KAYA PALA ! (No Wonder!)

Long called the “melting pot of Asia,” the Philippines reveals through its language, customs, cuisine, and other aspects of culture the influences of many peoples who have touched her shores.  Take, for instance, culinary terms.  Names of food items, ways of cooking, and references to kitchenware can be traced, directly or indirectly, to words from various foreign languages.

ADOBO is famous the world over for what is now regarded as the national dish of the Philippines.  It may consist of chicken, beef, or pork (or any combination of those) marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and peppercorns, cooked until the liquid is reduced, and then the meat is fried until crisp on the outside.  Some variations call for the addition of coconut milk, or sugar for a salty-sweet flavor on the sauce.

The term adobo came into Philippine cuisine in the 16th century.  Spanish and Mexican settlers had a cooking method called adovado, whereby meat and garlic were pan-fried together, with vinegar and broth later added to create a sauce.  The main difference is that Philippine adobo uses soy sauce, a sign of Chinese influence on local cuisine.

BIBINGKA, the generic name for a Philippine rice cake that has innumerable variations, is very similar to the Portuguese word bebinca. Popular during the 16th century, bebinca is a coconut-rich holiday cake from Goa, formerly a Portuguese possession and now part of India.  Very likely, this food item figured in the exchanges between Spanish and Portuguese traders in Asia.

CEBOLLAS is Spanish for onion, and the Filipino derivation it is sibuyas.  Indonesians call onion bawang Bombay, while Malaysians say bawang besar.  When they say bawang, Filipinos mean garlic which, to Indonesians and Malays, is termed bawang putih.

DATILES, or ratiles, bears thousands of marble-size fruits which are sweetest when red.  My cousins from Nueva Ecija call it saresa, a derivation of cereza, Spanish for cherry.  Datiles fruit probably reminded the Spaniards of cherries, which is why they called them by a name which the locals misheard as saresa.

ESCABECHE is a Spanish method of curing fish: sliced pieces are fried and then marinated in garlic and vinegar.  Philippine-style eskabetse is not so much a method of curing fish, as a recipe for a dish.  Fish is sliced, fried to semi-crispness, and then topped with a thickened vinegar sauce with which garlic, ginger, and bell peppers have been sauteed.

FLAN is yet another Spanish contribution to the Philippine roster of dishes. The recipe and name remain the same, inspite of the fact that the Filipino does not have the letter F in its alphabet. The complete name, leche flan, reflects the use of milk with the usual eggs and sugar. It is usually prepared by steaming the mixture in a mold within a water bath.

GULAI, in Indonesia, is a dish in which the meat, fish, and vegetable ingredients are simmered in plenty of water to which a souring agent, such as tamarind or lime, has been added. Some variations include coconut milk.  In the Philippines, however, gulay is a generic word for vegetables.

HEIKO, from the Chinese, is a smooth, thick, mildly flavored shrimp paste.  I remember it as a bright pink seasoning called heko; vendors of semi-ripe papaya or green mangoes slather it on sections of fruit.

JICAMA, a native plant of South America, was brought to the Philippines during the Spanish colonization.  It came to be called singkamas, and is a popular snack and crunchy ingredient for some dishes.

KWALI sounds like a Philippine word, but it’s actually a Malay term for the wide pan with a curved base, now known worldwide as a wok.  We call it kawali, but in some areas of the country the term used is karahay, from the Indian karahi.

LAPU LAPU has always fascinated me; it’s a kind of fish, but also the name of the foremost Filipino nationalist, the leader who defended our people from foreign incursion.  The fish lapu lapu is called kerapu bara in Malaysia.  Could the name of Mactan’s chieftain have been derived from kerapu?  This family of fish includes sea bass and coral cod; the red- and blue-spotted varieties are the most favored and highly prized in the Philippines.

MANGKO is a term I encountered while reading an article about leaves used as food containers and wrappers.  Banana leaves are commonly used in many parts of the world, but in Indonesia daun manko is a cup leaf used to hold food during steaming.  That, in all probability, lends us the word mangkok: an earthen, glass, or metallic vessel to contain a small quantity of food.

NASI is the best known word borrowed from Indonesia, where nasi goreng is a familiar dish.  The Pampanga area uses nasi for rice, otherwise called kanin or bigas in other localities.

