Thank God for extended vacations! Just when you thought Holy Week was over, an extra holiday mercifully happened. And so our stay-cation allowed us one last food trip.
Along with dear friends, we made our way to Mexico,Pampanga to the home of Lillian Borromeo. A gracious lady who met me with a smile, a beso and a hug. A lunch spread was waiting for us on a buffet table cum banggerahan.
First, a pitcher of pandan water greeted us. No sugar, just the natural flavor of pandan. It sort of cleansed the palate, getting our taste buds ready for the feast. Atching Lillian prepared an array of traditional Calutong Capampangan (Kapampangan dishes): If my memory serves me right, we had: Suam na Mais (corn soup)Bobotung Asan (Steamed bangus in Tangle Sauce),Sisig Antiguo (Kapampangan Traditional-style Sisig), Ensaladang Paku (Fiddlefern Salad), Bringhi(Kapampangan style of the Spanish Paella), Fried Itu with buro (Catfish with fermented rice), Mixed veggies akin to chopsuey, a tokwa dish, Bulanglang (stew of backyard veggies), Tidtad (Kapampangan’s version of the pork blood stew or dinuguan) and Embutido . I think Atching was worried we’ll eat the table off, she added chicken adobo for good measure. For dessert, there was a bowl full of summer fruits, Panecillos de San Nicolas (San Nicolas Cookies) andTibok-tibok (milk custard).
Hailed as the guardian and steward of Kapampangan Cuisine, Atching Lillian unselfishly shares her recipes by teaching in school, through a regional television show and as of late through her book ” Atching Lillian’s Heirloom Recipes “.
While I love all of it, my top choices are Tidtad, Tokwa, Sisig and Bringhi. Tidtad is not like thedinuguan I grew up with where the pork blood is part of the sauce or sabaw. Instead, they add clotted pork blood and sliced into cubes, resembling liver. I tried to balance all that porky goodness with the veggies, which could not possibly be eaten without rice!
Unlike other dining by appointment- this includes cooking demo, further adding appreciation to the culinary history not only of her family but of Pampanga as a whole. A few steps away is her personal museum she calls Cusinang Matua (Old Kitchen). Here, you will see a bric brac of her family’s history. Most interesting are the cooking implements, wooden cookie molds, antique rolling pins, copper pots that she inherited from her mother and grandmother.
She showed us how easy it was to make San Nicolas cookies from mixing to gently kneading the dough to flattening it on the cookie mold with a rolling pin. The Kapampangan Brazo de Mercedes aka Brazo de Mais or Brazo de la Reina is distinct because of the creamed corned incorporated in the custard filling. This sort of reminds me of the corn maja blanca, only a bit richer because of the egg yolks. We also got to pipe the meringue with strokes that mimic the corn kernels when cooked.
What was thrilling for me was the use of her antique wooden cookie molds thereby makingpanecillos exactly the way they were made three centuries ago. Her collection of wooden cookie molds is inspiring me to start my own. Seriously.
We tried making our own cookies and ate the newly-cooked Brazo de Mais right there and then. I tried the other mold for making Dulce Prenda aka Hopiang Kapampangan or La Naval Pastry.Basically a deeper mold so you can put a ball of yema as filling. And to un-hinge it, you have to whack it hard on the table. THAT was fun.
The place is unpretentious, the way you would partake in a fiesta in someone’s backyard in the province. In truth, Atching Lillian is a celebrity in her own right—being a Maya Cookfest winner, a TV personality, a guest chef in hotels among other things. And yet, she is so unaffected, a lovely storyteller of the topic that she is most passionate about: Calutong Capampangan.
For those who would like to have a piece of this experience, there are reproductions of wooden cookie molds for sale. I did one more step and got myself her cookbook, with her autograph, of course!
Needless to say I am going back, and this time to try her breakfast fare.
Call her for your next foodie trip: 09157730788
“Friend” her on facebook: Key-in Atching Lillian Borromeo
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