Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Food and Oral History: The Chicken Dish With No Name

Cooking "Filipino Buffalo Wings"
     There was a group of elderly women who made up the party circuit in my childhood.  They were inseparable.  I guess they could be referred to as the "Asian Golden Girls".  The group was made of my grandmother Lola Cording, Lola Fely, and Lola Trining.  (Apologies to any lolas I am leaving out here).  I believe they knew each other from their old home town - Agoo, La Union.  Recipe swapping occured naturally amongst this entourage. 

Imagine, all they had to do was invite each other's families over, cook an outstanding dish, and ask the other how they made it.  The "Asian Golden Girls" shared the ingredients and instructions in between gossip and voila a recipe swap occurred.  The recipe might be written down on a napkin or spare piece of paper if you were lucky.  For the most part, ladies just committed the swap to memory.  The process seems quite integrative, like in a small town.  Eventually you just know how to essentially make the favorites.  This sharing of recipes forms the fabric of the quilted DNA of what makes a town or a transplanted one like the one we have here in Houston of Filipino families.

     My brother wanted to cook this garlic chicken dish he recalled my mother making.  My mother said the recipe was actually Lola Trining's dish.  When asked how she acquired the recipe, she rambled on something about how my grandmother just knew it and told her the recipe.

     At the Merienda, my brother did the cooking of the dish.  My mother prepared the sauce, which is the heart of the recipe.  My brother decided to cook the dish outside, since there was a good deal of frying involved.  He did not want to smell up the house with frying oil.  We fondly refer to this outdoor cooking situation as a "dirty kitchen."  This also brings to mind the many ways my parents made their home away from home in our suburbia back yard.  I remember my dad butchering an animal or two.  I never did see my swing set the same again.  The ironic thing is mom never got her out door "dirty kitchen".  We probably need to bomb the indoor kitchen I grew up with, come to think of it.

     One should note that making this dish calls for a nice recreational outdoor cooking situation.  Meaning, cooking outside has it's advantages.  My brother enjoyed frying while drinking beer and talking with his friends.  The trick is to make sure you do some prep work and make sure you have all the ingredients in an assembly line ready to go outside.

     I tried to pick a name for this dish and called it Garlic Chicken, but some confused the generic name with the Vietnamese Chicken dish Ga Luc Lac.  If I were to descibe this recipe, it would be like hot wings, but an Asian version.  My husband thinks the dish should be called Filipino "Buffalo" wings until a better name is created.  Note, there are no buffalo in the Phillippines, only water buffalo or caribou.  Caribou wings just does not have a nice ring to it.  Plus, I think Buffalo wings were named after the city Buffalo where hot wings were proclaimed to first originate from.  So, logically, this name makes no sense.  Hence - the dish with no name, really.

The Chicken Dish With No Name:  Filipino "Buffalo" Wings

Pack of whole chicken wings (salt and pepper the raw pieces front and back)
1 cup Flour

1 whole garlic chopped
1 bottle (2 cups) of Soy Sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar

Buy a big pack of chicken wings.  You can use drumsticks only or drummettes.
Note, if you buy the whole wing, you will have to prep the meat, cut off the wing tip and split the drumette and wing.

Place flour in a zip lock bag.
Place chicken pieces in zip lock bag.
Coat chicken with flour.
Deep fry the chicken
Immediately dip in sauce.

The social dish, that gets
eaten right away
As my brother cooked this, each piece was annhialated by the onlooking guests.  Friends watched the whole process and the smell of brown sugar, soy sauce and vinegar got the taste buds going.

I set aside a wing for myself, but I am pretty sure someone took a bite out of it by the time I was ready to eat it.  I blame my two-year old.  I had no shame and this did not stop me from eating my one and only treasured piece.  I noticed my reserved piece of chicken did not have the same impact as the fresh, hot, crispy, bite I was offered when the batch was taken out of the outdoor fryer initially.

This dish is best served right away.

When I think of it, like any memory - its best to savor this dish in the moment as it is happening. The Lolas probably would have had some very good reason why a dish this easy and fun did not need a name.  It simply just WAS or IS.  Like a memory, the dish could be gone as fast as it made it's appearance.


  1. This is a really great article Christy. Love the picture of your brother!

  2. More to come. Amazing how much material you can get out of one night!


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