Tuesday, July 9, 2013


SO YOU THINK YOU CAN COOK? School girls learn the art of cooking and baking uisng more modern kitchen implements and gadgets, in this home economics class. 1920s

In large Philippine homes—there’s a kitchen and then, there’s a dirty kitchen.  While a kitchen is where Mother displays her fine chinaware, gleaming copper pans, bowls, trays, sleek toasters and pantry cabinet, the dirty kitchen is where she and her househelps toil away in front of sooty clay stoves, enveloped by smoke, heat and odors emanating from frying pans and trash cans.

Such was the house that I grew up in—and nowhere was it busier, smellier, more chaotic--than in our dirty kitchen. For here, all sorts of implements, gadgets and strange instruments abound—for cooking, broiling, boiling, grilling, grinding—all designed to help a new homemaker become a top-rate cook.

The basic tools of cooking rest on a narrow, sturdy table called “dalikan”, made of bamboo or planks of wood, with the top, covered with an iron sheet. Here, one can find kalang uling (charcoal clay stove), which rests on 3 stumpy legs (“tungku”). Under the “dalikan”, one can find chopped firewood, used to start a fire in the kalan, with the help of a tsupan (a metal cylinder used to blow air and stoke a fire) and a “sipit” (a pair of thongs to move pieces of wood and charcoal around). A charcoal-fed  “pugun” or a clay/earth oven, was permanently set in the kitchen for baking breads.

On top of the “kalang”, one can use different pots and pans, depending on what you are cooking. Before the advent of rice cookers, the basic “kuran” with a lid is used to cook the perfect rice. It is also used to cook favourite viands and soups like “adobo, tinola and sinigang”. The metal “kawali”, made of cast iron, is ideal for frying, with the help of an all-purpose “siyansi”.

To boil water, one uses a kettle (“tekwan”) of aluminum, copper or brass. I still have my late Ingkung  brass pan with a rounded bottom and a wooden handle used for boiling water and eggs. He called it “pohiya”, a term that nobody seem to use, except us! Another brass container was the tsokolatera, a small pitcher where homemade chocolate was prepared. A wooden batirul was hand-turned to whip up a frothy, hearty drink.

Those craving for grilled foods like “ningnang babi, bangus o balasenas” had to use a “parilya” (a gridiron of thick wire) over live embers . Basting was done using a brush made of bamboo stick and banana leaves. Large-scale cooking once entailed the use of steel vats—kawa—which came in extra large sizes, good enough for a pig to fit in. I still see a few “kawas” these days—only in landscaped gardens, where they are used for accents.

Raw ingredients were either crushed or powdered in a stone “dikdikan”  or "daldakan", which consisted of a small mortar (asung) and a pestle (alung). Ground rice was turned into sticky  galapong using a stone “gilingan”, that had a hole on top into which rice and water was fed. A handle was turned manually around and around until the galapong emerges from a spout and is collected for making kakaninssampelut, bibingka, sapin-sapin, bobotu.

Native trivets, we call “lakal”—made of bamboo, woven to form a ring, on which a pot can be made to rest. Placed over one’s head, the “lakal” helps an ambulant vendor  steady an “igu” or a “bitse” (woven winnowing trays) filled with local delicacies, while she goes walking around the neighbourhood.

Food was served on plates (“pinggan”) made of enamelled tin or cheap ironstone imported from England. Special viands for a crowd of hungry guests were put in deep “pasung Intsik”, which had the shape of flower pots, but without holes. I remember these glazed pots which we brought out from our “lansena” for use only during fiesta time. they were dark brown in color with a light brown band at the top, decorated with stylized dragon designs.

To scoop anything from a container, there’s the sanduk bican (scooper/ ladle) fashioned from a coconut shell. When holes were drilled onto the ladle, the sanduk becomes a “panyalak”or a sieve. Water dippers made use of almost the whole shell, fastened to a long wooden handle. Back then, any visitor can cool his thirst off with a free welcome drink. All he had to do was to take a water-filled dipper filled from a big clay jar –banga--that stood in front of houses. Cockleshells were often thrown into the banga to maintain the clarity of the water.

Other clay jars in a household include the narrow mouthed  ”oya”, “balanga” (for storing dishes), “gusi”( glazed pot with handles), “tapayan”( a water jar outfitted with a faucet). These often were set on the “banguerra”. Uneaten food or leftovers were stored in a paminggalan, a small pantry cabinet with slats to let air in.

Today, a wide assortment of high-tech kitchen gadgets have been invented to improve kitchen efficiency and convenience: from electric mixers, juicers, steamers to  microwave ovens and grillers. But for yesteryear's homemakers,  nothing beats the fruits of hard labor--whether it is turning a gilingan with sheer muscle power or pounding rice for hours--for it is believed that this is the only way that she can fully bring out life's many flavors.

No comments: