Friday, September 25, 2009


Cavite City is a narrow piece of land jutting out to Manila Bay, which curves back and points to the reclamation area in Pasay City, so that on clear nights we could see the twinkling lights of the piers, the Mall of Asia, and the various skycrapers as far back as those in The Fort in Taguig City.

The limited soil space explains the absence of agricultural fields, and freshwater ponds. Salt ponds line the highway going to Noveleta, and tilapia ponds dot the succeeding towns of Kawit and Bacoor, but that's just about it.

The main source of fish and seafood, then, is the ocean - represented by three bays surrounding the city. So the Cavite City public market's main offerings are marine fish, punctuated by some Batangas tilapia and a little of the tawilis from far Taal Lake, both of which thrive in freshwater environments.

Which is why I feel a bit at home there. When I was growing up in Pangasinan there were no freshwater ponds. The fish we ate that did not come from the sea were those which were brought back to life by the rains after hibernating in the fields - frogs, snails, tiny crabs, catfish and mudfish, gourami, tiny black tilapia that were bitter so that when I came to Manila I was so amazed by large white and tasty cultured tilapia that were so abundant.

Those freshwater fare were enjoyed only during the rainy season, though. For the rest of the year we relied on the catch from the Lingayen Gulf, and beyond in the deeper recesses of the South China Sea. Even the famed Bonuan bangus are cultured along the shores of Dagupan City in brackish water.

The fish sold in Dagupan and Cavite, then, are similar (with the exception of the bangus, of course). In Cavite, though, deep sea creatures like the loro (parrotfish) are more common, although these fish are also common in the coastal towns of western Pangasinan. In both small tuna (albacore) is abundant, as well as lapu-lapu, pompano, talakitok, caballas, espada, squid, krill, though the last three are in profusion more in Pangasinan.

The tahong's (mussels) presence is much more pronounced in Cavite, though, while in Pangasinan oysters are more valued. But there are several creatures that I only discovered in Cavite. Though these may be very common in other areas, I know nothing about them as they are not eaten, or maybe not available, in the part of Pangasinan where I grew up.

First is stingrays, which never graced our table, and the shadow of which I never saw in the wet markets of central and western Pangasinan. I've seen plenty in the wet markets around the Visayas, and in my weekly market forays in Cavite they appear about once a month, though I haven't strictly observed when exactly or in what weather. And I don't buy, since I don't know how to clean and cook them.

Second is malabanos, as how it is called in Cavite, which I think is another name for palos, or moray eel, or undulated moray (Gymnothorax undulatus). This is a gray eel with black undulations and markings on the skin. The body is long and round, with long and thin cartilagenous bones that separate the thick flesh into segments. It inhabits reef flats in tropical waters.

The malabanos is sold in thick slices bathed in luyang dilaw (turmeric), so that it appears orangey-yellowish. I was told the eel looks unattractive as it is, hence the added coloring to brighten it up.

Of the thirty or so regular fishmongers who occupy a stall in the public wet market, plus the ten or so peripheral vendors, only one sells malabanos at any one time. And the eel rarely makes an appearance. But once it does buyers converge on the vendor, and one told me it is delicious. The vendor said it is tastier than pork.

I can't say the same, because I am slightly revolted by pork, but it is very tasty, and very meaty, besides. The flesh is soft and juicy. It is probably even better than pork, health-wise, if it is not as cholesterol-laden as its land-lubber counterpart.

Whenever I encounter anything new I ask the vendor how it is cooked/eaten, and sometimes the other buyers volunteer other tips. I learned that the malabanos is commonly cooked with the turmeric, plus garlic, vinegar and a sprinkling of salt.

And that is how I got introduced to malabanos, Cavite-style adobo, puckeringly-sour and yellow. I believe this manner of cooking would remove whatever lansa is inherent in the eel, though I detected none. I think it would have been heavenly had I thought of adding a stalk of bunched tanglad (lemongrass), much like the dinilawang alimusan I had in Iloilo, but I forgot.

Adobong Malabanos - meaty and fatty

As with other adobo, the left-overs were great fried to a crisp the next day. Mmmm.

