By Nina Daza Puyat
As an avid collector of cookbooks, I consider many factors before buying a new one to add to my growing collection. I’m not after quantity, but more on quality books that I intend to use. While an attractive cover and beautiful photographs are often what one might look for when buying books, I never judge a cookbook by its cover and instead browse through the recipes first.
Lately, I’ve been partial to recipe books featuring a particular regional cuisine, may it be local or international. There is so much to learn about the people, the terroir, and how the recipes evolved based on what ingredients are available in the area.
I also love cookbooks that talk about the provenance of each recipe. I like imagining how cooks from one generation to the next passed on a treasured family recipe. Who taught them how to cook the dish? Were they inspired by some life-changing incident? Was this dish made out of necessity or creative inspiration?
I have a few books that contain a mixed bag of recipes contributed by family members, an alumni group, or a neighborhood community. These types, however, have many inconsistencies due to the fact they are written by different people. But of course, there are always recipe gems to be found because the contributors usually share their treasured family recipes.
While browsing the pages, I make sure the ingredients called for are readily available in our supermarkets, local wet markets, or in specialty deli stores. It’s also important to check that standard volume measures (cups and tablespoons for dry ingredients) and weight measures (liters for liquids, and kilograms for meats and fish) are used.
Luckily for cooks of today, whether newbies or seasoned ones, there is a wide range of cookbooks to choose from—both in brick and mortar stores, as well as online bookstores. Even second-hand bookstores sometimes carry some good finds, especially if you fancy the “retro” cookbooks. If you’re the type who wants to hold the book in your hands and leaf through the pages before deciding to buy, you are not alone.
I recently added to my collection Angelo Comsti’s latest book Also Filipino, published by The Kitchen Bookstore (which is described as Southeast Asia’s first online bookstore specializing in food and wine).
It’s a deceptively simple title for a cookbook, but perfectly appropriate to represent the 75 Filipino regional recipes (from simple and two-ingredient recipes to a few challenging ones), which Comsti himself never tasted while growing up.
It’s true, there are many dishes most of us have probably never tasted before. Have you ever heard of Serkele? Tasted Bule Baluga? Sampled Bakas na Papar? Just the names of these dishes alone were intriguing enough for me to want to buy the book and give the recipes a try.
Pancit Puso from Cavite
And try them I did. The first recipe I cooked was a noodle dish shared by Lily Escobar of Cavite called Pancit Puso. No, it does not contain animal heart, but puso ng saging or banana heart that is pickled and served as a side dish or topping. The sliced banana heart is soaked, squeezed, then simmered in salted water and vinegar. The resulting sour-salty pickle adds another layer of flavor and texture in every mouthful of this atsuete-laced miki-bihon guisado.
Growing up in Manila, the pancit guisado I was familiar with was the garden-variety canton and bihon. Sometime in the ’80s, Glenda Barreto of Via Mare introduced Pancit Bam-I to Manila’s social set, and it became quite popular as part of her restaurant and catering menu. While all these dry noodles require a squeeze of calamansi as final seasoning, I later learned that Quezon’s pancit habhab is drizzled with vinegar, while Tuguegarao’s pancit batil patong needs a splash of spiced vinegar for an extra oomph. This makes me wonder what other types of pancit and complementary seasonings we have around the country.
Igado from Ilocos Norte
Another recipe I tried from the cookbook was igado from the Ilocos Region. This is another unfamiliar dish for me, but I heard about it from an elderly balikbayan I encountered at the Kamuning Market years ago. Curious about the pork tenderloin and liver she was buying, I asked her what she was going to cook—it was igado.
Also Filipino’s igado recipe came from Rosario Pobre, who learned it from her mother Vinancia. The Pobres’ igado has pork liver, kidney, and heart, but I decided to use only pork tenderloin and liver for my version. The result was a simple but delicious pork dish that is the perfect ulam when you have plenty of white rice. Igado has a distinct flavor and aroma similar to adobo because it has soy sauce, vinegar, and bay leaf. The only difference is that red peppers and green peas are thrown in to brighten up an otherwise drab-looking dish.
Tupig from Isabela
I also tried out tupig, a kakanin wrapped in long flat strips of banana leaves. It’s grilled by the roadside in Tarlac and Pangasinan, then sold to commuters traveling to Baguio. When Angelo first posted about this delicacy on Facebook months before the book launch, I knew this was one of those dishes I just had to make in my kitchen.
This recipe calls for coconut milk, sugar, and glutinous rice flour that are blended to form a medium thick batter. Nenita Javier has a more sophisticated version of this street food by adding grounded peanuts to the strips of buko and grated niyog. Though I grilled my tupig on a cast-iron pan and didn’t use live charcoal, it still has the distinguishing grill marks and burned banana leaf fragrance. It was crusty on the outside, while soft and chewy on the inside. Now I know that whenever I crave for tupig, I can easily whip up a batch in no time.
Tiim is the next recipe I’m going to try. It’s Chef Dennis Hipolito’s delicious dish made of pork belly stewed in soy sauce, brown sugar, and pineapple juice. Afterward, it is scented with garlic, ginger, and black peppercorns. Similar to the pata tim dish, tiim is traditionally served by the Hipolitos (who prefer to use a combination of chicken and pork) on New Year’s Eve.
Comsti admits he has barely scratched the surface, though he is actually off to a very good start.
“The guilt of not knowing the food of my country drove me to scour the provinces for hidden gems, discover what the home cooks play with, and learn how the locals eat,” he says on his inspiration in coming up with his latest cookbook. “To get them, I had to knock on people’s doors, hang out in carinderias or streetside eateries, strike up a conversation with strangers in restaurants, enter private kitchens, and ask for the help of friends living outside the metro.”
Food lovers around the world may start to recognize Filipino food, but how can we be proud of our own cuisine if we ourselves don’t know enough? I believe we should be more open-minded and curious about the traditional dishes served all over Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It’s one simple way to open our palates to the wide range of flavors in our own backyard, then eventually have a deeper appreciation for what we call our Philippine cuisine. Another more concrete way is to do our share in documenting Filipino recipes from our relatives and friends, so they will not be lost and forgotten.