Dates, names, and battles – our heroes’ valiant pasts have too often been boiled down to only these. But the history we take pride in are their stories strung together, juicy with the drama and details of real life. Peek into the personal of the names Filipinos have celebrated throughout the decades by discovering something as simple as their food back then – what they feasted on, what they were served, what they genuinely enjoyed. Mundane as it may seem, this is what sustained them during their happiest or even most perilous hour. Being the food-loving people that we are, we take pride in even those.
Jose Rizal (1861-1896)
From: Calamba, Laguna
Dish: Minatamis na santol (sweetened santol)
Portrayed as a pop icon with shades, in history books wearing an overcoat, and on each piso is the great Gat Jose Rizal. He authored Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo – two of the most controversial books in history, lambasting the Spanish colonists and finally igniting the Revolution.
Historians write that little boy Jose enjoyed a colorful and comfortable childhood. His mother, Teodora Alonzo would traverse the river from near their home in Calamba, Laguna to go all the way to Binondo, Manila simply to buy ingredients. Her son’s apparent favorite was carneng asada or beefsteak with sauce. It was made from lean meat, tender and soft, marinated in olive oil, lime juice and parsley. It would then be grilled and finished off with a flavorful sauce, thick from the original marinade. If prepared today, it would be best eaten with fried potatoes.
He grew up have a special liking for sweet snacks as well. The dessert he was most fond of was minatamis na santol or sweetened santol made from boiled santol slices soaked for three days in hugas-hugas, or water used to wash rice. As it is removed from the water, a syrup made from brown sugar is poured over it. With this, the memories from his childhood would be made all the sweeter indeed!
Juan Luna (1857-1899)
From: Badoc, Ilocos Norte
Dish: soup, cold cuts, asparagus, fresh strawberries
His claim to fame came in 1884 after winning the gold in the prestigious art awards, Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Spain. It was his massive and most powerful painting Spoliarium that brought artist Juan Luna into the limelight and his talent remembered through the ages.
On one night in October 1899, Luna was out dining with the future mayor of Manila, Felix Roxas. They had just come from a performance and decided to eat at high-end Restaurant Payat in Paris. Roxas recounts that between two to four in the morning, they enjoyed soup, cold cuts, asparagus, and fresh strawberries. Their female companions then were equally note-worthy too: French pianist Marie Pambel and Russian soprano Madame Lucas. Of course that night would never have been complete without a bottle of champagne which the four of them delighted in together.
Manuel Quezon (1878-1944)
From: Baler, Aurora
Dish: jambon de Smithfield (Smithfield ham), supreme de vollaile (chicken breasts seasoned in lemon, salt and pepper)
More than any month of the year, his name is most often remembered in August when Buwan ng Wika is celebrated especially in schools throughout the country. Manuel L. Quezon from Tayabas was the first president of the Philippine Commonwealth and has been honored as the Father of the Filipino Language. Apparently, his countrymen were not the only ones who appreciated him in his lifetime. In August 1916, on the night he was to leave Washington DC and fly back to the Philippines, members of the Senate and Congress of the United States gathered for what was supposedly one of the grandest despedidas ever set.
The menu was in French and consisted of interesting specialties. One was jambon de Smithfield or Smithfield ham, taken only from peanut-fed hogs in the farms of Smithfield, Virginia. Genuine Smithfiled hams then were said to be cured by the long-cure, and aged for a minimum of six months! Another was supreme de vollaile which is chicken breasts seasoned in lemon, salt and pepper, and then rolled into a rich butter mixture with shallots and green onions before set in the oven. The baked chicken is then served with a special sauce made from chicken stock, wine, and cream. Others on the menu were petis pois or tiny peas, pommes de terre or potatoes, and for dessert, they were served mousse de peche or peach mousse.
Only the truly great could have been worthy of such a feast.
