Lasang Pinoy 15: Erwin’s Paella

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Erwin Ines is this blog’s reader/commenter who never fails to give great cooking tips. I invited him as a guest blogger and I am ecstatic that he agrees to contribute this entry for the 15th round of Lasang Pinoy. A Credit and Financial Analyst in Manila, Erwin migrated to Canada in 2003 and made a drastic career change a year and a half later. With his passion for food and love for cooking, he decided to take a Continuing Education Chef Training Course at George Brown College’s Chef School in Toronto. He currently works as a cook in an Italian-American restaurant.

Strange Love

Ever wondered why Filipino cooking has never transcended into the realm of fine dining? In Manila, fine and casual dining has evolved from 15 to 25 years ago because of several obvious factors: economy, competition, creativity, the need for newer and fresher concepts and globalization. These liberal and presented juggernauts of world politics and common belief of almost total to complete improvement of self as well as self-respect and political parody have brought Filipino taste to majestic heights. However, this is only true for Manila, the city I have abandoned and loved. How about across the Atlantic? Have Filipinos realized how far Pinoy food has competed against their counterparts? South Asian, Thai and West Indian Cuisines have flourished, expanded, mutated and sprouted from all over, releasing their exotic and Caribbean tastes and spices. Indeed, they have become known and popular through these years. Spices such as All Spice, Garam Masala, Curry Powder (in paste & powder forms), Jerk, Coriander, and Cumin have become a mainstay in many kitchens nowadays. They have also been praised by Professional Chefs who have in time included some noticeable, succinct flavours into their menu-fusion.

Sadly, Pinoy food has only reached a certain level of appreciation and has never soared to a new level or new heights. Did you ever wonder why Pinoy cuisine, despite the never-ending and continuous flooding and flocking of immigrants around North America, have never transcended into the realm of true, exquisite, fresh, and flavourful cooking? In my short stint here, I have discovered one reason for this shortcoming: SHORT-CUTS. I feel, for many involved in cooking as a hobby, more so as a profession, and based on my kitchen experiences, Pinoys tend to cut corners and alleviate from what is right and proper or to what should be to what NOT. For example, Italians generally know how to make healthy, nurturing food for the family at a short time without making sacrifices on many ingredients. The key to good food, in their case, is freshness.

Patience is a virtue needed in preparing good food, even if it’s branded as ‘fast-food take-out’. That is given. Many Chefs in this country prepare everything from scratch, using the best and most affordable ingredients without sacrificing quality. Presentation is also a key, even if the food is take-out, which in most cases is common around this side of the world. The freshest meat, vegetables, herbs and spices are readily available these days and there are no excuses for cooks to cheat on certain ingredients. Food has to be special, extraordinarily delicious of course, appealing to the eyes and affordable altogether. Chefs or cooks are always pressed and pushed to the wall to keep things ‘at budget’, but they also have to make the platter and the food experience memorable. They were specifically trained and hired to do those task.

Regular customers and potential customers look forward to this taste, that peculiarly common flavour, which a person would look and dream about after an extended period of time at work or in certain cases, a miserable life at home where the bars or pubs become a home. Food, in general, is meticulous and restorative in nature, but simple and attractive in presentation. Through these years, I have never ever encountered anyone careening into this kind of outlook towards food especially in many restaurants or food establishments here, tons of them. It seems that the evil cycle never ends and the cruel nature of poorly concocted and measly stretched meals to save on ingredients creeps down to the tunnels like cockroaches crawling down the sewage. Everything seems to be so dull and colourless. Maybe I am just being biased to other cuisines, but this is my general observation, particularly on Pinoy cuisine. I hope, in time, these setbacks change and resurface into a butterfly instead, finally fluttering out of its cocoon rather than forever remain as a moth. It’s about time.

Turning Back

Nearly ten (10) years ago, the whiffing aroma of Paella (Pa-e-Ya) never ceased out of my taste buds and in my mind. It continuously lingers in my unconscious being and I crave that moment, that period in my life when my family and I would eat out together at Minggoy’s in the Magallanes Commercial Complex after celebrating the lengthy Sunday Mass at the MagallanesChurch. I consider Paella as a family dish where everyone shares one (1) to two (2) dishes of Paella and talk about the food ordered on the table. This conversation rambles onto family matters, the past, the present and the future. The food, of course, is accompanied by a few bottles of wine. It is such a masterpiece of sorts when I see a Paella. My eyes pop wide open to the magical mysteries of the scent of the rice and its toppings. Add to that, my tummy ache after gobbling a plateful. With its enormity of serving, leftovers were very typical. It is such a treat for everyone whose intention is to be together that I have considered sharing this dish.


