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Archive for the ‘Pinoy Foods’ Category

As of this posting, there have been some news that PNoy stopped the planned random checks of Balikbayan boxes sent by OFW’s to the Philippines, and the imposition of applicable taxes on the items in those boxes. Even so, I still believe I need to re-post this article I wrote (er, vented) in my FB page, because it was the collective cry of indignation made up of individual voices like this piece that provided the pressure needed by the President to rouse from his apathy and rectify an unforgivable transgression about to be committed by his government. Here it goes:

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Opening a Balikbayan Box from a loved one abroad is a sacred and highly-charged occasion. Imagine the scene: The whole family gathered around the box, some kneeling closer to it while others squatting further behind, forming an outer ring, seemingly providing a reinforcing perimeter wall around the sacred box.
The patriarch holds a pair of scissors, starting to snip at the layers upon layers of packaging tape in one corner of the revered box and everybody grows quiet. The air is tense with anticipation. What could be inside? For sure, there will be chocolates and biscuits, coffee and soap or even perfume! There definitely will be Spam, corned beef and canned salmon, and some other unknown (well, at least to the barrio folks) canned goods. The shoes requested by the teen-aged brother, or the 1 Direction shirt that the youngest sister begged to be included…
In those moments, there is a suspension of reality as the whole family forgets the separation and the longing, the poverty and lack. At that very moment, they are rich! All they could think about are the goodies inside the box, small tokens of love from their kin working abroad. An inconsequential albeit cherished gift, in comparison to the years of absence of a loved one.
Soon, each of them will have their gifts. Lovingly wrapped and labelled by their benefactor who packed the box full almost to bursting point. Usually these boxes are packed by our OFW’s after their working hours – the only time they have, to do something as tedious and labour-intensive as packing a truckload of items into a single box of love.
These boxes have been a symbol of love and devotion, a fulfilment of promises made to kids who were crying when their parent left them to work abroad. “Magpapadala ako ng mga laruan mo. Ibibili kita ng magandang sapatos mo,” all said by the parent while trying to extricate themselves from the tiny arms clinging around their neck at the airport.
These boxes show our solidarity as families, our generosity as a people as even neighbours are included in the bounty at times, our resourcefulness as providers and our drive to get what the world has to offer and give our families a chance to have them, too.

And then the BOC decides to tax these items, taking away the magic and violating the sacredness of this enduring expression of love and family ties. The OFW’s are hurt. They are the ones who brave the loneliness to provide for their families, helping shore up the economy and giving pride to every sitting President, Senator and Congressman, who, in their own conceited ways, try to claim the credit for a growing economy. The OFW’s are a big part of why the Philippines is growing economically. This very same government that claims the credit for the hardwork of remitting OFW’s, want to tax these boxes that they send to their families! They are being betrayed by the same government that should have given them jobs at home so that they did not have to leave in the first place. How can they be so foolish? Nincompoops!

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This is a follow up to my earlier post about how I learned to adjust my cooking of Filipino dishes to whatever ingredients are available here in the UK. I am going to talk about my latest culinary adventures this time, with the end in view of giving you a picture of how it is to survive day by day on food that one, we are not familiar with, two, food that have been cooked with a few modifications depending on the availability of ingredients, and three, authentic Pinoy dishes we somehow manage to put together.

Laing galore!

My Laing Packaged Ready for Distribution Among Friends – For Free!

First in my account is my laing dish, which is fast gaining popularity among my friends here. Laing is a Bicolano dish, known for its hot, spicy and creamy flavour, thanks to loads of hot pepper and coconut cream thrown in.

My first attempt at cooking the dish here was last February this year, when I so wanted to taste something authentically home-cooked Pinoy food. I found dried taro leaves in an oriental store, grabbed two cans of coconut milk, a few pieces of pepper and a pack of smoked mackerel fillet.

I did not realize that cooking half of the pack of dried taro leaves would yield enough serving for more than 10 people! Of course, when the dried leaves were hydrated, they swelled beyond my imagination and my saucepan’s size for that matter. So, I transferred half of the batch into another saucepan and froze most of it to avoid spoilage.

Two days later, my husband and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary and we invited some friends over for lunch. The frozen, then re-heated laing made an appearance on the table and it was a hit! And the rest of the story followed after that.

One of my guests was having her daughter Christened two months later and she remembered tasting the dish. She asked me to be her daughter’s godmother and in the same breath, requested me to cook the same dish, plus another dish she also ate in our anniversary lunch, for the occasion. How could I turn her down?

Then, six weeks later, another friend yet again, remembered the dish and so I found myself smelling of laing again as I cooked for this friend’s daughter’s Christening party – not to mention being one of the kumares again (though it was my hubby she put in the list of godparents).

The ball keeps rolling and this coming July, two of my closest friends here are throwing big parties for their seven year-old girls and you guessed it right! – I’m gonna cook laing again for both occassions. Sometimes I wonder if they will ever warm up to any other alternative native dish like pinakbet or my special munggo. Oh, well, whatever, I am more than happy to oblige my dearest Pinoy friends. Like me, they also long for foods they all grew up eating and for that, it is an honour to play the cook for them

Shepherd’s Pie, Anyone?

The next vignette in my account is about my friend Odette’s Shepherd’s Pie (Odette is one of the two throwing a birthday bask for her daughter this July). She attempted to cook this dish for her son’s 11th birthday last May. Shepherd’s Pie is mainly minced beef with some vegetables cooked in an oven dish with mashed potato on top. It is a complete meal by itself, with potato (carbohydrates), meat and veggies. It was one of the dishes I learned to prepare in my son’s Make and Take session in school, where parents and kids do one-on-one activities for bonding. It is quite popular among the English but the same cannot be said among the Pinoys here.