Emilio Aguinaldo (1869-1964)
From: Kawit, Cavite
Dish: sardines aux tomates (sardines with tomatoes), saumon hollandaise (salmon with hollandaise), voi au vent ala financiare (puff pastry with beef, lengua, and mushrooms cooked in red wine)
A few months after he waved the Philippine flag in Kawit, Cavite, Emilio Aguinaldo was declared the first president of the Republic at Barasoain Church in Malolos, Bulacan. September 28, 1898 was indeed a day to be remembered – for the historical milestone that it was and the glorious celebration prepared on that day too.
Cooks who prepared their feast were transported all the way from Apalit, Pampanga. Though they were all Filipino, the menu was French “haute” cuisine — considered the highest and most flavorful until today. The master chefs apparently learned from European businessmen who would frequent the Pampanga River. For appetizers, they prepared sardines aux tomates or sardines with tomatoes and saumon hollandaise or salmon with creamy sauce. Among many delectable dishes served as their main course was voi au vent ala financiare – something of the affluent and elite by name alone. It was served with puff pastry as its base and tender cuts of beef, lengua and mushrooms cooked in red wine and gravy as its filling; something similar to the more familiar chicken ala king. Another was filet ala chateaubriand: baked and roasted tender beef, with demi-glace or special French sauce made from veal stock, red wine, and mushrooms richly poured over it. Their dessert included crème glacee or ice cream, for which they had to import ice all the way from Boston, USA!
Marcelo H. Del Pilar (1850-1896)
From: Bulacan, Bulacan
His words were like hot coal burning against the abusive Spanish friars during his time. To get his point across, he would often write parodies of memorized prayers under the pseudonym “Plaridel.” But even as his pen was fierce throughout the week, Marcelo H. del Pilar always kept his Sundays sacred in gathering with the rest of his family at home in Bulacan, Bulacan.
His apparent favorite was pochero, or the Filipino version of the Spanish soup, “Cocido.” The prime cuts of beef shank and slabs of pork were taken from animals in their own backyard farm, and boiled until soft. The meat would then be cooked together with tomatoes until its natural juices came out. Chorizos and garbanzos were also added in, little indulgences that very few could afford. In adding to the richness of the pochero, varied amounts of salt, ground pepper, and even sugar were mixed in too. Once the meat is cooked, only then were vegetables added, including fried bananas and potatoes.
Del Pilar was said to have been often quick-witted and humorous in normal conversations, but during mealtimes on Sundays, he maintained the disciplined demeanor of one blessed with a savory home-cooked delight.
Gabriela Silang (1731-1763)
From: Santa, Ilocos Sur
The epitome of a phenomenal woman is Gabriela Silang – first Filipina revolutionary and martyr who valiantly fought against the Spaniards in battle, just like her husband Diego. But the bolo she held as a weapon seemed like a wand when in the kitchen, for it was from there she created a little food magic of her own.
Hailing from Vigan, Ilocos Sur, many believed that she often prepared pinakbet for her family, a specialty in many Ilocano households until today. The ingredients eggplant, tomatoes, and ampalaya often came from their own backyard. Those who still make it at present claim that it’s a very easy dish to prepare: the vegetables are set into the palayok or earthenware pot first. The ampalaya is put in last just so its bitter taste would not overpower the rest of the pakbet. For a little kick of spice, onions and crushed ginger are mixed in as well. The essential addition though, was Ilocos’s signature bagoong or shrimp paste, for which the dish would never be without it. The vegetables would be cooked until almost dry and have completely absorbed the salty flavor of bagoong. Because it was often made through slow cooking, it would not rot as easily too. This made it an ideal viand to take carry around as baon, especially for other fellow warriors weary in travelling on foot.
Gregorio Del Pilar (1875-1899)
From: Bulacan, Bulacan
One of the youngest yet bravest in the Revolution was twenty-two year-old General Gregorio del Pilar. His most famous portrait has him sitting high and proud up on a white steed, as if knowing about his noble death at Tirad Pass yet understanding its worth in defense of the country he loved.
