The Vibrancy of Filipino Fiestas in Plates: What Went Down at the Hapag x Chef Miko Aspiras Collab

hapag, chef miko aspiras collab
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes

(SPOT.ph) Some would argue Filipino food is best enjoyed in its simplest state, at home with the folks you love. That doesn’t mean it can’t be remixed, though—not when its telltale flavors take so beautifully to all sorts of novel twists. The chefs of Hapag know this, what with their contemporary takes on classics at their small spot in Quezon City; think palabok with pumpkin-gamet miso in the sauce, or bistek with 48-hour braised short ribs. On the sweet side of the spectrum, you’ve got pastry chefs like Chef Miko Aspiras utilizing Filipino ingredients like ube, quezo de bola, and calamansi in desserts with global techniques and backbones. Needless to say, it was a force of a collab to be reckoned with as the two parties joined forces in February—and it had us opening our palates to genius eats that include bagaybay ice cream, beef pastrami kulma, and a dessert-ified tribute to local cacao.

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PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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Modern Filipino restaurant Hapag and Chef Miko Aspiras teamed up for two special nights and here's what went down:

Right outside Hapag was a sorbetes cart—albeit with scoops you likely wouldn’t find anywhere else. We’re talking ice cream by Hapag in flavors of the surprisingly chocolatey Dinuguan topped with chicharon; the briny Bagaybay—yep, that’s fish sperm—topped with bihod or fish eggs (side note: when it clicks...); and the wonderfully smoky Tinapa topped with more flakes of the dried fish. All scoops were served in subtly sweet cones by Aspiras, and were downed while sharing stories with the chefs in the said outdoor setting—as is the best way to enjoy any sorbetes, really.

hapag x chef miko aspiras, hapag outdoor
The collaboration—which sold out shortly after selling of tickets even went live—was held at Hapag in Quezon City. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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hapag x chef miko aspiras, sorbetes cart
We were greeted by a sorbetes cart with scoops that were anything but the usual. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
hapag x chef miko aspiras, bagaybay ice cream
Case in point: this cone of Tinapa ice cream. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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The festivals of the Philippines, in their vibrant, jubilant glory, served as the inspiration for the eight-course affair of the night. “We made it ingredient-driven, focusing on the [star] ingredient of each festival,” Hapag’s Chef Thirdy Dolatre shares in an exchange with SPOT.ph. And while Hapag is best known for their savories and Aspiras, his sweets, the chefs share that they collaborated directly on selected dishes in the lineup. “We… tossed ideas to each other,” says Aspiras, who is currently based in Australia but was in Manila for a visit. “It was kinda serendipitous [that] we all gravitated towards fiesta [as a concept], because we wanted to give each guest the feeling of being welcomed in our care [slash] houses as if it was an actual fiesta.”

hapag x chef miko aspiras, chef thirdy dolatre and kevin navoa
(Left to right) Chefs Kevin Navoa, Miko Aspiras, and Thirdy Dolatre collaborated directly on selected dishes that night. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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Every course is thus dedicated to a traditional celebration from different parts of the Philippines, with the Hapag team and Aspiras translating these fiestas' distinctive flavors, mood, and even colors into sweet and savor plates with contemporary twists here and there.

We make our way inside Hapag’s premises and to our tables. A bread course, playfully dubbed the Lechon Festival, greeted us. Dedicated to the La Loma tradition of the same name, this opening spread featured a pesto-filled croissant by Aspiras shaped to resemble pork belly—plus an assortment of spreads and terrines: pork head cheese with gelatinized tuna Iloko, mustard aioli, pickled mustard seeds, pork brain mousse, carrot atsara, dark honey from Davao, whipped pork lard, and a jam of mulberries and kiniing (smoked preserved meat from Benguet). Herby and rich as the croissant was in itself, mixing and matching the spreads made for even more flavor variety—not to mention it’s, well, fun.

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hapag x chef miko aspiras, bread
This croissant was shaped to resemble pork belly, as a tribute to La Loma's lechon festival. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
hapag x chef miko aspiras, head cheese
It came with a couple of spreads and charcuterie—among them pork head cheese with gelatinized tuna Iloko, mustard aioli, pickled mustard seeds, pork brain mousse, and carrot atsara.  
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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The chefs soon tour us through other local festivals by way of a four-part selection of starters. The Capiztahan Festival features Aklan oysters—the shellfish is abundant in Capiz after all—made extra bright and zingy with a piquant apple-calamansi granita. The Barako Festival—a tribute to Lipa, Batangas from which the coffee variety hails—came as bite-sized bonete made with sourdough and imbued with coffee, filled with an adobo-liver mousse, plus toppings of coffee-peppercorn aioli, calamansi curd, and adobo kinilaw flakes that make for a piquant combo.

