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Lola’s Finests

Everything old is new again at a grandma’s kitchen

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By SOL VANZI

It’s a great time to be old, to be appreciated for having lived through, and to be part of some of the most significant events in our country’s history. Today, more than ever, the young look back through the eyes of their elders, and in the process help preserve cultural traditions. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of culinary arts.

Until very recently, Filipino hosts used to prepare two kinds of dishes: fancy ones for guests and simple fare for family meals. Guests were served meats with elaborate sauces incorporating imported canned ingredients. Family meals typically included fish, vegetables, local fresh fruits in season, and native dishes featuring animal parts such as feet, head, tail, and internal organs, which were deemed not fit for company.

The availability of inexpensive fast food of all types lured modern moms and dads away from the kitchen. The introduction of ready-to-cook mixes killed the need to learn how to cook from scratch. For a time, it seemed that the art of cooking was taking its last gasp for survival. Fast forward to the present, when celebrity chefs travel to quaint far-flung villages in search of traditional recipes—and this trend is far-reaching, as evidenced by the popularity of local and foreign TV shows aired on many cable channels, featuring dishes using sheep’s brains, chicken feet, pig’s ears, insects, and other stuff, which used to be taboo on mass media.

Here are the food tips this great grandmother learned from her grandmother, as useful today as they were many generations ago.

1. Sisig and dinakdakan
Many are of the opinion that these are one and the same but for the way they are cut. Sisig is chopped, while dinakdakan is sliced into small pieces. Both use pig head that’s boiled, then cut and seasoned with vinegar, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and chili peppers.

sisig

2. Pinaputok na isda
Whole fish gutted, its stomach cavity stuffed with chopped tomatoes, onions, and grated ginger, salt and pepper, and wrapped in banana leaf, grilled or fried. First called “pinaputok” by the Seven Sisters restaurant in Kawit, Cavite in the 1970s. Grandma sautéed the vegetables before stuffing the fish.

isda

3. Humba
Pig legs and trotters simmered in soy sauce, brown sugar, cinnamon stick, star anise, and enough water (and a little beer) to barely cover. Simmer two hours over very low heat and boil toward end to thicken gravy.

humba

4. Sinigang
The secret is in mashing sliced onions and ripe tomatoes with a little salt to extract juices before adding the mixture, juices and all, to boiling water.

inigang

5. Fish
Clean and gut all fish as soon as possible. Salt fish are intended to be fried before putting away in the ref. Cook the pinangat and paksiw right away—they keep well without refrigeration and taste better the next day, as is or fried.

fish

6. Killing hito safely
Put away the bolo and hammer. Place fish in a pot or basin and sprinkle salt over its gills.

hito

7. Adobo
Brown marinated pork or chicken in a little oil before simmering in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black pepper, and bay leaf marinade until tender. Tastes better the next day.

adobo

8. Mechado
Slice ripe tomatoes in half to extract seeds, then chop and add to sautéed meat with garlic, onions, black pepper, and bay leaves. Simmer until tender.

mech

9. Pancit pusit
When there’s little adobong pusit left and there’s company to feed, my Caviteña grandma stretched the dish by adding soaked sotanghon or bihon and a sprinkling of chopped kintsay or green onions.

pancit

10. Dessert jars
Grandma separately cooked camote, bananas, white kidney beans, and black monggo beans in syrup for ready dessert treats anytime. Just add ice and milk.

jar

11. Grated panocha
The ultimate topping and sweetener for coffee, tea, gulaman, sago, puto bumbong, pichi pichi, palitaw, binatog, and suman. Now called muscovado.

panocha

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