The ampao, bocarillo, chicharron, inasal – these foodstuffs now lord over all the rest that the town also produces, except maybe its shoes.
The French, universally recognized for their meticulous regard for the elements of cuisine (see, even a French word), in the field of baking, even separated bread- from pastry-making as specializations, and had different terms for both — boulangerie and pâtisserie.
Carcar does not go so far as to claim such compartmentalization and so, let’s pay tribute to the master bakers of our town instead: the bakery most famous for the variety of bread and pastries was that of Inday Epang (Josefa Noel-Lakandazon). She and her husband, Brigido (Maestro Bindoy), had no children of their own, but it’s a glorious heritage that her family or some other should take up the slack of—pastel de leche, hojaldres, bizcocho, the all-time favorite pan initlogan (egg bread), etc. — Spanish-named, meaning these were not American-period dough-mixing. In that long-ago time, across the small street from Inday Epang’s was Inday Ipyon’s (Concepcion Alcoseba-Sandiego) bakery,too.
Grandnephew Alan Noel tried to revive the bakery in Inday Epang’s house itself but the enterprise could not wait long enough for word of the bakery’s re-launching to snowball. Dulce Alerre-Escobido is trying it on at present as a home industry.
Romana Alpis-Ybañez, Omag, in her home in Cogon, was the most famous torta-baker for a long time. Maxima (Imac) Canasa-Rayla, in Sta. Catalina st. meanwhile, did the most sought-after polvoron.
The histories and recipes of these delicacies are certainly worth preserving.
As a grader at St. Catherine’s my daily recess fare was 5- or was it two for 5-centavo ensaimadas chased downed by water at the drinking fountain. I wonder who baked those ensaimadas—were they Carcar-made? After class, we went straight to the vendors outside the school to try out the tira-tira, coconut candy and the rice or taro mash with peanut filling, the masi (much like the Japanese mochi).
But Carcar’s fiesta menu is something else: fresh lumpia, empanada (called pastelitos in Carcar), torta, humba, jamonada, dugo-dugo, barbacoa, tripillas, adobo (especially the face and jaw), chicken estofado, caldereta (de cabra) —the names, all either native, Chinese, Spanish or American, is a Philippine history lesson–we all pine for this cuisine when we’re far from Carcar. Carcar made a chicken stew with eggs, a little Mallorca liqueur, later substituted by some with 7-Up, ginger (if you like), onions, garlic. We call it perdiz, but since perdiz means partridge, so the chicken itself may have been a fowl substitute, I mean, a substitute fowl thought of by our resourceful cooks of old. I did not see this dish in other towns in my fiesta-going days. Our salsado chicken was the best I swore until I tasted in Manila something like it but laced with a bit of wine and slices of Bilbao and Hungarian sausages mixed with the obligatory potatoes and carrots, plus green and red bell pepper not only for the taste but for the appearance—wow! Remember you heard that first here. Carcar also led in beef jerky we call casajos, a term we obviously murdered from the Spanish tasajos. I learned we also now do it with carabao beef.
Meanwhile, other towns had to content themselves with bragging rights as to who could import Carcar cooks for their own fiestas–that’s how sought-after was Carcar cuisine and culinary talents.
My grandmother, Dolores Rodecindo de Veyra-Aleonar, was a master at extended family-sized feasts. Guests at our table still swear to this day at her versions of the fresh lumpia, pastelitos (empanada), the pastries and suspiros (but actually caramelized peanut brittle) and a crunchy bite-size dough mix she called gorgorias. She preserved paho (small mango) and jars of it lined up the dining room cabinet. But to us, the most-loved by her own family was the chorizo filling that she did not put into skins, just fried it. Mama Loleng also did an out-of-this-world linarang nga baó (turtle): opened up the shell, chopped the meat to smaller than chicken-size cuts, Chinese fermented black beans, tamarind leaves, ginger. The turtle liver is the best liver in the world.
Pancit is everyday fare but for special occasions we raise our standards and call on a special pancit, the bam-i. That would be bâ-mi in Chinese, or meat and noodle. For meat, our bam-i uses chicken and pork strips and and mix canton or fresh noodles with sotanghon. If having two kinds of noodles alone does not make the dish extra special, what with the shrimps and dried mushrooms and bukni also thrown in?
In Cebu City markets, hawkers call all their pusô as Carcar pusô because buyers specify them.
And while we’re at this recalling mode: what was the difference between achal and achara, morcon and embutido, dinuldog and binignit, chorizo and longaniza? We once called a dish menudo, and then it became ginamay, and now it’s called everywhere in the town as inatayan. But it had always had liver in it.
A note on chicharron: In Cebu, it was the volume of Carcar’s market that ensured the adequate supply of pork rinds for our makers, which volume other towns did not have and thus could never compete with. Even so, for a long time, the chicharron makers were meat dealers themselves as only they had the supply of rinds to begin with. But for some years now, imported pork skin cuts have inundated the Philippines and it will just be a matter of time before some place else will be able to duplicate or even improve upon our chicharron recipe, if they haven’t already. I dread thinking about some enterprising Cebu City kitchen will finally be able to whip up the same taste, and folks will no longer motor 40 kilometers just to get ours. Except if the whole population of Cebu dies out on the industry from hypertension and heart disease.
Whatever the commercial fate of chicharron, our makers can always make a healthy (?) profit from the by-product pork oil which is always in demand by bakeries.
Anyway, the market will, in time, dictate how these commercial foodstuffs will ultimately fare. Although the demand does not appear to be waning for now, but to ensure its continued good graces, Carcar should exercise strict quality control measures. We must be able to convince our buyers that they are buying vouched quality when they buy Carcar.