hapag x chef miko aspiras, capiztahan festival
We were off to a zingy start with the Capiztahan Festival featuring Aklan oysters. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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hapag x chef miko aspiras, barako festival
Small size aside, the Barako Festival—with coffee-infused dough and a zingy adobo-liver mousse filling—offered plenty of piquancy once popped in the mouth. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
hapag x chef miko aspiras, cocktail
Hapag's bugnay wine-based Sinulog cocktail made for the perfect fruity accompaniment to these savory nibbles. 
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Paying ode to Vigan is the Longganisa Festival, which comes as a punchy, garlicky timbale of sorts with layers of burong adlai, tempeh flavored a la Vigan longganisa, sukang Iloko aioli, and cured egg yolks. Last in the starter lineup is the Alimango Festival after the annual celebration in the seafood paradise that is Lala, Lanao del Norte. With that, the Hapag team interpreted the event as a zesty yet stick-to-your-ribs porridge with aligue, a topping of green herb-dressed steamed crab, fresh herbs, and lime leaves to balance out the crab’s brininess.

hapag x chef miko aspiras, longganisa festival
We got a taste of the signature garlicky, punchy flavors of Vigan in the Longganisa Festival. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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hapag x chef miko aspiras, alimango festival
Pairing aligue porridge and steamed crab meat, Alimango Festival was all about the essence of the sea—albeit brightened by fresh herbs. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes

If there’s one aspect of Filipino dining that Hapag understands by heart, it’s the value of communal dining—for which reason mains are served salo-salo style, to be shared by the table. “Sharing [and] feeding is the best way to show care,” Hapag’s Dolatre and Kevin Navoa explain. With that, they lay down big plates of the Smoked Beef Pastrami Kulma (with a carrot kulma sauce that brings to mind that of curry), Inihaw na Sugpo sa Bagoong at Sampaloc (best eaten with the hands—shells and heads and all!), and Inihaw na Baboy sa Banana BBQ Sauce (the sauce for which they make in-house)—plus sides of Grilled Fermented Cabbage (think sauerkraut, but a whole wedge of it with plenty of char), Grilled Pako Salad (made vibrant with a jackfruit vinaigrette), and in true Filipino fashion, rice.

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hapag x chef miko aspiras, salo salo
Included in the Salo-Salo course were plates of Inihaw na Sugpo sa Bagoong at Sampaloc, Inihaw na Baboy sa Banana BBQ Sauce... 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
hapag x chef miko aspiras, pastrami kulma
...And Smoked Beef Pastrami Kulma. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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hapag x chef miko aspiras, cabbage
Balancing out the meats were sides of Grilled Fermented Cabbage... 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
hapag x chef miko aspiras, pako salad
...And Grilled Pako Salad. 
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Aspiras took the lead while working with Hapag’s pastry team for the dessert round—which was no mere afterthought. They had not one or two, but three sweet compositions on offer, beginning with the Basaan Festival held in celebration of the feast of St. John the Baptist (a.k.a. San Juan’s patron saint!), involving dousing guests with water. The dessert-ified version likewise went for a bright, refreshing profile, with a base of compressed and frozen melon; layers of lime and coconut jelly; whipped yogurt with tonka bean and lemon myrtille (the latter, an Aussie ingredient), and topping of Pocari sweat syrup. They then go the creamier direction with the Kesong Puti Festival named after the cheese (and accompanying celebration) from Santa Cruz, Laguna. Aspiras’ playful take, however, emulates the delicacy sans any actual dish, instead using cashew and white miso to emulate the OG’s creaminess and subtle savoriness, respectfully. 

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hapag x chef miko aspiras, basaan festival
The Basaan Festival dessert evokes the invigorating feeling of attending its namesake, by way of flavors like melon, lemon myrtille, and coconut.  
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
hapag x chef miko aspiras, kesong puti festival
Cashew + miso (in the sweet realm!) make for an intriguing—and delish—kesong puti-inspired confection. 
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And then comes the concert’s grand finale: the Cacao Festival. The Philippines, after all, is home to great cacao that more and more chocolate makers are discovering the superb qualities—and versatility—of. Aspiras’ tribute highlights the many forms (and employable parts) of the cacao fruit, the contrasting tastes and textures of which come together beautifully. Forming the base is a round of dark and white chocolate sapin-sapin; it’s topped with caramelized white chocolate cream, poking through which are thin chocolate-cacao nib “barquillos”. A small round of fermented cacao-bean jelly (made with fermented cacao juice and calamansi!) and cacao nib latik on the side bring tanginess and caramelized depth to the mix, respectively, while a drizzle of local honey brings out the fruitiness of the cocoa. Meant as a tribute to Davao, the dessert proves there’s a lot more to cacao than just the chocolate bar we’re all familiar with—and it’s absolutely magical, what the cacao fruit is capable of.

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hapag x chef miko aspiras, cacao festival
The Cacao Festival is as insanely picturesque as it is a sublime showcase of the different directions the cacao fruit can go. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
hapag x chef miko aspiras, palitaw cocktail
Pro tip: order up Hapag's Palitaw cocktail (which tastes just like its namesake!) to go with your dessert. 
PHOTO BY Patricia Baes
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Aspiras has plenty up his sleeves in the coming months (among them, a soon-to-open gelato bar with Visum Ventures), as does Hapag (which is opening in Rockwell!). And sure, the two groups may have their own niches—but it’s through Filipino food that they find a most drool-worthy union.

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