Monday, November 9, 2009

Fiesta Fare for City Kids

I've had the good fortune of growing up in the best of both worlds (no tribute to Hannah Montana here), where I grew up in the city but spent a sizeable chunk of my childhood vacations in the province. These were in the towns where my parents grew up.

And so I've seen the bucolic countryside, complete with fields, nipa huts, fishing villages with no electricity. Hating the boredom at times... scared of the "tuko", a scary-looking thorny lizard... eating fresh young coconut meat--creamy and syrupy after swimming at the beach... enjoying sugary sweet and pulpy atis (custard apple)...blowing the steam off newly-cooked chicken "gata"(cooked in coconut cream) resting on top of a mound of rice and fried fish on the side...playing under the moonlight and waking up to the free-for-all crowing of the roosters.

My children are city kids who moan at the thought of a blackout after a typhoon hits the country. That meant no TV and no computer. This also meant that they didn't get to climb trees...never swam in the ocean with the help of floaters made out of tire inner tubes ("salbabida")... never caught a gold beetle (salaginto)... nor ate with bare hands with banana leaves as plates while sitting on the seashore with underwear full of sand...

My eldest once said, everything seems to taste better when wrapped in banana leaves. And so for my husband's birthday very recently, I promised a family dinner reminiscent of how it was done during his childhood. An entire table lined with banana leaves and viands right at the center for everyone to pick; to enjoy every morsel with their bare hands.

Now where my parents come from, eating with the hands is an art form: you should only use your fingertips and keep the rest of the palm clean.

The menu was pork belly and pompano fish stuffed with onions and tomatoes, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over hot coals. Fresh shrimps simply seasoned with salt and pepper, flash-cooked in little water and topped off with a dollop of butter, mussels soup, laing , diced red egg and tomatoes with the all important hot and fluffy rice. Dessert was a bowl of chilled lychees and served with ice.

It was I must say a feast!
We had a grand time. Much as we were nowhere near a farm nor a fishing village, I was just happy that my boys were enjoying this time, having a ball and literally getting a taste of what it was like for me and my husband when we were growing up.

I tell myself there will be MORE of this.
On the practical side, all we did was fold the banana leaves and the clean-up was done!

Charcoal-grilled pork belly (Inihaw na Liempo)
  • 1 kilo of pork belly (about 1/4 in thick), about 6-7 slices
  • 1 c vinegar
  • 1/2 head of garlic finely chopped. Or better yet, pound away into a paste in mortar and pestle
  • 1 T sea salt
  • black pepper

When using a mortar and pestle, put the salt with the garlic to prevent the garlic from jumping out. Mix all the ingredients together and this is your marinade. Keep the pork soaked in this mixture in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Mussel Soup (Tahong na may sabaw)
  • 1 kilo mussels, cleaned and bearded
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 thumb size ginger, julienned
  • Fish sauce (patis) or salt
  • pepper to taste
  • Optional: handful of chili leaves (dahon ng sili)

In a pot, heat a little oil and saute your garlic and ginger till fragrant. Careful not to burn your garlic as it gets bitter. Simply put in the mussels and add 2-3 cups of water. Add fish sauce or salt to taste. Balance with a pinch of pepper. Turn on high heat to boil.

When all the mussels have opened, this means it is cooked. Turn off the heat. A handful of chili leaves does not add any heat nor spice at all. It just gives a nice touch of fresh frgrance and a mild herb-y flavor to the broth.

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