My first recollection and introduction to Filipino food was at a welcome party thrown by my paternal grandfather for my family a few days after we arrived in Manila from New York City. My brothers and I have never been outside the United States before this long cruise on the M.S. Doña Nati that took us from NYC, across the Panama Canal to San Francisco, Okinawa and other ports until we finally reached the Philippines.
The party was held at my grandfather's country estate in the family's hometown, Tanauan, Batangas, a town about 33 miles south of the capital city of Manila. The drive to Tanauan in my grandfather's De Soto, which can seemingly fit our entire clan, took us through the scenic Dewey Boulevard, the salt beds in Paranaque, the bamboo organ in a church in Las Piñas, the boyhood home of Philippines national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal in Calamba, men and women bent over planting rice at muddy water logged rice paddies and the lone shady acacia tree in the middle of a field where my Lola Alfonsa had to unexpectedly take shelter to give birth to my Uncle Jojie on a trip much similar to this.
Upon arrival at my grandfather's country house, my brothers and I suddenly found ourselves in the midst of farm life with plenty of room to run around and play with abandon; the exact opposite of our cramped New York apartment where our rough housing would be met with banging from the neighbors below or next door. For us kids, the lure of the wide open spaces, fruit trees to climb and ready-made-playmates, in the form of cousins, were irresistible and heavenly.
We had our first taste of buko or young coconut freshly gathered from one of the many coconut trees in the property by the farmhand who scaled the tall slim tree with his arms and feet. It was scary to watch but the boy was deft and fast. The outer green shell of the buko was removed with a machete and 2 holes were made on top of the remaining husk from where we were told to drink the refreshing coconut juice. Then the top of the husk was removed to reveal the soft white flesh of the buko which, with a spoon fashioned from the green shell, was scraped off the inner shell for us to eat and enjoy. It was sweet and delicious and I loved coconuts ever since. But it is still best experienced right after it is harvested, under the shade of the coconut trees. Throw in a body of water - river, lake, sea or ocean and it's perfect.
Then, there were the animals. Before this, the only real animals we've seen were our family pet in NY, a shaggy St. Bernard puppy named Queenie, the monkey my grandfather kept in the back porch of his house in Manila and the little lizards crawling around everywhere. At the farm, I was excited to see and touch the animals I only knew from books - among them were cows, pigs, carabaos, goats, chickens, turkeys and even a noisy showy peacock. My brothers and I fancied the animals as pets and started giving them names, playing with and feeding them. Little did we know that these animals were what was being served at the party.
One of the traumas of my early life was when they started slaughtering these animals for the party. Mercifully, the beautiful peacock was spared. We witnessed the chickens getting their necks slit and they would run around like crazy with their heads cut off. The most traumatic slaughtering was that of the goat Freddy, who I was quite fond of, and was made into the Batangueno specialty dish Kalderetang Kambing (Stewed Goat). Up to now, you could not make me eat Kalderetang Kambing or any goat dish for that matter. My brothers' pet pigs and a few others were skewered on bamboo poles and roasted over hot embers for one of the favorite Filipino dishes, Lechon. We were inconsolable and cried and cried and cried when the animals were butchered. It was not the best introduction to Filipino cuisine for my brothers and I, but inspite of that, we grew to love Filipino food.
At this party, I developed a taste for a dish I referred to for the longest time as 'Pig's Feet'. This dish is actually called Estofadong Pata, a stewed quintessential sweet sour pork dish served with fried saba bananas. As I was growing up, when asked what do you want to eat, I would scream, 'pig's feet, pig's feet!' Now, I think it is weird and funny especially for a young girl, who up until a few days prior had spent her early life in Detroit and New York City, to have pig's feet as a favorite dish. I still love Estofadong Pata and it often brings me back more than 50 years ago to that grand bienvenida (welcome) party thrown for my family and the halcyon days of my youth.
This recipe is from my dad's eldest sister Auntie Columbia. She used to prepare this dish whenever she comes and visits from the Philippines. It was always a treat. Somehow her estofado tasted the best to me. When I asked her what the secret is, she would say "pwe-pwe", which I took to mean some kind of magic.
1 large pata or pig's feet (about 1 kilo or 2 1/2 to 3 lbs)
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup of brown sugar (Note: I like my estofado on the sweeter side, you may reduce sugar to 1/4 cup if you prefer)
1/2 cup of soy sauce
3 laurel or bay leaf
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 head garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
4 saba bananas cut in large diagonal (1") chunks and fried to a golden brown.
1/2 cup cooking oil
Note:The Philippine saba banana (genus Cardaba) is not readily available in the US. A good substitute are more common plantains (genus Musa).
Clean pig's feet. Heat up 1/4 cup of oil, saute garlic until light golden brown, Add pig's feet and brown on all sides for about 7 to 10 minutes. Add soy sauce, vinegar, water, peppercorns and bay leaf then bring to a boil.
(Tip: Do not stir mixture until it has been allowed to boil for a few minutes to allow the taste of vinegar , water and soy sauce to blend. Otherwise, you will notice separation of flavors such as a distinctively vinegary or salty taste.)
Turn down heat and bring to simmer until pig's feet is fork tender. Add brown sugar and let simmer for about 10 minutes more. I look for a nice golden brown, caramelized color on the pig's feet and the liquids reduced by at least half and thicker. Add the banana and let simmer for about 5 minutes more. Serve hot.
The recipes in this blog were handed down from my aunt and other family members and friends. I do not know where they originated but I would like to imagine that they came from my Lola Alfonsa who, in her time, was legendary for her culinary arts. Any similarities to your own recipe is purely coincidental and not intentional. The rights to this blog and its contents are reserved by the writer and may not be reproduced without written consent from the writer. However, you are free to use the recipes for personal use. Products resulting from these recipes may not be sold commercially.