This 78-Year Old Lola Makes One Of Cavite City's Comforting Dishes
You need to try calandracas, this special sopas-like soup good for any occasion.
Just an hour's drive away from SM Mall of Asia, is manang Lily Escobar's home, tucked in the heart of Cavite City. From her two kitchens there, she churns out delicious, traditional Cavite home-cooked dishes that her friends, mga suki, and family feast on.
From a very young age, Lily has always been cooking. The only daughter, the unica hija, of five kids, her parents had been strict with her-that meant she was always with her mom, who was busy with her carinderia. In that kitchen, she learned morcon, embutido, hamonado, menudo, mechado, afritada, and more. When her mom was asked to cater for a family, a wedding, or whatever party here or there, Lily would be her mom's "sidekick." Her father, meanwhile, would also be helping out, making litson. Lily was witness to her parents cooking for a crowd. During big feasts, her father would cook up to 40 whole hogs.
Lily's come a long way since then, though. Even after she retired as a teacher in Diwa Elementary School when she turned 60, she continued to take food orders. She still continues to cook and has no plans to retire. "Ayokong i-stop hangga't kaya," she insists. "Masaya ako sa trabaho ko," she says of cooking.
Calandracas: Food Made For Comfort
Among the most interesting and delicious things you can order from her though, has to be the calandracas. This soupy dish has so many textures, flavors that ups the ante from your usual bowl of sopas. In it, is a broth made using hamonado bone that's been grilled. In the soup, there are pieces of fragrant, sweet, chorizo bilbao, creamy potatoes and squash, nutritious pechay Tagalog, and macaroni that falls apart deliciously on your tongue. More than those ingredients though, there's years of history, knowledge, skill, and tradition that makes it classic Caviteño comfort food.
Ige Ramos, a food historian who specializes in Cavite cuisine, tells us the history of this noodle soup. "It's a very funny name," Ige says of calandracas. The name calandracas comes from the word calandra, which is what Caviteños call the stand that a coffin sits on. In the past, this dish was made especially for wakes, where, near the calandra, was a kawa, a big pot, already with soup stock simmering. The visitors would then bring abuloy, gifts for the mourning family, in the form of vegetables freshly harvested, hamon bones saved from Christmas, chicken, macaroni, or whatever was presently available.
All around Cavite, calandracas has also caused some tension among Caviteños because of how different regions make it. The various kinds of "calandracas" may seem different from each other, but they're one and the same and differ according to what the visitors bring, what veggies and livestock are available in the area.
Residents of Tanza, Cavite for example, include ampalaya, talong, okra, sitaw, and other hard veggies. Meanwhile, the soup stock would be beef or chicken. The noodles used would often be sotanghon. Some variations even have garbanzos or sweet potatoes.
In Cavite City, historically being a port city, they were able to incorporate the dried hamon bone, and macaroni noodles since they had access to imported ingredients. For veggies, they use cubed carrots, potatoes, and petchay.
Calandracas: From Funerals To Celebrations
Caviteños soon realized though, that a delicious, rich soup wasn't meant to be served only during funerals. Today, some people have come to call it "prosperity soup." It is now associated with celebrations such as Christmas, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, and even those lazy New Year brunches.
Those brunches, the morning after the big New Year feast when the whole city smells of pulbura, or gunpowder, are quite memorable. You wake up to a messy kitchen, beer bottles still littering around, but there, among the mess, is a delicious brunch. It's tamales, Pan Americano (sweet bread), and the calandracas, which has been simmering overnight. The macaroni is so overcooked you can see the pieces in the serving bowl. That's hearty, delicious, warm comfort food.
If you're ordering food from Lily, also make a point to order her delicious pancit puso. To Caviteños, this pancit is just normal fare-so normal that you can buy it at the local palengke (though those ones aren't as rich as Lily's!). In flavor, it tastes similar to pancit palabok, because of the dikdikin, a broth made of crushed shrimp heads that gives it its striking flavor. There's also eggs, juicy shrimps, crunchy chicharon, and tofu that give every bite so much texture. What really sets it apart though is the pickled banana hearts that brings it to life with its acidity.
Lily's cooking is no doubt born from the home, bringing you familiar, full-bodied flavors. But there's more: apart from a lifelong passion for cooking, Lily is also passionate about cookbooks and expanding her palate. "Cookbook ko, isang aparador na," she says of her collection. She also mindfully eats at restaurants, sampling dishes, comparing it with her own, and learning new flavors. "Try ng try pa rin ako," she says.
Lily: On Why She Still Cooks
Lily's catering company used to be more robust when she could still handle it, when she was still in her 60s. Now though, "onti-onti nalang." She's not as strong as she used to be. Now she only takes orders for 50 people or less (which is still a lot!).
She still does the cooking, the supervising, and the "timpla-timpla" still relies on her. She would never hire a kusinero. Instead, she chooses someone in need to help her. That's exactly why she's still working, two decades from retiring. "Tinutuloy ko yun eh kasi ang daming natutulungan," she says, her voice breaking, and she wipes off a tear.
So count yourself lucky that you still get a chance to eat from Lily's carajay.
You may make your orders through (0921) 325-4143 or call their landline at (046) 481-5496 (food for pick-up only). You can also arrange for your spread of food to be served at the Villamor beach in Cavite which Lily adores.