Kadios, Baboy, Langka
by Kiko Matsing
I have been blogging mostly about food recently at The Cyberflâneur. This was partly inspired by my current housemates’ curiosity and enjoyment of food I make–mostly Filipino cuisine. I cook a big batch on weekends that would last me the week. I thus hardly eat out, except when my co-workers plan group lunches. I look at what Americans eat, and am not surprised that they struggle with obesity. The variety of meat, for example, is very limited, especially in the seafood department. This is my biggest dietary concern about living here in US as I was accustomed to a wide variety of seafood back home. (My mother comes from a small fishing village in the Philippines.) Salmon, for example, is the go-to fish here for omega-3 fatty acids, and is thus hailed and priced accordingly in restaurant menus. This “branding” is surprisingly carried over to the Philippines. Well, we don’t need this health food trend back home as Filipinos have access to far more seafood choices that Americans have never even heard of.
I also detest the “whole foods” industry–yes, it is an industry–for branding health and well-being (organic, natural, green) as luxury. Just look at the prices, and who goes there to shop. I don’t mind this industry ripping off affluent hipsters–those who have commodified the 1960s counterculture values–by selling them basically the same things but more exorbitantly by slapping on the “organic” label. It is as much a smokescreen for profits as the stone-wash of designer jeans that sell nostalgia for the Summer of Love. What I contest is the perception they prop up about healthy living (and eating) as not affordable to the average joe. Even fast foods have caught on and put a premium on salads and fruit bowls in their menu. Lettuce can’t be more expensive to produce than beef!
Organic hummus and pita bread at the co-op should not be the only alternative to burger and fries. Asian stores offer much more reasonably priced items, that is, if you learn the cuisine, embrace their funky smell, and are able to navigate their cramped, labyrinthine aisles.
This brings me to another of my pet peeves: vegetarianism, and its more straitlaced sister, vegan asceticism. As a life-loving epicurean, I refuse to foreclose on the pleasures of eating meat. The vegan fatwa over the killing of animals for food borders on religious fanaticism. These hippie, urban prigs have probably not been to a real butcher. I come from a culture where innards are sold as street food (isaw), duck fetuses are a delicacy (balut), and chickens are ritually tortured for flavor (pinikpikan). In short, we do not romanticize our dinner…
and apparently so do the Japanese! Yum!
Vegan abstensions on food is more reactionary of meat-and-potatoes in the WASP diet (translated to burger-and-fries in fast food) than offering real, substantive health benefits. It is no different than stringent chastity enforced in Medieval nunneries to keep Roman decadence at bay. It becomes more insidious when conflated with the feel-good religion of Climate Change. Filipinos don’t need these trendy dietary prescriptions from the West as indigenous cuisine provides a healthy balance of vegetables and meat. We did not have to grow out of macaroni and cheese.
Such is the recipe for Kadios, Baboy, Langka (or KBL) that is typical in Ilonggo cuisine. It is a challenge to cook Filipino dishes in a foreign country, but even more so a very regional one as KBL. It was such a delight to discover that kadios or pigeon pea, a black bean that is essential to the dish was available in the frozen section of the Filipino store. It was sold as dry beans in a sealed bag, so it confused me why it was stored in the freezer. The proprietor tells me that only Ilonggos recognize the stuff, and that he ships them to Ilonggo customers as far away as New Jersey. It must be that precious.
Kadios are thrice bigger than mung beans and also takes about three times as long to rehydrate. Put the bag-full in a pot of water and let it boil at medium-low heat for an hour. (By the time I return from the gym, the beans were soft to the bite, but not yet quite cooked.) Let it sit in low heat as you stir fry garlic (4-5 cloves, minced) and onions (2 pcs, cut into wedges) in a separate pot. Add the meat into the stir fry to brown it and let the juices extrude, while seasoning with salt and pepper. The pork cuts (baboy) I used for this dish consisted of meat close to the bone, such as neck bones or ribs. These are the cheaper parts of the animal, but are ideal for these types of stews as they give off a rich, savory stock.
Once the meat is brown, add water from the kadios until the meat is covered, throw in lemongrass (tanglad), and turn up the heat to let it boil. Lemongrass from the Asian stores are usually already yellowish and desiccated, so you would need to peel off the dry husk and use only the heart near the base. When the meat is almost tender, add the kadios–now strained from excess water–and tamarind powder to taste. I would use the Sinigang sa Sampalok mix, but only about 1 tbsp, as KBL should not be as sour. The souring principle in authentic KBL actually comes from batwan, a fruit that seems to be only known in Iloilo and thereabouts, and is impossible to obtain even in Manila. The use of a souring agent (tamarind/sampalok, cucumber tree/kamias, guava/bayabas, and batwan) as a counterpoint to the umami of meat seems to be a common theme in Philippine cuisine.
Finally add taro roots (gabi) and young, green jackfruit (langka), both chopped into small chunks, and cook another 5-10 min until these are tender. Taro roots have fine hair that trap dirt, so a thorough washing with a brush is needed before peeling. They are also slimy when peeled and have a mild toxin (calcium oxalate) that is removed upon cooking. Young, green jackfruit is available in the canned vegetables section of most Asian stores. It is different from the yellow jackfruit in sweet syrup that is used in desserts such as halo-halo.
Add kangkong (water spinach) towards the end, and let it just wilt in the liquid’s ambient heat. Serve over steaming jasmine rice.
This is why I can never turn vegan.
This dish brings back memories of my mother’s hometown, a small fishing village, where I spent most summers growing up. It was, every time, an impressive voyage for a child: an overnight journey by ship from Manila Bay, through the rough, open waters of the South China Sea, to Iloilo City, followed by four hours on a bus through the red dust of dirt roads on Panay Island, to the village of Estancia.
One summer, there was a draught, and the whole clan had to make a trip to Batwan Island to do our collective laundry. Water there gushed from the rocks and had a tang just like the fruit of the batwan trees that grew everywhere. The soil was soft white clay. This was the same island the clan escaped to from the Japanese during WWII, and my grandparents, uncles and aunts, began to tell stories of that idyllic time in the very midst of the upheavals of the Pacific War. My mother, born at that time, spent her first years on that island. Milk was so scarce they gave her sweet coconut sap in its place. This memory has stayed vivid with me, and has in turn become an idyllic part of my childhood. I even wrote a poem about this a while back, when I still considered myself a poet. It was even published in a book (an anthology) of limited copies.
(Batuan Island, Iloilo)
Wells have gone bone dry.
Silt once quickened now cake and crack.
What spindly water is left
Frays into fractals like cut glass.
Only wind plies into that hallow
That was the river,
Sashays among the reeds,
Swirls over simmering gravel.
Skirt an enclave of mangroves
That had once tucked away a haven
From the great War of the Pacific.
Thick roots impale the water
Like abandoned plumbing,
Firm as udders,
And barnacled with silence.
We tightrope ashore,
Arms sprung open like seesaws.
Refugees of the dry spell.
Pilgrims to brackish waters,
Ankle-deep in white clay.
Of eponymous fruit trees,
Lip to the spouts of providence.
Laundry relieved from baskets
That unbalanced the pump-boats,
Now bleach in the sun,
Quilting into Klimt-fabric.
The grassy hillsides
Line with linens, white like ship sails
That balloon into leviathans
Fattened by wind.
For my mother, Lucia, who first saw the light
sparkling in these waters in 1943.
I have never been back to that island. Perhaps I have never wanted to.