Pulutan! | Marvin Gapultos
By Marvin Gapultos
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table, talking to cookbook authors.
Marvin: My name is Marvin Gapultos, and I'm the author of Pulutan: Filipino Bar Bites, Appetizers, and Street Eats.
Suzy Chase: People say Filipino food is intimidating, but you say anyone can make it. Talk a bit about that.
Marvin: All of the ingredients can be relatively easy to find at your neighborhood supermarket, and if not there then at your neighborhood Asian supermarket. With all kinds of cuisines becoming more and more popular today, especially Asian cuisines and specifically southeast Asian cuisines, these ingredients are easier to find now. Filipino food might be new to people, but it's definitely not something that's inaccessible to people.
Suzy Chase: Let's kick things off with you telling us what Pulutan means.
Marvin: Generally speaking, Pulutan is the Filipino word, it translates to 'pick up with the fingers.' That generally refers to Filipino finger foods and appetizers, and mostly Filipino food that goes well with beers or other alcoholic beverages.
Suzy Chase: Well, speaking of beers, you're a certified cicerone.
Marvin: I am.
Suzy Chase: That's amazing. Tell us about that.
Marvin: It's kind of an equivalent to wine sommelier. Like sommeliers, the cicerone program has different levels of certification. I don't want to bore everybody with it, but there's advanced cicerones, master cicerones, and yeah. I went through the process, and it was one of the hardest tests I have ever had to do. You have to know different types of beer styles, be able to identify beer flavors, and it was something that I wanted to do for my cookbook because-
Suzy Chase: I heard something like 30% of people pass the exam.
Marvin: Yeah, it's insane. They say that it's harder to take than the bar exam. I really don't know how true that is, but it's definitely a difficult test just based on having to taste different variety of beers.
Suzy Chase: Has Pulutan changed since precolonial days?
Marvin: Yeah, it's changed a lot. In my research for the book, I found that when the Spanish arrived in the Philippines, in their first written histories they found that the Filipinos were already eating things with their native alcohols, rice wines and things like that. What they had discovered was this wasn't part of lunch or dinner. Filipinos were actually eating snacks with alcohol, and the Spanish actually called it [puloton 00:03:01]. They spelled it in their Spanish way.
Marvin: Since then, in precolonial times, we ate things, we snacked on things like turtle eggs and different kinds of birds and fowl and things like that that were found on the islands. We still eat a lot of native foods that we've always eaten, but for Pulutan, we like to eat a lot of ... there's things like barbecued skewers, Lumpia which is our type of egg rolls, and all kinds of bar snacks from just normal peanuts to fried foods like what we have is Kwek-Kwek which is fried quail eggs in a batter. Things are definitely changed a lot since precolonial times.
Suzy Chase: Describe the dish Kwek-Kwek.
Marvin: Kwek-Kwek traditionally is a Filipino street food of hard boiled quail eggs that are battered in an orange batter. The batter's made orange by atsuete oil, and it's deep fried. The version in my book, I kind of did a corn dog batter with the quail eggs just to make it kind of more fun and accessible.
Suzy Chase: Let's talk about your beer and spam mac and cheese. How did you riff off J. Kenji López-Alt's [spamac 00:04:26] and cheese recipe?
Marvin: His recipe originally just was super easy. You use just elbow macaroni, canned condensed milk, water, and cheddar cheese. I just added spam and Filipino beer to it, San Miguel beer, in place of the water. I got there because Kenji used canned condensed milk and that's something I always had in my pantry along with Spam. It's kind of like a Filipino thing to have these canned convenience foods in the pantry. It just kind of went from there. The macaroni boils in the beer, and then I added the spam and the condensed milk. It's super easy and super fun.
Suzy Chase: What does the beer bring to the recipe?
Marvin: The malt in the beer brings a little bit of nuttiness which plays well with the cheese that I find. I actually use a mix of Edam, or Queso de Bola as it's called in the Philippines, and cheddar cheese. The beer, depending on what beer you use, you could just use a can of Budweiser if you want, but that kind of maltiness brings a nice balance to the cheese that I find.