It is said that when he was a young boy, he walked around the streets of his hometown Bulacan almost everyday, selling kakanin his mother made from home. Because Central Luzon of which Bulacan is part is one of the main producers of rice in the country, it is but natural to have such rice delicacies perfected from there. Bulakenyos who continue to make these native specialties like biko, sapin-sapin, and puto say that the secret lies in the type of rice or bigas used – some have only malagkit or glutinous rice as the main ingredient while others have a combination of that and regular rice. Traditionally, it is soaked in water overnight before being ground into rice flour. Sugar and water are then added into the mixture, where sometimes food coloring is included too. But these treats would never be complete without latik as toppings! Made from shredded coconut cooked until its natural oils come out, latik is perfect with almost any rice delicacy as it puts in a little crunch and sweetness into each bite.
Melchora Aquino (1812-1919)
From: Balintawak, Caloocan
Dish: tinolang manok Tagalog
She was thrown to Guam by the Spaniards at the age of 84, seen as a real threat to the colony. And that she very well was! Melchora Aquino, more popularly known as “Tandang Sora,” was mother to all Katipuneros in the revolution of August 1896. She nursed their wounds and made sure whoever came to her home was nourished, ready to take up arms and fight soon after.
The hearty meal she often served was said to be tinolang manok Tagalog, or warm chicken soup. Her version of this Filipino favorite involves dripping chicken blood onto uncooked rice and giving it time to harden. As soon as the chicken parts were boiled, the uncooked rice was mixed into the soup, making the dish resemble lugaw or rice porridge. Add-on nutrients would be in the other ingredients like papaya for a healthier immune system, and chili leaves for sturdier bones. Though seemingly simple, Tandang Sora’s tinola meant strength for Katipuneros who found refuge in the warmth of her welcoming home.
From: Mactan, Cebu
Dish: sinigang na isda sa mangga
The pride of Mactan, Cebu was one man enough to battle against Magellan and his fleet – Lapu-lapu. By his mighty sword was the famous European explorer defeated and this datu was hailed the first Filipino hero. According to historian William Henry Scott, rice and root crops like sweet potatoes and taro would most likely have been the staple diet of the earliest Visayans like Lapu-lapu. What is on record is the account of Antonio Pigafetta, trusty companion of Magellan. He wrote that the rajah of Limasawa welcomed them as visitors and served the sour sinigang na isda sa mangga. This is one dish presumed to be cooked by Lapu-lapu’s community also. As water is boiled, green mangoes are first thrown in to make sure the soup draws from its notorious sourness. Lemon grass is then added for its savory aroma. Mixed in together are tomatoes, ginger, and fish until the sinigang boils, and finally kangkong is thrown in last. One of the best types preferred by many for sinigang is the grouper fish, locally known as “Lapu-lapu” aptly named after the hero who first made history.
Another dish believed to have been prepared during the famous datu’s time is kilawin. The tanigue fish used here never goes through fire, but is soaked in large amounts of vinegar instead. As it was then and until now, those who take pride in their kilawin say it is always best to use natural vinegar over synthetic. Finely chopped ginger, onions, and tomatoes are mixed in; to make sure it also smells extra enticing, calamansi juice is also included.
Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. (1932-1983)
From: Concepcion, Tarlac
Dish: sinigang na bangus
Bespectacled and brilliant, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino spoke fearlessly against he who declared martial law. President Ferdinand Marcos then had Ninoy imprisoned several times before his most shocking death on the tarmac in 1983. One of his cells was within Fort Ramon Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija. For the one month he stayed there, his weight drastically dropped and so did his body become much weaker. In his first two days, he apparently refused to take in anything, in the fear of being poisoned with whatever was served.
It was Basilisa Tolentino, a civilian staff at Fort Magsaysay then, who won his trust and finally convinced him to eat. Sinigang na bangus was one of the dishes she would personally prepare for Ninoy. To make it, one would have to boiled tamarind in water first for its juices to come out. Sliced tomatoes, onions, and the bangus fish itself would then be added into the sour soup. Though unassuming, the sinigang would have reminded Ninoy of the warmth of his own home while locked up far away. As a gesture of gratitude for the care shown to her husband, then President Corazon Aquino invited Basilisa to Malacanan one week after EDSA Revolution.-#EatsNowOrNever
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