Tag Archives: Philippines

Happy New Year – Many reasons to love January

It’s 4 days into the New Year.  The anthracite skies over Paris mark the beginning of the year with its gloomy winter outlook.  A glimmer of sunshine breaking through a grey cloud brings hope of warmer weather to come.  January promises the onset of shorter nights and longer days as we look forward to Spring.

I like to begin the year in reflection of the one that has gone by.  January for me is a month of calm after the flurry of events preceding Christmas and into the close of the year.  As much as I insist that I hate January, deep down inside, I really like the first month of the year.  Firstly, I was born in January, bringing my parents much joy on that 14th day of the month close to half a century ago. (I said close!) Then like all children, I proceeded to bring them much grief during my rebellious teenage years.  Mais, c’est normale!  January is also the month when the sales begin, which, for a shopaholic like me, is always something to look forward to.  This year, I made a particularly original resolution (in my opinion) – I will wait until the January sales to buy the presents that I could have bought for double the price in December and give them to my loved ones at the end of January so that they too would have something to look forward to during this month!  C’est genial! That way, I would have saved a bundle and instead of one present, the kids can have two for the same price I would have paid for one! Hah! What a way to beat the crisis!  C’est genial…… again!  Now, why didn’t I think of that earlier?

Ahhhhh January!  I love you for the hope that you bring – Spring is on its way.  I love you for the presents that you promise – birthday ones and packages purchased in the sale.  I love you for the motivation that you instil – it’s the month to detox from the excesses of Christmas.  January, I love you for letting me start on a clean slate – to discover new adventures, to love more and worry less…..to improve on who I am, what I do and to go forth into the year with zeal and renewed energy.

I had another thing to look forward to this January.  Since the children will start school on January 2, we planned to return to Paris on the 1st.  We had brought in the year at an altitude of 1224m above sea level in the Italian Alps amidst melting snow and winter rain.  It was warm in the Alps this year.  Planning ahead at the end of 2011, knowing that our re-entry into the City of Light would bring us near dinner time, I had asked manny Ted to cook us a small supper so that I didn’t have to worry about dinner after a car journey of almost 8 hours.  I was looking forward to some Asian grub.  After days of Italian food, albeit delicious, my taste buds were yearning for the flavours that they know well – garlic, soya sauce and ginger.

Many journeys back and forth from the car to the lift lobby to the apartment depositing pieces of luggage, shopping bags filled with Christmas cheer from Italy and presents from Santa later, I opened the fridge to see what was for dinner.

This was what I found:

A Pinoy Feast

Manny Ted had been cooking up a storm of Pinoy dishes, surprising me with not only Asian flavours but flavours that I had n’er tasted before, flavours borrowed from Europe that have embedded themselves in Philippine’s traditional cuisine.

Notice that the photos show dishes that have already been tucked into, so excited that we all were to be feasting on such delights that I had forgotten to take a photo of them first. Mais tant pis! At least I remembered the camera half way through the meal.

The Italian and the girls loved the beef stew.  This stew, I was told by the Italian was the best stew that he’d ever tasted.  It’s hard to swallow such words (pardon the pun) when you know that the nanny, in our case the manny, has beaten you in the stew!  I guess I have been two stews short of providing the Italian with the gastronomic experience and wonder of having tasted my fine stews.  I noted that this year, I will cook more stews – resolution number…..100.  But who’s being competitive here…. I am so lucky to have someone cook up a stew that my husband likes the taste of.  Resolution number 101 – to be less competitive when it comes to stews.

Caldereta - Filipino Beef Stew

The stew has been slow cooked in a base of tomato sauce, made from pureed and strained tomatoes so that there were no tomato chunks to be found.  Carrots that have been added much later in the stewing process still retained their crunch.  In fact, they were crunchy enough for me to persuade RN to have a bite.  You see, she only eats raw carrots.  SS loved the chickpeas and petit pois that added texture to the Caldereta.

Caldereta, like Bolognese has its variations.  Each family has their version of Caldereta that is passed down from one generation to another.  Instead of beef, one can also use goat or oxtail.  I, for one, am keen to try out the variation calling of oxtail.

I loved the pancit palabok.  To be honest, this noodle dish actually grew on me. Oodles of rice noodles smothered in a crayfish or prawn sauce, sprinkled on top are fried garlic, chopped scallions, chicheron (pork crackling), flaked tinapa which is a type of dried smoked fish and cubed pieces of fried tofu, just to name a few ingredients.  This dish, judging from its staple carbohydrate content, hails from a Chinese background.  It is not typically Chinese in anyway except for some of the ingredients used like bee hoon  which are thin rice noodles otherwise also known as vermicelli.  This is my favourite type of rice noodles and I especially love it added to a seafood broth.

Pancit Palabok is best eaten with a squeeze of calamansi lime juice.  These limes are native to the Philippines and the only substitute for it here in France and other parts of Europe would be the citron vert or green limes.

Pancit Palabok

Kawan kawan, this is a really good start to the new year for me – bring 2012 on!  What a treat it is when there is someone to cook for you.  What a bonus it is when you like what is being cooked.


