These Filipino-Style Tapas and Cocktails Were Inspired by 1940s Heirloom Recipes

This is how the legendary general and Pulitzer Prize winner Carlos P. Romulo would have taken on entertaining with tapas.

Its eponymous name and the dozens of photographs of Carlos P. Romulo on the monochromatic walls of Romulo Cafe are a giveaway that the restaurant is dedicated to the life of the great man and his many contributions. Restaurant owner Sandie Romulo Squillantini says her grandfather, a general and journalist, has always loomed large over her life. From Romulo Café’s menu to the photographs that highlight his career, Squillantini says she is honoring his legacy, while offering a peek into his personal life and a taste of the age-old recipes her grandparents were known for. "These are heirloom recipes from the 1940s," she says. 

The menu features timeless Filipino dishes served at the Romulo dinner table, in a family home they called “Kasiyahan.” These were also the same signature recipes he and his first wife, Virginia, served in the embassy dining room where they often entertained diplomats during Romulo’s time as the president of the General Assembly of the United Nations. While the tribute to Romulo is evident, the comfort food and ambience also transport diners to their own personal pasts, when a grandparent’s love and warmth emanated from a simple homecooked meal.

The restaurant, which has captured both local and international food lovers with branches around Manila and one in London, now aims to break into the happy hour market. The café has introduced a new lineup of cocktails—all inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Romulo, of course—and Filipino style-tapas.

A Foreign Affair and Old General cocktails

“Tapas are considered strictly Spanish; associated only with Spanish food,” says Squillantini. “We wanted to tweak that idea because Filipino finger food also goes nicely with wine, Cava, and other drinks. Basically, we’ve taken the tried-and-tested combination of beer and pulutan, and we’ve made it a little friendlier to an international clientele.”

Bangus pate with pandesal chips; and camaron rebosado

The tapas selection consists of bite-size portions of the best dishes Filipino cuisine has to offer. Packed with flavor, the lechon sisig wraps are an easy crowd-pleaser. Cheese and Vigan longganisa dumplings and empanaditas stuffed with either relleno and chorizo represent Northern favorites. Pato Tim on a steamed bun topped with a gracious dollop of hoisin sauce is a more filling option, while tidbits of crispy squid and crablets serve as a familiar choice for bar chow.

Cheese and Vigan longganisa dumplings; and tinapa rolls

Crispy crablets; and crispy squid

Filipino-style nachos; and fish and squid balls

To celebrate the late general’s life further, the lineup of cocktails takes off from interesting aspects of his life. The Old General, consisting of whiskey and San Germaine, served in a flask with a smoke glass, remembers Romulo’s days as a soldier and diplomat. Don Papa Rum, apple, cinnamon, and lemon make up A Foreign Affair, which is a nod to his relationship with American Beth Day, whom he married in 1979; this is an inside joke, as President Marcos had strongly advised his Secretary of Foreign Affairs against having a foreign affair. The Spritzer Pulitzer, a concoction of Vermouth Blanco Ambrato and Campari, is reminiscent of Romulo's having won a Pulitzer Prize for Peace in 1941.


Amor de Familia, A Foreign Affair, Spritzer Pulitzer, Dirty White Dove, and Imelda's High Heels

Romulo Café’s Happy Hour is from 5:30 p.m – 7:30 p.m. in all its four branches: Scout Tuazon, Tomas Morato, Quezon City; Jupiter Street, Makati; Azumi Hotel, Ayala Alabang; and Kensington, London, United Kingdom.

About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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