Written by Cherie Mae Simonio, B.S. in Biology IV.
Don’t we just love pizza, ice cream, donut, and chocolate chip cookies? Let’s level up to cronuts, macarons, green salads, and rib-eye steak. No matter how fancy the name becomes, nothing beats home-cooked meals. Just the thought of adobo, sinigang, lumpia, and kare-kare makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? However, different kinds of food are prepared during different occasions. Cakes, hotdogs on sticks, spaghetti, buttered chicken, and barbecue are usually prepared during birthdays. Multi-tiered cakes, lechon, fish fillets, shelled shrimps, and beef and pork dishes are usually served during a wedding. For burials, we often see dinuguan, afritada, bacareta, estofado, and baboy with langka.
Food is a simple word that when spoken makes our mouth water, our eyes twinkle, and our stomachs grumble, but what is food exactly? According to dictionary.com, food is solid nourishment taken into the body to sustain life, provide energy, and promote growth. The efficiency of these processes, however, depends on the kind of food we take in our body. A healthy and balanced diet keeps us safe and free from disease and harmful substances, as well, as provide us with food in the right amount and combination. No single food, however, contains all the nutrients needed by our body, therefore, eating well means eating a variety of foods in order to supply us with the much needed nutrients that are essential for our body. It is important that we start eating healthy early on to be able to stay healthy because once weight has been lost, it may be difficult to regain it because of tiredness and lack of appetite (FAO, n.d).
Food is made up of macronutrients, micronutrients, water, and dietary fiber. Macronutrients are those major nutritional components present in relatively large amounts, while micronutrients are major nutritional components as well but present only in small amounts. Proteins and vitamins are examples of macronutrients and micronutrients, respectively. Aside from the above mentioned components, food may also be composed of colors and flavors (either synthetic or natural), pharmacologically active substances such as caffeine, natural toxics (such as the naturally occurring poison, cyanide), additives, and various contaminants coming from the environment.
There are different varieties as to how foods are cooked. There are broiling, grilling, roasting, baking, sautéing, pan-frying, deep-frying, poaching, simmering, boiling, steaming, braising, and stewing (Montalvo, n.d). In the Philippines, the most basic way of cooking food is sautéing as mentioned by a video blogger I watch, Judy Travis of ItsJudysLife.
These foods, however, would not be able to reach our buffet tables, or just simple dining tables, if not for those who cook it. Those living in the urban areas usually have caterers who cook and serve their food. On the other hand, those who live in the rural areas usually have their food cooked by a country cook or a family cook, someone who is tasked to cook whenever there are birthdays, weddings, fiestas, and even burials. These country or family cooks usually prepare recipes found only in their own barangay or town that has been passed on from generation to generation.
I have met two country cooks in a town roughly 45 km away from Iloilo City. Lambunao (11°3’18”N, 122°28’32”E) is a first class municipality in the province of Iloilo. It has a population of 69, 023 as of 2010 and is politically subdivided into 73 barangays. Its land area is at 24.69 hectares and is the second only to Passi City (25.07 hectares) in having the largest land area in all the municipalities in the province of Iloilo. Lambunao is known for their Binanog festival held every 10th of January as a celebration for the indigenous Visayan group of Panay Bukidnon known as the Suludlon who reside in the mountainour areas of Capiz-Lambunao (iloilo.gov.ph, 2013).
The first country/barangay cook I interviewed is Carmelina Leda Legayada, or nanay Meling. She lives in Coalition Street, Lambunao, Iloilo and is married to Alfonso Legayada. They have 6 children and 6 grandchildren, as well. She has been cooking as early as 14 years old, and now at 90, she still cooks the favorite dish of her eldest daughter when she asks for it. She is currently residing in Iloilo city due to old age and because she does not have anyone to stay with her in Lambunao. A few questions were asked by me and I was just glad that she was enthusiastic in answering my questions. Her inspiration to cook was her mom who wanted nanay Meling in the kitchen whenever she would cook. When tasked to, she usually cooks lumpia, sweet and sour fish, estofado, and manok with kadyos, ubod. She said she does not have any secrets when asked if she performs any rituals or practices before cooking for a specific occasion. She has a special dish that she cooks, and if I am correct, this dish can only be found in Lambunao, the minyabsan, which she started cooking at 60 years old.
Nanay Meling fondly recalled the first time she cooked it, “It was just supposed to be a past-time (cooking the minyabsan). The first time I tried cooking it, I bought 2 kgs of pork and I used the face part of the pork. I chopped it into smaller pieces and marinated it with salt and soy sauce. And then I got the youngest leaves of guava and pounded it and mixed it together with ginger and garlic and marinated it together with the pork for about 20 minutes. After which, I boiled it with water to soften the pork until the water level has been reduced and only the oil is left”. She tells me that the people love eating the minyabsan because of its taste and aroma.
Nanay Meling also shares why she started cooking it, “I heard from other older people that the recipe is not expensive and the taste after it is cooked is nice as compared to the other recipes.” She also told me that she still cooks the minyabsan until now, especially if she craves for it. She also cooks it during the birthdays of her children, when her eldest daughter comes home from the States, and just any occasion that people ask her to cook it.
I asked nanay Meling what she feels whenever people tell her that they like what she cooks, “I feel contented and happy when they tell me they like my food.”
Joel Legayada is a 43 year old, country/family cook of Barangay Legayada, Lambunao, Iloilo. he is usually asked to cook every birthday, wedding, fiesta, burial, Flored de Mayo, and Holy Week not only in Barangay Legayada but in the “banwa” as well. He is an in-demand cook of the Legayada family. Some questions were asked of him and he was more than happy to share his answers with me.
When asked who or what was his inspiration to cook he said that his cooking was handed down to him by his father from his grandfather, lolo Pedio, because the family needs someone to cook every Flores de Mayo. He started cooking at the age of 20 years old because his father got sick and he had to take over the responsibility of cooking for the Flores de Mayo.
“I have no secrets. Cleanliness of the utensils and those who are going to help me cook are strictly observed before, during, and after cooking,” when asked if he has any secrets or rituals done before cooking for a specific occasion. I also asked him how he feels when people compliment him on the food he cooks, “Very fulfilling. I am more encouraged and inspired to cook and improve the food I prepare when they compliment me.”
I asked him what he usually cooks whenever there is an occasion and he tells me that what people usually ask from him are afritada nga baboy and dayan-dayan.
All in all, although it cannot be concluded since only two country cooks were interviewed, country cooks in Lambunao did not have any rituals before cooking for any occasion. However, it can be said that the inspiration for cooking of the two country cooks interviewed here were their parents and that cooking was passed down to them from generations before them. I have aslo discovered that there are recipes that can only be found in Lambunao alone, the minyabsan and the dayan-dayan. Cooking can be done by anyone as long as you have the motivation to do so and cooking does not have to follow any recipe.
Carmelina Leda Legayada
Block 1 Lot 17 Villa Matilde Subd. Jaro, Iloilo City, 329-0922
Brgy. Legayada, Lambunao, Iloilo, 09158475635