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Asian Dinner for Timid Diners

I have a dear group of friends who tend toward the timid end of dining. Some might call it culinary xenophobia; I choose to be more charitable. I have tried to expose them to some of the foods I love but have met mixed success. There is a lot of sniffing and staring when we dine at Asian restaurants, so while I have the kitchen to myself I'd like to introduce them to one of my favorite Asian cuisines in a setting where they have no other option but to eat or risk my feigned disappointment. Yes, I am basically guilt-tripping them into eating Filipino. To that end, anyone have any comments on my proposed menu?

Lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly with sweet bread sauce and pepper vinegar)
Lumpiang shanghai (pork spring rolls with sweet chili sauce)
Lumpiang gulay (vegetable spring rolls with chili-garlic vinegar)
Lychee martinis, mango smash

Arroz a la Valenciana (paella) or Pancit Palabok (rice noodles with shrimp sauce)
Rellenong manok (whole deboned chicken stuffed with mincemeat, chorizo and savories)

Lumpiang sariwa (egg crepes with fresh vegetables and peanut sauce)
Ukoy (bean sprout pancakes with shrimp)
Vegetarian kare-kare (native vegetables in a toasted rice-peanut sauce with shrimp paste)
Sinangag (garlic fried rice)

Avocado ice cream

I need to feed at least one vegetarian and am open to any other suggestions for less-intimidating dishes whether they be traditional or fusion. Thanks!

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  1. I wish you were inviting me! Looks great. I think you have a well planned menu. Lumpia are a very safe starter. And for the rest you seem to have one adventurous dish plus two safer ones. One thing is that I think rice with seafood is safer than the noodles in shrimp sauce because anything too marine tasting (I imagine the shrimp sauce has a strong seafood taste) can put off the less adventurous. Avocado icecream sounds dreamy. Good luck and have fun, I am sure that your guests will enjoy.

    1. Looks great! Wish I were coming. A few suggested changes:

      Lechon kawali
      Lumpiang gulay

      Lychee martinis, mango smash

      Rellenong manok

      Lumpiang sariwa
      Sinigang ng kanduli
      Vegetarian kare-kare
      Plain steamed white rice

      Mango sorbet

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        I haven't tried making sinigang from kanduli, so that might be an interesting option for the future. For right now, as I have been eating sinigang for the past 3 weeks, I am hesitant to subject myself to another meal of it.

        Do you not think that I should be offering another main option for the pescatarian guest? And is there a reason you prefer plain rice to sinangag in your proposed revisions?

        1. re: JungMann

          Sinigang--any fish will do. Something lighter and very distinctive in flavor, especially with malunggay.

          Plain rice--again lighter. You have quite a bit of seafood already planned.

          Same with the mango sorbet--just some lighter touches to what will be a fantastic meal.

      2. Let me start by saying I have eaten Filipino food, both in friend's homes and in restaurants, but ask me the name of even one of the dishes and not a chance in hell! That said, I think your menu sounds great... for adventurous eaters! For the folks you're entertaining, my instinct would be to reduce the menu variety or risk triggering the "Oh my god, do I have to taste ALL of that!" reflex. But hey, you know your friends and I''ve never met them. I'm impressed you're taking on that much work. Lucky friends!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Caroline1

          Can you describe any of the foods you've eaten? You might not remember the names, but there are some pretty distinct dishes that might give me insight on what Westerners like and dislike in Filipino food.

          1. re: JungMann

            Oh gosh, JM, it was so long ago my aging and decrepid memory has turned it all into gray rice pudding! But even if I could, I would not be a good one to guage others by since I will eat about anything. Well, at least more than most. Never found brains in any recipe to have a texture I enjoy, and I can't abide the back flavor of tripe. But I adore snails and kales and puppy dog tails. Well, cow tails anyway.

            I *think* (but could be wrong) one dish had skinless portions of a fairly dense white fish in a tomatoey (or at least red) sauce. And I'm fairly sure one of the dishes was made with cellophane noodles, that I had had many times before but never prepared in that way. And I seem to recall something exotic tasting yet well anchored by garlic. Coconut maybe?

            I'm sure this is no help at all. Unless you're planning on gray rice pudding? Sorry! '-)

        2. It all sounds wonderful. I hope these are very close friends who will not want to disappoint you. In my experience this type of "xenofoodic" deprogramming is rarely the success it should be relative to the effort expended.

          1. Omg the first time I age Filipino food this is what my friend urged me to try.
            Pancit - shrimp/pork
            Chicken Adobo - jasmine rice
            I LOVED every bit of these dishes, and I now can make them as good as she does if not better. My contribution was my Filipino Ribs, that the whole family loves and expects me to make every party. And it is a party!

            1. If it were me, I would go with the Valenciana or Pancit Bihon. In fact, I'd probably just do bihon because it's shown itself to be a bit more easily accepted by the uninitiated. Even as a native eater, Palabok isn't my first choice for pancit. But, Oh how I wish I had some rellenong manok tonight!

              Personally speaking, I think the sides are a bit excessive. I would focus on one or two main dishes and that's about it. Don't get too fancy or too fanciful. Filipino food can speak for itself, by itself. Sinangag with Valenciana? Too much rice, pare. Don't allow the food to fight each other. And avocado ice cream? Perhaps that's a bit too adventurous for the newly initiated.

