Filipino ways of preserving food
By SOL VANZI
Food preservation was a natural part of daily life in our household in the days before refrigerators appeared in every kitchen. With a big, three-generation family to feed, grandma went to the public market daily for food supplies. It was a gargantuan task made even more challenging during typhoons and throughout Holy Week when the wet markets were closed and fishermen did not venture out to sea.
Using salt, sugar, vinegar, oil, sunlight, smoke, and natural fermentation, she managed to keep everyone fed with a balanced diet of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits. From salads to main courses and desserts to midday snacks, preserved food sustained our brood through all kinds of weather and seasons.
SMOKED BY HANGING
Pork and beef intended to be cooked later were salted or marinated in vinegar, crushed garlic, and black pepper, then arranged on a flat, loosely woven bamboo tray called lastay. The lastay was hung from the kitchen ceiling, above the wood-fired stove.
Heat and smoke from the stove dried, flavored, and preserved the sliced meat, called pindangga. The smoke kept insects away as well. In Northern Luzon, smoked pork is called etag. The smoke also kept insects away.
This same method was used for kippered fish like bangus and galunggong (mackerel).
The most popular vegetable pickle Pinoys pair with grilled or fried main courses is atsarang papaya, which does not take special skills to prepare.
First, prepare the pickling brine by dissolving sugar and salt in vinegar to suit your taste. Add whole black pepper, sliced garlic, slivers of ginger, and fresh turmeric. Stir over low heat until it simmers. Set aside to cool.
Fill very clean glass jars with grated green papaya (squeezed dry), whole chili peppers, and carrot slices. Pour prepared picking brine into the filled jars. Wait two days before serving. Use this method also for singkamas (jicama).
This is definitely inherited from the Chinese, very convenient to have around not just as an appetizer but for special dishes like omelette.
Wash one kilo fresh mustard leaves, cutting off all the roots. Shake the leaves dry. My grandma used to hang the leaves upside down on the clotheslines to dry under the sun. Sprinkle the leaves with coarse salt and squeeze until juices run out. Leave in a basin to soak for an hour.
In the meantime, boil five cups of water with one cup of rice. Stir often while simmering over low heat to make a medium-thick rice soup until all grains burst. Leave to cool.
Layer rice soup and salted squeezed mustard leaves in a clear jar. Cover tightly and use after five days. Keep covered in the refrigerator.
PRESERVED IN OIL
There are Filipino dishes that keep well without refrigeration, and even taste better the next day. Among them are top favorites pork adobo, humba, and pinangat na tulingan. Their secret preservative? Oil and long cooking in salt, vinegar, and spices.
The lard of pork adobo and humba get rendered during the long hours of simmering in soy sauce, vinegar, and spices. The melted fat rises to the surface, sealing off the meat from oxygen.
The same thing happens with pinangat or sinaing na tulingan. Fish oil, salt, and the acid from kamias combined with hours of simmering preserve the fish.
Grandpa’s meal was never complete without a sweet dessert, often in the form of fruits or beans in syrup. Sugar kept the fruits from spoiling.
Once a week, grandma would peel and slice fruits in season and cook them in panocha (raw brown sugar) syrup before pouring them in glass jars. Thus, we always had sweetened saba bananas, camote (sweet potato), cassava, langka (jackfruit), rimas (breadfruit), and mango.
When fruits were hard to come by, grandma resorted to beans: garbanzos (chick pea), kidney beans, and black mongo.
During summer months, we ate grandma’s sweets with shaved ice and milk.
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