Related Posts
Isdang Cavite
Dapa at Palos
Luyang Dilaw
Pinaupong Manok sa Asin
Arroz Caldo sa Dilaw
Dinilawang Atsara

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sireles On The Tree

I'm publishing more photos of the sireles (which I first spelled as ceriles) fruit, this time taken and very kindly sent by Mr. Antonio Medina, who also permitted me to use these photos in this blog.

Mr. Medina took these photos from the trees in his own orchard, which cements the fact that the fruits on the tree in front of my house that I mistook for being sireles are of another kind.

As for using the fruits in other ways besides eating them fresh, I'm still experimenting.....

Thanks very much for these valuable photos, Mr. Medina.

Please find my first post about the fruit here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leyte Pineapples

Possibly the sweetest pineapples in this part of the globe. Not a fibrous inch is sour, the center core soft and entirely edible.

It is of the small, probably the smallest, variety found in the Bicol region, average size is that of a medium fist. A whole pineapple can easily be consumed by one person, or split into three wedges. Nowadays, though, the Bicol pineapples are not consistently sweet.

These pineapples, served in Tacloban City for after-lunch refreshments, came from the S&R Farms in Ormoc.

Related Posts
Charito's Delights
Homemade Moron Recipe

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Labong Atsara

[pickled bamboo shoots]

This is not really cooked atsara-style, but more of an adobo, sauteed in garlic, onions then splashed with vinegar and left to cook. But it tastes pickled like a true atsara, sour and crunchy, and is eaten like an atsara, accompanying anything grilled or fried.

And we call this atsara in Pangasinan. It is what happens when shoots mushroom around bamboo groves during the rainy season, and somebody was greedy and harvested all too many of them. Bamboo shoots cannot last long, two to three days at the most, so they have to be cooked right at harvest, or boiled after have being sliced thinly and/or julienned and refrigerated, so they could keep a little longer.

So after eating them with saluyot and kamias, or in chicken soup, or stir fried with various vegetables, or in a thick sauce with meats, or sprinkling them on buro, this is another way of using the surplus labong.

Cavite vendors at the public market have been selling boiled, julienned labong for weeks now. When I make my purchase I am asked if I'm buying saluyot, too, and am offered fresh bunches of long-stemmed leaves. Not the uprooted short shoots that I'm used to in Pangasinan, but cut stems. The next vendor sells kamias, so I have my perfect Pangasinan labong stew.

I then ask what is used to season the labong and saluyot, expecting to be directed to the coconut graters for gata (coconut cream), but surprisingly the vendors point to the daing (dried fish) stall. There, to my amusement, I find bottles of Pangasinan bagoong. But there's also bottled bagoong Balayan, which I prefer, as bottled Pangasinan bagoong is looked down upon by serious Pangasinan cooks in the general scheme of things.

And I'm amazed, and happy, to find Cavite, my adopted home, and Batangas, my previous adopted home, harboring all the three ingredients that makes my Pangasinan labong stew. Labong, saluyot, bagoong, plus the kamias, which is pronounced kalamias or kalamia-as in the Cavite/Batangas dialect. It almost feels like home - the real one.

To make atsarang labong, heat a spoonful of cooking oil on a thick-bottomed pan over medium heat. When smoke is rising up saute a clove of crushed garlic, stirring until golden and fragrant. Mix in a whole onion that's been sliced, stirring as well until the onions turn transparent. Pour the julienned labong, previously washed and drained, and mix. Splash some vinegar and cover. Do not mix. After about five minutes, check if the vinegar had dried up. If not, put back cover and check again after a few minutes. Sprinkle some salt and pepper and mix, then turn off heat. Serve warm or cold. Can be refrigerated for up to two weeks, but the crunch will not last with time.

Related Posts
Dinilawang Atsara
Labong in Chicken Soup
What is Labong
Labong with Saluyot
Labong on Buro

Friday, September 04, 2009

Homemade Morón Recipe

The name of this Waray delicacy has accent on the second syllable, so it doesn't refer to those jerks you don't want to work with in the office. I don't know why it's called thus, but it's probably a local term that doesn't in any way relate to the highly popular English word with Greek origins.

It's something luscious, generates happiness and induces a state of high due to the pureness of the (dark) chocolate ingredient, as opposed to the imbecile qualities of the first-syllable-accented slang.

