Monday, June 27, 2011

Batangas Bulalo vs. Nilagang Baka

Batangas is one of the many provinces of the Philippines. Its name originated from the word ‘batang’, which is a term the locals used for the abundant logs found in the Calumpang River, which runs through the province. Batangas was made famous by its many notable nationalists who descended from the province and who led the revolt against the Spanish during their over 300 years of occupation. Many of the old homes of the famous nationalists are preserved into historical places as a legacy of our history and a reminder of the era where many brave BatangeƱos (people who hail from Batangas) fought and died for our country.

Batangas is also famous for its natural resources, picturesque scenery (Taal Lake) and beautiful beaches with relatively calm shores. The province is bordered by Batangas Bay which is sort of like an alcove and doesn’t open directly to the Pacific Ocean. Aside from its scenic attractions, Batangas is also known for producing quality beef and is famous for its cattle industry. Hence the famous Batangas Bulalo.

I always go to Batangas for its beaches and the best one I’ve been to is only a two hour drive from Manila. On the way to our destination, it’s always a must to stop at one of the many bulalo stalls we pass along the way. Bulalo is made with beef bone marrow and beef shank. The beef shank is boiled for several hours until it is tender. Traditional Batangas bulalo consists of onions and garlic for the soup stock. Midway through the process of softening the meat, plantains (saging na saba) are added, then when the meat is almost soft enough, corn still on the cob but cut in 3 parts, potatoes, string beans and cabbage. Add the bone marrow about 10-15 minutes before you serve the dish because the marrow tends to melt into the soup like butter. My relatives like to scoop it out with a spoon. I refrain from eating it because I am quite health conscious and am not particularly fond of bone marrow. As a condiment, fish sauce with chili (siling labuyo) is used.

My maternal grandmother, who was a wonderful cook, had Spanish roots and she gave most of the native Filipino dishes she prepared a Spanish twist. I particularly loved her nilagang baka (boiled beef- I know it doesn’t sound as appetizing when translated into English) but nonetheless, it’s one of my favorites and I’d love to share a recipe which is one of my family’s time-honored dishes and is almost like the Batangas Bulalo.


1 kilo beef brisket (cubed)
1 small red onion
3 cloves crushed garlic
½ cabbage
1 sweet potato (kamote)
2 plantains (saging na saba)
2 potatoes
1 Beef Knorr Cubes
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon lime juice (kalamansi juice)

Add beef to boiling water (just enough to immerse the beef) red onion, garlic, sweet potato (kamote) and plantains (saging na saba), I add this early on because I want the sweet potato and plantains to dissolve into the broth as it gets soft. When the beef is almost tender enough to serve add the potatoes, 10 minutes before serving, add the cabbage, black pepper and Knorr beef cubes. Lastly add the fish sauce and kalamansi or lime juice.

The best part of my grandmother’s nilagang baka is the eggplant sauce. This is made by roasting eggplants (two should be enough) peeled and mashed, add a clove of crushed garlic, some mashed boiled sweet potato, vinegar, salt and black pepper. I sometimes just boil the eggplant in the soup if I don’t have time to roast the eggplants. It should be fine if it’s just boiled (just don’t forget to peel and mash it). I find this perfect in adding to the savory soup. This is best served with plain steamed white rice.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bagoong: A True Filipino Condiment

There is no other name or word for bagoong in international terms and in the Philippines. However, in the Visayas, it’s called ginamos. Bagoong is used as a condiment for everyday Filipino meals and is a familiar sight in almost every household.

Making bagoong is said to be a time honored tradition and a way of life for the people of the Ilocos region. Their daily meals consist almost always of bagoong. It is said that the making of bagoong came about as a necessity because in a time where there were still no refrigerators in the world, for fishermen who had an excess of fish that had not been sold, instead of letting it go to waste, it was essential to preserve them by making bagoong. The smaller leftover fish from the catch would always be made into bagoong. The bigger ones were dried and salted, and these were called ‘daing’.

Bagoong is made from fermented shrimp or fish such as ipon (a type of goby), terong, alamang, monamon(anchovies), sardines, etc. and brine. The fish is fermented in clay jars (palayok) or in Ilocos it is known as burnays (large earthen jars) for several weeks, usually 10-12 months. But modern methods have introduced ways to shorten the fermentation time. Some manufacturers just package the fermented fish straight from the clay jars. Others grind it and sell it as fish paste. This is not to be mistaken as fish sauce which is called patis, the liquid derived from fermentation.

A similar condiment or sauce called garum was made in Ancient Rome as ancient studies claim. But this type of sauce is made out of fish intestines whereas bagoong is made from the whole fish.

