Monday, October 10, 2011

Savoring the Sapin –sapin


What makes people so passionate about food? There are so many components comprised of a complexity of ingredients such as poultry, meats, seafood, vegetables and spices in making a single dish. Depending on which part of the world we come from, because of the type of soil and climate, each country produces their own unique cuisine. This eventually contributes in defining a people’s culture. Having the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with other country’s delicacies is the most practical way to learn about a country and its people and also get to enjoy the various tastes and smells of the food which gives us a broader understanding of how we live through how we eat.

Eating brings families and friends closer together and in a broader sense brings the many cultures together. It makes the world seem not as big and scary, but rather a familiar place we call home.

The Filipinos take pride in the multi-faceted inheritance of their culture from various foreign settlers who introduced to the country during the spice trade many ways to prepare and preserve food. We adapted these different techniques, added distinct qualities and made it our own. Thinking about the history and evolution on Philippine cuisine, this reminds me of a particular dessert called sapin-sapin. The sapin-sapin originated from the northern part of the country, the province of Abra. It is a mountainous region with rugged terrains ideal for trekkers who delight in the thought of roughing it. The people of Abra are mostly descended from Ilokanos from the Tingguran tribe who are famous for their woven baskets and blankets and, of course, the sapin-sapin.

Sapin-sapin is made with glutinous rice and coconut. It is usually served as a dessert, but because it has a tendency to be filling, it’s often eaten for brunch or merienda (afternoon snack). It’s a simple dish comprised of rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, water and coloring. To add texture to the dish, coconut flakes are sprinkled on top. This is painstakingly made by soaking rice flour overnight in water and then ground into a paste with coconut milk, sugar and sometimes yams or yam four. What makes it intriguing and special is how it’s prepared. The glutinous rice is colored and layered making it a festive dessert. The first layer is colored in purple (usually the bottom), the middle is a golden yellow resembling egg yolks and the top is white. Each layer is steamed before another layer is added. Delicious and beautiful.

The sapin-sapin is a perfect example to cite the facets of a particular culture. However complex it is, it still has that basic end result, it satisfies the hunger and allows us to get a glimpse of the kind of people the Filipinos are.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Maty’s Tapsilog


A typical Filipino breakfast is heavy because the Philippines is a country that is devoted to farming and majority of the Filipino people in the good old days started the day really early and had to work long hours in the fields tending to the crops and animals in vast farm lands and haciendas. A heavy breakfast would keep their energy up until lunch time.

The tradition of eating a hearty breakfast still continues but the variations of breakfasts are served all day long and can be eaten for lunch and dinner as well. It’s widely served in every corner of any bustling street. Even McDonald's in the Philippines serves local Filipino breakfasts.

The usual Filipino breakfast is comprised of sinangag (garlic fried rice), itlog (egg, scrambled or fried) and either tapa (cured beef) tapsilog, tocino (cured pork) tocilog, longganisa (pork sausages) longsilog, daing na bangus (milkfish cured in vinegar, garlic salt and pepper) bangsilog and other variations. The ‘si’ stands for ‘sinangag’, ‘log’ stands for ‘itlog’ and the first part of the word stands for whatever viand you choose to have.

The word ‘tapa’ is said to come from the Sanskrit term meaning ‘heat’. Tapsilog or any suffix with ‘silog’ is a Filipino slang term. The word ‘tapas’, however, is derived from the Spanish word meaning ‘appetizers’.

Many of the cities in Manila and around the Philippines have become bustling over the years and many Filipinos opt to commute to work instead of braving the traffic. Modes of public transportation available are taxis, buses, subways, and the most popular of all, jeepneys. These originated from old U.S. army jeeps that were left in the country after World War II. They are known for their colorful decorations and open air seating. You can get to almost anywhere you want to go and see the best parts of the cities you visit in the Philippines by riding jeepneys. This is the best way to immerse yourself in Filipino culture.

