Since March 13, 2021, it’s now possible to time travel the island of Mindanao, and in one sitting at that!

That’s when Cagayan de Oro’s Cucina Higala introduces its latest Mindanao Heritage Dishes. If you’re up to it, you can travel in time in one sitting from Jolo, Sulu, straight to Maguindanao (formerly a part of Cotabato), up to Lanao del Sur, then up to the mountain fastness of the island where indigenous peoples still prepare dishes the traditional way.

On March 11 we were invited by the Cucina Higala team of Jan and Magz Uy, Joe Jake Almodobar and Donna Ocampo to sample their five latest Mindanao Heritage Dishes. I joined Nicole Abas Datayan of NikiTV, Narz Moria of Travelvlogsph, my CDOBie Maria Irene Aserios of Meets the World.

Like all Mindanao Heritage Dishes in its menu which they’ve been featuring since 2018, Cucina Higala’s latest lineup features the same meticulous research, experimentation and enhancing the heritage of Mindanao’s indigenous peoples without desecrating their traditional taste and preparation.

Of course, since I originally come from Zamboanga City, I made a beeline for a hometown favorite of my hometown, the classic Tausug dish often served at weddings and celebrations best described by a former colleague from Business World and now an MP in the BARMM Legislative Assembly, Amir Mawallil in an article from Esquire Magazine Philippines:

“Tiyulah itum, also called tiyula sug, is a very special dish with a black soup served at weddings, and is a mainstay at most other celebrations. It is black, or a greenish–dark gray color from the burnt coconut that is added to create the dish’s distinct flavor. Burnt coconut is an ingredient that is used often in the Tausug culinary environment.”

“The meat used for tiyulah itum is rubbed with pamapa (burnt coconut paste and spices that may include pounded ginger and garlic). The beef is braised with fried onion and garlic, then turmeric, ginger, and chopped galangal (langkuwas) are added, along with broth, then simmered. The process of preparing tiyulah itum is communal, and it is usually the menfolk who cook this dish in most of the Tausug villages in Sulu Archipelago and Zamboanga Peninsula.”

Of course, Cucina Higala’s version is a tad different, most prominently since it consists mainly of Bukidnon Wagyu Beef, served with coconut milk enriched with burnt coconut flavored broth, with lemon grass, galangal and lime accents.

I assure you Cucina Higala’s take retains the classic taste I’ve been used to in Zamboanga, with the ingredients differing a bit only since the one I’ve been used to back in ZC also includes beef ribs and bones.

Another classical Mindanao Heritage Dish among Cucina Higala’s newest I’m familiar with is Chicken Piyaparan known among Meranaws as manuk a piaparan, pipaparanpiaran,or  piarun. Piaparan means shredded coconut in Maranao and is a type of ginataan.

This has two main ingredients: a coconut milk-based broth with grated coconut, garlic, onions, ginger, coconut, garliconionsgingerturmeric, young wild shallots with leaves (sakurab), labuyo chili, and various vegetables and spiced with palapa.

Similarly inspired by the traditional Meranaw Dish, Cucina Higala’s rendition is tossed in savory, roasted coconut, and topped with mild green chilies, and of course the aroma from sakurab (the main ingredient of palapa). A labor of love indeed!

Moving up north from Western Mindanao, we next time travel to Maguindanao, where we encountered what to many of us was the surprise dish among the new set: Dinilutan A Seda.

I said surprised because the fish used for this dish is the Mudfish (Channa striata, known as Aluan in Maguindanao, Haluan in Cebuano and Dalag in most parts of the Philippines).

Decades ago when the city was still sparsely populated, the neighborhood kids could easily catch this from drainage canals and stagnant waters and fry it for lunch or supper.  However, these days it seems its much harder to obtain and are now sourced mainly from rivers, streams and rice fields.

Nevertheless, Cucina has taken the classic Dinilutan A Seda and brought together the flavors of sinugba and kinilaw, in their awesome take on Maguindanao gastronomy. Their crispy, deep friend Haluan is served on lime coconut milk dressing, with chilies, green mango strips and roasted coconut.

To enjoy, quarter the fish into bite-sized strips, mix the dressing with the other ingredients to your taste, dip the crispy Haluan, and voila! Pop it into your mouth for an unforgettable carnival of taste!

A quick time travel to India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and especially Thailand shows the fish is also a very popular ingredient for a variety of dishes across Asia such as  a curry made with this fish and tapioca in Kerala and Pla ra, a fermented fish sauce popular in northeastern Thai cuisine, made by pickling Haluan and keeping it for some time. A  Chinese sausage is prepared with common mudfish flesh in Thailand.

Another surprise among Cucina’s New Mindanao Heritage Dishes is their Nangka Randang, a vegan take on the iconic Indonesian Rendang that’s been celebrated in Lanao for decades. Rendang is traditionally a Sumatran dish with slow cooked beef, braised in coconut milk and spices.

In lieu of the usual beef or the even more traditional carabeef, jackfruit or Nangka (known as Langka in Lanao) is simmered in coconut milk, lime lives and other spices. Young jackfruit especially is great for recreating this national Indonesian dish, as it has a meaty texture. I swear I can’t tell the difference with the meat version!

Not the least, Cucina Higala’s latest Mindanao Heritage Dishes salutes traditional Lumad cookery with Nilotlot, their twist on the in-bamboo tube cooking technique used by indigenous peoples all over the archipelago since time immemorial.

Their Bamboo Rice has aromatic sticky rice lavished with seafood, chicken, bamboo shoots, with woodsy hints of caramel and soy, and is a meal in itself!

Revel in this exquisite buffet of creamy coconut milk, fiery spices, green chilies on chicken, seafood, and beef from all around Mindanao with a time travel experience around Mindanao at Cucina Higala today and ask for their Mindanao Heritage Dishes!

 Available for dine-in, take-out, beginning March 13, 2021. For more inquires call Cucina Higala at 0917-7946-118 or (088) 881-1570⠀

?Capistrano-Mabini Streets, Cagayan de Oro City


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