Colonial Mentality: Cazuela Spanish Colonial Cuisine

8 months ago

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TOMATOES. CORN. CILANTRO. CHILI PEPPERS. GARLIC. These are just some of the ingredients introduced by the Spaniards to the Philippines from other former colonies like Mexico, Peru, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, during the pinnacle of the galleon trade. For 250 years, Spain’s majestic trading ships sailed the Pacific seas from Acapulco to Manila and brought a lasting exchange of culture that has left an indelible mark in our cuisine.

Another item present in our gastronomic past that is still being used today is the cazuela. This Spanish clay cookware has since contained the dishes made from the ingredients carried during the galleon trade. With this in mind, it was only fitting to name Chefs Mon Urbano and Day Salonga’s newest restaurant, Cazuela, after the terra cotta dish—a symbol of Spain’s culinary influence in many cultures even up to today.

Taking inspiration from the flavors of the Spanish trade route, Cazuela’s menu is a combination of old and new elements—from classic Spanish tapas to new world dishes injected with Latin American influences. Take for instance the starters. The Ensalada Cazuela thrills by mixing assorted greens with chunky watermelon slices, crumbled kesong puti, and candied walnuts. The Chipotle Cranberry dressing (as influenced by Mexico and the Americas) rounds off the flavors by adding zesty and smoky notes to the mix. Tuna Ceviche, Peru’s national dish is also present in the menu. Cazuela elevates their version by using sashimi-grade tuna marinated in citrus and olive oil. It is then topped with pomelo bits, alfalfa sprouts plus house made chimichurri sauce. Even the Tomato Soup can delight anyone with a big appetite with its thickened broth made rich with yogurt. When it comes to the tapas selection, you won’t go wrong with the Baby Squid al Ajillo. Tender and succulent to the bite, the tiny squid are perfectly seasoned and sautéed with aromatics and olive oil, enough to make you request for a cup of rice.

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When it comes to the mains, Cazuela doesn’t scrimp on flavor or in serving size either, with each platter selection perfect for group meals. Think of the Cerdo al Horno as a fancier version of pork and beans. It’s made more elaborate and mouth-watering by roasting the pork belly stuffed with chorizo de Bilbao for three hours and then serving it with stewed white beans, veggies, and saffron rice. Another big plate option is the Bacalao Picante, a generous slice of Atlantic cod fish coated with spices then charred to lock in the flavors. Well-seasoned on the outside, delicate and flakey on the inside, the bacalao goes perfectly well with its garbanzo-tomato salsa.

Chef Mon has serious game when it comes to their beef specialties. The grilled spareribs or Costillas Asadas can easily feed two. It comes with a zigzag sauce, a popular condiment in Mexico made of yogurt mixed with lemon, coriander, and cilantro, plus a side salad and a grilled pineapple slice to cleanse the palate. For a taste of old-world Spain, order the Oxtail Estofado. Slow-cooked in red wine sauce with vegetables and spices for at least three hours, the meat comes out incredibly soft and ever-so flavorful that you’d want to finish it off all by yourself. If all the savory dishes still aren’t enough we recommend the Paella Negra, Cazuela’s delicious squid ink rice topped with garlic aoili.

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Cazuela also enchants its customers with their selection of scrumptious desserts. Chef Day’s sister, pastry chef Gel Salonga is in-charge of the sweets and her creations should not be ignored even if you’ve already indulged in a heavy meal. The cinnamon sugar-coated Churros con Chocolate is best eaten hot, fresh from the fryer, so take a bite as soon as it’s set on the table. The singe on the lips is nothing compared to the pleasure you’ll taste after dipping it into the dark chocolate sauce made richer with tablea and a hint of orange zest.

Another dessert stunner is the Kesong Puti Cheesecake. Gel uses kesong puti from their native hometown Laguna then bakes it into a dense and smooth cheesecake topped with a thin layer of scorched meringue. The final touch is a generous drizzle of salted egg dulce de leche, enough to make one’s heart flutter. The best-seller though is the Brazo de Fernando or Gypsy Cake, which can make anyone swoon with ecstasy from its rich custard filling sandwiched in between thick layers of cocoa-dusted meringue. Light yet incredibly satisfying, no wonder it was included in Inquirer Lifestyle’s list of Best Desserts for 2015.

The Spanish galleon trade may long be over but Filipinos still often find themselves exploring newer flavors. For those seeking a hearty take on Spanish colonial cuisine, visit Cazuela—where big plates with big flavors are ready to be conquered.


Words by Angeli De Rivera

Photographed by Miguel Abesamis of Studio 100


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