Reader Jose Victor Torres is a historian, professor and part-time humorist on Facebook. Really. Check out his dinuguan memories, which for some reason, I share. My maternal grandfather grew up in the same town.
Warning: Do not read while hungry.
Cabuyao, with its traffic, convenience stores, and fastfood diners, isn't the Laguna town I once knew.
Old Cabuyao was a bucolic place with a Spanish colonial church and bahay na bato structures. There were still horse-pulled kalesas (carriages) mingling with the infrequent jeepneys on the main thoroughfare. A common street sound day and night was the clip-clop of shod hooves clip-clopping on asphalted roads that ended in dirt trails leading to ricefields and coconut plantations.
Old Cabuyao meant good, old-fashioned cooking.
There were atcharas - grated green papayas; peeled small, red sibuyas tagalog; white, pungent garlic cloves; thinly-sliced carrot rounds; and, red bell pepper strips pickled in a boiled vinegar and sugar solution.
There were kakanins - the sinukmani (boiled sticky rice with coconut milk and brown sugar) and halayang ube (grated ube tubers mashed and boiled with condensed milk) served mounded on oval, plastic platters.
But my most unforgettable Cabuyao fare is dinuguan - a dark brown soup chunky with the meat from pig heads cooked so unlike the thick, dry dinuguan dishes of other regions
Going to Cabuyao was a yearly affair. But ever since I got married and had my own family, these visits became infrequent. The death of the family cooks – two spinster aunts – some time ago meant the loss of the unique recipes I loved.
Modern things have, hence, come to the old town. The South Luzon Expressway made the trip from Manila and back easier. Subdivisions were now built on the ricefields and coconut plantations. More people meant more cars and jeepneys. Cabuyao grew from a quiet town to a city-like municipality. The old town’s not quite the same anymore.
I recently went back to Cabuyao for a family reunion. An aunt arrived from America for a visit and the relatives decided to hold a get-together in the backyard of the old house where I used to spend my summer vacations. The place once had a canteen managed by my two aunt-cooks, catering to students from a nearby school. But the school closed and my aunts had to shutter up their canteen as well although they continued to cook until their demise, sharing the benefits of old-fashioned recipes to aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces; and, later, grandchildren.
The house directly faced the main street and we got the full blast of traffic noise from the dozens of tricycles, jeepneys, and cars. I muttered to my sister, Lisa, how much the place had changed.
I recognized the dark, soupy viand. It was dinuguan, Cabuyao-style. Soup-cum-viand; our favorite snack. The sippy pulutan (appetizer) of the drinkers in the family. And, when the leftovers are scooped into clean jars and plastic bags, the delicious pasalubong (take-home food) for dinner and/or next day's breakfast.
Kuya Nato and his elder brother, Ding, were two of my cousins who preserved the dinuguan recipe. Although measured for a big party, adjustments can be made for small servings and tastes:
Boil a pig's head until flesh is tender. Remove head from the pot. Save the broth. Debone the head and cube the meat. In another pot, sauté garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Add the meat. Simmer. Pour in some of the broth enough to make the dish soupy. Add vinegar, the amount of which will depend on one’s taste.
Strain the pig’s blood in a bowl to remove clots. Slowly add the blood to the cooking meat while stirring constantly. If the mixture thickens, add more broth. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until done. For a spicier dish, add long green chili peppers.
I took a spoonful of the dinuguan. The meat was chewy. The black soup had a subtle hint of vinegar sourness. Then, for a moment, the traffic noise across the house disappeared. There was only the sound of kalesas. The bells from the tower of the old church began to ring - a slow, low clanging marking the end and the beginning of another hour. It was summer vacation and I could hear one of my spinster aunts puttering around the kitchen preparing the day's menu.
The old town has come alive again.