Suzy Chase: What are the culinary and world influences that make up Filipino cuisine?
Marvin: Well, we've always had our own native Malay influences from, we're located in southeast Asia, so we've always used things like citrus and fish sauce, and fermented fish paste and things like that. But we also have influences from China. Things like our noodles and our egg rolls were influenced from the US from their occupation of the Philippines. Like I mentioned earlier, there's the canned convenience foods. Hamburgers, pizza, and friend chicken have become very popular since from the US. Also, we have a lot of Mexican influences. Spain actually colonized the Philippines and Mexico, and so there's a lot of Mexican influences based on the Spanish trade between Mexico and the Philippines. There's a lot of Mexican influence as well.
Suzy Chase: In the west, going out for drinks usually means meeting up with our friends at a bar. What does it look like in the Philippines?
Marvin: In the Philippines, you don't have to go to a bar. We have lots of family gatherings, and it's all about comradery and being with family and friends. We like to just eat and drink whenever we can. It doesn't have to be a specific time of day or in a specific location. That's the great thing about Pulutan. You don't have to have it after five PM.
Suzy Chase: The Philippines is a beer drinking country. Why do you think beer pairs so well with Filipino food?
Marvin: Beer tends to be more versatile than say wine, generally speaking. That versatility lends itself to the wide breadth and depth of Filipino dishes and flavors. Just carbonation itself, for a fried snack it helps to cut through the fat, or the bitterness in a beer usually counter sets, counter balances saltiness in things. Beer's versatility and Filipino foods' wide breadth of flavors, it just seems like a real easy pairing no matter what you're drinking or eating.
Suzy Chase: What are your three Cs of beer pairing basics?
Marvin: Three Cs. It's cutting, you can use beer to cut flavors, so for instance bitterness can cut through the grease in a fried food, and the carbonation can also have the same effect. Complimenting, the bitterness in a beer could compliment the bitterness say in a dish, or it could also compliment the saltiness in a dish. Then, contrast is the same thing. You can have a bitter beer or a smokey beer contrast the sweetness in a dessert, for example.
Suzy Chase: You have a whole devoted to sweets. What is Avocado con Hielo? Is that how you pronounce it?
Marvin: Yeah. It literally translates avocado with ice, and it's a very traditional and common dish in the Philippines. It's literally just, it could be as simple as sliced avocado with crushed ice, and then depending on where you are, you could have sweetened condensed milk on top of that or coconut milk. My version, I made a Granita out calamansi which is a Filipino lime, and then I paired that with a avocado that I had sugar on and brûléed, so there's brûléed avocado on top of the citrusy Granita.
Suzy Chase: Did your grandpa teach you how to make this?
Marvin: Yeah. It's something that I remember him, 'cause my grandfather lived with us when I was younger, and one day I just saw him eating avocados with crushed ice, just ice cubes that he had crushed up, and he poured condensed milk on it. I remember being a kid, I was like that's a little weird.
Suzy Chase: That's weird.
Marvin: 'Cause I grew up here in the States eating ice cream, and I had never seen him do that before. I asked him what that was, and he said, "Oh, it's just avocado and ice." I didn't really think anything of it. I was like, oh, that's kind of funny. Then, as I had gotten older, I realized that it's a real common snack in the Philippines. I had kind of forgotten about the dish, but then when doing this cookbook, that memory stuck out to me. Yeah, that's where the inspiration came from.
Suzy Chase: On Saturday, I made your recipe for crispy oven roasted pork belly on page 92, and the all purpose vinegar dip on page 31.
Marvin: Oh, great.
Suzy Chase: The vinegar dip was just the perfect acidity to go with the fatty, crisp pork belly. Describe that vinegar dip.
Marvin: The vinegar dip, you can use Filipino vinegars. There's a lot of varieties of Filipino vinegars made from coconut sap or can vinegar. Then, it has diced shallots, sliced green onions, and a little bit of chili flakes, salt and pepper. Yeah, Filipinos use that as a dipping sauce for everything from fried egg rolls to fish, grilled fish, and like you said the crispy pork belly. It's just a great acidic point to any type of food.
