My Germany & Philippine Connection

I was talking to my younger sister about a connection that Filipinos and Germans share.  She laughed and said “what connection?”

Note:… if you are a vegetarian, you might want to skip this post.

The connection? It’s the pig of course.

Crispy Pata!

As in crispy pata, or cooked adobo style, or sweet sticky Filipino BBQ sticks, in sisig, in sour sinigang soup, as lechon —  bamboo pole slowly turned over hot coals and whole pig cooked to crispy skin perfection…and why I don’t think I can ever become a vegetarian.

And…one of the reasons I enjoyed living in Germany.

Filipinos love their piggy.  The Germans love their piggy too.

When I got the news that I would be stationed in Germany, I phoned my sisters…and they said, “Great!  You have always wanted to go there!”

Really? I did?  Apparently when I was a little girl, I spoke of this wish to go to Germany…hmmm, must have been all those castles I heard about.

And as soon as we got there…I loved it.

I loved the green scenery, uber clean streets, loved the villages, the autobahn, loved the architecture and the castles, loved the volksmarching, loved the wine, the people we met, and the food.

Wittlich Pig Festival signWe lived in the western part of Germany while I served in the U.S. Air Force, and among the first festivals we attended was the village of Wittlich’s —very popular — Annual Saeubrenner Fest.

Translation?  Pig Festival!

Picture from the Wittlich Pig Fest courtesy of Sandy…click on this link for the history of the Pig Fest and Sandy’s blog, Rowdy in Germany.

Walking around the festival…and seeing all the roasted pigs….well, strangely, reminded me of the Philippines.

Wittlich Pig Festival 1

Jeff,  however, not used to seeing whole roasted pigs, was a bit startled, especially seeing pig heads on platters.

Wittlich Pig Festival

But no matter, the jaeger schnitzels, curry wursts, micro-brewed and flavorful beers hooked him in right away.

Distance between the Philippines and Germany?  Over 6,000 miles (or over 10,000 kilometers).  But for this Filipina, I felt at ease and happy living there.

We lived in a little town called Dudeldorf (really, I am not kidding,  say it and it makes you pucker and smile).  Dorf translates to village in German.

The town butcher shop was a regular weekend shop stop for me to try the deli meats and German wursts (sausages — which Germans take to a whole other level).  There were always ready marinated pork cuts to buy and take home to cook.

The shops knew my little baby girl, Dominique, through seeing her with babysitter Oma Lonien.  I think because of this —or maybe just because Germans love little kids– Dominique would get a slice of something yummy from the shopkeeper, whether the meat shop or the local bakery…where she got bread, a roll or some other treat.

A true Filipino celebration is not be complete without the Lechon – whole roasted pig.  And there is a part of me that thinks I should be disgusted with looking at a whole animal presented on the table.  And then there’s the other part that says…ahh yes, lechon — party time!

Lechon – whole roasted pig is a part of Filipino celebration and feasts. Photo by Lola Jane

And so even if geographically and culturally at least, the Philippines and Germany are far apart, one of my memorable connections….is the piggy.

Well, unless you count that letter pronunciation thing, like the Germans pronouncing “W” words like “V” and vice versa (wise wersa).  As in…so come and wisit me in my Willage Vittlich.

And so with Filipinos replacing the letter “F” in certain words with a “P”….as in, be carepul, por you might pall opp! (And get hurt and not able to enjoy your lechon at the party!)

Related Germany post:

My New Flan

Nope…that Flan in my title is not a misspelled word.  I’m talking about my new Leche flan, a type of egg custard dessert made of milk and eggs. Leche flan is a favorite dessert for a Filipino party or special occasions.

So….what does this (old) picture of an old fort have to do with Filipino Leche Flan?

Sometime ago, I read about the use of egg white for construction of these old Spanish forts and Spanish colonial era churches.  The egg whites were used as a type of mortar to hold the stones together.

With so many old Spanish era churches in the Philippines,  there must have been an enormous amount of leftover egg yolks during construction.

And not to waste anything…dessert anyone?

How about egg-yolk leche flan, or another favorite yolk-only Filipino treat like the candy called “yema” (ingredients are egg yolks, milk and sugar).

We have made traditional Philippine leche flans, which is ultra rich and made entirely of egg yolks — many recipes call for up to 12 yolks!

But since we now live in the modern era and have advanced beyond using egg whites in our building techniques….I think it is OK to use the whole egg in making flans (unless you just love to separate eggs and make meringues).

