On the feast day of Saint Raphael the Archangel on September 29, Gulod, who would have been delirious that day, pre-pandemic, was calm. The mood of the party was well subdued. No buntings dancing at the slightest breeze from the lake. No marching bands in the narrow street. No peryahan that attracted a crowd of children, with games and rides like the Ferris wheel.
Despite the lack of party activities, my 77 year old mother wouldn’t let the day go by without cooking her signature hamonado. It’s a childhood dish for my brothers and me. Hamonado is, to this day, a symbol of abundance, especially in the days when we had almost nothing.
Nanay poured the two kilos of carefully washed kasim (pork shoulder), cut into bite-size pieces, into a large saucepan. There was a standoff between the meat and the marbling. There was a palpable excitement as my mom continued to do magic in the kitchen. Her joy was glued to her talcum powder coated face earlier when she began to dice, mash, chop the ingredients that would accompany her hamonado.
The kitchen is his scene. She shines there as best she can. This is where she shows her love for her family. When she’s in the kitchen, it’s a sign that all is well with her. Her age began to slow her down. But she’s a transformed being, almost like a super woman, when she’s in the kitchen, where she can whip magic with a ladle as a wand. She is happy, happy, in the mood. This is her rule: always be happy when cooking. Her impeccable smile, her lips tinted with lipistik red, as she peels and slices onions or pounded peppers in an almires (mortar and pestle), is the not-so-secret ingredient in every meal. As always, his time in the kitchen is a solo act; she wants to be left alone. (Because I always want to learn my manners in the kitchen, I keep a comfortable distance from her whenever she cooks.)
Coming back to its hamonado, the kasim is joined by sliced ââonions (three bulbs), a small bag of tomato sauce, Â¼ kilo of minced pork liver, two tablespoons of pickle relish, two teaspoons of sugar , a small box of Reno foie gras spread, a box of Philip’s sausage, a box of Del Monte pineapple juice, two tablespoons of Star Margarine. (The brands are not approved because, according to my mother, the characteristic taste of her hamonado will be different if she uses other labels.)
The final touch is the soy sauce, which she carefully pours from a bottle to the pan to mix it with all the other ingredients. No action. It’s as if the sizing of ingredients is determined by his heart.
Candida, my mother, is a creature of habit. She does not experiment on new dishes. The hamonado of my childhood is still the same hamonado to this day. And we only got to taste this dish twice when we were kids, on holiday and Christmas, with all the ingredients bought with the money my parents made from being farmers. There were parties and Christmases when the hamonado was not present on the table. Well-meaning neighbors wanted to lend my mom money so we could throw a feast for the occasion, but both of my parents were reluctant to borrow money they didn’t know how to pay back. To this day, my brothers and I have learned this lesson. We don’t spend what we don’t have. And we would always have doubts about borrowing money if we knew in our heart that we wouldn’t be able to repay the loan.
What the spaghetti was at the neighbor’s table, the hamonado was at ours. Besides, Nanay did not learn to cook spaghetti. She only knew a few dishes that she learned to cook on her own when her mother passed away at the age of 20, the age she married my father.
There was almost a ritual when she was cooking her hamonado that day. She lit the stove. The blue fire was reflected in his eyes; they too have ignited. She adjusted the burner. Slow fire. She was preparing the ingredients early because she didn’t want to rush her cooking. There was music in her head as she requisitioned the kitchen. Then she began to hum old songs. More than that, there was music in his soul. This music was important in making his famous dish a success.
She always had a mini-dialogue with herself in the kitchen. To his monologue was added the murmur of the simmering dish. The smell of kasim boiling with all the ingredients was a combination of fulfilled promises and fulfilled dreams. It was also a reminder of a life not blessed with material riches but with the generosity given by the determined spirit of my parents.
Nanay took care of her cooking that day with a heart as open as the sky. When the pan boils, the tasty smell of the dish reminds me all the more of my childhood. The anticipation, the excitement of participating in my mother’s hamonado when I was a child. I remembered again that childhood feeling that we were rich because there would be this meat on the table. Looking back, the dish served as my dream trigger: that if I wanted to pamper myself with the sweet and savory dish whenever I wanted, I should be dreaming a dream. That if I wanted to keep the sweet aftertaste of ground pork liver in my mouth, I would have to woo my dreams. My mother made sure that I would be a good student in life.
Nanay’s hamonado is symbolic of our life. It defines my parents’ attitude in life. It defines their courage and stance of not giving up, even when life has thrown a curveball at them. Because it was ambitious to have it on the dining table at the time, the dish, when served, was synonymous with celebration. A lot of happy times in our family were because we had this magical Nanay kitchen creation.
On September 29, after adding water to the pot for the third time, Nanay knew she was ready to serve a potion that would delight her family. She put out the heat before the sauce got gooey. It had been two hours of incantation in our kitchen.
There would always be that silent reverence when I ate Nanay’s hamonado. It would always remind me that even though life was tough before, I was not deprived during our many days of need.
We were rich in more than one way.