There are several varieties of bagoong such as Bagoong Balayan, which is made from either dilis(anchovy) or galunggong (big-bellied round scad), Bagoong Monamon (anchovy) or shrimp. I prefer the bagoong made from shrimp which is the more popular type of bagoong. The odor of bagoong is exceptional and characteristically Filipino. Some Filipino dishes such as kare-kare, enchiladang mangga (mango enchilada) and most of the sinugba or inihaw (grilled) dishes would be incomplete without it. Bagoong is uniquely Filipino and remains to be a definitive gastronomic experience.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Adobo With a Twist


When my younger sister was due to give birth to her second child a few years back, like a dutiful sister, I flew to Los Angeles to help her out. She was staying in West Covina then. It is comprised of a rich melting pot of Asian communities from Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysians and there was quite a number of native Hawaiians, Samoans and Mexicans.

The apartment my sister lived in was just across a Hawaiian supermarket called Marukai. It was where we would get our groceries because it was convenient, we just had to cross the street. I met a lot of people who became my friends. We shared a lot of our own traditional and local dishes. One such dish I prepared for them was Adobo.

Adobo is derived from the Spanish word meaning ‘seasoning’ or ‘marinade’. Vinegar is a common marinade and dipping sauce that Filipinos use in everyday cooking, that also goes for soy sauce. But the Filipinos have come to distinguish adobo as a specific way of cooking chicken and pork.

For anyone who is Filipino, and for anyone who knows Filipinos, I’m sure adobo is one of the most popular dishes we always let our foreign friends taste. I however find the adobo a tad too salty and plain for my foreign friends. So I added my own twist to it. Traditional Filipino adobo is cooked with chicken and pork. I make mine with just chicken to avoid the fats from the pork. I made it simple and less salty and would please even the most discriminating palate.


1 whole chicken cut into pieces

1 small red onion diced

4 cloves garlic minced

1/2 cup soy sauce

¼ cup vinegar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp grated ginger

3 dried laurel leaves

Whole hardboiled eggs

Mix all the ingredients with the chicken. Marinate it overnight if possible. If not, an hour should do. After marinating, add about 1 cup of water and boil everything in a pot for about 30 minutes in medium heat, stirring occasionally.

I usually know the dish is ready based on the consistency of the sauce. I make sure the water has evaporated and just leave the sauce to thicken because of the brown sugar. Add hardboiled eggs (allow 1 for every person) and leave it in low heat for another 15minutes. If the sauce looks dried out before the chicken is cooked, just add a bit more water. Serve with steamed white rice.

There are other variations of adobo from other provinces in the Philippines. Some add coconut milk to it, others cook vegetables or fish adobo style. In fact, there is a whole cookbook dedicated to cooking just adobo. But always remember, however way you like it, there’s no other best way to enjoy a perfect meal but to enjoy it your way.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pancit Palabok: The Pride of Quiapo


The Philippines is composed of 7,107 islands and each island offers its own unique cuisine. It’s a tropical country rich in fruits and vegetables available all year round. Not to mention seafood in your own backyard with the Pacific Ocean bordering almost every island. Sounds like a tropical paradise? Just wait until you sample our food.

I wouldn’t want to overwhelm your taste buds with anything too ethnic. So for your introduction to the gastronomic delights of Filipinos, let’s first travel to the mainland so to speak, the city of Manila. Manila is a bustling metropolis, home to over 14 million people. Right in the heart of this city lies a district called ‘Quiapo.’ This was the center of commerce when the Philippines was still under Spanish rule during the latter part of the 16th century, where you can get around through intricate intersections of canals, rivers, and marshes. Our very own Venice. Today it’s mostly known for housing the Black Nazarene in Quiapo Church where thousands of devotees pay homage each year on the 9th of January and of course for its greatest culinary contribution, the Pancit Palabok.

With today’s busy lifestyle it isn’t convenient to drive through traffic or brave the commute to Quiapo for this delicacy. Luckily, whenever the craving hits you, the chain ‘Little Quiapo’ has made it available anytime at the convenience of being located at an area closer to home. It’s like bringing Quiapo to you without losing the originality and flavors of the dish.

When I was growing up, my grandmother used to make this dish from scratch and I would watch her impatiently as she prepared each and every ingredient with such meticulous care it made me want to savor each bite when it was finally served. Pancit Palabok is named thus because of its bright orange sauce made from annatto seeds (locally known as ‘atsuete’) soaked in water, shrimp juice, fish sauce and ground black pepper. It has a rich array of toppings such as fried tofu, hard boiled eggs, shelled shrimps, smoked fish (tinapa), squid, spring onions, crushed pork rinds and fried garlic. These are all on top of Chinese rice noodles cooked in boiling water. It’s also called ‘luglug’ depending on which part of the country you are in. It’s so named because of the sound the noodles made when the bamboo steamers were dipped in boiling water back in the time when we didn’t have any of the kitchen gadgets we couldn’t possibly do without nowadays.