With the numerous public transportation vehicles available, most especially jeepneys and their drivers, carinderias (native eateries) have been put up beside main roads that have access to a lot of jeeps. One such carinderia that is popular for their delicious Tapsilog is called Maty’s. It’s located in Barangay Tambo, bordering Barangay Don Galo, districts in the city of Paranaque in Metro Manila. Tapa is made from beef, marinate in soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, sugar and salt. When I was a child, our cook from Pampanga (a province in Luzon) would pound the beef with a meat tenderizer after marinating it overnight. She would then dry it in the sun for a couple of days. The result was crispy, tasty strips of beef, something like beef jerky without the smoky flavor. It was delicious, but tedious to make. A more practical way of making tapa nowadays is to just use tender beef meat and marinate it overnight. But Maty’s style is after marinating the beef, it is boiled until tender and flaky, and then fried. It is something quite unique known only as Don Galo’s tapsilog.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lumpiang Ubod of Silay


I've always had a fondness for the Ilonggos. A child of the 70's, I still had the opportunity to experience the ways of my grandparents where cooks served families generation after generation and children had yayas (nannies) that can be trusted. This is always an assurance that your children are well taken care of and most of all, loved. I should ever be so lucky as to have the same for my children.

My yayas were mostly from Iloilo (I had quite a number of them, I was a brat). Out of the many, I only remember one. Her name I vaguely remember, though. Gloria, I believe. No matter how mean I was to her, she would always cradle me to sleep and kiss my wounds (battle wounds from too much rough playing) when they hurt. She gave me nothing short of love and kindness. She stayed with me for some time and just as when I already trusted her with my child’s heart, she left. She was the last yaya I allowed myself to love. I was 5 years old.

These memories take me back to the Visayas, the City of Silay. Silay boasts itself for being the seat of arts, eco-tourism and culture. It is one of the major tourist destinations in the Philippines and is located in Negros Occidental. The city is known for its beautiful ancestral houses, steam locomotives, abundant cultural heritage, wild forests and hometown delicacies, namely, the lumpiang ubod.

Lumpiang ubod is loosely translated as heart of palm spring rolls. The wrapper is not fried and is made fresh. What makes it so special is its unique taste and texture. The heart of palm can be tough at times so you have to use ones that are still young, so to speak, otherwise it’ll just be too hard to eat. Relatives from Negros Occidental would send fresh lumpiang ubod by air cargo on the same day for birthdays and other special occasions. As we get older and time marches on, the things we take for granted often pass like the sands of time, which can make us long for the familiar tastes and smells that remind us of our childhood. It’s fortunate that many of my relatives have shared and exchanged their precious ‘secret recipes’ with one another so I can share it with you as well.


1 cup pork, diced finely

½ cup pork oil

½ tablespoon garlic, minced

2 medium sized onions, sliced finely

¾ cups shrimp, blanched, shelled and sliced finely

1 pork cube

1 shrimp cube

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

4 cups ubod (heart of palm), sliced into julienne strips

Salt and sugar to taste

Spring Onion stalks for garnish

1 head garlic, very finely crushed to a paste

Let the pork boil in water until the fat is rendered. Fry pork in its own oil until meat is slightly browned then set aside the meat.

In the still hot pork oil, saute garlic and onions. Add the shrimps and pork, pork cubes, shrimp cubes and oyster sauce. Stir until everything is hot, add the julienned ubod. Let it simmer until ubod is tender. Lastly, season with salt and sugar and let cool.

Lumpia sauce:

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons soy sauce

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ cup water

Mix the first 4 ingredients and set aside. Boil water and add cornstarch mixture. Continue stirring until cornstarch has cooked, you can tell it’s cooked when the mixture is transparent.

Spread the lumpia sauce on a piece of lumpia wrapper (the store bought ones should be fine). Add the finely crushed garlic and put about 2 tablespoons of the cooked ubod mixture in the middle of the wrapper. Insert a stalk of spring onion, then roll. It is best served immediately.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Remembering Lola Caring’s Pochero


Pochero is another Filipino dish with Spanish roots. Because of the many ingredients required in making it, it’s usually served on special occasions. I grew up with Lola Caring’s pochero. As a kid, I never really appreciated my maternal grandmother’s cooking. I found it to complex with all the different kinds of ingredients and sauces mixed with her dishes. The simpler the dish, the better. As a grown up, I now miss everything she prepared, and how my Lola Caring’s daily meals seemed like she was having a party and everyday was a special occasion. In her later years, she moved a few streets away from my parents’ home, and I would always hope for an invitation for lunch. And those lunches were as frequent as ever.

