Celebrating Philippine independence through Filipino food

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The Guam Reef Hotel is offering different Filipino dishes every day from maja blanca with sweet corn and coconut milk to milkfish stuffed with ginger and onions.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted Guam’s restaurant industry, but that hasn’t stopped the island’s Filipino community from celebrating the anniversary of Philippine Independence.

In June of 1898, the Philippines was declared free from Spain and today, just like centuries before, Filipinos celebrate this occasion with tables filled with food.

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Reggie De Mesa, a sous chef at the Guam Reef Hotel, says that food is significant in honoring Filipino culture.

“Food is important for celebration because in different parts of the Philippines — like me, in Manila — we have our own cuisine. Like pancit, we have different kinds of pancit, we have different versions of pancit in each area,” De Mesa said.

The Guam Reef Hotel is offering different Filipino dishes every day from maja blanca with sweet corn and coconut milk to milkfish stuffed with ginger and onions.

For Jeffrey Lavarino, the executive chef at Chef Inasal, cooking Filipino food is about making sure that as many regional cuisines as possible are represented. The restaurant offers an expansive menu of different Filipino cuisines — and it’s only going to get bigger.

“The menu here doesn’t just come from one part of the Philippines. If you noticed, we have the Batangas Lomi – which is where I came from. The name Inasal comes from Iloilo province. We have an Ilonggo cook. The ‘laing’ is from Bicol — my wife is half Bicolana! The menu isn’t just from me. It’s from everyone,” Lavarino said.

For both chefs, Filipino independence is about knowing who they are, no matter how far away from home.

“Everywhere I go, I just bring it and I show it to everybody that I am still Filipino. In our cuisine, our cooking. As for my coworkers, who are Filipino, we share our thoughts in terms of cooking,” De Mesa.

Chef Inasal’s Lavarino said: “We were colonized for 333 years. Being free… having your own identity…it means a lot for every Filipino. A lot of people fought for it.”

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