The Philippines is an archipelago comprised of 7,107 islands. Albeit a small country, our facial features, dialects and cuisine vary greatly depending on the island or mountain region your family originates from. Thus, it comes as no surprise that we can have the same dish but serve it ten different ways depending on how your grandmother made it.
I never grew up in the province. In fact, our family doesn’t really have a province, and I was envious of friends who had farms and waterfalls to go to during the summer. Inasmuch as we are city-dwellers, our home-cooked meals were very old-fashioned and not made the way people are accustomed to. When people ask what kind of cooking I do, I say “lutong lola” (cooks like a grandmother).
No one in my family used measuring tools to cook and everything was poured straight out of bottles and jars. If my mom says to put one spoon of something, we simply used an ordinary dining spoon. And this is still the way I cook up to this day which is why I find it difficult to write out recipes for friends.
The only time I bought legit measuring equipment was when I started baking bread — which was last year.
Yesterday, I had an intense craving for my family’s caldereta. In most households and restaurants, this is stewed in olives and tomato sauce then served runny. My friend Ding taught me to make this version a couple of years ago since I grew up eating it differently. My grandaunt serves it real gritty and thick, with beef reduced in fresh coconut milk , served markedly spicy and almost dry.
In the most random way possible, I had a spur of the moment urge to experiment. I ran out of the house to go to the mini-grocery across the building to buy a box of coconut cream and fresh chili. I’ve tried in the past to Google a recipe for this version but to no avail. Feeling slightly fearless, I did a complete experiment relying only on guesswork and pure memory of my palette and made caldereta for the very first time.
After simmering the short ribs over low-fire for 2 hours, I think I actually got it