Filipino Fry up

Filipino Fry up

Going Native

Once upon time, there was a woman who came from a far away country in SE Asia to work for a Saudi Arabian family who relocated to Paris during the late 1980s.   Let’s call this woman Maria and her employers, the Abdullah family.  The Abdullahs are wealthy tycoons who never travel without domestic help.  Maria was their help.

Maria came with the hope of a better life for herself and the potential to earn more money for her family back home.  With this in mind, she woke up each morning faced with a long list of chores to fulfil and not enough hours in the day to do them all.  She was exhausted. However, Maria  plodded on with her job because she had no way of leaving. She was financially dependent on the Abdullahs who kept her in their apartment every day, without even a day of rest which all employees are entitled to.

One day, a stroke of courage surged through Maria.  She knew that she had to escape the prison that has now become her workplace and home or face the prospect of ill health and death from exhaustion.  With nothing but the clothes on her back, Maria ran away.  She hid herself in a little subterranean hole by a Parisian sidewalk for days until hunger gripped her, forcing her to grab at the legs of a passerby.  Her saviour was an American journalist on a work assignment in the City of Light.  She gave Maria the equivalent of 20€ and set her on the right path.  The year was 1989.

Industrious and determined, Maria soon found work by asking personally anyone on the streets if they might need domestic help.  She had young mouths to feed back home and they depended on her.

Maria is one of the many domestic helpers from the Philippines.  Many of them are sans papiers because they are afraid of tempting fate by legalising their status in France; there might be a chance that their applications will be rejected and they would be sent home. That is because many have saved, begged, borrowed and paid the equivalent of 10,000€ for a passage to Europe, a passage that consists of one month’s tourist visa, in the hope of finding work.  They will be required to work hard for 2 – 3 years, toiling daily, in order to repay their debt. Some of them hold down a series of at least 5 jobs, working in rotation for several families.  For what is their purpose, you ask kawan kawan.

For the love of their children.

This is only a simplified answer, of course but still the most important. Underlying this is the bigger picture – a backstory of colonization, war, bartering between colonial masters, the Spaniards and the Americans, over a landmass that is home to 85 million indigenous people, and later on during independence, a series of corrupt politicians, leaving behind a nation of people who had to seek labour abroad to ensure that their families had enough food on the table.  This was what brought Maria firstly to Saudi Arabia, then to France.

Maria has been in Paris for 21 years, working and saving hard, sending the majority of the Euros she earns back to the Philippines.  For that, she sees to the education and welfare of her children and grandchildren.  Kawan kawan, Maria hasn’t had a vacation in 21 years, she has not set foot on the soil of her homeland in 21 years.

But all that is going to change.  Maria is going home.  However, unfortunately for her, this respite has come too late.  Maria is going home to die.  She has a tumour that is eating away at her brain.  The French medical team working on her has signed her death warrant and has kindly advised her son, the only family she has here in Paris, to send her to a hospice or back to her homeland.

At her hospital bed, Maria sits smiling.  Maria is always smiling, thankful for small blessings and joyful of life itself.  But today is one of the rare days when she is cognizant and recognises her visitors.   Maria thinks she is going home on vacation and she can’t wait.  She can’t wait to smell the dew that collects on each blade of grass in the morning in humid Philippines.  She longs for the local flavours her homeland brings.

As I watch the longganisapopping in my frying pan, I think of Maria.   I think of how happy she will be to taste this native sausage again, with scrambled eggs and garlic rice.

These sausages are native to the Philippines, made from indigenous spices, adapted from recipes left behind by their Spanish masters.  Longganisa’s ancestor is the chorizo.  In the Philippines,  these chorizo related sausages are usually eaten accompanied by rice, fried with garlic, rice so fragrant and extraordinarily Filipino.  Eggs are quickly scrambled to add to the meal.  I was told that this trio: Longganisa, scrambled eggs and garlic rice makes a perfect Filipino breakfast.  This is Filipino fry-up, kawan kawan! If only all fry-ups could be this delicious.

There are many varieties of longganisas in the Philippines, some more garlicky than others, some sweeter whilst others sour. The meat is almost always stuffed in a casing.

Longganisas can be made at home too, just follow the recipe below. I tweaked this reciped that comes from Filipino chef, Kristine Subido’s kitchen.

2 cups plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
4-1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon chili flakes (optional)
1/3 cup and 1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup minced garlic
8-1/4 pounds ground pork
4-1/4 pounds coarsely ground pork back fat (streaky bacon)
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon apple-cider vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce

Mix all the ingredients together, cover and refrigerate overnight. (You can also add a few dashes of worcestershire sauce to the mixture to give it an extra oomph.)

Form into patties or logs. Pan-fry in a nonstick skillet, with a little oil if needed, until browned on both sides. Makes about 12 pounds.

As I bite into my longganisa, I say a prayer for this dear soul, Maria.  I often think that when one has so little in this world and yet have so much to smile about, then one really does appreciate the small blessings in life.  Maria is going home, and she is thankful and happy that after 21 years, she can see the rest of her family again.

* Please refer to the following post for a yummy photo of longganisa with garlic rice and scrambled eggs.
 ** I buy my longganisas at the Philippine supermarket on rue Boissiére, Paris 16.  Ask for the ones with casings.