Whether it’s over a round of beers with rambunctious uncles, hanging out in the garden after dinner, or over shots with your buddies sitting in a circle in someone’s garage - the eponymous “inuman” session - good-natured drinking has long been a part of Filipino food culture. I’ve been drinking since I was 15 and frankly, you’ll find many people who grow up in the Philippines say the same. And just as young people in France sip wine with their meals, we pretty much always enjoy our drinks with pulutan: that magical, catch-all word for everything good to eat with booze. There’s a wide variety of it!
And yes, eating rich, hearty, fresh, crunchy, fatty and salty foods while drinking is not unique to the Philippines - but I think it's the way we bring bar food to life on the islands that just makes our way (in its diversity) one notch higher than the rest.
From pulutan mainstays such as adobong mani (garlic-roasted peanuts) and sizzling sisig (thrice-cooked pig’s ears, snout and cheek), regional specialties such as kilawing puso ng saging (pickled banana hearts) and guinataang kuhol (field snails cooked in coconut milk), to dishes like "Insectxotic" (stir-fried grasshoppers, beetles or crickets) and paes (steamed stingray) - this book’s got you covered. Tama na yan, inuman na! (Let’s drink!)
A soldier’s word
“Pulutan conveys many things Filipino,” Elmer Cruz and Emerson Rosales write in the book’s introduction. “That is probably why there is no English word that truly captures the concept of pulutan.”
“‘Finger food' is not quite accurate because many pulutan are eaten with a fork or with a spoon. Neither is appetizer quite right, because pulutan is a meal by itself,” they add. “Pulutan conjures camaraderie…(and) has also evolved to mean being a topic of conversation.”
“There’s a lot to be said of the Pinoys’ propensity to mark any special occasion with loads of booze, and that means lots of pulutan. This probably sets the Filipino drinker apart from the other alcohol guzzlers of the world.”
I couldn’t agree more!
I imagine that Cruz and Rosales’ stories, in themselves, are enough to fill several all-night inuman sessions. They were among hundreds of soldiers sent to prison for their alleged involvement in the Oakwood Mutiny, a 19-hour siege set in Manila, staged against the Philippine government.
Cruz and Rosales were both officers of the Philippine Navy who widely traveled the country. From the northernmost tip of the Batanes islands to the southern communities of Tawi-Tawi, they learned a variety of preparations for common pulutan fare on their journeys, through other navy men and women they met, as well as locals.
“Since July 27, 2003, we have been spending our waking and sleeping hours within the confines of our detention facility, as we await the final resolution of our cases still pending in both military and civilian courts,” they write.
Two years later, over pulutan (naturally) shared on Christmas eve, Cruz and Rosales came up with the idea for a cookbook and began enlisting fellow officers and “even our guards” to contribute recipes and ideas for dishes. As their court hearings progressed, they add, “during breaks, we interviewed our co-accused for this book.”
“Our contributors have tried out these recipes and stake their honour on them. As to the state of their intoxication, that is an altogether different matter.”
There’s a lot to cover, so let’s break it up into chapters:
All-Time Favorites include Beef Salpicao, one of my favourite things to make at home; a pork leg stew called “Humbalicious” with brown sugar and fermented black beans; a recipe to “‘siomai’ love for you” (I had to say it) and an anecdote of Rosales eating an entire Crispy Pata all by himself.
In Atbp. (in English, “etc.”), Rosales recalls how “anniversaries acquire a special meaning” when you’re detained.
“For my twenty-sixth birthday in 2005, I wanted something different to celebrate it with classmates, who were also detainees. I didn’t want the usual spaghetti and fried chicken. I wanted a dish that would spice up the celebration. I remembered my father’s dish: Turbo Spareribs!” he writes.
That passage in itself paints such a vivid picture of Filipino food culture for Rosales’ generation. For his parents, who were educated during the American occupation, spaghetti and fried chicken were the quintessential party foods - a new incarnation of the crunchy lumpia and pancit their parents likely served them as children. By the time Rosales makes party food for himself, he doesn’t want to go in that direction - but he’s inspired by it enough to bring a newer version of spareribs into the picture. (Up next: sous vide ribs!)
With food, as you’ll see, definitions are fluid in the Philippines. Sometimes this makes it hard to identify an ingredient or win an argument over what a particular dish is actually called. But in the end, I wouldn’t trade that variety for anything else.
There’s a chapter on Fried Pulutan with recipes for calamares (batter-fried squid rings), chicharon bulaklak (deep-fried pork intestines, named after the blooming flowers they visually resemble), crispy crablets and “GG Balls”, short for fish balls made with galunggong (round scad) that’s dipped in a sweet and sour sauce.
In Goat’s Meat they provide recipes for caldereta (cooked with tomatoes and sweet peppers), kilawin (marinated with calamansi juice and vinegar), pinapaitan (offal cooked with bitter intestinal juices) and sinampalukan (soured with tamarind fruit).
Under Inihaw Delights, the time-honoured method of cooking over an open flame reminds us of why chicken adobo is great in all its incarnations, and why grilled oysters - flecked with sliced bird’s eye chilies and a squeeze of calamansi - are the best thing to have in between beers.
One of the longest chapters is on Kinilaw, foods “cooked” by an acid (typically vinegar or citrus) and eaten as soon as possible. In Lamang Dagat, Rosales writes, “during a visit to our detention center, my friend Karen brought baskets of assorted seafood with her. They held shrimp, squid, mussels, tuna belly and octopus. There was so much, I couldn’t decide what to cook for her.”
There’s a chapter on Luto Sa Gata (foods cooked with coconut milk/cream) and Usapang Lechon (literally, “Lechon Talk”), followed by Pulutang Sabaw which tell us that not all pulutan are fried and have the ability to clog arteries. They share recipes for Bulalo, made with beef shanks, and Soup No. 5, made with a cow’s penis and testicles (the origins of this soup’s name are highly debated).
Under Not The Usual Parts, a rundown of my favourite recipe names from the book: there’s “French Kiss” for sliced beef tongue “kissed” with butter and Worcestershire sauce, and “Kiss My Chicken’s Ass” for, well, a pound of chicken butts stir-fried with garlic, ginger, chilies, oyster sauce, mushrooms and peppers. Those parts have to go somewhere, and they’re not being discarded!
“Smooch” is a recipe for braised beef lips, while “Vampire’s Delight” instructs us to cook a pig’s intestines, liver, loin and 3 cups of fresh blood “until the mixture is almost dry”. (Personally, I like my dinuguan this way too!)
Finally, “Kapalmuks” needs a bit of an introduction. When someone says “Ang kapal ng mukha mo!”, that’s basically the same as saying “How dare you!” in response to an outrageous or inappropriate question (and often, it’s said teasingly).
For instance, if you were visiting a boss’ house with your colleague, then ask if you can stay the night (an outrageous example), you’d get a ribbing from your friend and hear “Kapalmuks ka naman! I can’t believe you asked to stay overnight!”.
“Kapalmuks” is a recipe for cow skin boiled until tender, cubed then sautéed with garlic, onions, chilies and celery. I imagine that the “kapal” in its name also refers to the term “makapal ang balat”, which refers to someone who’s “thick-skinned” and doesn’t easily take offence to haranguing and joking around.
Another keeper for the collection. 😊