, FEBRUARY 22, 2007 (STAR) EAT’S EASY By Ernest Reynoso Gala - Good breeding always begins in the kitchen. Since time immemorial, Pampangueños love cooking, and they believe it is an integral part of their culture to be an expert in the culinary arts. For Pampangueños, it is a serious craft, and young children are encouraged to be near the kitchen, watching and smelling the various dishes that are being created. This is important because to be a good cook, one must possess an extraordinary sense of smell. Pampangueños, like my mother, smell the ingredients to be able to accurately judge the best, thus giving them the ability to formulate and blend the ingredients together to achieve a balanced taste. Even before the advent of subdivisions, the main industry of Pampanga (like the Visayas) was sugarcane, which is why Pampango cooking tends to be sweet (mayumo).

Patience is another virtue for a Capangpangan. (A true Pampangueño never uses the letter "K.") A sample is making pastillas de leche, wherein carabao’s milk, fresh lime (dayap), and granulated sugar are simmered over low fire and continuously mixed painstakingly for hours until the right melt-in-the-mouth texture is achieved.

Competition brings out the best in a Capangpangan, and everyone in the region of Pampanga aspires to be the best as the reputation of being the best or worst is handed down from generation to generation. Having a bad review could spell doom and eternal damnation to the family name.

Preparing food double in abundance is also another custom practiced in Pampanga. Two sets are made before the special guests arrive. One set is for the guests to eat and another newly-cooked set (not tira-tira) is a gift from the host. Leaving food on the plate will break the heart of a Capangpangan cook, and not bringing home the second set will give bigger shame because this is a tell-tale sign that the food is poor in quality and not even worth bringing home to be shared with loved ones.

A Pampango home’s menu must be varied. An example of this practice is that the lunch served today should not have a repeat performance for at least two weeks. The wider the repertoire of delectable dishes the family holds, the deeper the depth of the treasure chest — that is, they can afford to hire the best chefs who double as tutors to their children.

Women from whatever economic status are trained from birth to serve and please others, making their children serve the guests first to show how important they are, and how much they treasure their culinary masterpieces. Pam-pangueños are true believers of the tried and tested formula that the best way to other people’s hearts is through their happy stomachs. Burp! Their customs are unique because of their proud cultural ideals. Capangpangan cooking has pushed itself to the highest level of world class. Tutung manyaman! Truly delicious!

Tibuc-Tibuc (Manyaman at Malagwa)

4 cups pure carabao’s milk or fresh cow’s milk

1 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon dayap rind (lime rind) or lemon extract
1/2 cup non-dairy coffee creamer (optional)
For the topping:
1 cup canned coconut cream (cacang gata)

Line a nine-inch diameter bilao or foil pan with softened banana leaves.

Mix the carabao’s milk and cornstarch in a wok with a wire whisk (and the coffee creamer, if desired). Cook over a medium fire until the mixture begins to coat the whisk. Add the sugar. Keep mixing for a few minutes more until thick enough to hold its shape. Add the dayap or lemon. Pour immediately on to the prepared pan. Cool in the refrigerator. When firm, top with latik. Serve cold.

For the topping:

Put the coconut cream in a thick wok and cook until oil seeps out and the cream coagulates into a brown mongo-like texture or latik. Set aside the oil for another use.

Apong Emiliano J. Valdés Chocolate

1 cup powdered cocoa

1/2 cup granulated sugar 1/4 cup peanut butter 4 cups milk

Mix over a low fire all ingredients until just simmering.

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