              Considering what you've written above, I suggest the following:

              Lumpiang Shanghai, Lumpiang Gulay and Lychee Martinis
              Rellenong Manok & Vegetable Kare Kare
              Steamed white rice

              Mango ice cream
              (Or go really adventurous with the Cheese Ice Cream from Selecta)

              This menu will offer your guests a variety of Traditional Filipino flavors while not excluding the vegetarian. I was a bit hesitant to do both lumpias together but they can both be prepared (and cooked) in advance, kept warm (or cold). All the dishes require minimal time in the kitchen after your guests have arrived so you can have plenty of time to chat and mingle with them instead of spending your evening wrestling with finishing off the dishes and plating.

              3 Replies
                1. re: onocoffee

                  Too much rice? That doesn't sound Filipino! My number of sides was meant to add a variety of vegetables so as to balance/lighten the meal and add texture to the meal. Otherwise my fear is that it will be a leaden dinner on a hot summer's day. Do you have any suggestions that might still fit in with the pared down menu?

                  By the way, I do like cheese ice cream, but do you really think it's less adventurous than avocado ice cream?

                  1. re: JungMann

                    I don't think that cheese ice cream is less adventurous than avocado - hence the reason I wrote: "Or go really adventurous..."

                    On the question of "too much rice" - by the nature of your original post, I presume you're cooking for an American audience. Typical American diners find multiple rice courses to be odd. Filipinos, on the other hand, can barely understand why rice isn't served with pizza.

                    If it was me making the dinner in the middle of August, I'd go with lighter, fresher fare. While I love kare-kare, it's a bit on the hearty side. If I were serving a bunch of white friends (who were uninitiated into Filipino cuisine), I would probably go with simple fare, like Daing na Bangus, Bifsteak Tagalog or maybe Bacolod-style grilled chicken. For the vegetarian, I might go with Pinakbet (sans pork), fresh vegetable sariwa, Ukoy or maybe a simple grilled eggplant.

                    For my purposes, if I want to have some friends over for a taste of the Philippines, I want it to be quick and easy. Stuff that can be readily prepared ahead of time and cooked ASAP so that I can mingle and entertain my guests instead of spending time slaving over the stove.

                    Personally speaking, I think you're overthinking the meal too much. Give them a taste of the cuisine to whet their appetite - you don't have to give them the Tour de Force.a As I was growing up, my friends would come over to the house and they'd eat whatever my mom had at the ready - at these were never elaborate meals. Adobo one week, carne asada the next and two weeks later they're eating fried eggplant stuffed with ground beef and eggs.

                    They learned the flavors and came to enjoy the cuisine to the point that they were looking forward to coming over the house and seeing what mom had whipped up - even when bitter melon was involved!

                    There are so many recipes to consider that I have to consult my books just to remember them all. But our cuisine is so plentiful and delicious that there's going to be more than enough to satisfy your guests without an arduous amount of work for you.

                2. I'm drooling and hungry. Just one thing. You're Vegetarian kare-kare wouldn't be vegetarian with the addition of shrimp paste. Unless your vegetarian friend includes some seafood in her diet. I also have to agree with going with Pancit Bihon over Palabok. ARe you making the sauce for the lechon kawali yourself. If so, how?

                  1. I wonder how many people you are feeding because that's enough food for an army! As someone else mentioned you know your friends best, but by your description of them it sounds like a ton of work for picky eaters. (I'll gladly eat your left overs though!) I especially would rethink the Palabok and Kare Kare. In my experience, they don't go over well with non-Filipinos and especially picky eaters. Good luck and I'd love to hear a follow up report on how it went.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: emmisme

                      I find that non-filipinos like kare kare because it is often the one dish with a lot of vegetables and is not fried.

                      1. re: emmisme

                        I love palabok, but I can see how it might be pushing the envelope, so I'm dropping it. But as far as kare kare goes, I always thought of that as a safe option because of the wide variety of vegetables and the peanut butter, which most people seem to love. What did the non-Filipinos dislike about it?

                        1. re: JungMann

                          I don't know anything about Filipino food other than I loved what I ate when I was there. In Korean cooking a lot of westerners did not like the shrimp and/or fish sauce elements in some meals. (But in others didn't even notice it)
                          So it probably depends on how much "shrimp/sea flavor" will be imparted by the sauce.

                          1. re: hannaone

                            I think this is where the individual variance in taste buds and olfactory perception comes in. There used to be a great Vietnamese restaurant in Garland that had the most fantastic lemon grass chicken. Charcoal broiled, incredibly juicy and tender, nicely charred skin, and an absolutely fabulous sauce served with it.

                            When my daughter came to visit, I proudly dragged her there since she had pridefully brought some of the worst Vietnamese spring rolls to share with me when I lived in El Paso. To my great disappointment, as soon as our lemon grass chicken was put in front of us, she pushed it away, made a terrible face, and said, "I can't stand anything with fish sauce!" For me it was very subtle. For her it was overwhelming. You just never know.

                            1. re: Caroline1

                              Personally, I am not a fish person. I like most of the "white" meat fish, but can't stand the "fishy" flavor of the oily/darker fish. Fish sauce and shrimp paste smell really bad to me (I have to leave the room when my wife makes winter kimchi) before cooking/mingling with other flavors, but once they mingle the taste is usually really good and I will happily ask for seconds or thirds. It's that initial nasal assault I have to get past.

                      2. Can you please post recipes? This menu looks amazing.