Behind a stack of wrinkly chayote, string beans and radishes, a vegetable vendor bags a set of gleaming eggplants and ties the handles together with an expert twist.
“Sariwa ‘yan. They’re fresh,” she says cheerfully as she hands the bag over to Isi Laureano, our guide and cooking teacher.
We are with her at the Alfonso wet market in Cavite City – 90 minutes southwest of Manila – to buy ingredients for the dishes that she will be teaching us to cook today, and we’ve already gotten a quick rundown of the produce piled up high at different stalls.
“I like to use local vegetables that are available at the market on the day that I cook,” she explains. Freshness is a crucial element of her heirloom recipes. “If you have the best ingredients, you’ll have the best outcome for your cooking.”
A host on Traveling Spoon, an online platform that helps travelers book cooking lessons with local chefs, Isi comes from a long line of restaurateurs and food entrepreneurs from Malabon – a city with so much culinary bounty that it’s a food tour destination for both locals and foreigners alike. Thanks to her efforts to spread the word about Filipino food and to support local farmers, she has been called the “quiet ambassador of Filipino cuisine”. Isi not only teaches Filipino cuisine at the De La Salle University’s College of Saint Benilde, she also runs a business called Eat Matters selling chili sauces and other condiments.
Thanks to her efforts to support local farmers, Isi has been called the quiet ambassador of Filipino cuisine
It takes around half an hour to choose among the vegetables, meat and seafood in the bustling covered market. Today, we’re cooking tortang talong (eggplant fritters) with chorizo, adobong manok sa gata (chicken adobo with coconut milk) and ginataang isda sa gulay (coconut milk-stewed fish and vegetables). Laureano directs us around a mound of watermelons to another stall where we pick up local kakanin (glutinous rice cakes) to add to the buko (coconut) pie and calamansi pie we’re having for dessert.
We unload all the ingredients back at Isi’s country home in Tagaytay, which overlooks Taal Lake and Taal Volcano. Isi also holds cooking classes in Manila, but even though Tagaytay is about an hour away from the crowded city, the bright sunlight filtering through the curtains, the sound of roosters crowing and the vibrant greenery outside makes it feel like an entire time zone away.