Well, in that particular party, Odette was practically begging us, her guests, to try her Shepherd’s Pie to no avail. Only one guest was nice enough to actually try it and no one else. When I saw this, I realized that I am not the only one, desiring to satisfy my taste buds with Pinoy palate-pleasing dishes. I could only laugh at Odette’s desperate pleas for us to try her Shepherd’s Pie.

To be honest, I just threw away a whole batch of the same pie yesterday – as it also remained untouched by my hubby and two boys for almost a week. Well, Odette’s cooking is not actually the problem. It is the lost cause of seducing Pinoy appetites with the wrong type of food, that’s all.

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“Buying ingredients for my next culinary adventure”

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I am re-posting an article I wrote late last year about my cooking dilemma here in the UK. I am a vegetarian and these past few weeks, er, months, I have been craving for Pinoy veggies like kangkong and saluyot. These are not readily available here in our town and if they are, they can be quite expensive especially if I start converting or thinking of how we just used to “harvest” them from everywhere back in the Philippines.

I know a lot of Pinoys around the world can identify with this problem. To give you all a peek into the everyday concerns of a Filipino plucked out of her country into a foreign land, read on…

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Home is where…

Cooking is therapeutic to me. Aside from the necessity of dishing out nutritious food for the family, I cook because it heals me from my sadness and anger, boredom and apathy.

I do not follow procedures when I cook. I do not and can not cook the same dish with exactly the same taste twice. Procedures and measurements constrict me and therefore, limit my chances of benefiting anything from the whole process that is cooking. Whatever ingredients are available, I can whip up something edible and good tasting (at least according to my kids and husband – most of the time) out of them, regardless if there has ever been anything like it attempted by anyone before.

Ingredients are the main secrets in my cooking. As long as I have them, I’d be fine. A dash of this, a few slices of that, and a whole bunch of something else – that’s how I measure them. So far, I have not received any objection to the results.

Back home, I knew where to get all the ingredients I would need for my culinary adventures. It was easy then. Now that I am in the UK, it’s a different matter. The ingredients I took for granted as always within reach are nowhere to be found here. I brought some stuff over from the Philippines like Ajinomoto Ginisa Flavor Mix, Maggi and Knorr cubes, dried tengang daga, dried banana blossom and dried saffron (kasubha) for my lugaw or porridge. Not much for the active cook that I consider myself to be.

The rest that I used to cook with so often are not available here. Bagoong – well, I was able to buy a bottle of the boneless kind in a Filipino barrio fiesta at Milton Keynes last August. I am trying to be as economical as I can with it because the next barrio fiesta will not happen again until next year. Sometimes, I feel so helpless not being able to find kangkong, saluyot, tilapia or even pancit canton and miki at the supermarket down the road.

If I sulk, however, my family will starve – my kids have not yet adopted the English palate that go for stuff like shepherd’s pie, fish ‘n chips or pizza for lunch – those are just for their snacks. Well, they now like chips and baked chicken for dinner, but only because the chips (we call them French fries back home) are sprinkled with a dash of Ajinomoto Ginisa flavor mix. They still go for rice and a fish/vegetable/meat dish.

Besides, I want to feed them with home-cooked meals – not take-out pizza, fish n’ chips or pasta. I want them to grow up smelling food cooking in the kitchen. I want to fill their childhood with memories of sit-down evening meals. Most importantly, I want them to grow up eating Filipino food – well, at least most of the time.

So, I decided to be flexible, creative and adaptable in my cooking. I have substituted most of the vegetables that I used to cook with before, with whatever is available at the supermarket. Spinach takes the place of kangkong in my sinigang, aubergine takes the place of eggplant (actually, I do not see any difference between the two except the name) and some white pasta sauce takes the place of Magnolia All Purpose Cream for my special Pinoy spaghetti.

Just today, I cooked dinengdeng with ingredients that have come from at least four different countries. The bagoong is from my country, the okra from Jordan, the string beans from Kenya, the mushroom and spinach (which takes the place of malunggay) are UK-grown and the taro – only God and the supermarket operator know. Really, I saw the effect of the WTO right in my pot! I am thankful that these products have reached me from miles away.

Before we came over here, my husband warned me that my favorite vegetable, saluyot, is not available here. I was resigned to the fact that I will only be able to taste saluyot again when we can go home to the Philippines. One time, however, he brought me to this Indian market place where I saw saluyot being sold. Imagine my joy! I also saw other familiar vegetables like ampalaya and upo! They were quite expensive but we bought some. I will have to go back for more later on.

There is also this small Pinoy Foods store at the town mall where I can find some products we all miss having like Lucky Me Pancit Canton, bihon, longganisa, tocino, Datu Puti condiments and even junk foods like Nova, Piattos and others. Of course, they are more expensive than their prices in the Philippines. But really, who can complain?

In short, I have embraced cooking in a foreign country with the same passion but with a few adjustments. I have accepted the limitations posed by being so far away from home. I also learned to appreciate whatever familiar ingredients I can find here. As a cook, this has made me grow more in my love for cooking and my focus as a cooking enthusiast. This has opened my eyes to the fact that nothing can stop me from doing what I love to do and from my mission to keep my family well-fed with nutritious, home-cooked and full-of-love cooking.

At the end of each day, when the sink is clean and the oven has cooled, I stand in my tiny kitchen and feel this pleasurable feeling come over me. Maybe it’s a feeling of contentment, sense of accomplishment or a combination of both – I don’t know.

They say “Home is where the heart is.” I say, “Home is where I can cook with pleasure.”

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