If you’re often on social media, you’ve probably seen this vibrant purple root vegetable making its rounds across different platforms. Ube, also known as purple yam, hails from the Philippines and is predominantly found in Filipino desserts such as ube halaya and halo-halo.
The purple yam is definitely a staple at Filipino potlucks. Most of us will instantly recognize the taste of ube, and non-natives will associate the taste as an amalgamation of pistachio, vanilla and coconut. Despite the comparison, ube has a unique flavor that has helped create its own identity in the midst of all the outrageous food trends floating around on the internet.
Dubbed the “new matcha,” ube is gaining stateside attention for its striking color and earthy flavor—you don’t really need a technically refined palate to be able to enjoy it. Now, with the marriage of western influences to its eastern roots, ube is used as a base for artisanal gelato, combined with other ingredients in cakes, as icing on doughnuts, or even in savory pasta dishes.
Ube is fast becoming a versatile ingredient, experimented with in innovative ways that stray far from traditional Filipino cuisine. One simple ingredient, many ways to make use of it. Some of Cebu’s celebrated chefs showcase their take on the humble purple yam and elevate it to its highest potential.
Marco Polo Plaza Cebu
Chef William gives off a meticulous aura when he prepares what he needs for his ube recipe. He continuously hones his expertise through his experience working in many countries in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the USA. He divulges that he continues to learn as he travels, and shares his knowledge with other people. He had previously worked with a Filipina pastry chef named Ceding before, claiming that she makes the best ube pastries he’s ever tasted—his recipe is an adaptation of hers, with a bit of personalization in the final design.
Ube macapuno torte
On the outside, the torte looks extravagant as it’s topped with various kinds of chocolate—swirls, chips, shavings, you name it—their colors contrasting with the vibrant purple of the cake. Chef William works quickly to build the garnish, seeing as the cake doesn’t do well in warm temperatures. On the inside are rich layers of mousse that melt the moment they touch your tongue. What’s more interesting to note is that every time Chef William creates the ube-macapuno torte, it always looks completely different.
MARVIN JIMENEZ CONCHA
Movenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu
Having been a pastry chef for six years now, Chef Marvin is no stranger to the vibrant purple yam. His inclination is to create modern trends of cakes and varieties of flavor combinations, infusing art and creativity in every piece of work. His tenure as a pastry chef shines through as he easily whips up not one, but seven different ube recipes. He definitely doesn’t let his experience go to waste, also imparting his knowledge to others as an instructor at one of the well-known culinary schools in Cebu.
The Mövenpick property in Mactan is well-known for its maja ube, which is popular among locals and tourists alike. The earthy sweetness of the ube is perfect when combined with the rich coconut cream. Toasted coconut tops the ube maja, adding depth to the texture with its crunch.
One of the ways to enjoy ube is by having it in halo-halo. Now imagine the key ingredients in this beloved Filipino treat, but in a cake! The recipe has layers of ube cake, macapuno and leche flan. It’s garnished with a flower made out of white chocolate and makes for an aesthetically-pleasing treat, on top of being a pleasing and familiar combination of flavors.
Steve Shrimski had become an executive chef at just 23, and has since spent the next 30 years working throughout Australia and beyond. He shares that he likes taking on challenges, and that he always thinks of how to create dishes that are healthy just as they are tasty. In fact, he admits he’s excited to work with ube—ube is an antioxidant that offers immunity-boosting and cancer-fighting properties. After all, Chef Steve believes that a creative chef should be able to produce something no one else has tried or succeeded at.
Ube and malunggay puff pastry vol–au-vent
This recipe calls for fresh ube that’s been poached, dehydrated then ground into a fine powder. Vol-au-vent, or a small hollow case of puff pastry, is taken out of its traditional box and modernized by adding ground ube and malunggay. This creates a major twist, making it healthy. Keeping with the modern Filipino style, it’s filled with adobo-flavored foie gras parfait, which is light and fluffy. It’s garnished with balsamic-caramelized onions to offset the adobo’s acidic flavor.
Ube ravioli with coco–dobo
Another dish of traditional Filipino flavors with European influences, this incorporates ube into the ravioli dough, giving it a vibrant purple color. It’s filled with coco-dobo (coconut-adobo sauce), crispy shredded Circa lechon, and garnished with crispy lechon skin on alugbati and poached ube discs.
As he’s married to a Filipina, Chef Geoffrey has a fair amount of encounters with Filipino food. Having met her in Dubai, they came to Cebu for a vacation and saw the opportunity to open their own restaurant. He shares that his wife is the one who gave him the idea for his recipe—it’s the first time he’s tried cooking it outside the traditional way, and he’s so pleased with the outcome that he plans on putting it in L’Artisan’s next menu.
Ube and corn cheesecake meringue
With its layers of decadent ube and creamy corn, Chef Geoffrey’s cheesecake shows the immense thought put into it. A coating of crushed macadamia nuts surrounds the cheesecake. and delicate puffs of toasted meringue top it off. It’s garnished with a candied lemon and a single blue pea flower, which is edible and adds a bright pop of color.
Warm and always smiling, Chef Rob excitedly talks about the ube dish he’s prepared for us. The recently opened Soho Park is his first venture into the dining scene in Cebu. Starting out in the industry as a dishwasher when he was 15, he has spent the past 17 years working his way up and eventually calling Cebu his home. He shares that not having ube on their menu wasn’t an option—in fact, the dish he presented is based on one that’s already on their menu, and even pairs it with a matching ube drink.
Ube waffle with confit duck leg and foie gras
It may not be a typical Filipino pairing, but Chef Rob’s recipe is based on the popular chicken and waffle dish in the West. He’s incorporated ube into the waffles, giving it vivid color and a subtle flavor that sets it apart from the typical waffle. Its sweetness complements the saltiness of the duck leg so well, making it a marriage of sweet and savory flavors. The pairing is topped with a fried egg, corn puree and corn-fed foie gras, which adds a hint of luxury. On the side, there’s a choice of using either maple butter or mashed avocado to round out the dish.
Ube and white chocolate mocha latte
Soho Park’s barista Red Tuico whips up this creamy latte that’s straight off the menu. The sweetness of the use is elevated by the addition of white chocolate, and can be served hot or iced.
Originally published in the Zee Lifestyle October 2017 edition.