"Marunong ka ba
"Madali lang '
My Lola quickly imagined what hamoncito tasted like-"
She sold it in three days, no one suspecting she'd just made up the recipe on the fly.
My Lola, although half-Chinese, didn't grow up in a Chinese home. Her father, whose last name Guang Hin was changed to Santos to avoid discrimination, was a Chinese matador at the slaughterhouse. Instead of chocolate and flowers as
Instead of chocolate and flowers as panligaw (courtship gift), he brought my great grandmother scraps of pork fat, pork skin, and innards which, with a tiny addition of water in a big pot, a whole lot of heat and then seasoned with salt and betsin, turned into chicharon.
She reclaimed some of her Chinese heritage only after her stint as a secretary when her stepfather insisted she changed careers to become a pork vendor in Divisoria. She would take the morning shift in the market, leaving as early as four in the morning, and her mother would take the afternoon shift.
This was Lola's cultural education. She learned to speak Chinese numbers so she could sell to the Chinese who only sold to the Chinese. Chinese customers were known for buying in bulk so all the shopkeepers competed to make them their suki. My Lola used her
At the wet market, she befriended fellow vendors and her customers. They would then teach her authentic Chinese recipes. Our family favorite of these borrowed recipes has to be the pork and shrimp
Sometime between 1961-64 though, Lola took a break from working in Divisoria. Tita
And so, though comfortable in her life there, my Lola was still a spunky, go-getter. She noticed that the grocery shop's house special beef tapa prepared by the chief cook, Pablo, was selling like pancakes. After befriending Pablo, she asked for the recipe with her paper and pen ready. The same recipe would be the base for Lola's hamoncito years into the future.
With the beef tapa recipe as a basis on how to prep her hamoncito, she executed the recipe she really only tested inside her head. She was to deliver in three days. First, she seasoned her pork
The next day, she added in more spices and a tall can of pineapple orange juice for the marinade. The marinating hamoncito then stayed in the fridge overnight to soak up all the flavors and to tenderize with the acidity. On the last night before the customer's due date, it's finally taken out to be cooked.
A lot of hamoncito was prepped and stored for the holidays. Lucky for them, they had quite a chest freezer - it occupied a quarter of their small home's first floor. The fridge was so big compared to the size of their house that her youngest daughter had turned it into her personal couch.
The night before the special hamoncito was received by the customer, the pork is sown into a tight roll with white crochet thread. Afterward, it was boiled with all its marinade in a large pot. With no thickening agent like cornstarch, it took hours of cooking for the sauce to thicken. It's very much worth it though, as its tender meat bursts with flavor, ready to be sold and eaten right after. To make it extra special (when they were serving it for themselves), her husband would make a sugar crust around the pork and roast it in their "wonder oven" for a crunchy twist.
During the day of delivery, Lola and her small army of girls would help carry several kilos of pork during the commute from their home in Mandaluyong to their spot in Divisoria. Not one child complained.
It would be wrong to say my Lola's Hamoncito recipe is authentic Chinese hamoncito. Up to this day, we as a family don't even have a grasp of how hamoncito differs from
But it is hamoncito that is authentic to the Divisoria experience, born of a strong-willed businesswoman with a gift for cooking and lots of mouths to feed.
My Lola's only memory of her father was when he was dying. She remembers going up to his room to bring him his food and to feed him. He didn't say much, he was too tired, too spent by disease. After the meal, my Lola would do as her mother instructed her and dunk her arms in a bucket of water laced with Lysol. Then, one day, near her father's death, he'd managed a conversation.
Her father instructed her to free the five birds she'd kept in a cage. When he was still well, he gave it to her, his beloved princess, his first-born. As she watched the birds fly away, her father promised that in exchange for freeing the birds, he'd give her five precious dolls one day. He'd make sure of it. She didn't know how that was possible, with her father so frail and so unlikely to come back to work.
She remembered this story when she gave birth to her last child, her fifth daughter. She remembered this story when she gave birth to my mother, her first-born, whose tiny feet were oddly shaped like those of a porcelain doll. My grandmother remembers this story, with warmth in her voice, when she tells me all about working to the bone just to see her dolls, her daughters celebrate their debut, graduate from college, and give birth. It's a memory she comes back to when she wonders about what could have been if her father hadn't died so early. Would she have lived a completely different life? Would they also own a supermarket just like her aunt? Would she have access to a real Chinese Hamoncito recipe? But then again, would she have met her husband, my Lolo, in that alternate life and had her five daughters?
My great grandfather's legacy lives on in my grandmother's grateful heart. Perhaps some things don't need to be taught and are just in our blood. The same way genetics has given our family a predilection for diabetes and losing our gall bladders, she also inherited her father's determination, resourcefulness, and imagination that helped make her hamoncito recipe. Though it isn't from some traditional Chinese cookbook, this delicious, scrumptious hamoncito recipe is as authentic as authentic can get.
After that first batch of hamoncito sold, it was quickly a hit. Word spread and people began ordering it for special occasions-not just for Noche Buena. They also bought it for New Year's, Piyesta ng Tondo, and birthdays, a steal for only P10/kilo. All sorts of customers bought ham from her: from Filipinos to Fil-Chis, even to rich Chinese tycoons' wives. All my grandmother's products had her stamp of quality: guaranteed to be made not just with her well-known signature tenacity, but also with love... lots and lots of it.