While the Filipino chef hasn’t been based in the Philippines since 2003, she can’t help but miss the variety of nostalgic dishes that shaped her love for food
Johanne Siy’s profession as a chef has taken her all over the world. Her journey started in New York when she enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America and further honed her skills under celebrity chefs Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin and Daniel Boulud at Café Boulud. She moved to Singapore to join Taiwanese chef André Chiang’s culinary team, and helped the restaurant earn two Michelin stars in 2017 and attain its highest ranking (No. 2) at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017.
When Restaurant André closed for good in 2018, she spent a few years travelling the globe and doing short stints at lauded dining establishments, including Faviken in Sweden, and Relae and Noma in Copenhagen, to expand her palate and knowledge about food. After her sojourn, she’s back in Singapore as the head chef of Mediterranean-inspired outfit Lolla where she whips up creative plates inspired by her travels.
She may have a global palate, but comfort food for her is always the Filipino dishes she grew up eating in her hometown of Dagupan in the Philippines. Here are some of her favourites.
What do you miss most on the food/drink front when you are away from the Philippines or haven’t been back for a while?
I miss specifics—like my mum’s arroz caldo (rice porridge), my aunty’s dinuguan and bopis (Filipino delicacies), a friend’s frozen brazo de Mercedes (meringue roll) and so on. I think home cooking is really the focal point of our food culture and the best meals to be had are those in homes where you have recipes handed down through generations.
What is the first dish you eat when you return and where do you go for it?
Caldereta and kare-kare with my in-laws. My father-in-law has an impressive compilation of family recipes. The dishes are so good that we are perfectly content to just eat at home if we didn’t need to catch up with some friends we haven’t seen in ages.
Do you have a favourite restaurant in the Philippines? For fine dining and for more casual experiences?
I have not been based in the Philippines since 2003. But every time I go back, there is always something new on the food front. I’m always impressed by the chefs’ calibre of cooking, their inspirations and their depth of understanding of the cuisine. My favourites are the ones elevating Filipino food to the global stage with their modern and innovative take on our cuisine—Gallery by Chele and Toyo Eatery by Chef Jordy Navarra will always be on my list. I have heard good things about Hapag but have yet to try. For casual options, Sarsa by Chef JP Anglo and Manam are always good choices.
If you have visitors/guests with you, where do you ensure you always go to give them a real taste of the Philippines?
If time wasn’t an issue, I would take them on a road trip all the way up north and then fly down south. Given the regional nature of our cuisine, I think it’s very hard to give people an accurate representation of our cuisine without actually travelling around. I’ll take them to a market, seaside dining and maybe an ihawan (grill restaurant).
Where do you like to meet up with old friends for food/drinks?
For me, that means going back to my hometown in Dagupan—the stalwarts for me are Dagupeña and Matutinas—classic Filipino food and beach-side dining featuring the freshest seafood. I’ve been going to Dagupeña since I was a child. I’ve watched the staff grow from young men and women to the industry veterans they are now.
Do you have a favourite bar and/or café in the Philippines?
Bank bar in the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) area and some innovative cocktail bars in Poblacion. I’ve been hearing a lot about The Curator but have yet to go.
Anywhere else that you never miss visiting when you are back?
Salcedo market for my taho (soybean drink) fix. A lot of enterprising Filipinos also start out hawking there, so there’s always something interesting to discover.
What do you always take back home with you when you leave the Philippines?
Pure taba ng talangka (seafood paste)–not the commercial variety that you can just get anywhere. If you find the good stuff, it’s culinary gold. When I was with Restaurant Andre, we once put a dish on the menu that had ‘taba ng talangka and I remember having to lug a suitcase full of it back to Singapore every time.
Where do you go to find authentic flavours of home where you live?
I cook it at home. Our cuisine is so personal that everyone has a preference on how they want certain dishes done. For example, my version of adobo will be very different from someone else’s. The customisability of Filipino dishes where we are free to alter the recipes to suit our taste, not to mention the variety of sawsawan (dipping sauces) on the side, is a very unique and interesting aspect of our cuisine.