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The Feasts of Abalone

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[Photo of Manila Hotel's Mabuhay Palace]Manila Hotel's Mabuhay Palace lauded this year's graduates with excellent abalone dishes that were once only enjoyed by the Chinese elite

This lovely day will lengthen into evening.

Composed long before they were born, the students graduating this year 450,000 might not be familiar with this line from Miles Davis' “I'll Remember April.”

Little do they know, however, that this line best captures the sentiment on the day they've waited for since the first day of school: their graduation.

It is only fitting, then, that Manila Hotel's five-star Mabuhay Palace feted graduates in March with a feast that deserved a cum laude of its own.

In a food festival held last month, graduates and hotel guests were given the chance to sample Mabuhay Palace's medley of delectable Australian abalone dishes. At a generous 50% discount, guests were able to savor a variety of abalone dishes prepared from the restaurant's master chefs.

Assistant vice president for corporate communications Nian Liwanag-Rigor calls the festival one of Manila Hotel's best promotions for the year, especially since it was in honor of our country's future leaders.

“This kind of event happens only once in a lifetime and should be celebrated in a grand way,” says Manila Hotel General Manager Leon Keekstra. Indeed, graduation calls for a celebration that stretches long into the night.

Monitored Mollusk

Mabuhay Palace's abalones are shipped direct from Tasmania in Australia, where about 25% of all the abalone consumed in the world each year is harvested. Abalones are so abundant in the said state that fishing for the mollusk is practically the official Tasmanian sport. Blacklip abalones, which can grow as large as 138mm, and the larger greenlip abalones that   have a minimum size of 145mm are the two most common species.

Tasmanians have to secure a license before heading out into the Australian blue to dive for abalone, and a person is  allowed to gather no more than  20 of the large sea snails.

In New Zealand, a diver is only allowed to collect 10 paua (the Maori name for abalone), which should not be smaller than 125mm in length. In California, where red abalones are found in pizza and pasta dishes and not much of a rare delicacy, no more than four abalones can be possessed by divers and fishermen. Divers are required to record the number of abalone taken ashore as well as the time, date, and the designated location in a report card.

Failure to follow such regulations has led to penalties, confiscation of boats and diving equipment, and even imprisonment.

Excessive fishing and poaching have given birth to abalone farming as their numbers have been reduced in their marine habitat. Japan and China, leaders in abalone farming, both started farming the sea snails for consumption in the early 1960s. Taiwan and Korea soon followed suit, now large, commercial producers of the sea snail.

[Photo of Braised Assorted Deluxe Seafood]Royal Repast

Known as bao yu in Chinese, abalone is only served during special occasions and is believed bring good fortune and wealth. Like the shark's fin and bird's nest soup, abalone is regarded both as a luxury and a rarity. Mass cultivation of this rare delicacy has made abalone a more common Chinese banquet fare, but it has retained its status as a food fit for princes and scholars.

In its dried form, bao yu is a very prized ingredient in regional cuisines, and is sought after much like ginseng, bird's nest, shark's fin, and sea cucumber. As a seasoning, abalone lends a concentrated, salty-sweet flavor to soups like the Ho Fun noodle soup.

Dried abalones are prone to molds and cracks, and chefs meticulously check for these before buying them in markets and specialty stores where the rule of thumb is the lighter the color, the better.

In Cantonese cuisine, fresh abalones are usually steamed and braised, and then served with a cascading layer of a thick, creamy sauce like black bean or oyster sauce. Ingredients that are often included in abalone dishes are Chinese black mushrooms, asparagus, and broccoli. Mabuhay Palace's version of this sumptuous dish, the Braised Abalone Mushroom and Vegetable, sated the gustatory curiosity of graduates and guests, and will serve as a perfect start to any celebratory feast.

[Photo of Braised Abalone with Mushroom and Vegetable]To tickle the palate without stretching the waistline, Mabuhay Palace also offers  a healthy variation of the abalone dish, the Braised Abalone with Fillet of Turkey Ham, Mushroom and Garden Greens, as well as the Braised Assorted Deluxe Seafood, a colorful mix of  slowly braised seafood with an entire Australian abalone. Load up on proteins by sampling the Homemade Slow Braised Abalone with Egg and Bean Curd.

For a savory treat that's heavier on the stomach, try the Chef's Specialty Marinated Abalone, a slowly braised whole abalone steak marinated in Mabuhay Palace's special sauce. Punctuate the remarkable feast with cold desserts like  Mabuhay Palace's Special Homemade Ice Cream and Almond Shooter.

Aside from being a status symbol in Chinese culture, abalone is valued for its health benefits. It boosts the immune system and is rich in protein, fat-soluble vitamins A, E and B12, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The abalone is also said to be  an aphrodisiac like its fellow mollusk, the oyster, which is about as good a reason as any to indulge in this favorite of China's long-lost mandarins and aristocrats. But then, that's an entirely different rite of passage altogether.

Print ed: 04/10


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