Pancit Palabok is usually eaten with ‘tokwa’t baboy.’ Loosely translated as tofu and pork, it’s fried tofu with boiled pork mixed together with soy sauce, vinegar, and black pepper with the usual suspects such as garnishes like chopped green onions and sliced white onions to add the extra element in taste. Aside from tokwa’t baboy, we also have either ‘puto’ (I’ll go more into detail about puto next time because it’s got a whole delicious story to itself), which is a sweet steamed rice cake, or a slice of toast smeared with butter on the side.

Filipino cuisine, to sum it up, is an array of complex ingredients that combine the sweet and savory in one dining experience that culminates into perfection.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kesong Puti: The Philippines’ Contribution to the World of Cheese


Kesong Puti (white cheese) is a local delicacy in the Philippines. Cheeses are famous all over the world with each country having their own unique cheese. I recently read an article about Roquefort cheese in France and was curious to know more about how it was made and why it’s so expensive. This made me think about what type of cheese the Philippines has to offer to the world. This brings us to Philippines’ very own Kesong Puti.

Kesong puti is a type of fresh cheese made from un-skimmed carabao’s milk, salt, and rennet (a natural enzyme produced in the stomach of a carabao) or vinegar. Carabao’s milk is similar to cow’s milk but I find it richer in a sense that it’s got a creamier aftertaste. It’s a lot thinner than cow’s milk in texture but don’t let that fool you, it can be really filling. The milk is not pasteurized. It is sifted several times through a cheese cloth. It is then molded, wrapped in banana leaves then stored in the refrigerator. It usually has a shelf life of about a week. Kesong puti mostly come from the provinces of Laguna and Bulacan in the Luzon area, Cebu City in the Visayas and even Samar has gotten into producing Kesong puti.

Carabaos (water buffalos) are better known as the working mule of the Philippines. They help farmers plow the lands, especially with rice paddies. Growing up I used to take long trips out of the city on summer vacations with my family and carabaos plowing the fields had always been part of the natural scenery along the way. I forget how beautiful they are and how much a part of Philippine history, culture and cuisine they have been and still are.

Kesong puti is eaten with lightly toasted pandesal (the Philippines’ local bread, I’ll get more into detail about it later on) with butter. The cheese has the tendency to be a tad salty and the bread balances the taste. Filipinos often have this for breakfast or merienda (afternoon snack) with hot chocolate or coffee. It’s also known as the Filipino mozzarella. Kesong puti when toasted can be just as chewy as mozzarella but not stringy. I was half expecting it to stretch the last time I had it which was yesterday. I also love having it wrapped in lumpia (spring rolls) wrapper then deep frying it. It’s my very own mozzarella sticks ala spring rolls. Delicious! My dipping sauce is mayonnaise mixed with a bit of ketchup. A real gastronomic delight.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lola Ding’s Maja Blanca


I have always known myself to be lucky to have two lolas (grandmothers) in my father’s side of the family. My father’s mother, Lola Nena, was widowed when my dad was only 6 months old. My grandmother’s parents asked her to go back to their home in Pampanga with her three children in tow instead of her being on her own with her in-laws in Iloilo. My grandmother’s sister Lola Ding, was already widowed by then without any children and had already moved back with their parents. They were the only two girls in a brood of 6 and this made them very close. I loved them both equally and never differentiated between the two. They were always known to me as Lola Nena and Lola Ding.

They both enjoyed the many flavors of our local fare, and both of them marrying men from Negros only added to the enrichment of their palates to the Ilonggo taste and way of preparing food. I was blessed to have been brought up in a household that valued home cooked and balanced meals that were healthy and delicious. It’s very important for a family to be able to sit down to a hearty meal that has been lovingly prepared.

My Lola Ding was the better cook, and she has passed on many of her secret recipes to the few of us willing to learn. One of my favorites that she used to prepare was the maja blanca.

Maja blanca is known as Filipino white pudding. This is made from coconut milk and corn starch with latik which is coconut milk that you heat up until it curdles and turns brown. The usual maja blanca sold commercially are yellow with corn kernel bits. My Lola Ding’s maja blanca was white and was made with carabao’s (water buffalo) milk. It’s so simple and pure to look at but it tastes so rich and creamy and it melts in the mouth.

As with all great chefs and cooks, there are no precise measurements to follow when preparing a particular dish or dessert. Everything is measured by taste. As much as I would like to share exact measurements for my grandmother’s maja blanca, I have none, but it’s unbelievably simple I can make it with my eyes closed. Just mix cornstarch with water (set aside), mix carabao’s milk with sugar and coconut milk, heat (medium heat) in a pot till sugar dissolves, add water with cornstarch. There should be enough cornstarch to turn the milk mixture to pudding consistency in room temperature. Pour everything into a round mold. You can use a glass pie pan. Next is to make your latik by cooking coconut milk till it turns brown and flaky. When latik is cool, top your maja blanca with it. This is a really delicious dessert that’s a cinch to make, yet sinfully good.

Whenever I make maja blanca, it takes me back to fond memories when my lola was still alive and we would have Sunday lunches with them. Each bite is savoring the taste of the past.