For this month’s Let’s Lunch, a virtual monthly potluck on Twitter, the theme is a top-secret favorite food. I’ve chosen an ingredient that’s not frequent in my rotation, and which even I was surprised to find I enjoy eating: chicharrones. Before I tasted them, the concept of fried pork skins didn’t appeal to me, from either a flavor or health viewpoint. I don’t think I even tried chicharrones until a few years ago, on a trip to Nicaragua, when they came as part of the dish called vigoron, a yuca dish. These salty baconiness of these crisps contrasts well with the solid plainness of the boiled yuca.
A month ago, it took another trip, to another tropical land, this time the Philippines, to reacquaint me with chicharrones. I had a chance to have a brief visit in Manila, the sprawling and densely populated capital of the Philippines. As part of my brief two-day stay, I went on a history and food walk of Binondo, the city’s Chinatown.
The Binondo walk, led by Ivan of Old Manila Walks (its official title is “The Big Binondo Food Wok”) gave a fascinating glimpse into Manila’s Chinatown, which has existed since 1594, and is the oldest Chinatown in the world.
We meandered throughout the alleys of this Tsinoy part of Manila, tasting local specialties along the way.
My favorite bites were fresh lumpia and sweet steamed taro buns (below).
The next day, I enjoyed a private cooking class on Filipino cuisine by Chef Pam Obieta. Chef Pam runs the culinary program at De La Salle University, and has recently opened her private kitchen to teach cooking classes. My menu read as a who’s who of Pinoy cuisine:
Aside from the adobo and lumpia, I hadn’t tried any of these common Pinoy dishes. I was surprised to find that much of it was full of antioxidant-rich vegetables– I generally think if Filipino food as being on the unhealthy side, full of pork. Most Americans think of lechon (roast pig) and lumpia (fried spring rolls) when they think of Filipino food. In constrast, most of the dishes I learned to cook were veggie heavy, including such nutritional standouts as kabocha squash, bitter melon, eggplant, long beans, okra, tomatoes and water spinach.
There was still pork, of course, and to top things off, the chicharrones. These were used as a crunchy garnish on the pinakbet, a vegetable stew originating in the Ilocos Region, in the Northern part of the Philippines. It comes from the word “pinakebbet,” which means “shrunken” or “shriveled,” and refers to the steaming down of the vegetables as they are traditionally cooked in a gourd. The main seasoning of this dish is bagoong, a fermented fish paste. The stew is delicious on its own, but for a contrast of crunch and a burst of saltiness, you can’t leave out the chicharrones.
Pinakbet (also known as Pakbet)– Filipino Vegetable Stew
2 T cooking oil
1/2 small onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup diced pork
2 tablespoons bagoong (fermented shrimp paste)
1 cup water
1/4 kabocha squash cut into 2 inch cubes
2 bitter melons, cut in half, seeded, and brined and rinsed before cooking to remove bitterness
6 long beans
4 Chinese eggplants
bagnet (chicharrones), crumbed, as garnish
- Preheat pan. Add oil. Sauté onions, garlic and tomatoes. Add pork, sauté until cooked. Add bagoong and water. Adjust seasoning and bring to simmer.
- Add kabocha. When squash is half-cooked, add bitter melon, long beans, eggplant and okra. Top with tomatoes and lid. Do not stir (this is the traditional cooking method).
- Cook over low heat for several minutes until liquid is evaporated. Then stir once, adding more bagoong if needed.
- Serve with chopped/crumbled chicharrones.
Thanks for coming by! Please hop over to see what other top-secret ingredients the other members of the LetsLunch gang are admitting to eating:
Betty-Ann’s Adobo Eggs at Asian in America Mag
Cheryl’s Singaporean Sardine Sandwiches at Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
Karen‘s Goldfish-Inspired Cheese Sables at GeoFooding
Lisa‘s Potato Cakes at Monday Morning Cooking Club