MANILA — Inspired by last year’s successful Filipino Food Festival, “Lechon Diva” Dedet Dela Fuente’s decadent Truffle Rice Stuffed Lechon and other dishes from her Pepita’s Kitchen Degustacion are once again the stars of the buffet at the Manila Hotel’s Café Ilang Ilang.

Back for a second year, the hotel’s Filipino Food Fest opened last August 24 and will run until September 16.

Her Lechon Degustacion is one of those aspirational meals in Manila’s foodie scene. One must gather 15 fellow diners and get on a long waiting list. This buffet is one of best ways to try out Dela Fuente’s culinary creations without the hassle.

To open up the taste buds, start at the chicharon bar, which offers chicharon bulaklak, bituka and chicken skin. Three different pates are also there for the sampling — laing with kesong puti, bihod (fish roe with butter) and chicken liver with mango bits.

There is also a “deconstructed” ensalada with eggplants, adobo and kansi flakes and salted egg. The Fish Salad rounds out the appetizers.

Then there’s the Truffle Rice Stuffed lechon.

It’s best to come early as early diners get to witness the lechon being carved, as well as to savor the aroma of the truffle mingling with the roasted pig. A portion of the lechon includes a meat, crispy skin, and a bit of the truffle rice stuffing. The best part? Lechon lovers can come back for as many portions as they want.

While one can survive on the lechon alone, the supporting dishes shouldn’t be ignored. The buffet has old favorites from past degustacions like the Pancit Paranaque, Calderetang Manok, Pork Binagoongan, “HipLog” (hipon and itlog or shrimp and salted egg) and the Balut Salpicao. New dishes from the current degustacions are also on the menu.

Pinoy decadence seems to be a recurring theme with the featured dishes. This is what makes the offerings really stand out. Take the Filipino paella. This is tanglad rice cooked paella-style and topped with Filipino favorites like inihaw, scallops, tocino, barbecue, crispy dilis, quail eggs, among others. This is more of a “boodle in a paellera” than a paella!

One wonders what the gulong-gulong sauce is in the Alimango with Gulong-Gulong Sauce. My guess is that it contains A LOT of aligue (crab fat). Whatever it was, Dela Fuente said it is so good, “gugulong-gulong ka sa sarap.”

Then there’s the Heavenly Sisig. This is the same sisig she uses in her Sisig Rice Stuffed Lechon. This unadulterated version does not have rice mixed in that tempers the taste. The result is sisig that’s extra spicy and extra tasty that may need an extra serving of rice (or more) for diners caught unaware of the concentrated flavor.

The Italian section of Café Ilang ilang was not spared from Dela Fuente’s culinary creations. Three Filipino pizzas were made for this buffet. The Lechon Pizza, which has large chunks of lechon as toppings; the Adobo Pizza which has adobo slathered on top of the pizza; and the Palabok pizza swathed with palabok sauce, crispy noodles, and a slice of hard boiled egg.

The degustacion offerings supplement the excellent Indian, Chinese, American and Japanese selections of the Café Ilang Ilang buffet.

Leave room for Pepita’s award-winning desserts: The Mango Trifle, a glorious mishmash of mango mousseline, cream, broas, otap and leche flan; and the Super Suman, sticky rice topped with treats and pastries Filipino kids would have grown up with like tsoknut, rosquillos, peanut kisses, pastillas, yema, and puto seko.

Apart from pop-ups, creating new degustacions, and her Project Wheelchair dinners where she and fellow chefs raise funds to buy wheelchair for indigent kids, Dela Fuente continues to create innovative dishes that may seem familiar but come with a twist.

“Pepita’s Kitchen fuses different Filipino ingredients, puts them together, and comes up with something new and flavorful. I believe that Filipino food needs to innovate more so that Filipino food will continue to evolve and will please more palates around the world. We started out with the aim of making lechon a global sensation. Now, the aim is to make Filipino food a global sensation,” she said.

NOTE: This was originally published as

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