In memory of my Lola Caring, I would like to share one of my favorite dishes that she served for her family. This is not exactly my lola’s recipe, but it’s just as good. What makes it uniquely Lola Caring’s is eating it with the favorite sauce she served with her pochero which is the eggplant sauce. This is made by roasting eggplants (usually half an eggplant per person, although I usually use more), peeled and mashed, add crushed garlic (1 clove for every 2 eggplants), vinegar, salt and pepper.


¼ kilo Beef brisket (punta y pecho), cut into 1 inch serving pieces

¼ kilo pork loin, cut into 1 inch serving pieces

½ chicken, chopped

3 stalks leeks

3 teaspoons whole pepper corns

3 whole medium sized red onions

4 pieces chirizo bilbao sliced

3 sweet potatoes, quartered

4 plantains, sliced

3 medium sized eggplants, sliced

1 bundle of pechay leaves

2 tablespoons chirizo bilbao oil

4 cloves garlic minced

2 white onions, chopped

1 pack of tomato sauce (250 grams)

Salt and pepper

Boil beef brisket and 1 stalk leek in enough water, add 1 teaspoon pepper corn, 1 whole onion, salt and pepper. When beef is tender, remove and set aside broth.

Boil pork and chicken separately with the same ingredients. When tender, remove and set aside.

In another pan, cook chorizo bilbao slices and vegetables with the beef, pork and chicken broth until done. When the vegetables are cooked, remove them from the broth. Set aside broth. Arrange in a platter, the beef, pork, chicken, chorizo and each set of vegetables separately.

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil. Add tomato sauce and 2 cups of the combined broths. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the sauted tomato sauce on the meat and vegetables on the platter. Serve hot.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lechon Manok, A Filipino Favorite

The Philippines had been under Spanish occupation for over 300 years. It is not surprising that a lot of Filipino dishes are derived from Spanish cuisine. Among this is lechon. This simply means ‘suckling pig’ in Spanish. The whole process of lechon involves slowly roasting a whole pig in charcoal until the skin is brown and crispy. Since roasting a whole pig can be tedious, expensive and simply not practical for everyday consumption, chicken (manok) has been a more viable yet just as delicious option.

To get a closer look at the origins of lechon manok, we now travel to Iloilo city. Iloilo is located in the Visayan region of the Philippines. It is known for its ostentatious lechon industry. I had my first taste of lechon manok from a corner stall called Toto’s Lechon Manok. Toto is originally from Iloilo, the stall used to have about 10-15 whole chickens skewered on long metal spikes, rotating slowly all at once on burning charcoal. The chicken was stuffed with lemongrass (locally known as tanglad), marinated in its own secret sauce, and was served with lechon gravy. This was in the mid 80’s. The stall was located across church, and every Sunday there would be a long line of churchgoers buying their Sunday lunch. All had the same idea of wanting lechon manok after getting a whiff of its delicious aroma which was the main cause of distraction from having to listen to the priest saying his gospel.

Lemongrass is mainly used for its scent which perfectly complements poultry and fish. It’s easy to grow and looks very much like weeds. I was never aware of what lemongrass looked like and it’s not always available at the supermarket, when I asked the gardener at my home to get rid of the unsightly weeds growing in the backyard, I was pleasantly surprised when he corrected me saying that they were not weeds but lemongrass. I now have the luxury of having it whenever I want it and it doesn’t need any tending, it just grows abundantly like weeds, really.

The gravy is a liver based sauce. I always prefer making my own liver sauce from scratch if I have the time, I whip up a batch and it can be stored in the freezer ready to be microwaved when I need it. My recipe is as simple as chicken liver fried in onions, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, pepper and Reno liver spread. I like chunks in the sauce so I don’t use a food processor. Mashing it with a fork works perfectly for me. This recipe was handed down from generation to generation from my maternal grandfather’s mother. But today we settle for Mang Tomas’ Lechon Sauce which has found its way into every Filipino household and is readily available in every supermarket and used as a sauce for almost anything and everything.

