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Chele Gonzalez’ Must-Try List of Filipino Ingredients

September 30, 2019

From Gallery Vask to Gallery by Chele, Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez has always drawn inspiration from local food. He constantly travels the Philippines, searching for ingredients he can integrate into his menu. His reverence for these elements are translated into simple, innovative dishes. The Asia’s 50 Best-recognized chef shares with us some of his favorite Filipino ingredients to work with at the moment.

1. Aratiles

Aratiles (Muntingia calabura) is a fast-growing shrub bears red cherry-like fruits. While it’s endemic to the Philippines nowadays, aratiles is actually native to the US. However, it was introduced to the country during the Spanish period.

The aratiles fruit (called manzanitas) is somewhat gelatinous, and has tiny rice krispy-like seeds. It exudes a cotton candy-like aroma; which also translates into its flavor. Its sweetness makes it great as a dessert fruit, or even better as a jam. The leaves you get from its shrubs can also be used to make tea. Moreover, Aratiles recently made headlines when a young scientist discovered its anti-diabetes properties.

2. Citruses: Lemon Lorax and Dayap

Lemon lorax are a native local lemon specie grown in Tublay, Benguet. It’s bumpier than the lemons you typically find in the markets; but provides the same balance of sweetness and tartness. Dayap (Citrus aurantifolia), on the other hand, is a local lime variety. It’s sweeter than a lemon, and less sour than a calamansi.

Both lemon lorax and dayap are easily used in place of other citruses. They can also be preserved in syrups and vinegar; or be pickled.

3. Kalingag Bark

The Philippines’ own cinnamon tree, kalingag (Cinnamomum mercadoi) is found only in our forests. As part of the Lauraceae family, it’s related to cinnamon and sassafras. Kalingag bark is usually consumed locally for medicinal purposes. But in the culinary world, they’re also use as a spice or flavoring.

The bark can be ground, then mixed into beverages as is or as a syrup. Likewise, kalingag powder is also used in cooking meats in Chinese cuisine. Some extract the oils from kalingag bark, and use it as a flavoring agent—most commonly in root beer.

4. Lipote

Lipote (Syzygium curranii) is a small to mid-sized tree indigenous to the Philippines. It grows mainly in the Bicol region, and some areas in the Southern Tagalog hemisphere. The plant bears dark red or dark violet (almost black) fruits in compact clusters. The fruit is often mistaken for duhat (Java plum), but lipote appears rounder and has no seeds. It’s flesh is dry, but has a good acidic flavor; it’s sour when eaten unripe, but turns sweet when it ripens.

Lipote is used to make preserves, wine, pickles, jellies, and other beverages. Some locals eat it on its own with salt and sugar. Others, on the other hand, mash them to collect the juice for drinking. Lipote is rich in Vitamin C, and has antioxidant qualities. Plus, it’s believed to be good in healing hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

5. Tamarillo

Tamarillo (Cyphomandra betacea), or “tree tomato,” is a red or golden egg-shaped fruit native to subtropical regions. It belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which includes tomatoes, eggplants, and chilis.

Tamarillos can be eaten with the peel. However, the outer rind is bitter; so people usually take it off before eating the sweet, tangy fruit. You can use tamarillo in salads, or as a topping for desserts. Similarly, tamarillo pulp may be blended or pureed into smoothies, sauces, or jellies. In Gallery by Chele, tamarillos are skewered and served as a garnish for cocktails.

Jica Simpas Jica Simpas

Jica hopes that by writing about food she'll actually learn how to cook. But for now, she'll happily just eat everything—especially cookies.

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