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Pakbet or pinakbet is probably the most famous Ilocano dish. It is also one of the very first dishes that I learned to cook at age… 8 or 9? I forgot. I did overcook the vegetables a few times before Dad finally told me they don’t have to be always overdone. Well, they ate my pakbet delightfully during those times, maybe just to show some appreciation.

Below is based on my sister’s recipe though it isn’t exactly how our Ilocano dad cooks it. I already have a habit of frying the garlic before the pork which, in dad’s case, is the other way around. With the bitterness of ampalaya or bittergourd, my sister gave me an advice on how to get rid of it. Different from what dad taught us, which is to salt it for about 10 minutes. Ate instructed me not to stir once this vegetable is added to the cooking pan. She did just that when she visited us here in Beijing few months ago and proved her point. She said she got the trick from a friend who said the vegetable is a common ingredient in their household cooking.

1/4 kilo pork with fat
1 large ampalaya, sliced (I forgot how dad cuts amplaya.)
1 large eggplant or brinjal, cut about 2 inches long & in four halfway through so it opens like a flower
3 cups of squash, cut into large chunks
2 cups of yard-long beans, cut about 2in inch long
1 large tomato
2 tbsp of crushed garlic
1 onion, chopped
about 4 tablespoons bagoong or shrimp paste (fermented anchovies are also nice)
My missing ingredient: okra, I haven’t seen it here in Beijing and I miss it.

Heat the oil and saute the garlic until golden brown. Add the pork and cook until it renders fat. You may take out some of it so that the dish won’t be too oily. Then add the tomatoes & onions and cook until the tomatoes are crushed. Add the bagoong and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables except the ampalaya and saute for about a minute. Then finally add about 2 cups of water (MSG if you wish) & bring to a boil.

Add the ampalaya and continue to simmer without stirring until the vegetables are cooked. Remember not to overcook so that the vegetables remain crisp. Serve hot.

Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat. – Fran Lebowitz (American Writer and Humorist, b.1950)

(Photo update)

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I am not a professional cook. My only claim to having a culinary background is a short stint as my dad’s teen ‘sous chef’ in his carinderia ages ago. Dad ran small eateries since I was a young kid - serving standard ‘turo-turo’ food ranging from the likes of menudo, adobo, pritong isda, dinuguan, binagoongan, bopis, munggo, pinakbet and giniling to merienda fares like goto, ginataan, pancit bihon, halu-halo and saging con yelo.

My father, a farmer in his hometown before working his way to becoming an accountant, definitely influenced my cooking in a lot of ways than I thought. My siblings and I were raised in a backyard full of fruit trees and vegetable garden. We spent weekends and the summer breaks running around with ducks, chickens, goats and pigs. I had wonderful memories of gathering eggs, butchering chickens, selling vegetables and the sweet aroma of preserved fruits. But my love for art led me to a degree in Architecture. Just few months after getting my license, I went abroad and lived independently at age 23. Definitely no maid, no cook, and a totally different food culture. Along the way I met lots of friends and spent what seemed a lifetime learning new tricks and recipes.

Now living in Auckland, I am a work-from-home mum who juggles time between work, fun and family - in pursuit of work-life balance. No matter how busy I am, I love the idea of cooking for my family. My blog chronicles home cooking greatly influenced by life outside my home country from Southeast Asia to Beijing and Auckland. And most of the time, being busy also means easy (sometimes quick), affordable meals.

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