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Stef invited me to join Lasang Pinoy 3, hosted by Kai with Streetfood as this month’s theme. The beaucon question is: “If you were a Pinoy streetfood, what would you be?”

I’m quite predictable on this one, yes, I will be food found on the streets of Ilocos, particularly at the plaza of Vigan. I am an Ilocos empanada. I don’t look orange at all, but my mind is always bursting with ideas. The true Ilocos empanada, THE empanada to end all empanadas, including Sandy Daza’s anemic version, consists of a matrix of sauteed vegetables and a piece of longganiza and topped with one whole egg before packing everything up in a wrapper made of flour.

My mouth is watering as I type this, because the best Ilocos empanada can be had in Ilocos alone, and not in other locales, not even in Manila. Even in the searing heat of a March sun in Vigan, sinking my teeth into warm empanadas (and a cake of okoy as you can see in the picture) soaked in cane vinegar gives a different high. I could marry empanadas if possible.

We tried shipping them back to the metro and reheat them but to no avail, as what you can do with chicken empanadas at Empanada Royale. You can take Ilocos out of the empanada, but you can’t take an empanada out of Ilocos.

Something that leaves me with ambivalence if I am to become an expat in the near future.

*I could also be the helmet (barbecued chicken heads) which you see in the thumbnails, animal heads are probably the tastiest parts. Slightly gross. I’ll stick with being an Ilocos empanada.

Our House

There are blogs and there are food blogs.

Now that I’ve gone through the hassle of an opening statement, I took a deep breath and opened Fire Water Husband. I practically switched on and off this blog, called it by different names (one of which went by The Empire of Wansuy) and debated with myself for a while what it should look like, what to do with tons of foodporn in my drive and the craving to do it in a photobloggish way and say something sensible in the end.

And so, Fire Water Husband is born. Leave, shoot and eat is just an afterthought, something that better Neanderthals strive to live up to domesticity. In this day and age, my spear is a plastic card and some metal discs for our communal steed but my prey in the country didn’t change much. No free-range, kosher or organic organisms but this is borne more out of logistical shortcomings than choice. We live in hand-me-down land from the termites in the middle of an industrial cesspool known as Santa Rosa.

Some points, too which goes by the clinical name of disclaimers:

I am not Ilocano but my wife is, and so is 90% of the household. But I tend to believe that my father had roots in the northeast because the Guerrero clan says so. Make that 95%. Ilocandia is a harsh landscape and so was Baler, but being transplanted to Pasay in the economic stagnation of the early 80’s is harsh, still. Thus the recipes, but you don’t know how poverty sometimes brings out the creativity in all of us.

Which brings me to the second one. I am not a vegetarian, much more a vegan. It just happened that northern cuisine is host to a galaxy of vegetables we Tagalog imperialists feign ignorance to. Katuray flower is not meant as a joke to your significant other, but a tasty partner to bagoong. And I’m still bothered: is seaweed a vegetable?

It looks like my page views are almost four minutes long, but I’m thinking it’s probably because the pictures take too long to download. Sorry, but it is made that way, and I have plans of my own which are not sinister, for your information. If the images don’t appear, there is always e-mail, or just wait when my plan materializes, which should be months from now.

It’s just that (places hand on chest then takes a deep breath) I feel ennobled showing off a culinary heritage that is well around us that we take for granted, or treat with exotic curiosity and place it high alongside our dusty gewgaws because that is where we get our social acceptance. I don’t take brand names in my recipe listings, but any gift would be nice, thank you.

Last, I am not a pro photographer, a pro designer or a pro chef. It just happened that I knew Photoshop when I was still a wiry freshman. I may know something but not everything, so there may be times that I make mistakes. As one northerly joke goes, to err is human, to gue garao.

Oh, there goes my job description. I am really an engineer.

Recipe: Dinengdeng

Dinengdeng 101

“Modern technology…allows me to guarantee the exact time and temperature for cooking the dishes. That’s progress. But when it means banalizing the taste of products, that’s a step back, and, cook that I am, I rebel.”

–Alain Ducasse

Like clothes to a man, it’s not the grilled fish, honey, that makes a dinengdeng. The lifeblood of this broth is bagoong Pangasinan, which should not be confused with bagoong alamang. The former is composed of fermented fish while the latter is fermented shrimp. Our bagoong comes from Pangapisan North in Lingayen, but even if we buy them boneless and by the dozen, it’s become a habit to strain the broth for the occasional wayward scale or a stray sludge particle.

