What Madrid Fusión Manila can do to advance Filipino cuisine

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While Madrid Fusión Manila featured high profile chefs and groundbreaking culinary ideas, the gastronomy expo — a sort of market where farmers, producers, and consumers come together — is where the true heart of the food congress resides. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — While Madrid Fusión Manila is often highlighted by its congress, with its impressive line up of international and local chefs, and its regional lunches featuring innovative takes on local cuisine, the Fusión Manila International Gastronomy Expo is where the fun stuff happens. So much so, that its inhabitants took a while to exit the building despite the series of earthquakes that rocked Metro Manila during the event.

For one, there’s an abundant supply of alcohol and food in the form of samples streaming throughout the day. And despite its booths that mainly cater to restaurants and culinary students, the expo is the most accessible compared to the congress and regional lunch for regular visitors. This has made the expo a refuge for attendees waiting on lunch or tired with the talks — which, despite the all-star cast, was inevitable.

mfmexpo1.jpg Young groups of farmers from just outside the metro, such as El Dorado and Elmntm, offered fresh organic produce to sample. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

mfmexpo2.jpg Different kinds of suman, or native rice cake. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

The syndicated focal point of the expo was culinary and agricultural tourism, spearheaded by the Department of Tourism and Department of Agriculture. Massive regional booths feature local produce and derivatives as a way of enhancing the country’s culinary and agricultural tourism. Young groups of farmers from just outside the metro, such as El Dorado and Elmntm, shared the secrets of producing fresh organic produce. The sorbetero of the Albay booth was mobbed several times throughout the entire congress; he didn’t even need to ring his bell.

The two little lanes under the España sign was, like its Filipino counterpart, flooded with wine, cheese, and cured meats. Little booths inhabited by foreigners with vino chilling in ice buckets was the theme, and visitors were more than welcome to try a glass or two. Opposite the wine rows, sat Terry’s Selection, a local restaurant serving European dishes. They had an unending supply of Iberico ham, waiting to be sliced by a Filipino: Michael Lopez, the first Filipino maestro cortador, whose skills were apparent as he masterfully sliced pieces of ham for passersby.

mfmexpo3.jpg Carving thin slices of jamon at the España booth. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

mfmexpo4.jpg Hugo Mazel of Terry's Selection. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

A stone’s throw away from España was La Lola, which had a tradition to uphold as one of the most festive booths in the entire expo. Free churros was available, complete with their signature chocolate dip. To top it off, the churros was accompanied by freshly-made and hard-to-pass sangria.

While the Madrid Fusión congress had chefs speaking for an hour, the expo had its little talks as well, which were also tasting seminars. From artisanal cheeses to tapas to local craft beers, the talks delved on what was important: free samples. Lines would queue up around the booths, especially for the good ones, most notably, the talk on jamon iberico, which disclosed the recipe for making the arguably best ham on the planet.

mfmexpo6.jpg Gourmet tuyo and bangus belly. Photo by GABBY CANTERO

Fresh from their presentations at the congress, invited speakers, which included Asia’s Best Female Chef for 2015 Vicky Lau, would find themselves at the expo for their press conferences. This would give guests a closer experience of their culinary heroes and as well as the opportunity for the mandatory selfie or autograph — some of which were on the chef’s own book, purchased from the nearby Fully Booked or Kitchen Bookstore booths.

As the days drew closer to the end of the congress, people became more and more relaxed within the expo. Filipino and Spanish hospitality was evident, with booths taking pride in their products and inviting people to give them a try. It was like a local market but it was also like a tapas crawl. It developed, in a way, a carnival atmosphere, built on familiarity, and a lot of food and a lot of wine — which are the building blocks of a good time, really. Somehow, in a congress meant to show the connection between Spain and the Philippines, it did just that. No wonder that when the aftershocks of an earthquake made themselves felt, visitors took a while to evacuate.