Over the years, lechon manok stalls have sprouted in every street corner and are available everywhere. It’s a staple dish whenever you need something quick to serve for lunch or dinner. It’s always freshly roasted and is one of the healthier ways of preparing your food.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Hot and Spicy Bicol Express


Bicol is located in the southeastern tip of Luzon island in the Philippines. There are several volcanoes in the province and Mt. Mayon which surpasses most mountains in splendor and beauty being the only mountain almost a perfect cone in shape. It is the most prominent and active volcano in the country and is said to be one of the most famous jewels in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Bicol is also known for their local handicrafts and lately, due to the popularity of water sports in the region, CamSur Water Sports Complex designed for wakeboarding, water skiing and wakeskating, has been a popular destination for all water sports enthusiasts and is even a common place to go for whale shark spotting. Moreover, Bicolano’s (people who hail from Bicol) are known for their love of spicy food.

There was a food stall in our local supermarket that sold homemade and home cooked specialties from Bicol and one such specialty was Bicol express. History indicates that the origin of Bicol express was from a woman named Cely Kalaw who is a native of Laguna but when she was only three years old, she moved to Naga, Bicol and grew up there. She was then exposed to the cooking style of the Bicolanos. With adapting the Bicolano approach in preparing food, she then came up with the dish we now all know as Bicol express. She introduced this dish in her restaurant located in Malate, Manila called the Grove Restaurant. It said have been named after the train that travels from Paco train station to Bicol.

Bicol express is said to have been derived from a popular Bicolano dish called Gulay na Lada (gulay means vegetables in Tagalog and Lada means Indonesian/Malay), only it was made popular and known for as Bicol Express. It is made from pork belly strips, garlic, onions, ginger coconut cream (as with all Bicolano dishes) turmeric, bagoong (shrimp paste) and a lot (I really mean a lot) of green finger chili. It’s a simple dish that just involves sautéing all the ingredients together until cooked. What made it intriguing for me when I was younger was how spicy it was. I used to eat it to show my parents just how brave I was to be able to withstand the almost painful heat in my mouth when eating it, but as I got older, I got to appreciate the distinct element of heat in my dishes. And I tend to find most dished that are not spicy lacking in flavor.

Bicol express is now a common dish served in almost every Filipino household brave enough to take the heat.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Philippines Very Own Caviar: Taba ng Talangka


The Kapangpangans (as what the people who hail from Pampanga are called) have always been known to be great cooks, and Pampanga is known to have the distinct title of being the ‘Culinary Center of the Philippines’.

One of the most sought after delicacies from Pampanga is taba ng talangka (shore crab or river crab roe/fat). Talangka is abundant in Pampanga because the city is bordered by a river. Taba ng talangka has been labeled as the caviar of Filipinos. It is made from the orange fat of hundreds of mini crabs that have been painstakingly shelled and the fats removed, gathered, and placed in a bottle. My grandmother used to tell me that one huge sack of talangka can make only make one small bottle of taba ng talangka. It’s rare to find pure taba ng talangka nowadays, most are mixed with starch and if you’re lucky, talangka meat.

I remember eating fresh talangka fat, it was always mixed with steamed white rice. My dad used to shell the little crabs for me and he later on taught me how to properly open them. My grandmother would eat them ‘buro’ (that’s pouring boiling water onto the still alive crablets), others would shell them still alive and put the crab fats on steaming hot rice. After removing the fat from the shell you can then split the legs in half, dip it in spicy vinegar and suck on the meat and leftover fats. It’s sinfully delicious.

Unfortunately after the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption which caused lahar flow, the Pampanga river had to be dredged and widened by 500 meters. This caused a drastic decline in talangka. It has become a rare catch in an area that used to be so rich with it. Most of the talangka now comes from the province of Bicol which is further away from Manila.

The best bottled taba ng talangka that I’ve tasted is from Navarro’s. I always get Navarro’s (Taba ng Talangka) Premium. The business is family owned and is from Pampanga. They have been producing taba ng talangka since the 1970’s. This is the only taba ng talangka that is closest in taste to the purest kind. Whenever I’m craving for taba ng talangka, I fry some chopped garlic in oil and add a tablespoon or two of Navarro’s (Taba ng Talangka) Premium and add a bit of kalamansi (local limes). I then mix it with my steamed white rice. It’s always a welcome treat that adds depth to any dish.