Sunday, December 7, 2008


GRASSHOPPERS, ANYONE? A market vendor sells grasshoppers by the basket. These edible insects could be cooked adobo-style, or even made into fancy chocolate-dipped desserts. Kapampangans took a liking to insects like durun, salagubang and kamaru, and were regularly included in their meals. Ca. 1915-20.

What’s cooking in a Kapampangan kitchen?
Chances are, the lady of the house is whipping up a feast of Kapampangan haute cuisine fit for royalty. For the perfect pagtuan (lunch) fare, it could be oxtail kari-kari, a peanut-based stew of meat, assorted vegetables with nutty sauce thickened with ground rice. Or it could very well be kilayin, mostly chopped liver and meat dish seasoned with oil and soy sauce. Laga was the classic chicken and beef soup dish, boiled in its own broth, and generously crammed with potatoes, repolyo (cabbage leaves) , sayote (chayote) and whole onions.

If it was fiesta, she could be preparing adobo, menudo, asado and bringhi—our pungent version of paella—and the ubiquitous pancit in its many forms—palabuk, luglug, bihun. Then she would have ended the festive menu with delicately sweet desserts with French and Spanish sounding names—turrones de casuy, sans rival and marzipan.

The other side of Kapampangan cooking features the exotic and the unique—from the noxious-looking buro ( a dipping sauce made from fermented rice that has often been likened to a cat’s vomit), spicy sisig to the betute (stuffed frogs) and kamaru (mole crickets). This contradiction is the result of a cycle of feast and famine in Pampanga. Though naturally rich, the province’s history has had painful episodes of hunger and destruction, caused by revolts, conscriptions, floods and volcanic eruptions.

The inventive Kapampangan cook therefore created dishes with whatever was available to him—even if it came from the unlikeliest sources and the ugliest of creatures. The leafy maligoso (bitter weed) that grows practically everywhere, can be made into a hearty soup with kamote (sweet potato) and tinapa (smoked fish) thrown in. It had to be savored sip by sip as the soup has a characteristic bitter taste that you’ll either love or hate. Young bamboo shoots, the heart of a banana plant, the stalks of apung-apung plant—all readily available for the picking in the backyard or on the roadside--can easily be transformed into delicious lagat (chopped veggies) dishes.

The insect world for instance has contributed a lot of dishes for the Kapampangan table. Salaguinto, salagubang (Japanese beetles) and lipaktung (field crickets)—like the more famous kamaru—are cooked adobo-style, with soy sauce, oil and chopped tomatos, sans their wings and carapaces. I remember, as a kid, I used to fill up softdrink bottles with these beetles that densely populated our relative’s tall sampalok trees from across our house. All we had to do was shake the trunk or the branches, and the insects would come falling down. A morning’s catch is more than enough for a fine insect lunch. Durun (grasshoppers) were prepared the same way, but for very rare occasions, the dried, elongated bodies were dipped in thick, gooey chocolate until they hardened, and then preserved in jars as exotic desserts.

Frogs or tugak are another source of Kapampangan delectation. Skinned, with their heads and stomachs removed, they make excellent recados for soups. Or, one can stuff these amphibians with ground meat and deep-fry them as “betute", a more popular mode of preparation. Today, one would still occasionally find frogs for sale at the local market, sold by the dozen--they are sold with their webbed feet impaled in barbecue sticks. But with rivers drying, frog fishing is slowly becoming a lost art.

Dog meat has always been associated with the Kapampangan menu, but this is not accurate. This may have been due to the ”dugong aso” attribution to Kapampangans to describe their so-called treachery when Macabebe soldiers gave up Aguinaldo to the Americans. The Igorots have long taken to dog meat and at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, they were required to kill dogs for show—and eat them. Long before them, however, the Chinese have been feasting on man’s best friend for many centuries.

Kapampangan farmers at one point, were also into field mice, fattened by their daily palay meals and sugarcane. With this kind of diet, daguis pale were considered clean and fit to be grilled, fried or cooked adobo-style. And yes, eating field mice was thought to be effective against galis (scabies).

The best way to a man’s heart, they say, is through food—and it doesn’t take much to please a Kapampangan’s. If a Kapampangan were to compete in the TV extreme series “Fear Factor”, I am sure he will win the eating challenge hands down. Crawling, slithering, croaking, wiggling, chirping, barking—no matter what the source of the meal is—as long as it’s tasty, flavorful and filling—the dauntless, adventurous Kapampangan will eat it all!

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")


dee said...

Oh my gosh Kuya Alex, you bring back so many memories of my childhood. I was just telling a friend of mine the other day about my grandma fishing for frogs on fields during rainy season and how she prepares them for dinner. Just exactly how you described it.
And the mice..oh boy, behind my grandparents house is a field of sugarcane(it's still there too). They would burn the field and mice would come running out, the man would be waiting with a heavy wood to hit the mice. It's gruesome, but it was fun and highlight of the week for us kids.
The "maligoso," one of my favorite kapampangan dish. It's such a "kalu-luh"(poor people) food, but I wouldn't trade ANY bowl/plate of food with my "maligoso." I would always ask my grandma to cook it for me everytime I would come home to visit. I can't wait to go home again.

alex r. castro said...

..and there's so much more flavorful memories: apung-apung, kamias with shrimps and baguk, begukan, iso, kilo--manyaman talaga!

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