The first Moro-themed and inspired restaurant in Cagayan de Oro is now on its soft opening at the ground floor of Saavedra Building (Vines Pension House), Yacapin corner Aguinaldo Streets, Barangay 32, Cagayan de Oro City, just across Wilshire Inn and 110 meters from Masjid Oro Jama-ah along Aguinaldo Street.
Babu Kwan is named after the common term for “beloved auntie” in Lanao, Sulu and Maguindanao (babu) and kwan is a common Filipino term for something intangible.
As described in the press statement shared with visitors during the ribbon cutting held last April 15, “Babu Kwan is everyone’s auntie. She represents the auntie who cooks for the whole clan. You see her at every gathering – bringing a smile to your face with her pots full of comfort food. She’s the one you can always turn to for advice, while enjoying a cup of coffee she brews for you along with her recipe for chicken BBQ. She makes you feel loved, while spoiling you with her dishes.”
Babu Kwan was introduced as a Moro Muslim born and raised in Southern Philippines. She is an essential part of the community, because she brings so much to the table. She is single, unmarried except to her cooking. She has much to share with the world, and she will make the whole world feel loved with her home-cooked meals. She is everyone’s auntie.
As the years passed, Babu Kwan traveled to nearby countries and realized how much we have in common with our Asian neighbors. Hence, she has infused the taste of Asia to her culinary flairs.
Owned by couple Abdelnur (Abde) and Khal Campong, both former government employees, the new venture is their Great Leap Forward aimed at restoring the Maranao Culture and Lifestyle shattered by the Marawi Siege, and introducing Halal foods to people everywhere as mandated in the Holy Koran.
An Electronics Engineer from MSU Marawi and former ICT Chief of the defunct ARMM, Abde said they had two personal sources of inspiration for Babu Kwan.
“The Marawi siege destroyed our Maranao way of life, culture and heritage, not only in ground zero but also in surrounding towns. Cultural practices of IDPs were displaced when they moved elsewhere where ingredients for their traditional foods were unavailable. Even artisans in far off places like Tugaya, Lanao Sur lost their markets since no one comes to Marawi anymore,” Abde shared in his welcome remarks.
“This inspired us to do something to preserve our Maranao and Moro Muslim culture and cultural practices. Food is one of the best ways to understand the culture of the people. Through the food we serve, people will learn to identify our culture as Maranaos from Lanao or Muslims from Mindanao.”
Second, Abde said Babu Kwan was inspired by this particular passage from the Holy Koran:
Mohsin Khan: O mankind! Eat of that which is lawful and good on the earth, and follow not the footsteps of Shaitan (Satan). Verily, he is to you an open enemy.
“This is where Halal come in. Halal means what is acceptable, what is prescribed by religion. In one of our trainings in Malaysia, we were told they are promoting Halal foods not because they only want to serve the Muslims, but to open Halal food to all peoples of the earth. By opening Babu Kwan, we are complying with that directive.”
As of this writing, Ms. Khal said Babu Kwan’s Halal certification is still under process, (Halal is different from Halal Certified) and they were in fact expecting auditors to visit this week but assured us all their ingredients are Halal, processes, kitchen and facilities are clean and abide by Halal principles.
According to event coordinator Karen Kay Jagape, Babu Kwan will be on its soft opening from April 16 (Tue) to April 23 (Tue) then will reopen after Ramadan starts. Operating hours are Monday to Saturday 11am-2pm for lunch, then 5-9pm for dinner.
The kitchen is in the good hands of Chef Hasanah Sani Macapaar, an outstanding graduate of Monster Kitchen Academy, as related to us by our fellow CDO Blogger Karren Kaye Tulang-Mambuay who invited us to the soft opening.
I actually met Chef Has 3 years ago when she and team mate Chef Vahnja Babia won the Bronze Medal for finishing 2nd runner up in the prestigious Chef Wars at the 10th National Food Showdown held October 2016 in Baguio City.
Earlier, Chef Has won the right to represent the city in the national competition when she and team mates Ivy Ann P. Duldulao and Jade Charmaine P. Mangao won Silver, the highest award in the Chef Wars, 20th Kumbira, the longest running and biggest culinary event outside Metro Manila in August 2016.
While Babu Kwan will eventually serve Halal Moro, Filipino and other Asian cuisines, for the week-long soft opening, the menu will be limited to the following: Beef Randang, Chicken Piyaparan, Pizazati, Sambal Mussels, Chicken BBQ, Tiyula Itum, Daral and Garlic Prawns.
But for the first day of the ribbon cutting, we were treated with spicy peanuts, Sambal Mussels and Pizazati for appetizers, followed by the main courses Beef Randang, Carabao Randang, Chicken Piyaparan, Chicken Pyanggang, Kyuning Rice and Balolon for dessert.
“In Lanao del Sur, Randang is traditionally made with carabao beef (carabeef),” explained Ms. Khal, who will initially manage Babu Kwan. “Beef and Carabeef Randang have different sauces. Carabeef Randang sauce is stronger, with sambal and tomato paste, toasted, grated coconut meat and lemon grass (tanglad).”
Babu Kwan will also serve Tiyula Itum (Tausug for ‘black stew) and Piyanggang manok, Tausug favorites from Sulu.
Tiyula Itum is a braised beef or goat soup dish originating with a characteristic black color due to the use of charred coconut meat.
Tiyula Itum is prepared by rubbing and marinating chunks of beef in a pounded mixture of spices (pamapa) and powdered burnt coconut meat. It is then fried with garlic, onions, turmeric, ginger, and galangal or Siamese/Thai ginger (lengkuas) .
Once the meat is lightly browned, water is added along with additional ingredients like black pepper, lemongrass, and shallots and allowed to simmer until cooked. Coconut milk is sometimes added to thicken the broth. Other ingredients like tomatoes and siling haba chilis are also sometimes added, but are not traditional. Tiyula itum is traditionally served with white rice or tamu rice cakes.
Tiyula itum is culturally important among the Tausug and is also known as Food for the Royalty since is usually served during special occasions like weddings and Hari Raya festivities.
Piyanggang manok, (or pyanggang manok), is chicken braised in turmeric, onions, lemongrass, ginger, siling haba chilis, garlic, coconut milk, and ground burnt coconut and rather looks like tiyula itum, since both use burnt coconut. It is likewise black in color, and the chicken may also be grilled before adding the marinade.
Maranao Mamis Desserts
Not to forget the Filipino’s penchant for sugary delights, Babu Kwan will also serve classic Maranao Mamis for dessert. Unfortunately, our favorites Dodol and Tiyat’g were unavailable for the first day due to a brownout in Lanao which precluded suppliers from preparing the raw materials. Fortunately, we were served Balolon, pandan crepe stuffed with sweet grated and toasted coconut meat and muscovado sugar.
Aside from the menu, Babu Kwan also aims to promote Maranao arts through its interior decoration and culture through its unique Japanese inspired circular dining tables.
“In our special gatherings in Lanao called Pagana Maranaw, we serve food on the floor where the guests squat. Food is served in ornate aluminum ware called tabak, and this is known as the ultimate dining experience in Lanao,” Ms. Khal explained.
“However, it’s difficult to eat with this arrangement so we thought of these Japanese inspired circular dining areas with wood carved tabled inlaid with mother-of-pearl hand crafted in Tugaya, Lanao del Sur. This is not common, but we decided to showcase these as well, to help our fellow Maranao artisans continue their craft by promoting it in Babu Kwan. It is still Asian and very comfortable for diners.”