Asiong’s Restaurant focuses on Caviteño heirloom cuisine. Photo by SinoPinas courtesy of the Department of Tourism.
About 15 years ago, a big family came to dine one Sunday at Asiong’s Restaurant in Cavite. The place has been serving Caviteño heirloom dishes since the 1960s, and the parents in the large party told the kids, “this is where your lolo and lola used to have their dates.”
Instead of appreciating that proud tidbit, the kids threw a fit. They wanted to eat somewhere where there were burgers and a playground—staples at many fastfood joints. The family, sadly, ended up having their food to-go.
“I cannot fight the giants. I cannot have an air conditioned restaurant and a playground,” says Sonny Lua, the owner of the restaurant that started out as a carinderia (eatery)]. But instead of fighting back—or perhaps just a different means of doing so—he says he feels all the more driven to cooking the lost recipes and dishes of Caviteños.
A History of Cooking
It’s easy for Lua to preserve Cavite’s cuisine because he grew up with it. The recipes are passed down from his grandmother, who built the carinderia with his parents when a fire broke out and ravaged the city’s commercial area, including a portion of their home.
Lua’s grandmother was already adept in the kitchen since her cousins regularly invited her to cook at events in the 1920s. Being poor, she learned to be resourceful.
“Asawa niya, magsasaka. Siya naman, ordinaryong maybahay. Natutunan niya yung mga paraan ng tamang pagluluto,” shares Lua. “Halimbawa, pinangat sa calamansi. Kung walang calamansi, sa kamias, sa kamatis, o sa sampaloc.”
(“Her husband was a farmer. She was a simple housewife. She learned the proper way of cooking. For example, a broth stewed in Philippine lime. If they didn’t have Philippine lime, she would use tree sorrel, tomato, or tamarind.”)
The passion for cooking was sustained in the next generation. Lua’s mother specialized in desserts, while his father, who worked as a barber, could whip up something with whatever was available.
Lua may not describe himself as a chef but says that he can cook, and says he’s been making leche flan (a local flan) since he was five.
In developing the restaurant’s menu, Lua relied on his mother’s handwritten notes—which is a bit of a challenge since they are already tattered, having gotten wet in floods several times.
A fusion of Filipino and Spanish flavors
According to Lua, Caviteño cuisine is heavily influenced by Spanish food. This can be seen in Asiong’s menu, which features dishes such as the Pasta con Huevos de Pescao (fish roe pasta) and the Sizzling Gambas Callos Caviteño (sizzling prawns). Over 80 percent of the ingredients used by the restaurant are sourced within Cavite.
Some of the restaurant’s standouts include the Pancit Pusit, which is a noodle dish with squid. Featuring squid ink, the recipe was developed by Lua and his best friend, the noted food writer Ige Ramos.
Meanwhile, the Pan de Troso is inspired by a pan de sal (bread roll) from the 1950s. The pan de sal is long, similar to a baguette and infused with rosemary and garlic. It can be dipped in Asiong’s homemade quesillo (white cheese]) with olive oil and herbs, or filled with longganisang Cavite (a local sausage) or Spam.
For desserts, the Silang Sapin-Sapin is worth a try. Their version of the popular Filipino treat, this three-layered and multi-colored rice cake was recently added to the menu and is a nod to Lua’s childhood.
“Pag inuuwian ako ng lola ko ng sapin-sapin, I would close my eyes. Tatanungin ko siya, ‘lola, anong layer na yung kinakain ko? Yung violet?’ Sasabihin niya, ‘hindi, yan yung puti,’” he shares. “At a young age, ang nasa isip ko, why bother making three layers of three different colors with the same flavor?”
(“I would close my eyes when my grandmother would bring home sapin-sapin. I would ask, ‘Grandma, what layer am I eating? Is it the violet one?’ She would say ‘no, that’s the white layer.’ At a young age, what was on my mind was, why bother making three layers of three different colors with the same flavor?”)
Silang’s Sapin-Sapin is unique because it has three flavors and does not use flavoring. Their version is a decadent layer of ube (purple yam), buko (coconut), and langka (jackfruit), which is served with their own dulce de leche (caramelized milk).
Another recommended dessert is the Caviteño Cheesecake, which they make themselves. This sweet treat is also divided into layers: one is made from Jacobina Biscuits from Mendez, while the second is a combination of kapeng pahimis (pahimis coffee blend) from Amadeo and tablea (ground cacao beans) from Alfonso. Topping it off is a mixture of creamy carabao’s milk from General Trias and whole Chocnut pieces from Imus.
They consign products from other makers but they have to be from Cavite. Lua says he intends to keep it that way.
Struggles amid the pandemic
Asiong’s was badly hit by the pandemic, but the challenges started even before the outbreak.
Being relatively near Taal Volcano, the restaurant was ruined by the ashfall when it erupted at the start of 2020. “Parts of Silang were heavily destroyed,” Lua shares. “Wala kami nakuhang ayuda (We did not receive help). We were on our own.”
The restaurant closed for renovations. They reopened after five weeks but there weren’t that many customers. Then COVID-19 came.
“Whatever savings or progress na narating namin was set back by four years,” laments Lua, who adds that they’re back to square one.
Thankfully, he could count on Asiong’s legacy to bring customers back. “We just turned 60 last year,” he says, thankful that wherever they build ”people still come.”
Restaurants in Cavite are ready for local diners! Customers are required to wear a face mask and shield, practice social distancing, and regularly wash hands before dining in. These places have sanitary and contact tracing procedures such as registration and temperature check at the reception and using alcohol to sanitize hands before entering the premises. To know more about Cavite, visit cavite.gov.ph/home/.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel or the Google Playstore.
Asiong Caviteño Restaurant is located at Buenavista Ave. Silang, Cavite. Its opening hours are 8AM to 8PM. For more information, visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/AsiongSilangCavite or contact them at +63918 565 2691.
Opening hours: 8AM to 8PM
Contact number: +63918 565 2691