To the uninitiated, Filipino food may seem bewildering, unlike its more popular Southeast Asian counterparts. Thanks to famous food personalities like Andrew Zimmern, the previously underrated Filipino cuisine is on a steady rise and touted as the next big thing in the gastronomic scene for a few years now. Here in Qatar where Filipinos contribute a lot to the large expat population, Filipino food is one of the burgeoning cuisines in Doha’s ever-growing food scene. And Choices at Oryx Rotana Doha isn’t one to be left behind. Here’s what surprised me about their Pinoy Fiesta every Sunday night!
Oryx Rotana Doha
Upon reaching Choices through the stairs from the high ceilinged lobby, we were warmly greeted by the staff and the dim and warm lighting of the restaurant. I’m not a big fan of this kind of lighting, however romantic it may seem, as I prefer to see my food in the natural or bright light.
Having been to a lot of Filipino restaurants and theme nights here in Doha, I must say that nothing still beats food from the homeland itself. So I came in with low expectations and ended up being pleasantly surprised.
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Pinoy Fiesta Night
The food choices in Oryx Rotana’s Pinoy Fiesta buffet spread are more diverse compared to others I have previously experienced. Chef Arnold Brillantes of Choices Restaurant did a good job of selecting dishes that best represent the diversity of Filipino food, that even non-Filipinos will come to love.
Seeing Kinilaw na Tanigue among the appetizers made me happy as this is not usually served in Filipino restaurants here in Qatar. Dubbed as the Filipino ceviche, Kinilaw is a dish made of raw fish dressed in vinegar and garnished with garlic, ginger, and chili. The acidity of the vinegar always makes this dish a good meal starter since a lot of Filipino main dishes are usually oily and savory.
Also highlighted is the Fresh Lumpia (spring roll) with sauce and crushed peanuts. A childhood favorite of mine, I was excited to see it but was a little disappointed as its taste wasn’t what I was looking for.
Other appetizers to choose from are Cucumber salad, Roasted pumpkin, Tuna salad with Mango, Macaroni salad, Salted eggs, White Radish salad, Traditional boiled vegetables, Eggplant salad, and Mango Salad.
The Street Food Station, glowing orange because of the lighting and the food, is probably my favorite station because there I found my favorites. The sinful and crispy Chicken Skin and hard-boiled quail eggs fried in orange batter called Kwek-Kwek. Together with accompanying sauces and dips, these two food items are joined by fish balls, and a bigger version of Kwek-Kwek often called Tokneneng.
As for the soup, there are two to choose from – Tinolang Manok and Macaroni soup. Tinola is a classic Filipino food made with chicken, papaya, spinach leaves, and ginger broth while Macaroni soup (sopas) is the Filipino version of a chicken noodle soup but with evaporated milk and macaroni.
As for the main dishes, the crowd winner would have to be the equivalent of the roast beef in the carving station – Beef Asado. Of Chinese origin, Beef Asado combines sweet, salty, and umami that satisfies the Filipino palate. Unlike its Latin American counterpart which is grilled, the Filipino version of Asado is marinated and slow cooked, making the flavors intense and a perfect savory dish to eat with steamed rice. It is also used as a filling to siopao (steamed bun).
Chicken barbecue grilled on skewers are also available although its marinade is of the sweet variant, unlike the more tangy Chicken Inasal. For the fried food lovers, you can choose from the following: Fried fish, Vegetable fritters, Fried Calamari, and Crispy Fried Dilis. I came back again and again for the fried Dilis (anchovies) and dipped it in the vinegar sauces found in the Street food station.
Of course, Filipino classics such as the Adobo and Kare Kare is also present. Often called as the national dish, Adobo is meat (and sometimes vegetable) braised in vinegar and soy sauce, with garlic, black pepper, and bay leaves. Although the name is of Spanish origin, Filipino Adobo is a pre-colonial dish that is cooked in almost all of the regions in the archipelago, with some of the regions having their own version of it. The acidity and the high salt content makes this a dish that is even better a day after it is cooked and not needing refrigeration.
Traditionally made from oxtail, tripe, and ground peanuts, Kare Kare can also be cooked using chicken and beef, as such is the case here in Qatar. The stew is always a favorite whenever there is an occasion because it is a labor of love when cooked right. It is a sin not to eat it with a helping of steamed rice and shrimp paste as the condiment.
Crab in coconut milk and vegetables is also a must try especially for those who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. It’s no fun to use cutleries when eating crab, right?
We almost overlooked it, but there’s another food station just before the door leading to the outside seating. There you’ll find merienda and party favorites such as Pancit Palabok, Pancit Bihon, Puto, and Turon. Pancit/Pansit are noodle dishes made with local ingredients and usually eaten during one’s birthday. Although the Pancit Palabok was clearly missing a few key ingredients, it was still a good effort to include it in the spread.
In the middle of eating our buffet choices, Chef Arnold gave us a steaming hot bowl of Sinigang na Ulo ng Salmon. Sinigang is an indigenous sour soup guaranteed to wake your stomach. It can be cooked using different meats or seafood, and different souring agents such as tamarind, calamansi, and guava just to name a few.
But of course, you’ve got to leave some room for dessert! Especially the now insta-famous, Halo-Halo, not just a popular Filipino dessert but also raved by celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and Anna Olson. In fact, Oryx Rotana Choices even has an old-school ice crusher on display! Although the ingredients are still limited, it is definitely a good starting point for those who have yet to try the shaved ice dessert with a hodgepodge of ingredients. It is quite similar to the Japanese kakigori and mitsumame, which are said to be the inspirations for this dessert.
The dessert spread consisted of Filipino classics and modern selections such as Ube Halaya, Buko Pandan, Biko, Maja Mais, Mango Float, Mango Samurai, Cream Fruit Salad, and Leche Flan. All of them were presented and garnished beautifully but taste-wise, there is still lots to improve upon. To be fair, it is not easy to make most of these desserts especially with the blockade resulting to increase in the prices of foodstuffs and the unavailability of ingredients.
The Pinoy Fiesta Night definitely delivered on the fiesta part, serving up a wide variety of dishes usually found during feasts and other kinds of celebrations while also managing to showcase the multi-cultural and rich history of the Philippines through its bold and idiosyncratic cuisine. So if you’re a Filipino craving for classic dishes from home or you’re a non-Filipino curious to try what makes Pinoy food different, then this feast is for you!
This coming holiday season (December 2017), they’re brewing up something special for Pinoy Fiesta Night so better reserve your dinner buffet slots! 😉
Pinoy Fiesta Night at Choices Restaurant, Oryx Rotana Doha
When: Every Sunday night 7 PM to 11 PM
How much: QR 139 per person (food only) | QR 229 per person (unlimited hops & wines) | QR 300 (unlimited hops, wines, bubbly, house spirits) | QR 75 per child ages 6 -12
How to reserve: +974 4402 3333 or book online here
Disclaimer: I was a guest at Choices restaurant, Oryx Rotana Doha to try their Pinoy Fiesta Night. However, all photos, opinions, and comments stated are my own.
Have you tried Filipino food? What’s your favorite?