Monday, April 25, 2011

Lenten F(e)asting in Orani -A Shark's Tail

Ever since I was a small child, lenten traditions included a vacation in my father's hometown of Orani Bataan, specifically during Holy Week.
I always looked forward to staying with aunts and cousins, watching the "penitensiya" and the "padugo", attending the church services, doing Bisita Iglesia, following the Good Friday "prusisyon", having a cold "sago at gulaman" free from the friendly neighborhood "caridad".
Admonitions of not laughing too much, keeping our voices low, staying in the house and reading the "Pasyon" were heard but not really obeyed.
I still make it a point to be in Orani come Good Friday every year. This is so I can continue my father's devotion to the "prusisyon" and walk in his footsteps as I follow the "carroza" that he also religiously followed, every Good Friday.
Just like during my younger years, my cousins and I still have not mastered the admonition to keep Good Friday as a quiet and reflective day.
It seems too much like a long awaited reunion, the chance to see each other again, to tell stories and to do the one thing we enjoy most -- sit around the table and eat.
And what feasting we do every Good Friday.
We abstain from meat -- as we should, but we cannot seem to fast.
We console ourselves by saying that we will only eat lunch as our one real meal for the day but what a lunch it always turns out to be.
Not having meat, my cousins pull out all the stops and lay out an array of sea food -- the fattest crabs for which Orani is known for, steamed shrimp, vegetable lumpia, daing na bangus, seafood curry, pancit and the piece de resistance -- the centerpiece of each and every Good Friday lunch ... hingkin!
"Hingkin" is actually a variety of small shark, which reaches a length of about 1 meter, tops. It has a short season, showing up only during March and April -- just around Lent.
These sharks are caught in fishermen's nets, along with the regular catch or sometimes, it shows up in fishponds, getting in through the waterways. It's quite rare and when there is a catch, the lucky "tindera" who has it usually sells it all out within minutes.
In Orani, "hingkin" is cooked as "pesa", a ginger flavored fish soup. I prefer cooking it as a soupy "pospas" -- boiling the fish with some rice to make a watery porridge.
Because sharks have no bones but just cartilage, "hingkin" is fleshy, meaty, all white and very tender and flavorful. The ginger in pesa and pospas removes all traces of "lansa".
The best part of the fish is the liver -- which tastes like foie gras but milder. When you buy "hingkin" at the market, the fish is already cut into slices and when you buy 3 or 4 slices of meaty fish, the seller puts a small piece of liver along with your purchase. Of course the bigger your purchase, the liver also grows from sliver to slice.
Needless to say, that small slice of liver is what everyone hopes to snag during lunch. Being the "bisita" for the day, the out of towner, the "guest of honor" my cousins always try to give me the lion's share -- which of course I never refuse.
"Hingkin" is always eaten with a "sawsawan" of "calamansi and patis". You take your slice of liver, crush it in the "sawsawan" and take a small bite with a very large spoonful of hot rice.
It's almost sinful to have such a great feast when one should really be fasting.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pajo Mangoes ... Summer's Bunches of Happiness

Pajo mangoes are small green mangoes that remain tiny throughout their brief life -- sour and tart and with a slight sappy aftertaste.
They herald the start of summer and are to be enjoyed for a short season -- March till April only.
I look out for pajo from my suki at AANI, our neighborhood week-end market. The minute I see the small green mangoes hanging in bunches from the stalls, I make sure I buy them, no matter what the price.
Usually, when the season is just starting, they sell for up to P200 a bunch. The price comes down to P100 or P150 as the supply goes up.
I like to make pajo into buro.
Just slice off the ends and halve each tiny fruit, remove the pit, place into glass jars and sprinkle with rock salt. I keep them overnight in the fridge and pour cold water over them the next day.
They keep their color, texture and crunch for a few weeks, just keep them in the refrigerator. Or, I sometimes make fresh pajo salad -- julienne the pajo, chop some tomatoes and wansoy and sprinkle a little fish sauce or patis.
Pajo adds a tart zing to any meal.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Eating in Doreen Fernandez's Footsteps