I now make my flan using an easy recipe adapted from a condensed milk company.  The recipe calls for:

  • 3 whole eggs (yes only 3! And update May, 2014 — readers also report using 4 whole eggs for a richer flan)
  • One 14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
  • One 13.5 oz. can of coconut milk.

And that’s it.

After mixing the 3 main ingredients, I add either a teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract, or a touch of nutmeg or cardamom.  You can also add a bit of orange zest.  Or nothing else if none of those appeal to you.

I am not an expert at sharing recipes, so this assumes you have already made flan before…which requires first making caramel.  Caramel on the pan bottom makes the flan a golden brown–instead of a boring cream color, since the flan is steamed in a water container in the oven.

To save time on the caramel part, I make the caramel (1/3 cup sugar) directly on the metal baking pan I will use for the flan.  I use a standard round or square metal cake pan.  Place metal pan directly on burner and slowly —starting on low heat —melt and stir the 1/3 cup of sugar, stirring until you get a liquid, lovely brown caramel color (fascinating how that dry white sugar turns into liquid golden caramel).   Spread caramel evenly on bottom of pan and pour in the egg mixture.

Place the flan pan into a larger pan filled with about 1/2″ of water.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  Note: it may take up to 1 hour to cook, depending on your oven.  You can do the toothpick test — insert a toothpick into the middle of the flan — if it comes out clean, the flan is done, if it is still runny, bake longer until firm.

Cool completely, run a knife along edges, carefully flip to a serving plate, cut and serve.

There will be a bit of caramel liquid surrounding the flan.  It is a little silkier in texture than traditional flans, but overall, super yummy.

And anything with coconut milk is Filipino enough for this Lola —-and less 9 egg yolks too!  Let me know what you think.

Related: Lola Jane’s Filipino food posts:

champorado Filipino style

Champorado – chocolate rice porridge

The Jolly Bee & McDonalds Targeted Ads: Part 3

So I wondered… why are there McDonalds Tagalog / English ads in Philippine newspapers, here in the U.S.?  After all, Filipinos living here in America speak English (as do Filipinos living in the Philippines!)

I think I know why now—- and it’s about Jollibee.

Photo from

I recently read about Jollibee’s plans to set up 280 new stores this year, with 90 in China, as part of a major expansion.

Philippine-based Jollibee Food Corporation (JFC) started in Manila, soon after McDonalds made plans to enter the Philippine market.

At that time, the company founders—who had just started a Magnolia ice cream parlor franchise that also served sandwiches — figured that catering to the taste buds of Filipinos, and making spicier hamburgers would be the way to have an advantage over McDonalds.

Jollibee is now the Philippines’ largest chain restaurant, with over 600 locations (now 800 locations, as I update this post in March, 2014).  There are currently 26 locations in the U.S (mostly in California), and outlets in Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Brunei and Hong Kong.  It is one of Southeast Asia’s most successful companies.

Should McDonalds —with their 32,000+ locations worldwide— be concerned?  Well, perhaps enough so…at least for their Filipino-American customers, that they are doing these language specific ad campaigns in California..

The US State Department estimates the number of Filipinos in the U.S. at 4 million, or about 1.5% of the population  (as a comparison, the combined population of the states Wyoming, Vermont, Alaska, Montana, Hawaii and Rhode Island is a little over 4 million).

Filipino-Americans are among the most educated, and have the highest incomes compared to other Asian-American groups (and so have money to spend on fast food restaurants, among other things).

Jollibee restaurants are opening up in areas of the US with a large and established population of Filipinos. Though this data is from 2000, areas highlighted with a high number of Filipino-Americans remain the same. New Jollibee restaurants are planned for New Jersey and Virginia.

But the U.S. Filipino market is just a small part of Jollibee’s expansion plans, when you look at the 90 stores they plan for China.

Jollibee has already established a presence in China by taking over several Chinese restaurant chains, including a fast food noodle chain last year.   And with China now an economic power, it may be easier to grow and catch up with McDonalds in China than here in the U.S.

Banana Leaves and Sweets

My six year old grandson, Jun, and I were eating cassava cake at a local Filipino restaurant.  He asked what was underneath…and could he eat it? I told him it was a banana leaf and no, you don’t eat it.  He pulled off the leaf strips, smelled it…and then bit into it.  “Hmmmmm….” he said quizzically.

I thought of other foods where banana leaves are used, and how much banana leaves are a part of island and Filipino cooking — and my childhood food memories.

Banana Plant with Fruit – the entire leaf (huge!) is harvested, rib removed and cut into squares for Suman or smaller as a container for Puto

In the Philippines, snack foods are wrapped in banana leaves, used as a bottom, or to contain sweets prior to baking or steaming…sort of like cupcake paper or cupcake foils.  The difference is that the banana leaves impart a flavor when cooked.. so it is really a part of the recipe.

