders can be consolidated,” says Chef Day.

Now that dining in at restaurants is allowed with social distancing measures, Ted’s is slowly opening. For Aurora Filipino Cuisine, however, Chef Day has no immediate plans to do so. Thus, the frozen ready-to-reheat-and-eat line of heirloom dishes from Laguna sufficiently makes up for the restaurant’s continued absence.

To order, simply send a message via Facebook and Instagram (@aurorafilipinocuisine) or text/call 0917-5440820. No need to drive all the way to Santa Cruz to enjoy heirloom recipes of Laguna. You can now enjoy them in the comfort — and safety — of your own home.

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