Dishes that make up traditional cuisines show our close relationship and dependence on our environment. That’s basically human nature – we consume what’s around us. From the primitive instincts we have for food to finally evolving to what it is today, the simple fact remains – we are more inclined to the foods we are familiar with, that we grew up with and that we encounter regularly. Explains so much why Moms’ cooking lasts for generations. This also explains different palates – why one dish is a staple in one area and would sound totally gross elsewhere.
Same as the story of our dear Pinakbet/ Pakbet, an invention of virtually every vegetable in Ilocandia effortlessly mixed with our favourite seasoning (bagoong and alamang). This dish is also a great representation of Filipino Cooking – practical and very straightforward.
Wikipedia says that the name came from Pinakebbet [ /pinakeb-bet/] which means shrivelled that translates to being reduced into sauce consistency. Pakbet has many versions, varying only on the type of seasoning you use. The one I grew up with, I dare say, is the authentic version that only uses the hardcore bagoong (anchovy sauce or fish paste sauce) without any addition while some areas use only shrimp paste or alamang. The inclusion of pork, IMHO is a more modern variation meant to cater for mass production (so the dish can appeal and be served in different regions of the country)
Below is a recipe which combines the best of some of the versions. Give it a go and let me know:
- 180g pork (you can use Pigue or liempo)
- 200g Squash
- 140g Eggplant
- 110g Bitter gourd (you can add more if not using the Native variant )
- 90g String Beans
- 120g okra / ladies’ fingers
- 50g onion (1 large pc)
- 160g tomatoes (4 pcs)
- 12g garlic (4 cloves)
- 30g ginger
- 120g shrimp paste
- 55g fish paste sauce
- 40g brown sugar
- 300 ml rice wash / hugas bigas ( little over a cup)
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- Red eye chillies (optional)
- Peel and cut squash
- Wash and slice eggplant, bitter gourd and okra; take the ends off of string beans then cut into 3” long
- Peel garlic and onions – dicing and slicing respectively
- Wash and slice tomatoes
- Wash, slightly crush, peel and dice ginger
- Wash and cube (1x1) pork meat
- In a deep pan , pour around 100 ml of rice washing (roughly half cup) then add pork cubes, fire on medium heat. My dad calls this process “pagmantika” – rendering the fat from pork meat to add more depth and porky flavour. Let the pork cubes brown on its own fat. Crispiness depends on your preference.
- Add cooking oil then toss ginger, tomatoes, onions and garlic (with a minute interval ) then pour fish paste sauce – constantly stirring until reduced to half. Add 1/3 of diced squash.
- Add the rest of rice washing then bring to a boil. Add the rest of squash, shrimp paste and sugar then reduce. Once preferred consistency is ALMOST (broth is somewhat rich but not very thick – greatly considering the amount of broth left) achieved, adjust seasoning using fish sauce then add eggplant, okra (with a minute interval). Finally, add bittergourd and cover in rich sauce then add string beans. Toss with much gusto – making sure every ingredient is coated. Cover then turn off gas.
- Best to use clay pot but a small ordinary pot or dutch oven will definitely do. Neatly stack all the ingredients. Starting from the bottom – pork, tomatoes, ginger, onion, squash, eggplant, okra and garlic.
- Mix your seasoning of fish paste sauce and shrimp paste to your rice washing then pour in the pot – making use that all ingredients were covered.
- Cover then gently simmer for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring to incorporate all the flavours.
- Procedure 2 is probably the old way of doing this dish. It’s best to use pork belly for this procedure and you will only be using not more than a cup of rice washing. Downside to this is that you won’t have control on the doneness of your vegetables.