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The Spanish origins of our Filipino food, and vice versa

By CLAUDE TAYAG, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 04, 2021 5:00 am

MADRID, Spain — It’s been well over 123 years since Spain officially ended its colonial rule over our archipelago. And yet, its culture and language are so ingrained in our daily lives more than we realize — in the names we bear, the languages we speak, the religion we believe in (including our distrust of non-Catholic Filipinos), the fiestas we celebrate, the laidback lifestyle, and the food we eat. The Spanish influence is pretty much evident to this very day.

After all, it is said that 40 percent — or some 5,000 words of our Filipino language — are loanwords from Spanish, i.e. baso, plato, kutsara, tinidor, palanggana (washbasin), kaldero, silya, lamesa, aparador, bintana… days of the week, months of the year, etc.

But, like most things that are borrowed, some corruptions are inevitable, either in spelling, pronunciation or even in meaning, e.g. in Spanish, siempre means “always;” in Tagalog it means “of course.” Una vez in Spanish means “one time;” in Filipino we say “isang beses,” which literally means “one times” (sic).

This idiomatic corruption is no different from the culinary borrowings of the more popular Filipino dishes bearing Spanish names that are generally believed to have come from madre España, like adobo, cocido, puchero, estofado, escabeche, caldereta, embutido, longganisa, lechon, ensaimada and leche flan, to name a few.

They may have Spanish names, but they definitely are Filipino in taste and aroma.

The Pinoy ensaimada has its origins from the Mallorquina ensaimada, which is basically a coiled baked bread powdered with confectionary sugar. Ours is a much richer version, smothered with butter, sugar, and grated, somewhat salty, queso de bola.

The same goes with cooking terms, like gisa (from the Spanish guisa, or sauté), prito/pinirito (frito, fried), singkutsa (sancocha, parboil), asado/inasal (roasted or grilled), to name a few.

La Tierra De Don Quijote

Torreznos de Soria: Not your regular chicharron made from pig’s skin but with pork belly, similar to the Pinoy chicharon may laman (with meat and fat)

Having visited Madrid countless times in the past four decades and its nearby world heritage cities of Toledo, Avila, Segovia and Salamanca, I’ve come to realize that their most typical dishes are the ones that we Filipinos are most familiar with in Manila.

After all, don’t we refer to the Spaniards as Kastilas (Castilians)? It was here in the heart of Castilla-León and Castilla-La Mancha, the land of Don Quijote, where one discovers how their hearty cuisine developed.

The use of the word “lechon” to mean our Pinoy roast pig is actually a misnomer. Lechon, in Spanish, means suckling pig, from the root word leche, or milk. Lechon, in the Filipino context, means to roast over a charcoal pit. Hence there’s lechon baboy (a somewhat older pig) and lechon manok (chicken). On the other hand, lechon kawali/ carajay refers to the cooking vessel the pork is fried in.

For centuries, the harsh conditions of the highland plateau, while having no access to the sea, forced these hardy Castilian people to subsist on pigs, sheep, salted cured meats like jamon, chorizos, tocino (smoked bacon fat), and dried beans, lentils and garbanzos.

The pillars of Castillan cocido, callos, fabadas — morcilla (blood sausage), pancetta (bacon slab), chorizo, ham bone and tocino (salted pork fat).

The asadores (roasters) of Segovia are renowned for their cochinillo asado (roasted suckling pig) and lechazo (baby lamb); the nuns of Avila for their yemas and tocino del cielo, while Toledo is known for mazapán.

Author Claude Tayag throws the plate with Señor Candido after cutting the cochinillo with it. According to Manila-based Spanish chef JC de Terry (Terry’s Selection), the much-imitated plate-throwing tradition started when Candido accidentally dropped the plate he was cutting the cochinillo with to show how tender it was. His hand was greasy from handling the roast piglet, and, oops, the plate flew from his hand. And a legend was born!
  Yemas de Santa Teresa de Avila

Embutidos or cured sausages like chorizos, morcillas (blood sausage), longganizas, etc., are a staple in every Castilian home, not just to be eaten as tapas but as a flavor enhancer in their stews and soups.

