Pristine cuisine gets under my skin
When you’re served a bowl of hot bulalo at Rose and Grace in Tanauan, Batangas, your gustatory sense will tense up in anticipation of the first steaming sip. That’s clear, clean, pure, hot bulalo broth—slowly there, slurp gently, not too loud as to be heard over the next table, so it won’t scald your tongue. Ahhh…. fantastic!
Feel that robust bulalo broth on your taste buds… feel its warmth under your skin, and taste it above your mood. Stay on the real taste of beef bone with the richness of beef marrow… bite gently on the tender shank and the soft ligament with that gummy texture. Nothing complicated. No clutter. It’s pristine cuisine. It’s food declaring that the simplest is tastiest.
Batangas bulalo is best.
Batangueños are known as the most pioneering and hardworking Tagalogs, intrepid and full of sentido common. They discovered a lot of pristine cuisine. Foods relished for freshness and purity. Easy and simple to cook, to preserve the full taste of a meat, fish or vegetable, single or mixed. Basic condiments—salt, pepper and ginger—are used only when necessary, never to convolute.
Some of Batangas’ pristine cuisine we enjoy are: Sinigang na maliputo (the rare and succulent flounder bred and caught only in the Pansipit river);
Sinaing na Tulingan (baby tuna boiled in sour fruit for 24 hours in palayok, simmered to softness, then sold in the Parian;
Pesang dalag at the Taal Lake Villages;
The small but terrible sardine variety that grows in the sulfuric craters of Taal Volcano: tinindag na pritong tawilis;
And the humblest of the Batangas pristine cuisine—newly picked from the backyard patch—murang paayap pinakuluan sa hugas bigas with a pinch of salt and luyang pinitpit (isawsaw sa bagoong balayan na pinigaan ng sintunis at dalawang ulo ng labuyo).
Towns along the shores of Laguna Lake have a pristine fish dish that’s truly to die for—sinigang na bagong huling kanduli, tumatalon-talon pa! It’s cooked in hugas bigas with pampaasim fruits (sampaloc, kamias, kamatis or ripe bayabas).
Bizarre cooking habit
With a maniacal hankering for freshness, fisherman folks around the lake cook their sinigang na kanduli in the most bizarre way. While fishing, they install in the banca a tungko (earthen stove) filled with a sinigang broth, bubbling and boiling under the glowing uling embers. As soon as a kanduli is caught, it goes right into the boiling pot. Nothing beats it for sumptuous lunch while afloat in Laguna Lake. It’s freshness to the max!
Kanduli is original and unique to Laguna Lake. Kanduli belongs to the shark variety but got sucked in during the high tide when fingerlings crossed the Pasig River from Manila Bay saltwater to Laguna Bay freshwater. The skin is silvery smooth and the flesh is fine and soft, a melt-in-the-mouth sensation. May lansang kanduli—an olfactory assault that’s part of its unique taste. Out of this world!
Latest fish sensation
The latest in fish sensation is the tilapiang buhay na inihaw sa bunot, a creation of barrio folks in Lake Pandin, one of San Pablo City’s enchanted lakes. The tilapia is a black and fat variety grown tastiest because it feeds on organics at the bottom of the lake. Only dry coconut husk is used for grilling for that incredible smoky taste. Eaten with fragrant jasmine rice in banana leaves and savored while lazily afloat bamboo rafts. Grilled tilapia at Pandin lake is the seventh heaven!
Farther south is the Bicol region, land of hot-blooded people, reared under the shadows of spicy volcanoes, Mayon, and Bulusan. Here, cuisine is sensuous and hot.
It’s tinuto (ginataang laing with labuyo)! Laing is the most exotic-looking plant that grows wild on the edges of babbling brooks and criss-crossing Bicol volcanoes. The leaves are dark green, single stem, roundish and heart-shaped. Its outer skin is totally waterproof, raindrops bounce off. Its inner skin is rich with milkish dagta which, when cooked with coconut milk, creates a dark green gooey gravy that gives steaming jasmine rice the earthy flavor of wild plants and the enchantment of creamy coco milk. What a blast!
Pristine cuisine assures the role of our comfort food, served regularly by our inay and lola with care and love. Its homey taste is forever stuck in our hearts.
This Christmas season, my younger sister Nuncia, an American citizen who lived in Chicago for 45 years, will pay us a visit. I know her first words upon getting off the plane: “Kuya Minyong, may laing ba?”
“Aba meron! Recipe ni Inay.”
After American food, Nuncia goes back to our beloved laing. It’s just like being back in the motherly care and love of our late Inay Aurea.
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