Paella generally refers to the pan where the rice is cooked. The pan has two (2) handles and, originally was made with iron. In the 21st century, any stainless steel saute pan can be used as a Paella pan.

Peasants in Eastern Valencia, a province of Spain, discovered this dish. At that time, after a backbreaking work in the fields, the farmers would gather around and share a Paella dish. Since chicken was a bit of luxury at that time, the farmers would instead cook the Paella with snails, rabbits, and ducks or any other edible animals found in the farm fields.


The leftovers I made for this feature tasted better the day after. The spices and herbs I included in the recipe have completely settled and became even more flavourful. It had the same effect as a Rice Pilaf or a Biryani dish.

To test a new recipe from the Paella, I took out a portion of the Paella and created a little recipe that’s a bit surreal. However, I didn’t deviate from the tomato base sauce and instead created a small sauce to accompany the recycled Paella. Surprisingly, the dish turned out to be really delicious too. I called this dish the ‘Rice Burger’.

My initial intention was to turn the rice into a rice cake, similar to Potato or Crab Cakes, which are commonly done in classical Canadian cooking. But fewer ingredients at hand and with time against me, I concocted and formed burger shape rice cakes instead.





Lasang Pinoy 15

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When I was growing up, my parents and I used to eat out and try different restaurants after celebrating the Sunday Mass. Moreover, during the course of the summer break, I had the opportunity to see some places which, when looking back, I had never realized how lucky I was as a teen to be able to travel. My family and I went to Europe and some parts of the United States, and what I saw along that path of my life inspired me to become a 'Chef.' The 'whites' they wore for me, during those growing-up and finding 'myself' years, portrayed a sort of fascinating and powerful figure in an extremely sophisticated, higly inviting and invigorating work place; and still maintain an unblemished and clean uniform after a very busy service. That picture of a 'Chef' stuck to my head for so many years.

True enough, with meager resources left to spend for the youngest, that dream never happened. Life went on. I went to university and studied an insignificant course, Business Management, and after graduating, I ended up working as a Credit and Financial Analyst in the banking industry in Manila; slugging it out in the corporate arena in Makati. It was the first taste of being called a 'yuppie' and was almost always looking forward to an after-office eating and drinking extravaganza in the expanding and growing Makati Business District; and, of course, the weekend.

Anyway, forging ahead to my life today, that dream as 'Chef' stayed in the back of my mind all the time that when I left the Philippines for Toronto in 2003; and after finally settling down on my own in 2005, I had started studying Professional Culinary Arts Courses in the City College to get that almost long-forgotten 'dream' going again. It was a Continuing Education Course, and more or less, students who have also shifted careers or who were trying to find work (like myself) as a newly landed found ourselves working with pots, knives and fire which I believe and I felt, everyone in class have never, ever touched during their past, professional lives.

Since then, I have been working in and out of different kitchens; flipping eggs and hamburgers, grilling steaks, shoving bread and chicken in a 500'C oven, and almost anything that can be either deep-fried or toasted just to serve hungry, sometimes pesky, customers. I became a 'grease' cook; a short-order cook with no definite place of employment, and definitely not a 'Chef.'

My articles are based on the after-thoughts of my past and present day experiences in this fast-paced, starkling, and sometimes disheveling kitchen environment. I never imagined that a kitchen 'worklife' turned that way as against the 'Ideal' environment I had thought about for years. No regrets. During this journey, I've discovered food which I've never thought I'd be able to taste. I learned to appreciate wine and travel more; now that I have understood the culture of food to society. That was non-existent when I was growing up.

This journey has not ended. I'm still discovering and still learning. It's a tough industry to be in and for what's next or for where I'll finally end up in remain a sordid mystery.

8 thoughts on “Lasang Pinoy 15: Erwin’s Paella

  1. uy! rice burgers! what an interesting entry you’ve got here, erwin . . . and they look yummy too! thank you for joining lasang pinoy 15 and hope to see you again in future events!

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