PACU is a generic term in Indonesia and Malaysia for the tender ends of edible ferns.  To us it’s pako-pako.

RAPHANUS is easy to figure out. The Latin raphanus, meaning radish, turned in Spanish rabanos, which then morphed into labanos.

SANCOCHO first came into my vocabulary while reading about Chilean cooking.   I remember from my youth that my mother was very particular about sangkutsa-ing chicken pieces in sauteed garlic and ginger before adding water into tinola.   In the Spanish language, sancocho means “to parboil.”

TERUNG in Malaysian, talong in Pilipino, translates into the English eggplant.  It is said that the first variety of this plant that was seen by a Westerner was white and egg-shaped, hence the English name.

UBI manis is Indonesia’s sweet potato; we call it kamote, derived from the Carribean camote.  Spanish explorers brought it to the Philippines, from where Portuguese traders spread it to many parts of Asia.   What we call ube or ubi is the mountain yam, or long potato, which has rougher skin and a gluey texture.  It is boiled and finely grated before being prepared into dishes.

YEMA is a famous delicacy from Spain, and is, too, in the Philippines.  Winemakers used egg whites to purify their product; the yolks they donated to monasteries, where nuns fashioned them into this mouth-watering confection.  The recipe came with the ships that carried Spaniards to the Philippines.


On the Spelling of Foodnames

Is it atsara or acharaBiskotso or biscochoPansit or pancit?  RelyenoEstopado?  TsikoIMHO (in my humble opinion), we should just use the original words for most food names.  Being too purist with spellings make for awkward expression, especially in writing.

Language is constantly evolving; there’s no stopping the adoption of easier ways of communicating.  I used to object to nandun for nandoon, or sayo for sa iyo, but now I just let them slide.  Text messaging, especially, has worsened the situation.  Kamusta is now mustaSalamat has been abbreviated into slmt,  And so on.

In our niche topic of food names, shortening words has been happening for a long time, in case you didn’t notice.  Here are a few examples:  Piniritong kamote is now pritong kamote.  You might see adobong kangkong listed on a menu as kangkong adobo.  How about the old banana barbecue, now shortened to banana cue, or even banana-q?

Are you strict about Filipino spelling of food names, or are open to adopting the popular ways of presenting the words?  Your opinions are welcome.

When SALAD Lost Its Roots

The modern word salad goes back to the Latin salata, “salted.” A popular dish in ancient Rome was herba salata, salted vegetables.

Although salata‘s root is sal (salt), salad eventually came to refer to the leaves alone, and the seasoning for it assumed the name (salad) dressing.  Many food writers say that salad dressing is a sauce… which seems perfectly fine, but still I want to know why it wasn’t called salad sauce.  My theory is that the word dressing is applied to salad in the sense of finishing, decorating, serving… something to that effect.

Salad dressings have come a long way from the time of the Romans, whose go-to seasoning for raw leaves was brine (water-salt solutions).  They eventually began to serve their mixed greens with separate containers for vinegar and oil, a practice that continues to this day.  I like to tell friends (in serious jest) that they must not think of Caesar Salad as a standard order when they tour Italy; neither must they ask for bottled “Italian dressing” even if that’s their favorite.

caesar salad

There are many stories about the origin of Caesar Salad.  I will state here the most popular account, that the dish was invented in a Tijuana (Mexico) restaurant, close to the San Diego border.  Chef Caesar Cardini is said to have put it together for straggling patrons one late night, using the few ingredients left in his kitchen.  It was a nameless concoction for a while, but word-of-mouth about its appeal made it a frequent order.  Instead of having people describe what they want by enumerating the ingredients (hand-torn Romaine lettuce, olive oil, lemon juice, coddled egg, grated Parmesan cheese, etc.), he lent his name to the new customer favorite: Caesar Salad!

As noted above, stories abound on the salad’s origin.  Do your own internet search and be ready to encounter assorted versions.  For me, the overarching consideration is that the lettuce-dressing combination was thus put together, and now the recipe is there for us to enjoy… whatever its permutations.

