TAGUIG CITY, METRO MANILA – The bibingka is a classic Filipino food icon. While it can be bought anytime of the year, it is most associated with the Christmas season as street vendors can be seen preparing this rice cake item near churches to be sold to early risers attending Simbang Gabi. A simple food to make, it is largely composed of rice flour and gata (coconut milk) and baked with cheese, margarine, brown sugar, duck eggs, and grated coconut.
One Filipino-American chef is taking the bibingka one step further, infusing it with American-style cooking while retaining the bibinkga’s historicity. Paolo Gutierrez is the executive chef for the Philippine office of IHOP (International House of Pancakes). Since the company operated in the country for a little over two years, Gutierrez has already experimented with a lot of items in the original IHOP menu. One of the his latest experiments is his own take on the bibingka.
His new concept is the Bibingka Pancake. But before bibingka purists start ranting about turning this beloved rice cake into an Americanized abomination, one has to test it out first. The IHOP’s Bibingka Pancake is essentially still the same bibingka with just a few dashes of IHOP elements. For instance, the mixture is essentially IHOP’s pancake mix added with some familiar ingredients, and cooked in similar fashion as bibingka, wrapped in banana leaf to enhance the smell.
Two pieces of these pancakes are placed on top of each other. The middle is splattered with shredded parmesan, cheddar cheese, desiccated coconut, butter, and Muscovado sugar. More of these ingredients are placed on top, thus creating a visually appealing Filipino food with an American take.
Having born and raised in the United States, Gutierrez said that he has always been familiar with IHOP, having always gone back to the US-based restaurant with family and friends. “Even my son likes going there,” Gutierrez said.
With bibingka, he has known and tasted it for quite a while and he saw that the original bibingka, while already delicious on its own, can still be played with, like a canvass that an artist can improve on. His version may raise some eyebrows, but he expects it to be given the same welcome as the classic.
“For some people bibingka is just a simple dish but it’s actually very unique and it has a lot of history into it. So now, I dressed it up a bit to make it more modern,” Gutierrez said.
Other than the Bibingka Pancake, Gutierrez also came up with two more “Filipinized” IHOP items. These include the Dulce de Leche Pancake (two buttermilk pancakes filled with fresh banaas and topped with dulce de leche and dark chocolate syrup), and the Malagos Hot Chocolate (special blend of the classic chocolate drink using chocolates from Davao’s Malagos farmers).
“We’d like to improve on the flavor of our food by making them more appealing to local taste buds, using our tried and tested IHOP ingredients. The Bibingka Pancake, Dulce de Leche Pancake,a nd the Malagos Hot Chocolate are just a few that people would be expecting from us,” Gutierrez said.
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