In my other life, I must have been born Ilonggo because for some reason, I feel like the best food in the country must come from their part of the islands. Imagine me, a city born-and-bred quarter-Chinese Tagala (a female of the Tagalog-speaking ethnic groups in the Philippines) , wishing to be Ilonggo.
Indulge me, please. My sister-in-law, Joyce, just came home from a week-long vacation in Silay City, my father-in-law’s hometown. She brought back some really delicious food- lumpiang Bacolod, thin and chewy piaya, and dulce gatas (or what others will call dulce de leche) — three of my family’s favorite local foods of all time. We’ve been having an Ilonggo food festival in the house since then, eating lumpia at the oddest hours, munching on piaya during late night movie marathons, and sticking our fingers into the dulce gatas tub and licking them clean. Eww, not exactly sanitary, but it’s the best way to eat it. (A has a tub solely for him because he is so… hygienic, haha.)
I’m a sucker for spring rolls in any shape, size, or form, but the best spring rolls I’ve had are the ones called lumpiang Bacolod. Technically, the ones I do love should be called lumpiang Silay since Ms. Emma Lacson of Silay City makes these fabulous spring rolls, but let’s not quibble over terms, shall we?
Lumpiang Bacolod is what we Tagalogs refer to as lumpiang ubod or fresh (not fried) spring rolls made of heart of palm. The ingredients for this vary according to personal preferences, but traditional recipes call for ubod, ground meat, and shrimps, sautéed in pork fat renderings and wrapped in soft crepe-like wrapper. Some versions include minced crispy, meaty chicharon (pork cracklings), a bed of lettuce, and spring onions. Joyce actually brought back two kinds, ones with and without the chicharon, and what I can say- I love them both! Unlike Tagalog lumpiang ubod, however, the sauce for lumpiang Bacolod is inside the wrapper and not drizzled on top the way we normally do it here. As a result, the ubod soaks up much of the sauce, making it juicy and soft, but not mushy. The natural sweetness of the ubod plays off the tangy sweetness of the garlic sauce.
As for piayas and dulce gatas, there are variations and copies of these in Manila. The closest that comes to the latter is pastillas de leche in a jar. I’m not too enamored over dulce gatas (just looking at it makes my blood sugar levels rise) but an occasional dipped finger (or for the hygienic, a teaspoonful) takes away the “umay” or “suya” (palate fatigue) off any meal. Piayas, however, I can eat by the dozens, especially if they’ve been warmed enough so that the flaky coat of this cookie-like confection becomes chewy with the warm muscovado filling.
Ahh, as you can see, I have become totally obsessed with these delicacies. When I think about inasal, bagoong guinamos, even napoloeones, it makes me miss Ilonggo food all the more. They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I guess that applies to women as well. And if that is the case, then I ♥ Negros Occidental forever.