As to Italian dressing, do note that it is an American invention.  Its main ingredients are vinegar or lemon juice and vegetable oil: the two components of generic salad dressing in Italy.  Bottled Italian dressing contains additions such as chopped bell peppers, herbs and spices such as oregano, fennel, and dill, seasonings such as salt and a sweetener, and more.

Bottled Italian dressing also sees general use as a marinade.  Sometimes it doubles as dip for blanched vegetables, or as a sprinkle on certain sandwich fillings.  The uses are limited only by your imagination!

Some Italian dressings get more spice treatment, and are labeled as Zesty Italian.  With the addition of buttermilk, it gets to be called Creamy Italian.

Real People, Useful Ideas: ORVILLE REDENBACHER

Sometimes you come across a name that seems made up.  Like Perla Buhay.  To me, that’s sounds like a name straight out of a Filipino poem.  Perla, Life.  Pearl of Life, The Life of a Pearl.  Well, hey, that’s me, wouldjabelieve?

Going back to our general topic, which is food names, let’s consider several unusual monikers and what notable contributions these folks are associated with.  The last – but not the least – in today’s postings on a quartet of food industry greats is Orville Redenbacher. 


He was an Indiana farm boy obsessed with creating the perfect popcorn.  He earned an agronomy degree from Purdue University, worked as a Farm Bureau extension agent, ran a successful fertilizer sales business, AND spent much of his free time with his business partner Charlie Bowman, experimenting with “tens of thousands” of strains of popcorn to develop the perfect snack.

Redenbacher and Bowman launched their popping corn business in 1970.  Within a couple of years they captured a large percentage of the unpopped popcorn market; after another few years, in 1976, they sold the company to Hunt-Wesson Foods.  It went through several more changes of ownership, eventually winding up with the firm Con-Agra.

The brand Orville Redenbacher sounded so unusual that people began to ask in writing if there was a real person behind the product label.   As a result, Orville Redenbacher became – and continues to be – the iconic face associated with the product.  Until his death in 1995, he was the company’s official spokesman, wearing his trademark bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses.

The Valparaiso (Indiana) Popcorn Festival, held each year on the first Saturday after Labor Day, celebrates the product and honors Redenbacher.   Parade floats are usually decorated with popcorn, of course!

Real People, Useful Ideas: DUNCAN HINES

Sometimes you come across a name that seems made up.  Like Perla Buhay.  To me, that’s sounds like a name straight out of a Filipino poem. Perla, Life.  Pearl of Life, The Life of a Pearl.  Well, hey, that’s me, wouldjabelieve?

Going back to our general topic, which is food names, let’s consider several unusual monikers and what notable contributions these folks are associated with.  VIP #3: Duncan Hines.

His name dominates the baking aisle of most supermarkets, but his start in the food business parallels that of Michelin Tires: he was into restaurant ratings.  As a travelling salesman during the 20s and 30s, Hines had plenty of good – and bad – meals on the road.  He and Mrs. Hines began compiling a list of good restaurants to share with friends.  That list developed into a popular book, which led to a successful column-writing assignment for newspapers across the United States.  Hines supplemented his restaurant evaluations with recipes modified for home cooking.

In 1952, his name recognition attracted the attention of Durkee Bakery Co. of New York; an agreement was drawn to brand one of their products Duncan Hines bread.  An endorsement!

The following year, Hines sold the right for the use of his name by several food firms.  Eventually, consumers began to enjoy making home-baked goods using Duncan Hines baking mixes, sold by Nebraska Consolidated Mills of Omaha.  The line of products has expanded through the years; its current owner is the consumer products division of Procter and Gamble.

Real People, Useful Ideas: CHEF BOYARDEE

Sometimes you come across a name that seems made up. Like Perla Buhay. To me, that’s sounds like a name straight out of a Filipino poem. Perla, Life. Pearl of Life, The Life of a Pearl. Well, hey, that’s me, wouldjabelieve?

Going back to our general topic, which is food names, let’s consider several unusual monikers and what notable contributions these folks are associated with.  The second person featured today is Ettore Boiardi, an Italian restaurant owner in Cleveland, Ohio.

Patrons liked his pasta dishes so much that they often requested his recipes.  Now, if you were in his place, would you give away your list of ingredients and methods of preparation? I wouldn’t; that’s one sure way of losing your food business!