Puto and suman are popular sweet treats that use banana leaves.  As with many recipes, there are regional variations, and in the central Visayas, muffin-shaped putos are made from fermented rice flour.

Contained in Banana Leaf, Filipino “Puto” sold at the Palenke (Market)

When we were little, suman was a snack treat we often ate.  It is typically made from sticky rice half-cooked with  coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed to finish the cooking process.

During Christmas, suman was served with rich and dark hot chocolate drinks, using freshly ground cacao beans.   We would peel the banana leaf off the suman, and if freshly steamed, take in the aroma — before dunking it in our chocolate drinks.

Filipino Suman – Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk wrapped in banana leaves and steamed

Like puto, suman has many varieties depending on family and region, and can also be made from grated cassava root — one of my favorite type of suman.

I like the fibrous texture of cassava suman, and sweetened with sugar and coconut milk…it is so delicious!  Sometimes chocolate is swirled into the mix prior to wrapping in banana leaves, or the center is filled with sweetened ground peanuts.

I also remember eating suman wrapped in palm leaf, but mostly the ones our family made were wrapped in banana leaves. So, essentially the word suman is a generic name for an assortment of tube or rectangle shaped, leaf-wrapped, steamed food (typically sweet or served with sweet dipping sauce).

During past trips to the Philippines, it seems there was always someone (kind and sweet)—like our Nanay Lucing or our Auntie Terling— who made batches of suman for us.  We enjoyed the treats while there, and then a fresh batch was made right before our departure to the U.S. to take with us.   Sadly, our Nanay Lucing has passed away, and though our Auntie Terling still seems young and beautiful to me,  I have to accept that she is nearing her mid-seventies and is not as energetic as before.

At our last trip, my sister and I purchased our Suman at the market from these women.

Wrapped in Banana Leaves, Suman and Puto for Sale at the Market

It occurs to me that it is now OUR turn to keep alive food traditions that we enjoyed from our childhood.  So…I better make sure my sisters and I know how to make suman if I want to keep this tradition for grandsons Jun and Gabriel.

My cousin Ate Violeta and her daughter Jady stayed with us during their visit to California.  Ate Violeta is an excellent cook and showed us how to make biko — another popular coconut milk and sticky rice treat.

Jun and Gabriel loved eating Ate Violeta’s Biko and it did not last long in our household …even the extra batch we put in the freezer “for later” soon vanished.

Biko is often what Jun will choose when we get a snack at the Filipino restaurant after his Tae Kwon Do lessons (though lately he has looked for Cassava Cake and has also been enjoying Ginataan – sweet potato, bananas, jackfruit, tapioca and rice balls stewed in coconut milk).

Well…with all this good banana leaf memories…I will definitely make Suman (and hot chocolate) a holiday tradition for the boys.  And though I don’t have the ease of lopping off fresh banana leaves from my backyard, I have no excuses really.  It is pretty easy to get banana leaves in the U.S. —- the leaf sheets are sold frozen at most Asian markets.

Frozen Banana Leaves — squares or rounds — are sold at most Asian Stores or Filipino Stores in the San Francisco Bay Area

And hopefully Jun and Gabriel will have pleasant memories associated with banana leaves…just like their Lola.

Please do comment and tell us your banana leaf memories, or favorite food wrapped in banana leaves.

Note:  Banana leaves are available at most Asian Markets — in the frozen food aisles — and is almost always available (also frozen) at Filipino Markets and mini stores.

Lola Jane’s Filipino Food related posts:

Luggage with A Special Kind of Stinky

Being a nation comprised of thousands of islands and where the ocean is never really far away from anyone or anywhere, it is easy to see why Filipinos are fond of seafood.

Also consumed in large quantities are dried fish and related fermented fish products, as these do not need refrigeration, are a source of protein, and brings flavor to plain old rice and vegetables.

“Tuyo” – Dried Fish for Sale at the Market

The word “tuyo” which means “dry” in Tagalog, is the same word for dried fish.

I do like using patis (Philippine fish sauce) in my cooking, as noted on my earlier post.  However, I am not as crazy about dried fish, though I know many bring back their favorite dried fish, squid or specialty fermented seafood after coming back from their visits to the Philippines.

Years ago, my Mom decided she had to bring several jars of a local Visayan “delicacy” called ginamos back to the California, and tucked several jars in her luggage.

