heart finds, soul food
It’s been so long since wonder | wander | women were back on our native island. We have truly adopted and been adopted by our new homes abroad, so it’s taking us a while to relearn island living.
There’s one thing that never fails to make us feel at home. Food, of course! Ilonggo (or Hiligaynon) food is distinctive from other regions of the Philippines. Each province has its own native flavours.
What else brings back a rush of memories and emotions, of years eating our favourite meals at this table in the company of our family? Crunchy fish heads and tails, crispy garlic over rice, and simmered vegetables create the layers of flavour that erode time and distance.
Guinataang Tambo — bamboo shoots (tambo) cooked in coconut milk with okra, corn, leafy greens and seafood. The best one is with whole fatty crabs (alimango) but shrimp or prawns are good too.
Sinamak — sugarcane vinegar steeped with onions, garlic, and native chilli peppers (sili). A biting, fiery seasoning that many Ilonggos reach for at every meal, especially breakfast.
Daing — tiny fish, dried in the sun and fried crispy. There are many kinds: danggit, dilis, and even baby shrimp called kalkag (also a popular Chinese ingredient, but often steamed or simmered instead of fried).
Fish is an essential Filipino staple and no meal feels complete without it, but these little fried things with beady eyes are a specialty of the Ilonggo region. Delicious with sinamak!
Guapple pie — the enormous apple-sized green guavas grown on Negros Island are a hybrid, not native to the region, but this pie is a local specialty made only at El Ideal, a bakery near our hometown.
Which brings us to the other delight of our home island. Fruits! Tangy Indian mangoes eaten green with guinamos (known elsewhere in the Philippines as bagoong) shrimp paste.
Pomelos, locally known as kabugaw, bursting with sweet pink juice and with a few grains of rock salt to make them even sweeter.
Lakatan — small sweet bananas, a different species from the American “Lacatan” Cavendish banana. They’re sweet and firm, and we eat them alone or with guava jelly.
Native food isn’t the only thing we love to eat. A family friend invited us to lunch and fed us her famous Heinanese chicken.
Chinese food is a big part of Filipino cuisine and has been since pre-colonised times. We often eat birthday noodles, or ma tsang and other traditional dishes for Chinese New Year.
We also love to eat European food with local ingredients, like grouper (lapu-lapu in Filipino, after our national hero) baked with potatoes, onions and olives and rubbed with rosemary and calamansi.
Or capellini, known locally as “angel hair”, with clams and other seafood bought from the local markets and fished in waters no more than an hour away.
No matter our mixed feelings about our country, identity and even blood ties, we always feel most Filipino when we’re sitting at home feasting with our family.
Passing around the fish paste, vinegar, rice and other favourites, squabbling or laughing, stirring drama or sharing joy — breaking bread together.