By Sol Vanzi
A quaint café in Alabang, Café Miel is gaining a reputation for serving some of the best home-style Spanish dishes in town, including a Basque-inspired fabada, and food aficionados owe it all to vaudeville.
In the early 1900s, Philippine stage entertainment was mostly Spanish-influenced komedya and the zarzuela (or sarswela). In addition, vaudeville acts and opera groups were brought in to entertain American troops stationed in the Philippines. One of those troops from Spain included Nicholas Furio Gosalvez, an adventurous and multi-talented bachelor proud of his Basque heritage on and off stage. He was looking forward to the rest of the group’s world tour, but Fate stepped in and cut his travels short. A thief ran away with his passport and all his important documents, forcing him to stay in the Philippines when his troupe sailed away to their next gig.
Nicholas readily found employment in Manila, fell in love with and married Brigida Carpio Roxas, and had five kids, one of whom inherited his showbiz DNA.
Antonio “Tony” Gosalvez, a contemporary of Dolphy and Panchito, was an actor known as the Dracula of the Philippines, and a member of the guild that performed at the Manila Metropolitan Theater. It is in his honor that his daughter Susana Gosalvez-Pe named the dish Fabada ni Dracula. Susana and her son Chef Miel run Café Miel, serving mainly Spanish dishes handed down through four generations, beginning with a Basque troubadour named Nicholas.
AUTHENTICITY IS KEY
Fabada ni Dracula is a potaje de habichuelas, a dish of white beans with Spanish Chorizo El Rey, beef, vegetables, and morcillas de cebollas, a very dark thick blood sausage that’s not easy to find in Manila.
Another popular item on the menu is paella negra, blackened with cuttlefish ink, topped with crunchy fresh calamari, peas, toasted garlic, hard-boiled eggs, and parsley. It is one dish that requires special marketing strategies, as the restaurant’s requirement of squid ink far exceeds its consumption of squid meat. In Europe squid ink is available at supermarkets and fish stores but not in the Philippines. The Gosalvez family has had to develop connections with exporters of cuttlefish sushi that have no use for cuttlefish ink.
When Del Monte started planting pineapples in the cool mountains of Bukidnon 92 years ago, nobody dreamed that the plantation would play a significant role in the country’s cattle industry, specifically wagyu, a Japanese breed raised for fine, high-end steaks.
Something about the pineapple’s sweet-sour pulp produces meat with even marbling and deep beefy flavor that complements the herbs and spices used in Café Miel’s Spanish dishes like cocido, fabada, callos, and lengua.
Their salpicao uses only Bukidnon wagyu hanging tenders, which are lightly sautéed in a Gosalvez secret garlic sauce redolent with herbs and a hint of wine—just enough ingredients to emphasize the beef’s tenderness and natural flavor.
Because I have grown used to gambas al ajillo composed of small shrimps, it was a real pleasant surprise to be confronted with a bowl of giant white prawns bathed in minced garlic softened in olive oil until the mixture became an aromatic thick sauce. The prawns’ flesh was firm and springy, indicating its freshness. Chef Miel buys his supplies daily and never freezes his prawns.
The prawns’ heads are also served deep-fried, similar to, but better than, crispy crablets. Diners can ask for dips of their choice. We liked them drenched in vinegar with crushed garlic.
BANANAS ALA MODE
Dessert was platanos anisados with scoops of artisanal ice cream. The fried banana halves were perfectly firm and half-ripe, not limp and over-ripe. The light touch of anisado lifted the bananas’ otherwise bland taste. Ice cream was the perfect finishing touch, as was a cup of perfectly brewed Batangas barako coffee.
It was an enjoyable dinner in a café that looked and felt like home.
Café Miel is at OMNI Arcade, Alabang Hills, Cupang, Muntinlupa City. For reservations, call (+639) 17 806 4124 or (+639) 43 528 3416.
Photos courtesy of Café Miel.