I learned to cook in summer cooking schools. But I learned to live it, through my maternal grandmother, Paula Espiritu Lavina. She was born in a privileged family (they owned the first model T Ford in Marikina) of the de la Paz clan.
My great grandfather, however, died early before all his children had finished school. He was cleaning his car one day when it was hit from behind by a karitela. He was run over and died of gangrene.
Lola was the eldest daughter. Her older brother went on to become a lawyer, so lola studied and soon became a teacher. She spoke Spanish and played the violin. Her other sibilings finished school too, with her and her brother's help.
But her best achievements (for me) came after marriage to Lolo, Filimon Lavina. Lola's cooking was famous.
I will digress at this point to note that you may get horribly bored at the manner in which I am writing this. It sounds like any other pedestrian who likes to boast of his lineage because he has nothing else to commend him. These people have many stories of how great their ancestors were, how large their lands or holdings or -- this is what kills me -- the fact that they have foreign blood, the most common being Spanish or Chinese.
So as I started writing this, I noticed, with growing alarm that I have become one of those whom I have maligned under my breath. Those people who boast of relations to this or that hero, or of coming from a mestizo family. So I have taken great care to limit the narrations of how great my forebears are. As far as I can tell, I have no national heroes lurking in the family tree unless you count Lolo Imon and Papa's wartime exploits as guerillas. We do have the occasional criminal, failures, priests (I just had to throw that in) and dead ends. But I guess thats a story for another time.
My point is, it is one thing to establish pride for the past -- our country is glorious with it-- but it is also necessary to keep making successes too. It is also necessary to establish a credible past and one that is not fraught with colonialism. I'm not proud of the fact that my paternal greatgrandmother was probably sired by a priest, but there you have it. One cannot deny the green eyes. Its a fact. But being proud of light skin and a Caucasian ancestor as though it were superior is another thing altogether.
Ok, rant over.
Lola's cooking was well known among relatives. Her kitchen, a 1950s renovation had the best and latest technology, but she also had two wood burning stoves out in the back. The traditional brick and stone open oven and an American style iron one. She would buy the freshest ingredients from the market, opting to have chickens slaughtered in the backyard to guarantee freshness. Fish were checked for eye clarity, smell, plimpness and firmness. The backyard had fruit trees and herbs some of whose bounty went straight into the pot.
Lola's daughters all imbibed this love for cooking, with each of my aunts and my mother developing their own specialties, work schedules notwithstanding.
When I began cooking for real -- no cheating with store bought pre-cooked viands -- it was Lola who provided recipes and took me in hand for a step by step demonstration. And no matter how old I was or how infirm she had become, if I asked for her palitaw, she would find a way to make me some.
What follows is Lola's recipe for tulingan -- mackerel -- known as a Batangas specialty, but one which she perfected. Lola insisted on the real thing.
Clean the mackerel and remove innards. Press the fish flat using a butcher cleaver and salt them individually. Line clay pot with banana leaves. Make a small tray or stand using barbecue sticks woven together and place it on the floor of your clay pot. Line the pot with sun dried kamias.
Arrange fish in clay pot (you may want to wrap each individually) making sure each piece is sprinkled with peeled and pounded garlic, pork fat and pepper corns. cover with more kamias.
Add water enough to cover, top with banana leaves and cover with clay lid. Boil slowly with low heat until 80 oercent of the water evaporates. Add more water and allow to evaporate again.
Some serve tulingan by lightly frying first, to seal in the flavors. The remaining liquid may be used as a fish sauce.