This kakanin got featured early on in the life of this blog, by a friend who participated in the Lasang Pinoy event I hosted about streetfood. There was this company selling Waray delicacies with outlets in Metro Rail Transit stations, which my friend considered to be streetside, but the kiosks have since disappeared.

So now Metro Manila denizens would have to go to Leyte for a morón fix, or should cultivate good relationships with Waray friends/relatives in hopes of receiving moron as pasalubong from home vacations, or better, receive gifts of morón cooked in homes in the metropolis.

I got acquainted with morón early on in my life because an uncle married a Waray. I'd get to sample thin rolls of morón during the rare times my family attended fiestas in my mother's barrio, where my uncle's family stayed. But more commonly morón was also served during celebrations of various milestones in my uncle's family. During that time, though, I was more interested in eating than cooking, so I never asked to be taught how morón was made.

For a class project in college, on the topic of food and culture, we imported binagol and morón direct from Leyte to feed the class while a guest lectured on food and its associations.

Then luck shined at work, where I got to meet and cultured a friendship with an office colleague from the town of Abuyog in the province of Leyte. Abuyog is famed for its morón, made by a people who are obdurate in protecting the quality of their product. Thus the Abuyog morón is unsurpassed, never commercialized (hopefully it stays this way).

So I await breathlessly every time this officemate goes home for the holidays, because at the end of vacation time a plastic bag of morón always lands on my office table.

All Filipino kakanin, which are made of rice and gata (coconut cream and/or coconut milk), are highly perishable. They are best eaten right after cooking, fast deteriorating within a few days, if they don't spoil right away.

It is the same with morón, so it can't be found outside of Leyte. It was one of my most highly anticipated things to buy during my Tacloban trip, so it was such a great big disappointment to bring home hard-as-plastic morón from Aida's at Zamora.

I was so frustrated that it actually compelled me to make morón myself, at home.

I've actually had a morón recipe for more than three years now, graciously given by a Waray cook/chef, who has used it based on the recipe of the most well-known morón-maker in Leyte. Several months after the delicacy was first featured in this blog I was contacted and was emailed the recipe. I've tried to cook from it previously, but my first two attempts were disasters.

Making morón is quite a tedious job, so it took me a long time to attempt a third time. The recipe is simple enough to follow, but the stirring and wrapping are muscle-wrenching and backache-inducing.

It also takes guts, if cooking with gata and malagkit is not one's expertise. My first attempt was actually a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. Because I am not as well-versed when it comes to kakanin, I made morón when the family was in Pangasinan for a vacation, so I could solicit the help of an aunt-in-law, whom I considered (notice the past tense) the expert on all things made with malagkit and gata.

The recipe called for flour consisting of 75% ordinary rice (not glutinous), the fourth portion malagkit (glutinous). The aunt-in-law has a scrupulous cooking ethic, and she told me no way will she make suman that's not a hundred percent ansak-ket or malagkit.

And I agreed with her. Suman, that which citizens of Luzon are used to, made of whole glutinous rice grains, becomes hard when ordinary rice is used, or will feel like it is filled with tiny hard pebbles as it is bitten into when rice is mixed into the glutinous rice.

What we failed to consider was that we were using flour, not whole grains. Ground rice gains a sticky, soft consistency. So my first morón, made purely of glutinous rice flour, became a soft, gooey tikoy, steadfastly refusing to form into a roll but falling flat, and stickily so.

But it was delicious, and we finished it in no time, messily spooning it into our mouths. The next time I made it on my own. I can be stubborn, and I used an all-glutinous rice mix. Because I used commercially available pre-ground dry rice flour instead of soaking the rice and having it ground wet, I thought I'd get a different and much more better result.

The morón came out even stickier. I had to coax it into a pan, presenting it like a pudding, and we spooned from it because it was hopeless slicing it.

But my third attempt was providential. First I had all the right ingredients. I have great faith in the pre-ground, powdered rice flours available in public markets as well as in supermarkets and grocery stores because the quality is consistent. Glutinous as well as ordinary rice flours are available, though the ordinary rice flour is much more harder to find.