Suzy Chase: I put cilantro in mine. It was really good.
Marvin: Oh, great. Yeah. You could do any type of herb that you have in your pantry and that works well. Yeah, cilantro works well.
Suzy Chase: I couldn't find the San Miguel beer to go with the meal. I was so bummed.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Marvin: Where are you based out of?
Suzy Chase: I live in New York City.
Marvin: Really, and you can't find ... that's so weird.
Suzy Chase: I went to two beer stores that just only sell beer, and they looked at me like I was crazy.
Marvin: Wow, okay.
Suzy Chase: I'm gonna find it though.
Marvin: Yeah. Here in California, it's at our regular supermarkets, so you don't even have to go to a specialty store. But they're pretty well distributed. But you could sub Budweiser for San Miguel if you wanted, or any light lager for San Miguel.
Suzy Chase: Oh, okay. That's good to know. You became the first Filipino American food blogger to truly champion and showcase Filipino cuisine to a worldwide audience. Tell me about your blog Burnt Lumpia.
Marvin: Burt Lumpia is something I started out, gosh it was a long time ago, I think 2007's when I first started. The reason why I started that blog was I didn't grow up ... I don't have a cool story of growing up in the kitchen with my mom, by her side, and learning how to cook Filipino food. I was into video games and cartoons and things like that. I didn't grow up learning how to cook. As I had gotten older and I moved away from home, it's when I really started to realize that, wow, I really miss my mom's cooking. I would call her and I would call my grandmother and my aunties and just ask for different recipes. I just tried to cook Filipino food. Then, I started documenting it on the blog. It was just a way for me to just kind of document my trials and tribulations I guess.
Suzy Chase: Did they have these recipes written down, or were they just off the tip of their head?
Marvin: No. Nothing was written down. I'm sure like anybody who calls back home, their mom or grandma, nothing's ever written down.
Suzy Chase: Yeah.
Marvin: I took very good notes, and I would go home or I would go to my grandmother's house, and I would actually bring a scale and a tape recorder and a notebook, and kind of just record as much as I could, and weigh everything, all the ingredients when we would run through a recipe together. That was kind of the school of cooking that I went to. I would just bring a scale and measuring cups to either my mom's house or my grandma's house, and just had them show me a recipe.
Suzy Chase: I love that. Did they think you were crazy?
Marvin: Yes. They did. Especially my grandmother. My grandmother was like, [crosstalk 00:14:48] "What are you doing?" Yeah, and I told her, "I have no idea what I'm doing." My point was I needed to be as accurate as possible to start so then I could ... I didn't realize this at the time, but I guess this is just how I got better at it. I wanted to be accurate at first so that I had some sort of baseline that I could then riff off of later as I got better. Which I guess goes for any kind of cooking. The more reps you have, the better you get at cooking.
Suzy Chase: Now for my segment called My Last Meal, what would you have for your last supper?
Marvin: My last supper would actually be a Filipino dish called Pinakbet, which is a Filipino vegetable dish that's stewed with pork belly and fish sauce, and it has green beans, and tomatoes, and squash, and bitter melon. People like to say it's a Filipino ratatouille, but it's not really, but that's the comparison people always make. That would be one thing, and I would have my wife's apple pie as crazy as that sounds with Filipino Pinakbet. I think that would be about it. I'd have lots of beer. Lots of beer.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Marvin: You could find me on Instagram. I'm most active on Instagram. It's @burntlumpia, that's B-U-R-N-T-L-U-M-P-I-A. My blog is burtlumpiablog.com. I'm also on Twitter with the same handle, and yeah. You can find my books wherever books are sold I guess.
Suzy Chase: Well, thanks Marvin for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Marvin: Thank you, Suzy. Thank you so much for having me.
Outro: Follow Suzy Chase on Instagram @cookerybythebook, and subscribe at cookerybythebook.com or in Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening to Cookery by the Book podcast, the only podcast devoted to cookbooks since 2015.