You cannot know everything about the food of a place even after a hundred visits.
This was affirmed when a family heirloom cooking contest, called “Nyaman Kapampangan,” was held at the Vista Mall of San Fernando, Pampanga.
Nyaman means delicious.
It was organized by chef Sau del Rosario, who also hails from the province and has restaurants there.
The contestants, all home cooks, were whittled down to eight finalists. They were tasked to cook their recipes in two hours, including 30 minutes to shop for ingredients at the mall’s All Day Supermarket.
Among the judges was Lilling Borromeo, acknowledged expert resource person on traditional Pampango cuisine. She not only told us non-Pampango judges the meaning of each dish’s name, but also how it should be cooked and how it should taste.
Top prize winner was Lourdes Lacsina, who cooked pulutok, known outside Pampanga as bopis, savory minced pig’s heart and lungs. She was awarded the grand prize of P50,000.
Also a prizewinner was Biringhing Dagat ng Apung Liling. The cook was a doctor, Ronald Talens, assisted by Angelo Lopez, who calmly did the rice dish.
The Pampango judges told us that traditional biringhi could not have seafood because there is no coastline in the province. But when interviewed, Dr. Talens said that the recipe of their Apung Liling always had seafood and this is what they did.
The Asadong Matua of Rommel David and Kathleen Gascon impressed the Pampango judges because boiled fresh tomatoes were used for the sauce. That was the old way of doing tomato-based sauce.
The rest of the entries had their own stories to tell.
Arobo is what adobong puti is called in Pampanga. It has no coloring from soy or annatto and was cooked by Kim and Gina Tolentino.
Pesa or fish lightly stewed in vinegar can be a very simple dish. But when served with tauri, creating the sauce out of fermented bean curd provides the complication, according to cooks Karen Shih and James Andres.
Lagat hito with tangle was the entry of Marilou Canlas and Imelda Mallari. The cooks had a cheering squad of community members, as they did the stewed catfish.
Tangle is alagaw leaf which gives the dish a licorice aroma. They added angi (luyang dilaw, turmeric) to their dish.
Petisan is adobo sa patis or pinatisan. Luke Santiago used pork knuckles (pata) with lots of garlic.
Imelda Escobido cooked murcon. The dish’s name can cause confusion.
In Batangas and Cagayan (north), morcon is what embutido (ground pork made into a roulade) is called. Morcon elsewhere is a roulade of beef stuffed with vegetables, hard-boiled egg, cheese.
To add to the confusion, the murcon that day was a roulade of pork and the stuffing was the same as the roulade of beef. The cook said this was how they do it in her family.
The contest added new info to my Pampanga food database.