Monday, May 16, 2011

Food and Oral History: Pulpog

Andre made Ilocano Pulpog a derivative of Sisig

So, I am trying to wrap my head around the differences between the provincial culture my parents grew up in and that of a Filipino city slicker from Manila.  The reason why I am puzzled is because of a perplexed response I got from a Filipina girlfriend at work.  Note, I do not have many close Filipina girlfriends.  Period.  Unless we are relatives, distantly related or our parents knew each other, and you are Filipino, and you are not connected somehow within two degrees of separation, we may not know each other.  Now, that may leave only five people in Houston, given those statistics, but the point is - I did not seek out to make Filipino friends exclusively growing up.  I was already surrounded by them.  I did not see the differences in people that way.  For me the silo of uni-cultural just felt unnatural, which is a complete 360 to the way my parents operated. Thus, my youth angst of not really "belonging" made me who I am today.

Getting back to the response I am pondering about, I tried to describe a dish to my friend that I thought was commonplace in the Philippines.  Although it seems silly to have this realization at the time, but not only do my parents have their own dialect, but a mainstream dish known as sisig evolved into its own deviation of delicious goodness.  According to my husband's research, sisig evolved from the American military bases on the island, in a round about way.  The Americans threw out the pieces of pork that they found undesirable, such as the head.  The Filipinos gladly took the scraps and hence sisig was born.  The Ilocanos probably evolved their own version of the dish out of making do with the ingredients they had on hand.  Hence, Pulpog was born.  Now, I am no expert, please - this is all my view of the world trying to make sense of things. 

In my house, a dish we call Pulpog is as common as pancit.  The best way I can describe Pulpog for my friends is that it is like pork ceviche,  but cooked first, then marinated in vinegar.  The pieces are even diced up in small little square chunks like ceviche.  Just like ceviche, you have to let it sit for awhile and maybe even refrigerate the marinade so that the juices integrate into the meat.  The two ingredients of vinegar and pork are the only commonalties, beyond that, the recipes diverge.  Even our version in Houston, Texas has taken a twist.  

My husband made the version served at the Merienda to his liking, he added jalapenos.  I grew up with a version with tomatoes.  My mom started adding tomatoes in an attempt to integrate vegetables in a dish that she knew my carnivore dad would continue to eat.  The tomato adds a freshness to the dish I think.

I enjoy the trifecta of dishes on my birthday and that is Adobo, Sinigang, and Pulpog.  I do not mention Pancit.  Pancit is a given on a birthday, it represents long life for the celebrant so that dish should be there without formal request.  It goes without saying.

The lesson to the story of this dish is that people, just like recipes can take on a life of their own when they diverge.  Going your separate way may seem risky at first, but after making do with what you got, the flavor of the situation just may turn into something good that you did not expect.  in this case a new tradition emerged.

Pork belly or country style boneless pork ribs
1 Medium sized onion
4 cloves of Garlic

Instructions (as my husband described it)
Cook the pork in any way that gets the pork cooked.  Broil or grill.  If you choose to use pork belly, boil then grill, do not burn the pork on the grill.  If you boil the pork then make sure there is water, vinegar, bay leaves and peppercorns in the pot.  Once cooked, chop the pork into cubes.  Chop the onions in small cubes.  Chop the garlic.  You can also add green onions, jalapeno, and tomatoes.  Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.  Season with kalimansi if you have it.   If you do not,  season the meat with some other kind of citrus.  You can also use garlic salt to season in place of salt.  Let the dish sit for an hour or two.  The longer it sits the better.  Eat over warm or cold rice.

This recipe is hard to find on the internet.  There is some mention of it here if you want to read more about Pulpog.

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