Any Filipino who studied national history knows, for a fact, two things: First, the Philippines was a Spanish colony for 333 years, and second, Filipino food tastes amazing. Now, we can debate the boons and banes of colonization all day, but one thing is undeniable: Spanish influence permeate all throughout our shared culture and heritage, with arguably some provinces having more than others.
But it would be unfair (and politically incorrect) to describe the Philippines as “Spanish”; no, instead, we are an independent country that borrowed a lot from our colonizers, and over time, created Filipino versions of it - or “Filipinized,” as many others like to call it.
A prime example of this would be the humble yet flavorful longaniza. Sausage-making was first popularized during Roman times, and the art and consumption of it was brought by the Spaniards several hundred years later, during their arrival on Philippine shores. Longaniza, as well as its close relative, the chorizo, traditionally used pork and pork fat, mixed with spices, as well as pimentón (smoked paprika), which gave it that distinct red color. Filipinos were so enamored by this manner of preserving meat that they began to experiment heavily with it, using different meats, spices, lengths, and casings to achieve their desired results. This would explain why it seems every province in the Philippines has a distinct version of longaniza, from the spicy Lucban sausages, to the mellow and sweet longaniza of Pampanga, to the sweet and spicy complexities of Cebuano chorizos.
It is this innate creativity every Filipino seem to have, coupled with the hodgepodge of influences that define our culture, that make Filipino food so interesting. Though the food may seem authentically Spanish, or Chinese, or Malaysian, upon closer inspection it is none of those; instead, it is undoubtedly Filipino.
It is this “Filipinization” of cultures that make Calderon in Kapitolyo, Pasig such an interesting place to dine in. It serves Spanish cuisine, with the old standbys like paella, gazpacho, callos, and lengua. But with the launch of its new menu, Calderon adds a new depth to its already delicious offerings.
And though the items, with their fancy Spanish names, like Bocadillo, Canonigo, and Tarta, may seem high-brow to some, a single bite is all it takes to transport you back to a time when food was meant to be cozy, hearty, and enjoyed with family.
Take, for example, Calderon’s new offering of Huevos Rotos—Spanish for broken eggs: a simple dish consisting of potatoes and eggs, cooked just until slightly set, and topped with gulas (baby eels), chorizo, or jamon serrano. Remarkable in its simplicity, this dish encapsulates the homey and comforting trait of Spanish food, and by association, our own.
Another new dish worth noting is Calderon’s Bocadillo, a Spanish-styled sandwich filled with jamon, manchego cheese, and generous amounts of pimiento. If you’re looking for something to eat alongside a cold bottle of beer, this is probably it: the sourness of the beer (provided you’re drinking sour beer) cuts through the greasy deliciousness of the jamon and elevates the sharpness of the cheese to a level where it’s just really, really good. You should also try the El Cubano variant, made with pork shoulder, cheese, various greens, and mustard.
But a dining experience in a Spanish restaurant is never complete without a festive and colorful plate of rice, and in this case, a plate of Arroz Chorizo. Paella, it would seem to many Filipinos, is the only rice dish Spain knows how to cook. Ask any Filipino idling in a weekend market what their idea of Spanish cuisine is, and they would probably remark that. And though the Arroz Chorizo is indeed a rice dish cooked with vegetables and meat, it is more akin to pilaf than traditional Spanish paella.
Spanish cuisine is all about simplicity, using very little ingredients to create something delicious and flavorful. The rich and abundant soils of Spain has always yielded high-quality produce, and that bounty has translated into how they view the food they eat: it should be comforting, restorative, and most importantly, it should be a daily ritual that brings people together.
And that is how Calderon presents itself to its many customers: Simple, flavorful, delicious food, served on big tables, big enough to accommodate your family, and maybe, if ever you decide to go there alone, join another family in conversation and feast, since that’s what food is all about, right?
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Photographs courtesy of Donny Elvina. You can find Calderon Cocina Tapas Y Bebidas here.