Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pancit Molo Chicken Soup for the Balikbayan Soul

We arrived yesterday in Manila after almost twenty hours of travel. One of the first things I wanted to do as soon as I got over my jet lag is to shop for local produce and to make meals for my husband/travel companion and for Dad. At the kitchen in our home in San Mateo, Rizal I reacquaint myself with the cooking techniques of the Philippines. While preparing breakfast this morning I had my first lesson. Thinking the gas stove was like my own in San Francisco, I absentmindedly lit a match that sent a blanket of flame to briefly cover the entire stove top. My Dad grabbed the matches out of my hands and reprimanded me with a chuckle. “You have to light the match immediately after you turn on the gas. You cannot leave the stove on even for a few seconds longer than necessary.”
With a newfound respect for the kitchen ways I now prepare the broth for pancit molo soup, primarily to aid in restoring my husband’s health. He has been running a temperature since we landed in the Manila from Hong Kong, but I believe he has been fighting this fever even in San Francisco. I am relying on the old and proven powers of the chicken noodle soup to make it all better. I tell him that he has been running himself ragged with work and other obligations, and to not fight being sick anymore. Sometimes it is the body’s way to ask us to slow down. I tell him to not feel any guilt or worry that we are spending more time at home and not beginning our trek up north to Alaminos and Baguio as originally planned. . We will spend as much time at home for him to get better and acclimate himself to the weather and nuances of life in the Philippines.
I too need to acclimate and reorient myself to the sights, smells and sounds of Metro Manila and the neighboring rural town of Rizal. The kitchen itself is like a new baranggay to explore, with its own set of rules and nuances. Salt is coarse and due to the humidity, has a tendency to liquefy. Olive oil has a different flavor also because of the climate, less round and fruity but not altogether unpleasant. It is better to cook with the native virgin coconut oil or canola oil that holds up better in the tropical climate. The knives are thin, not as sharp as the ones I have back home in San Francisco. The pots are blackened from the butane gas stove flame that has a life of its own. The yellow flickering tongues lick the sides of the pot, curling around almost to the rim. I turn down the flames into a more subdued ring of blue, trembling beneath the soup broth but still very much alive. 
I write this in the newly built lanai where my husband rests on thin slats of the bamboo bed. The late afternoon sun smudges amber against the walls, lighting the capiz shell squares of the window/door that separates the lanai from the study, and they glow like pearls lit from within. I am keeping strong and in high spirits for my husband who cannot help but feel a little upset about slowing down our itinerary. I want to reach into him and pull out whatever it is that is making him sick. Early morning still jet lagged I woke up at 4am and gave him a healing massage, the kind that Mom has learned from her baglan research. I knead and pull with intention, and end the massage by sweeping my hands across his body to grab any toxic energy and casting these out, literally making movements to throw away the sickness, then clapping and snapping over him to clear the energy. Afterwards I sang Joey Ayala songs and rocked him back to sleep. Then I got up at around six am and did yoga in the front yard underneath the rambutan tree.
This evening I hope to cure him from the inside with soup that originates from Iloilo, where my father’s family and his Mom is originally from. La Paz where Lola lives and where we will go as soon as he gets better is adjacent to the town of Molo. The ubiquitous pancit Molo is derivative of the wonton noodle soup of the early Chinese traders who settled in the port town. It has been indigenized with the addition of fish sauce, crushed shrimp heads that lend a pink hue to the soup and other Filipino tweaks to the original recipes. My Mom has added her own flavors by the beginning with a very good French style broth from a whole chicken and root vegetables, the pot left uncovered and the broth not allowed to boil beyond a soft rolling simmer, the muck skimmed every so often then the entire soup strained. Then soft vegetables are mashed for its essence then discarded, producing a clean, golden hued pure broth. To this I will add the pancit molo from the town of Molo that Dad has in his freezer. Usually I make the molo from scratch, but in this case I will experiment with an already made product. Then I will also fry up some garlic for garnish. In the same pan I will sauté small diced carrots, celery and onions. The whole chicken I will shred before adding it back to the soup along with the sautéed vegetables. To serve I will garnish individual bowls with fried garlic and chopped scallions.

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