Instead, Boiardi opened a business to manufacture canned pasta dishes.  He later moved his operations to Pennsylvania where it was easy to obtain tomatoes and mushrooms, important ingredients for his products.  He decided to modify his label to Chef Boy-Ar-Dee so that consumers will have no problem pronouncing its name.

New Chef Boyardee Logo.png

A government order for army rations of canned pasta during World War II  helped grow the company.  After the war ended in 1945, Boiardi sold the company to a firm that would continue to employ all the workers who had been recruited for the round-the-clock operations.

Chef Boyardee products are sold in the United States and all over the world. The brand is currently owned by Con-Agra Foods, but the label continues to bear the likeness of the jolly Italian immigrant who shared his passion for pasta with food lovers, young and old.

Real People, Useful Ideas: BIRDS EYE FROZEN FOOD

Sometimes you come across a name that seems made up. Like Perla Buhay. To me, that’s sounds like a name straight out of a Filipino poem. Perla, Life. Pearl of Life, The Life of a Pearl.  Well, hey, that’s me, wouldjabelieve?

Going back to our general topic, which is food names, let’s consider several unusual monikers and what notable contributions these folks are associated with.  First of four in today’s postings: Clarence Birdseye.

Doesn’t his name remind you of that guy from MASH? Or maybe a character out of a Western movie? On assignment in 1912 in the really cold region of Labrador, Newfoundland, Birdseye made a mental note of a head of cabbage he had tossed into a barrel of water; it had frozen overnight.

When thawed, the vegetable looked as good as new and tasted just as well. The proverbial lightbulb shone bright in his mind: rapid freezing at really low temperatures can retain food freshness!

After completing his Canada assignment from the United States Biological Survey, Birdseye returned to the United States and sought to replicate the quick-freezing method and tried to put fish, meat, fruit, and vegetable in a state of “suspended animation.”  He theorized that as long as food was in a frozen state, it will remain as fresh as the time it was frozen.

He devised a method of freezing and a system of packaging seafood in the fishing state of Massachusetts and started his business in 1923. After many years of experiments, funding arrangements, and alternating successes and failures, Birdseye eventually gave the food industry his precious gift.  No longer tied to the whims of weather or distance from crop production areas, consumers can now buy a wide assortment of food products any time of the year. Complemented by canning and drying, blast freezing has provided people the luxury of obtaining food from near and far at all seasons.


Ownership of the Birds Eye frozen food brand has been transferred to different companies at various times; the international brand is currently owned by Pinnacle Foods in North America and by private equity group Permira in Europe.

Clarence Birdseye’s inventive mind continues to help feed the world.  Frozen food is a wonderful convenience we all benefit from; we must be grateful for an accident of nature which an astute scientific mind did not let go unnoticed.

B’fast of Baked KAMOTE

I feel pretty good about my first meal today.  It had healthy components, it was easy to cook, and it was filling!

We’ve long been told that breakfast should be the healthiest meal of the day.  We’re breaking a fast of something like 7-8 hours, and so we need calorie-rich food items.

I’m proud to say that I met those requirements this morning when I cooked a six-inch piece of sweet potato in the microwave oven for four minutes, two on each side. I cut the tuber open and dabbed a thin layer of butter on top of both slices.  Paired that with a hard-boiled egg, and downed the meal with a cool glass of lemonade with honey.
sweet potatoes isolated

Sweet potatoes come cheap, especially if you buy them from an Asian store.  My choice was the white variety for its potato-like texture; passed on the red-skinned, orange-fleshed sweet potato because I find the texture sticky.  The two pieces I got for 69 cents meant that the starch component of my breakfast cost an average of 35 cents each.  These will go into two meals: the second piece could be an afternoon snack, or breakfast another morning.

The egg set me back 30 cents, because it was brown organic from free-range chickens.

Finally, there’s my drink from two (free) fresh-picked Meyer lemons, strained, sweetened with honey, the tall glass filled with lavender-infused water and some ice.  I pick lavs from my yard shortly after sunrise; water is from the kitchen tap.  Now I’m ready to do more gardening!
Lavender Lemonade
For nutritional information, you could go to:

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GOTO (Say “goh toh”): It’s Rainy Day Comfort Food

Current news about major events in Southeast Asia drew my attention to a map that showed, among other places, the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and its largest city, Makassar.  I will digress from food topics for a while, and I hope you don’t mind.