Count me privileged, I had Doreen Gamboa Fernandez as a teacher when I was in college at the Ateneo.
She was my professor in Philippine Drama and every week, for three hours every Wednesday night, for a whole semester, my eyes and sensibilities were opened to the richness of our literary tradition.
After I graduated, her enthusiasm and love for all things Pinoy actually inspired me to try and take up my masters in Philippine Literarature, while I was working as a junior copywriter.
Regretfully, the hectic schedule of advertising got in the way and after finishing only two semesters and 18 units, I came to the realization that I could either be a scholarly success or a successful hack -- but not both.
So I chose the latter.
I never quite forgot Doreen Fernandez -- we would bump into each other once in a while, she actually came to my wedding and as the years went on, I followed her rising fame as an authority on Filipino food.
I collected her books -- from the first coffee table book on Filipino Food -- which I still read and re-read today -- to her small restaurant guides called "Lasa" to her collection of essays to her weekly columns at The Inquirer.
Once, I had the temerity to submit an article to her on eating in Pala Pala, the fish market in Bacolod and was completely surprised to find that she had it published in the newspaper.
I wrote an effusive gushing thank you letter and her simple reply was "It was a good piece. It deserved to be published, why are you so surprised?"
Doreen passed away in 2002 and she left a void which many food writers and scholars have yet to fill.
She continues to inspire me to this day -- I have had the courage to write about food, and maintain this blog, in my own unscholarly, untutored way -- thanks to two people: my father who shared his love of cooking (and eating) with me and also because of Doreen, who awakened in me this desire to write, to write about food and to write about (and love) Filipino food.
Aside from being a noted and acclaimed food scholar and writer, Doreen was first and foremost a foodie.
She wrote restaurant reviews for the Chronicle and then the Inquirer and she also did a series of four restaurant guidebooks called "Lasa". This series would eventually cover not just Metro Manila restaurants but would branch out to Baguio and later on to other provinces as well.
She co-wrote them with Edilberto Alegre, who like her, was a passionate and staunch advocate of Filipino culture. They are both gone now but their work remains.
Since so many writers and bloggers are now looking to books for their inspiration and as the source of their "projects" (Julia and Julia comes to mind), let me create my own project for the rest of this year (and yes, as a source of posts for this blog).
I shall attempt to find and eat my way through the restaurants initially reviewed in the first Lasa: A Guide to 100 Restaurants by Doreen G. Fernandez and Edilberto N. Alegre.
Published in 1989, most of the restaurants in this book may no longer be around but I will try and go through the ones that are still serving up that lasa, that taste that Doreen found memorable enough to write about.
As I go on this journey, I hope that Doreen and Edilberto Alegre (and yes, my daddy too) wherever they are, will be saying to me ...
"Sige, kain na!"

"Oh, the pleasure of eating my dinner alone!" Charles Lamb

Although Epicurus did say that
"We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf." --
I on the other hand, look for that solitary time to myself - whether at home or in a restaurant, to enjoy my meal alone.
No one to worry about, no one to share the requisite small talk with, no one to distract me from the pleasure of my food except perhaps a good book if there is time to linger, or just the quiet observation of other diners enjoying their own meals.
I particularly savor the peacefulness of eating alone, specially when I'm traveling.
Thankfully, most restaurants abroad do not look askance at solitary diners. Even the most popular and crowded ones will usually give you a secluded table for two.
Some of my best meals have been with just myself.
Although if you believe an Arab proverb
"He who eats alone chokes alone."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Manang's Clubhouse at the Ateneo

I have just one major regret from my college days at the Ateneo de Manila -- I was there in the pre-Manang days.
But I have since made up for that loss by landing a part time teaching job at my old department, thus bringing me within close proximity of Manang's for a total of 16 weeks a year.
Yes, while teaching does bring me a lot of joy, this is nothing compared to being able to indulge in inihaw na liempo and fried pork chop every Saturday.
Manang's actually started out as a small carinderia near the Ateneo Blue Eagle gym -- catering to the guards and maintenance men.
Eventually, the teachers first discovered it and then most everyone did and soon, it moved out of obscurity and into mainstream university fame.
Manang's is located right beside the tennis and covered courts.
There's a line for the inihaw na liempo, pork chop and lechon kawali and students, teachers and staff know that if you go too late, you'll miss out.
What makes the liempo so good? Probably a secret marinade that only Manang knows. It's also cut perfectly -- not too thin and not too thick -- just right and always perfectly charred and cooked.
I haven't cracked it yet -- but I think Manang uses soy sauce, vinegar, maybe some Sprite because it has a tangy, sweetish taste.
Aside from the liempo, I know friends who think the pork chop is the better order. I like it too -- it's lightly breaded, deep fried and juicy.
When no one is looking, I eat the pork chop fat, which is so well cooked, it melts in the mouth.
There's a formula that Ateneans swear is the best way to enjoy the liempo or the pork chop -- one order, doused in the vinegar that's loaded with garlic and onions, plus a cup (and a half, if you're male) of hot rice and Mountain Dew on the side. All this for under P100.
Manang's has very student friendly prices -- the best inihaw na liempo on the planet is only P49 an order. Up by just P9 since I started teaching, 10 years ago.
Every Saturday, from November to March, I have my fill of Manang's.
I make sure I place my take home order before I go to class, just when Manang starts to fire up the charcoal grill.
Sometimes, I sit and have breakfast since early birds find early goodies -- tocino, daing na bangus, dinuguan, pancit bihon, paksiw na isda -- that's a formidable buffet of home cooked choices.
Then I pick up my stash for the week just as class ends at noon.
Because I'm such a loyal and favored customer, Manang also puts aside some of her crisp, crunchy lumpiang togue as a bonus for all the liempo and pork chop that I order.
As I'm writing this post in April, my season for liempo has ended and I have to content myself with waiting till class starts again in November!

Paid in Pork

Before you think that this post is about your local congressman, well it's not.
Not too many people know that I have been a "Part time Lecturer" (at least that's what it says on my annual contract) at the Communication Arts Department of the Ateneo de Manila University since 2001.
This November will mark my 10th year of teaching and it's been a very fulfilling 10 years.
Aside from the personal and professional fulfillment that teaching brings, I also feel that it's a way for me to pay back something to the school that trained me and the industry that nurtured me.
But lest you think that I am this altruistic do-gooder, waking up early every Saturday for six months a year, traversing the length of C5, getting mired in midday traffic on the way back -- well, teaching has a major perk for me.
That's the opportunity to be in the weekly presence of the greatest inihaw na liempo and fried pork chop in the planet.
Manang's Canteen.
Fellow Ateneans, need I say more?