I still have to make a hard and fast rule on what vegetables can be included in a dinengdeng. No carrots, cabbage, broccoli or anything “Western” but I’ve tasted one with oyster mushrooms and everything went well. No aromatics for sure, like onion, garlic and leeks. I can’t say use natives or go Oriental because kangkong and pechay are not in the list. Probably anything that can spell “harsh” like the texture of burlap–okra, ampalaya and sitao. But then again add the sweetness of camote and the dish transforms into Buridibud. For eastern Tagalogs bordering Ilocandia meanwhile, adding horseradish (hagod) is already treading into Bulanglang territory.

Just add whatever vegetable you fancy, but bear in mind that dinengdeng is a state of mind. These greens should marry the bagoong willingly to produce an Ilocano umami the way they do with pinakbet. Sipping a tablespoon is an aquired taste, but after the first slurp, there’s no looking back.

To a cup of boiling water, add a tablespoon or two of bagoong Pangasinan and simmer for a while, about five minutes. Strain and put the broth back into the pot. Add two or more of the following vegetables:
a cup of sitao cut into 2-inch lengths,
a cup of okra,
a bunch of camote tops,
a bunch of saluyot leaves,
a cup of chopped and seeded ampalaya fruit,
a bunch of ampalaya leaves,
a cup of sliced eggplants,
a bunch of ar-arosep,
a cup of peeled horseradish (hagod),
a cup of malunggay leaves,
a cup of chopped cigarillas,
a cup of cubed camote,
a cup of banana blossoms,
a cup of bamboo shoots,
a handful of flor de carrabaza (squash flowers),
a bunch of carrabaza tops

and many more.

When the vegetables are cooked but firm, adjust the taste and add more water if necessary. The dinengdeng can be served as it is or topped with grilled fish, leftover or otherwise. For a sour variation, which is usually done over banana blossoms and saluyot, add tamarind powder or dried kamias (see preceding post). Serve warm with rice.

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One of the stars in the universe of Ilocano vegetables. Perfect for a sour type of dinengdeng. Remove the sticky stamen (which resembles matchsticks) and soak a handful in salt and water while preparing to prevent oxidation. Put a tablespoon or two of bagoong Pangasinan in two cups of boiling water, simmer for a few minutes then strain. Heat back the bagoong broth, add a pack of tamarind powder or sinigang sa sampalok mix or dried kamias (bilimbi). Rinse the banana blossoms plus a handful of saluyot leaves and plunk into the broth until cooked but firm.

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I almost named this dish Sopa de Jowa because the quantity is meant for two people.

An alternative take on the sopas we came to love during stormy days. Cheese (especially the generic grocery Cheddar), once melted into the soup, makes up the white liquid that is the main characteristic of sopas. Thyme and bay leaf push the tang up one level. Be liberal on the choice of vegetables you add (no, not saluyot please), or the pasta to include. Substitute shallots, onions or any other aromatics for leeks if you can’t find any. Add chopped sausages, ham or chicken breast to feed your better Omnivore, and double up the recipe for a group of four.

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The wife and I are big fans of seafood, and would not gripe about its high price in our landlocked abode. Our coastal birthright would probably explain it. This salad is an adaptation of the sauteed kurita caught fresh from the South China Sea, from a bag of octopus waybilled to my in-laws’ house.

PS. You can add siling labuyo to heat things up.

Sisters act

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Night trip back again to Manila and I was sleepwalking to The Sisters outlet when our bus made a stopover at Bantay, Ilocos Sur for the quintessential Ilocano pasalubong, Royal Bibingka.

The Sisters, if there is ever a provincial equivalent, is Ilocos’ Superbrand, alongside Vigan-based Mom’s. Don’t mistake it for a religious order though, like I did a few years back. They once offered Royal Bibingka as one big pie which made for a herculean feat just to slice through its gooey diameters.

Unlike the bibingka we Tagalog imperialists came to know, Royal Bibingka is made of bellaay, a glutinous rice powder sourced farther north in Cagayan and Abra. A box of 16 small cakes (they look like Portuguese doces) cost 90 pesos. I had to restrain my low EQ from opening the warm boxes on my lap. Its cheesy aroma pierced through the stale air and tamed the harsh, tobacco landscape we have passed for hours. The rice cake is so sticky, you could use it to hold the universe together.

Enough of the histrionics. I ate four.