Carlos P. Romulo, his wife Virginia, and their boys spent some of their happiest years in the United States (1945–1962), where he played a critical role in marshaling the Philippines through to full independence. In the embassy dining room Lolo Carlos often entertained diplomats while Lola showcased her signature dishes.
Today these heirloom dishes take us back to when we were growing up in the sixties and seventies, to a magical family home called Kasiyahan—where five granddaughters and five grandsons learned to swim in a kidney-shaped pool shaded by trees fragrant with white kalachuchi blossoms. . . . We played together, ate our meals together, and faced our triumphs and also our toughest challenges surrounded by family.
Whether you’ve come to Romulo Café for Lola’s Chicken Relleno or for Tito Greg’s Kare-Kare, know that every one of our dishes has been made with love and heaps of nostalgia. Our goal is simple—to honor our grandparents and to serve good old-fashioned Filipino food.
Fish and Squid Balls
Chicken Inasal Sisig
Tito Greg’s Kare-Kare
Lola Virginia was an exemplary hostess. Newspapers and television regularly featured her, both here in the Philippines and also abroad. She was well-known in the diplomatic circles for her exotic table settings and delectable food.
As wife of the Philippine Ambassador, a role that was hers for twenty years, she came up with creative ways to introduce Philippine cuisine to fellow dignitaries in Washington, DC.
It was a process of trial and error, because in the 1940s and 50s cuisine hadn’t yet been widely shared across cultures and continents. A mango was still considered very rare in the United States. A fish with its head still attached was downright barbaric.
Lola couldn’t very well serve a roast lechon to her guests. She had to be inventive. Chicken Relleno was, therefore, a good choice. A stuffed chicken was familiar and inoffensive to almost everyone; and yet it was a specialty that represented Filipinos not just in terms of palate but also in terms of history.
The original recipe, which came from her grandmother (whose nata de piña won a prize in the World’s Fair), included a variety of cured meats that mirrored our Spanish heritage, namely chorizo, jamón, and salchichón.
In postwar Washington, DC, Lola simply couldn’t get these ingredients; so she did what she could with what was available, using American canned goods to stand in for Spanish cured meats. Today’s Chicken Relleno brings together ingredients from both versions, and includes chorizo, canned Vienna sausages, ground pork, raisins, and peas. The stuffing is mixed strictly by hand by one of only two men who know the right technique; and all our Rellenos are still made at home!