Ginamos is a salted, fermented product made from tiny fish like silver fish, anchovies or sometimes bigger fish like sardines, as well as shrimp (the pinkish version on the photo below).  Sold in glass jars or in open buckets at the market, the sight of it is not exactly appetizing as most are cloudy to muddy gray in color.

Ginamos – Bagoong at Market. Photo Courtesy of Tsubibo

It does not get better once you open up the container, when the smell of fermented, decaying fish wafts out.  I swear the stinkier the variety,  the more my Mom lights up at how good it will be with her fresh steamed rice.  Many Filipinos also like to eat ginamos with bananas and sweet potatoes.

When walking through local markets where ginamos is sold, I have to hold my breath —and walk as fast as I can—for fear I may pass out from the smell…and I grew up familiar with this unique aroma.  So I can only imagine how those —whose olfactory senses are “new” to the odor would react to the smell because….it truly is a special kind of stinky.

So for this trip back,  Mom must have thought the ginamos batch was worth taking to the U.S., and brought back not just one, but several jars of it.  Unfortunately, Mom was not mindful of how to properly pack ginamos for a 7,000+ mile journey.

At the San Francisco International Airport’s baggage claim, I waited next to Mom and other tired passengers for her luggage.  At the same time, I noticed the area emitted a familiar fishy smell (familiar that is, to many Filipinos), and noticed too, others wrinkling their noses.

As you can guess, indeed, one of my Mom’s treasured jars of ginamos had shattered.  I was worried she would never get the odor off her clothes, and thought, oh well that luggage bag is history!  And then I thought..uh oh…..the poor folks who may have to smell that special stinky —maybe for weeks— around the luggage carousel.

For Mom though, she was more upset that she had lost a jar of her ginamos, especially after traveling so far.  After all, you can replace clothes and luggage, but you cannot buy that special gnamos just anywhere in San Francisco!

Enjoy your ginamos and bananas! Photo Courtesy of Karlhans.

Related: Lola Jane’s Filipino food posts:

Vegetarian Fish Sauce?

In the same store noted in yesterday’s post about the “ethnic food aisle”, I saw this product I had not seen before.

For those of you not familiar with fish sauce, it is an often used condiment in cuisines of –as far as I know– Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian countries.

I did not know there was a vegetarian version.  Vegetarian fish sauce sounds rather funny to me, because it does not have the usual ingredients of well, you know, FISH, or fermented fish extracts.

In the Philippines fish sauce is called “patis”.  A popular brand is Rufina, which list ingredients as Fish Extract (assorted blend of scads, herrings, sardines, mackarels), water and salt, and less than 1/10th of 1% of benzoate of soda as a preservative.

It has a strong, very pungent, fishy odor which can be off-putting to some people, like “Opa” (Grandpa), who grew up in Indiana and never smelled fish sauce until he met Lola Jane. Oh, and to clarify that, not that I smell (or used to smell) like fish sauce, hah!  And not that there is anything wrong with smelling like fish sauce if you happen to adore that sort of scent on people.

And lucky for him we are never without fish sauce, for I always keep an extra bottle as back up.  And, I don’t tell him (though I suspect by now he knows or will after he reads this) that it is my secret ingredient in the tasty soups and stews I make.

Fish sauce is also delicious mixed with vinegar and spices for dressings and dipping sauces.  Just a tiny bit is needed.

And well…as far as the vegetarian fish sauce, I passed, and I think I will stick to my regular fish sauce with actual FISH in the ingredients for now…Though next time, I will check out the vegetarian fish sauce ingredients.

Do you use fish sauce?  Love it or hate it?

Related post:

The Ethnic Food Aisle

I was at an Asian store in San Jose shopping for what else, Asian food, and noticed this aisle sign.

Ethnic Food Isle in an Ethnic StoreHey…am I not IN an Ethnic store technically?  I thought it was odd that the store would have this particular aisle sign.  I have been to my share of Asian stores and had never seen an aisle sign like this, so I could not wait to check out the shelves…maybe American food?

I laughed when I saw it was food from the Philippines.  OK, maybe because the store was in an area with many Vietnamese stores…but still, Vietnam and the Philippines are neighbors geographically (Vietnam is the closest country to the Philippines across the South China Sea), so I am wondering why Filipino food ended up in the Ethnic aisle, since they do share the term “Asian” right?

NOTE – I received a text from a reader with the following technical points from their point of view:

  1. The Philippines is also near Guam, Palau and Micronesia, so some may argue about the Philippines’ “asian-ness”,  being historically Malay-Polynesian.
  2. Just because a line is drawn including the Philippines as an East Asian country, would have to argue that it may not be 100% true.

Any Comments?