Resourcefulness in Cookery
By Apolinario Villalobos
By the time we have grown old, we must have tasted plenty of dishes, some of which we have learned to like and craved to taste again while disdained by others, that we do not even want to imagine them. And, from those exposures, we are supposed to have learned how to prepare what we like best. Those who are creative enough may have come up with their own based on what they have tasted using occidental and oriental ingredients to come up with a “fusion cuisine”, or just any that are available.
Delectability of foods may be enhanced by the color that they assume when cooked, ready for the taking. For this, some people use roots, seeds, and leaves to add color to their dishes, such as Valenciana rice (arroz Valenciana), Java, and Mindanao rice that are colored yellow using turmeric root or powder. The adobo in some regions of the Philippines is colored red due to “achuete” (istiwitis in Ilonggo). The beef curry of the Tausugs is dark-colored akin to “dinuguan”, due to the milk of the coconut meat “burnt” by roasting before it is shredded.
Another come-on of the dish is its aroma that tickles the palate. Herbs and spices are employed in this regard. Pasta dishes, especially, spaghetti becomes more scrumptious if sprinkled with sparsely and thyme, or oregano. Herbs hide and preserve meat…this is the reason why the spices of the orient were so longed-for by Europeans during the time when Spain, Holland, England, and Portugal dominated the maritime exploration of the vast oceans in their search for the “spice islands” in the East.
Then, there’s the presentation of the dish. High-end restaurants, in trying to have an exotic ambience, serve food on coconut shells, banana leaves, iron dish for sizzling preparations, earthen pot, etc. The way, even the simple steamed rice as the center piece of the dining is presented counts a lot, too. Roasted suckling pig served on the dining table is always with an apple or orange in its gaping mouth, and the whole glistening roasted carcass is surrounded with other fruits and greens.
But my most memorable fried rice was served in a coffee mug. It was simply cooked with small bits of carrots, onion, roasted garlic and an added flavor which could be the secret of my host.. It was served to me by Tiya Prax Lapuz, wife of Tiyo Mending Lapuz, pioneer settlers of Tacurong. Despite my having just taken breakfast when I visited them for an interview on their experiences as they embarked on a journey from Luzon to Cotabato, I delightedly finished the fried rice to the last morsel downed with a cup of coffee.
As a race known for innovation, we should come up with more dishes based on locally available ingredients. We should not look down to our herbs and spices. Our vegetables can compare well with the imported, and with that, regional dishes can be “fused” with twists, and which can then, be served during special occasions. We should not be limited to spaghetti topped with ground meat and canned tomato sauce or pancit.