Candida’s ‘hamonado’

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
Candidaâs âhamonadoâ

On the feast day of St. Raphael the Archangel last Sept. 29, Gulod, which would have been in a frenzy on this day, pre-pandemic, was quiet. The fiesta mood was way toned down. No buntings that danced with the slightest breeze from the lake. No brass bands parading the narrow street. No peryahan that drew a crowd of children, with games and rides like the Ferris wheel.

Despite the lack of fiesta activities, my 77-year-old mother would not let the day pass without cooking her signature hamonado. It is a childhood dish for my brothers and me. Hamonado is, to this day, a symbol of plenty, especially in those days when we had almost nothing.

Nanay poured the two kilos of thoroughly washed kasim (pork shoulder), cut into bite sizes, into a big pan. There was a tug-of-war between the meat and the marbling. There was palpable excitement as my mother continued to perform magic in the kitchen. Her joy was plastered on her talcum-powdered face earlier when she began to dice, pound, mince the ingredients that would go with her hamonado.

The kitchen is her stage. She shines her best there. It is where she displays her love for her family. When she’s in the kitchen, it is a sign that all is well with her. Her age has begun to slow her down. But she’s a transformed being, almost like a super woman, when she’s in the kitchen, where she can whisk magic with a ladle as her wand. She’s sprightly, happy, in the mood. It is her rule: to be always joyful when cooking. Her impeccable smile, lips tinted with red lipistik, as she peels and minces the onions or pounds the pepper in an almires (mortar and pestle), is the not-so-secret ingredient to her every meal. As always, her kitchen stint is a solo act; she wants to be left alone. (Because I want to always learn my ways in the kitchen, I keep a comfortable distance from her every time she cooks.)

Going back to her hamonado, the kasim is joined by minced onions (three bulbs), a small pouch of tomato sauce, ¼ kilo of ground pork liver, two tablespoons of pickle relish, two teaspoons of sugar, a small can of Reno liver spread, a can of Philip’s sausage, a can of Del Monte pineapple juice, two dollops of Star Margarine. (The brands are no endorsement because, according to my mother, the signature taste of her hamonado will be different if she uses other labels.)

The final touch is the soy sauce, which she gingerly pours from a bottle to the pan to mix with all the other ingredients. No measurement. It is as if the calibration of ingredients is determined by her heart.

Candida, my mother, is a creature of habit. She does not experiment on new dishes. The hamonado of my childhood is still the same hamonado to this day. And we only got to taste that dish on two occasions when we were kids, fiesta time and Christmas, with all ingredients bought from the money my parents earned from being farmers. There were fiestas and Christmases that hamonado was not present on the table. Well-meaning neighbors wanted to lend my mother money so we would have a feast for the occasions but both my parents were reluctant borrowing money that they did not know how to pay back. To this day, my brothers and I retain that lesson. We do not spend what we do not have. And we would always have second thoughts about borrowing money if we knew in our heart we would not be able to pay off the loan.

What spaghetti was to the neighbor’s table, hamonado was to ours. Besides, Nanay did not learn to cook spaghetti. She only knew a few dishes she learned to cook on her own when her mother died when she was 20, the age she married my father. 

There was almost a ritual when she cooked her hamonado that day. She turned on the stove. The blue fire reflected in her eyes; they, too, lighted up. She adjusted the burner. Slow fire. She prepared the ingredients early because she did not want to hurry her cooking. There was music in her head as she commandeered the kitchen. Then she began to hum old ditties. More than that, there was music in her soul. That music was important to make her famed dish a hit.

She would always have a mini-dialogue with herself in the kitchen. Her soliloquy was joined by the murmur of the simmering dish. The scent of the boiling kasim with all the ingredients was a combination of promises kept and dreams fulfilled. It was also a reminder of a life not blessed with material riches but with the bounty yielded by my parents’ determined spirit. 

That day, Nanay attended to her cooking with a heart as open as the sky. When the pan was boiling, the savory scent of the dish reminded me all the more of my childhood. The anticipation, the excitement of partaking of my mother’s hamonado when I was a kid. I was reminded again of that childhood feeling that we were rich because there would be that viand on the table. Looking back, the dish served as a dream setter for me: that if I wanted to be pampered with the sweet and savory dish anytime I wanted, I should dream a dream. That if I wanted to keep the sweet aftertaste of the ground pork liver in my mouth, I should court my dreams. My mother made sure I would be a good student of life.

Nanay’s hamonado is symbolic of our life. It defines my parents’ attitude in life. It defines their grit and no-surrender stance even when life threw them a curveball. Because it was aspirational to have it on the dining table then, the dish, when served, spelled celebration. Many a joyous moment in our family was because we had that magical kitchen creation of Nanay.

Last Sept. 29, after the third time she added water to the pan, Nanay knew she was ready to serve a potion that would delight her family. She turned off the stove before the sauce became viscous. It had been two hours of incantation in our kitchen.

There would always be that silent reverence when I partook of Nanay’s hamonado. It would always remind me that though life was hard before, I was not deprived in our many days of want.

We were rich in more ways than one.

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