MANILA, a city international in composition and taste, is a place
where you can get about any kind of foreign dish you can imagine. The population
here is a composite of many races, a product of diverse cultures. To the
Indonesian-Malay stock has been added a generous helping of Chinese, Spanish and
American strains, as well as of other races. As a result, we are Orientals
having American nicknames, Spanish family names, and speaking Tagalog, English
and some Spanish, not to mention the more than eighty local dialects.
With this blend of background and culture, it is only to be expected that eating tastes would be varied. From the Chinese, for example, we have escabeche or sweet-and-sour fish; from the Spanish, beef mechado or sautéed beef; our milagang manok or boiled chicken is reminiscent of French pot-au-feu; and we just relish hot dogs and hamburgers.
Though many of these foreign dishes have been comfortably naturalized, the simple, native dishes still retain their attraction. One of these, adobo, almost ranks as our national dish. What is it? It is a combination of chicken and pork slices highly spiced with peppercorns and cloves of garlic crushed slightly to bring out the bouquet. Native vinegar is also added. When first introduced to this dish, you may feel that the pungent smell is too much of a barrier. But it just could surprise your taste buds.
From the north of the country comes papait or pinapaitan. It really tastes better than it might sound to the uninitiated when he reads our recipe: Take a goat, feed it lots of tamarind leaves to cleanse its stomach, slaughter it and then singe it over a hot fire until the surface turns black. Scrape and clean the skin. Chop skin into pieces together with lean parts of the meat, squeeze the bile, season with spices and serve with basi, a fiery native liquor made from fermented sugarcane juice.
Down south you will find that kinilaw has an honored place on the table. It is raw fish chopped into the desired cube size and washed in vinegar two or three times. Onion, ginger, native pepper pods and shredded garlic are then added. Lemon juice and vinegar are poured into the mixture. Coconut milk may be added, too, as well as salt.
A symbol of Philippine hospitality is the lechon or whole roasted suckling pig. Whatever the reason for a community meal, the party is not considered complete without the whole roast pig gracing the center of the festive board on its green banana leaves.
For ingenuity and resourcefulness, the housewife from Central Luzon is noteworthy. She can prepare dishes to gladden a man's heart while still fitting his budget. There is, for example, the lowly camote or sweet potato. The roots are used in the same manner as the potato. The leaves, too, are used as a vegetable or made into salad. They are often cooked with fish or other meat. Then, with sliced tomatoes, onions, boiled eggs and vinegar the camote is transformed into a delicious meal.
The banana is another favorite. When ripe it makes excellent dessert. Otherwise, it may be hard-boiled, fried, barbecued, sweetened or cooked with coconut milk.
As to methods of cooking, we have a great variety. Many claim that the dishes cooked in earthen pots taste better. In Iloilo, they go a step farther. To cook chicken binakol, a green bamboo tube is used. After all the ingredients are stuffed inside, the open end is sealed with lemon grass, and these containers are placed over live coals diagonally, with the stuffed end up, to prevent the stock from running out.
Where there is an abundance of dry hay, as in Bulacan, the cook will impale chicken pieces on pointed bamboo stakes, much as though to make barbecued kabobs. But instead, she sticks the blunt ends into the ground and then covers them with a pail or a large can. Dry hay is then piled on top and all around the pail and set alight. In ten minutes it is cooked brown.
It is an interesting experience to get acquainted with the foods of other peoples, and it is even more delightful to get to know the people themselves. Are there people of other nationalities in your community? Why not put forth the effort to meet them.
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