I have to admit, I don’t know much about the Philippines, or Filipino food for that matter. So, when I was invited by Mama Z (Zosima, but Zos to her friends) to her inaugural Kamayan Feast
supperclub at Redbank in Manchester’s Green Quarter, I just couldn’t say no.
Having first met Zos over her exceptional brownies when she worked round the corner from me,
I’d been eagerly following her move from working in someone else’s kitchen, to fully fledged trader.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Redbank was set up to hold 45, large I thought for a supperclub, but itdidn’t faze Zos. For me, good food is a holiday for my senses – warm, comforting, unfamiliar, exciting and transporting me to places I’ve never been before. That’s exactly what Zos’ food did that evening.
We started with salty, crunchy pork scratchings, delicious little poppadoms and properly crispy spring rolls served with a vinegary sauce called suka that just lifted everything and added a top note sparkle.
Next up was the adobo – a staple Filipino dish, which we all agreed was the dish of the evening – a slow cooked pork, soy, garlic and shitake stew that was all umami and rich and unctuous and I could have just continued to eat it till I popped.
There was also pancit – seafood with noodles and egg. Sounds a bit odd but was actually really salty and moreish. There were chicken skewers and greens, which looked boring, but boy did they pack a flavour punch with baby shrimps, garlic, chilli and coconut milk. I basically drank the leftover sauce out of the bowl.
Pudding was sweet spring rolls, which I found a great novelty and a set cassava custard cake, which tasted a lot like ambrosia, which meant I could have eaten about 12.
After such a great evening (a big shout out to Pippa of Pippy Eats and her other half Christian, Mei of Oh Mei Dumpling and Jo Jo from Bolton FM who made me feel like an old friend, even though they had only just met me), I caught up with Zos to ask her what made her tick, why she cooks the food she does and what’s next.
Nosh: How did you get into food?
Zos: I got into food when I left home and I suppose you have to teach yourself really. It was especially when I got sick and I wanted my Mum’s home cooking and comfort food that really got me into cooking.
N: Why Filipino food?
Z: Filipino food has always been so nostalgic for me because my Mum is from there and I associate a lot of my food memories with her cooking. All the time I spent in the Philippines always had memories of Filipino food too. I wanted to show everyone how great the cuisine is, especially now I feel that people are more open to different flavours and textures. Filipino food is comfort food to me, the food that makes me happy. I just want to share that love with everyone.
N: What was making the step from working in restaurants to going alone as a trader like?
Z: Scary but also exciting! it was a long time coming and seemed like the right step. I was always too scared to do it, despite my friends saying so for years that I should, but I knew I was ready to do it the beginning of last year.
Leaving my previous deli job and then going away to the Philippines reignited my love for the country and basically gave me the confirmation I needed that what I was doing was the right thing. I loved my little deli job but there’s only so much you can do when you work for other people. I am much happier doing things that I like without any restrictions, especially creatively which was always a big deal for me.
N: How do you come up with you dishes?
Z: There are traditional dishes in Pinoy cuisines that you just DO NOT mess with. On the other hand, I suppose it has been a challenge and I have loved taking very meat heavy dishes taste like the real thing, but making them vegan.
A lot of the dishes are an amalgamation of the food I like to eat, alongside things I have learnt along the way and eaten on my travels. I ate so many different variations of the same dishes when I was there. It was really interesting to see how different Islands and regions cooked dishes the same dishes, but totally differently, in the Philippines. I suppose I adapt some of them for more British tastes, taking with me certain aspects of things I liked here and there. I’m also really into textures and layers of flavour in dishes.
N: What’s your earliest/best food memory?
Z: I have a few! Haha, I have always enjoyed eating and have a lot of fond memories from when I was young. Growing up in Saudi Arabia allowed me to try a lot of different cuisines and I was very lucky to have English dishes cooked by my dad, eat Arabic food locally and then also have the Filipino food my Mum cooked too.
I think my earliest food memory would have to be when my mum taught me how to cook rice. It seems so long ago and such an innate thing to do now, because everything is done to eye. The whole process of washing the rice properly and rinsing it really takes me back.
I also remember when I was younger and sitting with my Lola (Grandma) separating the newly harvested rice grains, taking the bad grains out and shaking them on a large wooden tray. I didn’t cook a lot growing up, but realized later on that I have been taught how to cook dishes just from watching my Mum and family members doing things when I was younger. It has all come back to me now I am older and working my way round the kitchen.
N: What does food mean to you? And why is it so important?
Z: Food is everything. Cooking really relaxes me. I love learning about different cuisines wherever I go, always trying out cooking classes and learning where things come from. One of my favourite things to do is going to Manchester’s China Town and just browsing around the shops at all the weird and wonderful ingredients, then picking something up to try and cook with at a later date.
Food makes me happy and that is so important because it’s what I want to do, and I really enjoy cooking for others. I also feel like it’s the one gift you can give to another person and is the way people all over the world show they care for each other. Cooking is sharing a piece of you and creating relationships and memories. If you can make someone happy through your food, then surely that’s a good thing!
N: What did it feel like catering for 45 covers? How long did it take you to prep?
Z: 45 covers took about a week preparing, just for gathering all my ingredients and then making everything towards the end of the week. Getting organised takes a while and making sure you haveeverything is a job in itself.
Dishes like the Adobo take all day to cook, the stocks for the Palabok noodles took a day too, but
sometimes you just can’t hurry that cooking process! (if you do you just want have the depth of flavours needed for the dish). Rolling spring rolls do take time and can get a bit repetitive, but they are just so tasty I have to do them.
The actual catering for 45 seemed alright until the night! It did get a bit hot in that kitchen, not
going to lie, but I think it went better
than I thought. Everyone seemed to have a good night and I had loads of food leftover so I could of easily catered for more people. I had amazing friends who helped on the night, which made everything go a lot smoother when I had to get all those dishes out, as there were so many components to put together.
N: What comes next and where can people find you?
Z: Mama Z has a few pop ups locally in Manchester before moving to Hatch on Oxford road in the summer. I will be at Kings Street Market in central Manchester on June 23rd as part of Manchester Youth Market and then July 7th and 8th back at my local Station Hop. Those are my last pop up gigs before moving into Hatch July 25th!