Stylist Noel Manapat explores his Pampanga culinary heritage.
CJ Reyes (@just.khoro)
Stylist Noel Manapat brings Pampanga’s culinary gems to your table
CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau (The Philippine Star) - July 9, 2020 - 12:00am

During lockdown, Noel Manapat found himself missing Pampanga food. The top stylist, who works with fashion brands like Bench, grew up in Candaba, Pampanga, eating Kapampangan delicacies like tamales, embotido and pindang babi, lovingly prepared and served by his grandmothers, Carmen and Consorcia, who raised him.

Carmen and Consorcia were actually sisters. Carmen, born in 1920, ran the town cantina in Candaba and had done so since the 1940s. “Her humble cantina gathered all kinds of townsfolk into one eating community, from mayors to fishermen,” Noel recalls.

Consorcia, born in 1922, was a home cook with 10 children and many grandchildren, including Noel. “She made everything from scratch, from the cured salted pork that she air-dried and sliced to flavor the nilagang manoc; the taba ng talangka, which was made by individually pressing each shore crab on heavy stoneware; to the tedious grounding and toasting of rice and peanuts to make tamales. For me, both Carmen and Consorcia represented well the Kapampangans who cook from tradition, with locally sourced ingredients, for people they love.”

Sisters Carmen and Consorcia are the quintessential self-taught entrepreneur and tradition-bred home cook of Pampanga. Artwork by Eggs Valido Bautista

Noel enjoyed “favorite grandchild” status with Carmen, or Apung Mameng, as he called her. “During summer breaks, I would fetch her with Dada (my own favorite aunt Mignon) from her cantina to close it for the night. In return, she would cook for me things not on her menu, like lagat paro (fresh river shrimps sautéed with kamias), grilled meats marinated in calamansi and patis, the tastiest crispy lechon kawali, and belutac sausages that I can no longer find anywhere in Pampanga now.”

Meanwhile, Consorcia (known as Imang Conching) fed her family and guests home-cooked meals at a long communal table in her house that was big enough to accommodate her ever-growing number of grandchildren, visiting relatives and townsfolk.

“That same table — very clear in my memories — is where kakanins like kalame lansong, pisalubong, and sampelot would be poured, freshly cooked, on bilao after bilao, where I would help roll dayap (local lime) to flavor the milk in polvorons, where we would pick a peanut, slivers of chicken, and a slice of egg to finish the tamales before steaming,” Noel relates.

Fast-forward to lockdown, and Noel was craving these very same comfort foods his grandmothers would spend entire days cooking. “I thought there was an opportunity to make Carmen & Consorcia, an online platform to gather all the food we grew up with in the province and make them available in Metro Manila,” he muses.

Pindang Babi is preserved pork done in the traditional way of preserving meats.

He calls Carmen & Consorcia “a community kitchen” because it’s a collective of home cooks, small farms, and artisanal producers from different towns in Pampanga. Noel discovered his suppliers by exploring one town at a time over several weeks, talking to makers online, ordering and taste testing from his home, and then visiting to see how things were made, “of course from the mandated physical distance and conditions.”

“Pampanga is a huge province, so I have been concentrating on certain localities, as it is difficult to consolidate all products from different sources.”

Relatives run some of the small farms he works with (“Everyone is [related] in the province!”), and are second- or third-generation farmers. “One has a backyard-size lot for organically grown eggplants, which they used to give us for free. Now I pay for them, although they still insist on giving me extra!” Others he discovered through food gifts from aunts, friends and relatives who willingly shared their secret sources with him, like C&C’s makers of burong Candaba and tamales.

Each Candaba longganisa is handmade from a 70-year-old recipe.

“We label each product ‘Made in Pampanga’ because we take pride in the culinary traditions of the province,” he says. “They provide us with some comforting memories and deliciousness.”

Carmen & Consorcia offers Burong Candaba from his grandmothers’ hometown — cooked rice and the freshest fish fermented with salt that’s so intensely flavored and briny it’s best appreciated against the bland canvas of steamed vegetables. “The fish is gutted and washed repeatedly until very, very clean,” Noel notes. “The cleanliness of the fish is an essential first step that would affect the final taste of this sawsawan (sauce).”

Another of the region’s culinary traditions is pindang babi, tocino-thin slices of pork that Noel recommends boiling in water until fork-tender and then pan-frying. “This has a long history in food preservation,” he notes. “Some stories trace its precursor to burong babi, or pork fermented with salt and rice in vats and, depending on which researcher you refer to, its evolution or influence on either tapa or tocino. The tradition of preserving meat pindang babi-style is alive in Candaba.”

C&C’s pindang babi comes from Apung Selang, who’s been providing meat to Noel’s grandparents since the ’50s. “Luckily, her daughter has kept her recipe.”

Organic options: Ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat comfort foods for more health-conscious customers

If you order just one thing from Carmen & Consorcia, make it Pampanga longganisa, which I find unparalleled in our archipelago. They have four different kinds in different sizes, from smoked to garlic to Macao to Candaba, but they’re all soft, the perfect balance between savory/sweet and moist on the inside, boasting just the right proportion of lean meat to fat and when caramelized in the pan are just heavenly. You’ll be eating longga not just for breakfast but lunch and dinner, too.

“Longganisang Candaba is not the typical Pampanga longganisa that most people know,” notes Noel. “It has a more natural meat flavor, with a hint of sweetness, a bit of sourness, and a whiff of garlic. It is not sugary and does not leave an overpowering garlic aftertaste. We have tweaked the recipe a bit, mostly to lessen the fat content — a difficult thing to request in a heritage where lard is life.”

Today, looking back, Noel can’t imagine how his lolas Carmen and Consorcia made everything from scratch — from soup to dessert, from breakfast to supper and meriendas in between. “I am filled with love, sad that they’re gone, but happy I get to relive their memories through food and share it with everyone,” he says. “In the future, we plan to do Sunday pop-ups within our community in Quezon City to offer fresh vegetables and hot dishes that may not travel well with the usual delivery conditions.”

He’s also excited to bring local ready-to-eat dishes, like bringhe (local paella made with glutinous rice and simmered with coconut milk), asadong matua (old-style asado pork or chicken), and estofadong pata (stewed pork hocks) to our tables.

“In my post-COVID dreams, I would like Carmen & Consorcia to have a neighborhood shop where neighbors can gather in the morning for a cup of turmeric brew and in the afternoon for a cold glass of a fresh fruit drink like santol juice to pick up their orders,” he says. “I miss seeing both familiar and new faces, and I am hoping that a community kitchen can serve as a meeting point to bring people back together.”

Pampanga’s intense flavors: Burong Candaba

* * *

You can order from Carmen & Consorcia Community Kitchen by contacting (0961) 539-2734 and through their Facebook page (carmen&consorcia) and Instagram account (@carmenandconsorcia).

Follow the author on Instagram @theresejamoragarceau and Facebook (Therese Jamora-Garceau).

A farm in Pampanga supplies C&C’s organic chicken, duck and salted eggs.
Made in Pampanga: A longganisa spread of Macao, smoked, garlic and artisanal Candaba varieties

 

NOEL MANAPAT
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