Haob na Odong and the Rediscovery of Davao Cuisine

Apr. 21, 2006

Or is there such a thing as Davao cuisine?

By Germelina A. Lacorte

DAVAO CITY Think of it as lasagna, only different. Its layers are made of beef, chicken gizzard, liver, spiced with lemon grass, ginger, onion, garlic, achuete, alugbati leaves, kesong puti (cheese), and odong, the poor mans noodles.

Unlike lasagna, however, haob na odong is wrapped in banana leaves and baked in hot coal, like a bibingka. (Others fry it.)

Contrary to the popular view among visitors that Davao cuisine is limited to inihaw na panga (grilled tuna jaw) or Luzs kinilaw (tuna salad), there are some fare, though not yet popular, that Davao can call its own. Haob na odong is one such dish; it uses a Davaoeo method of cooking, which is to wrap the ingredients with banana leaves and bake it by grilling, steaming or frying.

The lowly odong is popular among Davaoenos Paddy Lascano, a Davaoeo chef at the Unilever Food Solutions, said he used to be skeptical about the existence of a Davao cuisine — until he did a research among Mindanaos indigenous tribes a few years back and discovered something that is distinct from the rest of the country.

Unlike the cuisine of Luzon and the Visayas, cooking a la Davao does not use much oil and not much sauting. Davaoenos almost use the same spices (as those in the Visayas and Luzon) but youll be amazed! Lascano said. Cooking here preserves and enhances the natural flavor of meat and fish.

Odong, for instance, which is considered the poor mans noodles, has a heritage that goes back to the arrival of the Japanese here (udon is a Japanese noodle). Japanese workers, some of whom had helped build the Kennon Road in Baguio city, migrated to Davao at the turn of the century to work in the citys abaca (hemp) plantations.

In a sense, odong is part of our Japanese heritage, said Lascano. At some point in its history, Davao teemed with Japanese shops and restaurants and was used to be known as Little Tokyo.

While Visayas cooking, which is strongly influenced by Spain, rely more on pepper and garlic for spices, Davaos indigenous tribes rely more on herbs and land crops.

Indigenous Davao cooking also uses ingredients readily available and which are mostly grown here, among them, langkawa (yellow ginger) and duwaw (turmeric), kalabo (local variety of oregano) and onions, which thrive in Davao Oriental.

The Visayans and the folk in Luzon saut a lot but among Davaos indigenous tribes, they dont saut the spices, which account for the distinct taste and flavors, said Lascano, who did his research among the Mandayas, Bagobos, the Samalnons, Tausugs, the Maranaos and the Blaans in the 1990s.

For example, another recipe, Manok Kiarian, has the same combination of herbs — ginger, onion and lemon grass — that Visayans would often use. But cooked in slow fire with just a small amount of water, and without oil, it gives off a totally distinct taste.

Another recipe, which Lascano calls Kula-sog, is also done this way: beef or carabao meat is mixed in a pot with a minimum amount of water and cooked slowly, until tender, in tabliya (chocolate), pineapple, onions, lemon grass, turmeric, and hot chili.

Sauting changes the taste of the food, Lascano explained. It enhances, he said, the spiciness and fragrance of the dish. The taste of toasted ginger is different from those cooked in water. Sauting heightens the foods spiciness and fragrance but the real taste and flavor of beef is preserved when cooked with herbs in a little water, he said. This is Davao cuisine.

Lascano, who also specializes in other Asian cuisine, said he had tried comparing the taste of Davao with other Asian tastes and flavors and discovered nothing quite like it. Although Davaos cooking method has been enriched by influences from Japan, Spain and the coming in of migrants from Visayas and Luzon, Davaos indigenous tribes have developed their own unique style of preparing food that is not found in other parts of the country.

Their cooking style also rely mostly on boiling, broiling, grilling and their own version of baking, wrapping food with thick leaves and putting them over live coals. Thats what you call steam baking, Lascano explained.

He said an island cuisine competition at SM City Davao on April 27 will serve to heighten the peoples awareness of this distinctive cuisine. The food that we eat these days is no longer done the way Davao used to do it, he said. Our goal is to encourage more restaurants and eateries to use basic Davao food ingredients and to pay more attention to Davao cuisine. (Germelina A. Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

comments powered by Disqus