And second, the day I decided I'd make morón - last Saturday, the 29th of August - was the town fiesta of Abuyog, where there was a mania to make morón. So I was in sync with the spirit of morón-making, and maybe I was blessed with Abuyog's patron saint.

So here's the adapted recipe. I decided the original recipe, with four cups rice, would make too few suman for my big household, so I doubled it, along with the rest of the ingredients.

The morón was consumed in no time at all, and became my children's favorite. We had guests during the weekend, and they could not keep their hands off the treats. At ballet practice, my daughter brought no less than five pieces for her to snack on because she says she gets so tired by her exertions.

As for me, this is probably the best morón I've had my whole life. It's true, home-cooked treats are the best. Thanks very much, Agnes, for sharing the recipe. Now I, and my children, can have morón anytime!


2 kilos grated coconut meat
8 cups boiling water
6 cups ordinary rice flour
2 cups glutinous rice flour
30 chocolate tableya, melted with 1/4 cup water
1 cup chopped peanuts
1 kilo muscovado sugar
1 bar cheddar cheese, julienned
1 small bottle vanilla extract
1 big can evaporated milk
½ kilo white (refined) granulated sugar
banana leaves, cut into 8"x10" rectangles, about 30 pieces

Makes about 30 4"-long pieces

  1. Put grated coconut meat in a basin and pour the boiling water. Set aside. (Alternatively, use the equivalent of 8 cups canned coconut milk)
  2. Mix flours thoroughly until evenly incorporated. Divide into two equal parts.
  3. When the coconut mixture is cool enough to handle, squeeze the grated meat, going around and repeating to ensure all the coconut meat have been squeezed. Strain the resulting cream in a fine strainer. Divide the cream into two parts.
  4. Pour one-half of the flour in a thick-bottomed pan (preferably kawa or big kawali) and mix in one part coconut cream, the melted chocolate, the muscovado sugar, peanuts and vanilla extract. Mix over medium heat, stirring constantly. Uneven lumps will form at first, but keep stirring until the mixture evens out and thickens. When oil begins to come out, turn off heat, and transfer pan to a counter to cool.
  5. Add the remaining coconut cream to the second half of rice flour, and mix in the evaporated milk and about half of the white sugar. Cook in a separate pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Add more sugar to desired taste (not too sweet). Cool.
  6. Pass the banana leaves over a candle on both sides so they become pliant. Then rub the squeezed-dry coconut meat over them.
  7. Get a heaping tablespoonful of the chocolate mixture and put on the shorter edge of a banana leaf wrapper. Sprinkle cheese on it. Put the edge of the banana wrapper over the mixture then roll, the banana leaf covering the mixture so your hands don't touch it. Roll until the mixture forms into a thin cylinder. Place this in the middle of the wrapper. Get a heaping tablespoonful of the white mixture and put on the shorter edge of the same banana wrapper and repeat the procedure.
  8. Put the two cylinders (chocolate and white) side by side, put the edge of the wrapper over them, then roll again, so that the two fuse into one thicker cylinder. Alternatively, coil the chocolate cylinder around the white one, then roll.
  9. Put the cylinder on the shorter edge of the wrapper, then roll the wrapper tightly up to the opposite edge. The moron should have been rolled over no less than three times. Secure both ends by tightly tying with a string.
  10. Repeat until all the two mixtures have been used up.
  11. Steam for 45 minutes to an hour. Let cool.

  • The original recipe called for three cups rice flour and one cup glutinous rice flour. I used six cups rice flour and two cups glutinous rice flour.
  • Only 1/2 kilo white sugar was specified, to be added to the white mixture. I added muscovado sugar to the chocolate mixture because it was too bitter (the tableya is 100% dark chocolate). I loved it this way, as the muscovado added depth of flavor.
  • I did not use up all of the half-kilo sugar for the white mixture.
  • The original recipe called for a three-hour steaming. This is for those pans with an elevated slotted layer on top, with the water boiling below. The moron can be submerged in a pan full of water and boiled, for only 45 minutes to an hour. Just make sure the banana leaves have been rolled tight, the ends tied securely so that the water won't get into the moron.
  • I used coin-sized, thin tsokolate tablea bought in Tacloban, which is available in all islands of the Visayas, particularly Cebu and Bohol, used for making sikwate. The sweetened tablea in supermarkets can substitute, about five rolls or 25 tableas. Omit the muscovado sugar in the chocolate mixture. I was told Valhrona dark chocolate will make the moron more luscious, and my friend from Abuyog says they use Hershey's liquid dark chocolate. I prefer to use tablea, though. It's in keeping with preserving its origins. And I like the tang of it. But if using a bar of dark chocolate, use about 200-300 grams.