When I was into handicrafts many years ago, I came across a crochet project called antimacassar.  I wasn’t into etymologies then, so I bypassed research on the term; I didn’t do the handicraft project, either.

Now I’m finding out: an antimacassar, popular in Victorian times, is a piece of washable fabric or needlework placed on the seatback of an upholstered chair. It was intended to protect the fabric from being stained with Makassar oil, which was a popular hair dressing.

Fast forward to 2014.  The city with an exotic name has captured my attention, so I do an internet search… Makassar is the provincial capital of South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  During the 16th century it was a dominant spice market center where traders from China, Arabia, India, Siam, Java, and Malaya came to do business.  Its most famous traditional food is coto Makassar, a stew of beef offal seasoned with spices and nuts.  Offal are the edible internal organs and entrails of a butchered animal; however, it does not refer to any specific organs, which vary by culture and region.

Could this be the source of our oh-so-comforting goto?  The basic ingredients are identical; maybe we season our version differently, but that is to be expected.  Note, too, that the traders who called at Makassar also found themselves on our shores during the same period, most likely bringing new goods as well as foodways.

casaveneracion.com How to cook: Goto (beef tripe) congee

The above photo is from Connie Veneracion’s recipe.  Click below to see how she cooks  goto:

Feet as Food (Not Talking Fetishes Here!)

I once went to an Asian food store with my friend Mark to show him some merchandise not carried by his mainstream supermarket. After seeing packages of chicken gizzards, tubs of pig brains, trays of cow tongue, etc., he muttered, “I think I’m losing my lunch.”  Many Americans are not exposed to the realities of animal anatomy. Their supermarkets are generally too antiseptic: no fish heads, no large-animal intestines, no pig ears, no body parts considered “yucky.”

To honor Quillan and Angela of http://toemail.wordpress.com, I have written an article which harks back on their theme, yet stays in mine, too.

Three Philippine food items stand out in my mind: barbequed chicken feet called Adidas; the widely-favored pork hock stew, paksiw na pata;  and the comforting soup dish, bulalong baka.

Chicken feet as food is not unique to the streets of Manila; they are also featured in the cuisines of other Asian countries such as China, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.  Some nations in the Carribean, South America, and the Middle East also use them in their dishes. And if you browse a few travel blogs, you will see that some Asian restaurants are getting a toehold (hahaha, my pun!) in European countries and popularizing chicken feet appetizers.

Barbequed chicken feet make for a quick flavorful snack.  And here’s why it’s called Adidas in the Philippines: the three stripes on the side of the famed athletic shoes correspond to the three “fingers” on the chicken feet!


Let’s now look at a usual feature of Filipino lunch fare: paksiw na pata ng baboy.  Many recipes in the Philippines involve the use of vinegar as marinade or as cooking liquid.  One such method is called paksiw.  I can’t find the meaning of the word, but it sure reminds me of a pleasant sourness in the sauce; could paksiw be related to asim (sour)?  The recipe calls for spices, of course, and the choice depends on regional and personal preferences.

Pata is Spanish for leg. The best portion to use is the pig’s feet, or trotters.  It doesn’t take very long to cook, and its gelatinous nature makes for a thick sauce that is so good with steamed rice.  Finally, baboy is likely derived from the Indonesian-Malay word babi, pig.
The third “sole” food for today is bulalong baka.  The main ingredient is calves’ knuckles, for that is what bulalo means; baka is the Filipinized spelling of  the Spanish vaca, cow.  Also included in the mix are shanks with meat, marrow bones, and hooves; all these make the soup thick and full of flavor.
KODAK Digital Still Camera
Beef parts for bulalo, Marikina City market, May 2014

Vegetable additions vary: cuts of corn on the cob, potatoes, bok choy, and others.  Season to taste.

This soupy dish is said to have originated in the southern Luzon province of Batangas, which is famous for farmed-raised cattle.  Roadside stands popularized it, and now bulalong baka  is common fare in households as well as restaurants all over the country.