  Assorted Pinoy longganisas: We may have borrowed a Spanish term, but our longganisas are a world all its own in seasonings, taste, aroma and the manner we eat them.
  The Pinoy beef tapa has nothing to do with the Spanish tapas, those little appetizers leading to a meal. It is basically a sun-dried cured meat jerky, usually with beef, venison, wild boar or carabeef.

And let us not forget the crown jewel of Spanish cuisine, jamon Iberico de bellota (aka pata negra, jabugo) made from acorn-fed black Iberian pigs.

Cocido has many faces

The region’s signature, robust stew olla podrida has nourished generations through the bitterly cold months. Also known as cocido or puchero (pot, kettle) in other parts of Spain, it is basically a one-pot complete boiled dish, usually served at family weekend gatherings. The choice of meats and vegetables may vary from house to house, region to region, or depend on what is preferred. Sounds familiar?

But what remains the same is the use of garbanzos, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), ham bones and tocino (smoked bacon) to give the soup its distinctive Castilian flavor. Thus, any dish cooked in a clay pot and eaten with a spoon like the bean stews (fabadas, aluvias, lentejas — beans and lentils of all kinds) and thick soups fall under pucheros.

The Manila pochero has all the meats and veggies of the cocido but has the tomato sauce introduced early on in the cooking. It is usually accompanied with a berenhera sauce made with grilled eggplant seasoned with patis (fish sauce) and raw garlic.

Spanish tradition dictates that the cocido is eaten as a three-course meal taken separately: soup with fideos or short fine noodle strands first, having the orange-colored rich broth steeply flavored with the chorizo, morcilla, ham hocks and tocino; garbanzos or chickpeas and vegetables as a second course; and lastly, the assorted meats eaten with bread, or perhaps the garbanzos and meat together.

Another variant called cocido maragato is eaten in reverse order. It is a dish linked to the region of Maragatería in León, whose many different explanations of its reverse order are a different story altogether.

  The Bicolano cocido, found exclusively in Legazpi City, Albay, is a lightly sour fish-head soup, much like the Cebuano tinowa.

The Cocido madrileño, the star dish of this family-owned institution founded in 1870, Taverna La Bola in Madrid, is slow-cooked in individual pote or clay jars over oak charcoal.

Upon serving, the waiter sets a soup bowl with cooked fideos in front of the diner, tilts the pote with the lid half-opened and pours the hot caldo (broth) over the fideos. He leaves the pote on the table, filled with the assorted meats of chicken, beef shank, a chunk of tocino or smoked bacon, chorizo, morcilla and garbanzos for the diner to self-serve.

Chopped cabbage sautéed with the chorizo fat is passed around. A big slice of crusty bread and a plate of tomato puree, raw onion and guidillos (picked small green chilies) are served on the side.

Cocido madrileño is the star dish of this family-owned institution, Taverna La Bola in Madrid, founded in 1870.

Habitually, Madrileños pour olive oil and vinegar over the garbanzos and cabbage, just like pouring vinaigrette. The tomato sauce is mainly to spread on the bread, not poured over the meats.

Lost in translation

The Spanish and Filipino adobo confusion is just the tip of the iceberg. Like the many things we may have picked up from the Spaniards, the Spanish cocido has been indigenized in the manner it is served back home.

A Filipino will eat it thus: a mound of rice is placed on one’s plate. Some broth is dribbled over the rice to wet it. Meat and vegetables are added and cut up into small bite sizes. For every spoonful of rice, the Pinoy adds some bits of meat and veggies, mixed with a little berenjena sauce (Spanish for eggplant) of mashed grilled eggplant with raw garlic and vinegar, and tomato sauce, or perhaps a dipping sauce of patis (fish sauce), kalamansi and chili on the side.

All of these are fitted into the spoon and then shoveled into the mouth. After some chewing, a spoonful of soup is sipped to push down the masticated solids. This is repeated until the plate is wiped clean.

Alternatively, an entire serving on one’s plate is cut up into small pieces and is mixed with the rice and potatoes mashed together with the tomato sauce, ending up like one big mess on one’s plate.

A more popular version has the tomato sauce incorporated early in the cooking with chicken, pork, vegetables, and saging na saba (plantain bananas). Whichever the case, the fideos and morcilla have both but have disappeared from the Filipino dining table and have never really caught on.