*Waray is a loose term applied to natives of the islands of Samar and Leyte, in the Eastern Visayas region.

Related Posts
Charito's Delights
Leyte Pineapples

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Charito's Delights

[fr foreground, left, counter-clockwise:
corioso, roscas, hopia de pili, delicias de pili]

This is part of an ongoing series, "Tinapay," about local breads found in street corner bakeries across the Philippines.

Tacloban City is the trade and commerce hub of Leyte and the island of Samar to which it is connected by the country’s longest bridge, the San Juanico. It is the regional center of Eastern Visayas , politically recognized as Region VIII.

So in terms of food, one can find in Tacloban many delicacies that are specialties made in the outlying towns of the two linked islands. A visit to the pasalubong shops lining Zamora Street will yield pastillas from Carigara, tortas from Calbiga, binagol from Dagami, moron from Abuyog, akin to a mini tasting tour of the entire region.

My office colleagues in the area have a trusted suki (favorite vendor) at Zamora, and I was taken to Aida’s for my pasalubong shopping. The orders were called in in advance, that the trip was just actually to pick up an already packed box, but I managed to find other things to insert into it, like fragrant chocolate tablea (ground cocoa beans formed into discs).

But over-all the package contents were disappointing. The moron were hard, the torta too dry despite its "special" designation (lard was used as shortening). The pastillas were just so so. Good thing I was taken next to an outlet of Charito’s Cakes & Pastries, which originated in Catbalogan, in the northern portion of Samar.

The products are packaged as Charito’s Delights, an identified OTOP (one town, one product, local specialties of a specific place) and awardee as an outstanding MSME (micro-small/medium enterprise) in Samar. I mention this because the pastries and cookies were like nothing I have ever encountered. They are every original, and in every sense delicious, the finest local cookies that can be found in the islands so far.

Emphasis is on the use of pili nuts in the products. Before I went to Tacloban I didn’t know pili was also abundant in Eastern Visayas, as it is a popular product identified with the Bicol region. But it makes sense, since Samar-Leyte is in the same eastern corridor adjacent to the Pacific Ocean as Bicol, and it is easy to think the islands are just a “continuation” of Bicol.

I bought packs of roscas, coriosos, hopia de pili and delicias de pili, all of which I have never heard before, but whose names sounded like a ring of fairy bells to my ears. Plus mazapan de pili. Mazapan is common in the Southern Tagalog region, made of eggs, sugar and milk and peanuts. I think it is a riff on the Arabian confection marzipan, which is made of almonds, and is used prevalently in feasts throughout Europe, and is also called mazapan in Latin America. Tacloban's mazapan is pili-based, ground, sweetened and shaped into thin rectangles.

The biscuit roscas can be found in any island in the Visayas, but Charito’s version is a notch higher with its crispness and those sugar crystals glittering like diamonds all around it. These ring-like cookies are so-named because they resemble those plumbing/automotive parts used to connect pipes or cylinders.

Coriosos are flat discs akin to butter-cookies, moist but crisp. Hopia de pili is unlike any common hopia but shaped like a tiny buttery empanada, protruding in the middle with its treasure of ground sweetened pili. It is a traditional delicacy of Calbiga.

But it is the delicias de pili that are the shining stars of the lot. Shaped like a flower/star, these are soft, buttery pastry filled with ground pili nuts and dried local fruits. True to its name, these are definitely, and definitively, delicious.

Charito's Cakes & Pastries
  • 383 Del Rosario Street
    Catbalogan, Samar
    Tel. No. (6355) 2515093, 2515671
  • Imelda Avenue
    Tacloban City, Leyte
    Tel. No. (6353) 321-7339, (6355) 251-2018
    Fax No. (6355) 251 5093, (6355) 2515671

Related Posts
Homemade Moron Recipe
Leyte Pineapples

The Tinapay Series