Being colonized by Spanish priests put more emphasis on otherworldly bliss rather than good old-fashioned worldly bliss, like cooking. However, the Spanish did chocolate well, and, in the end, isn’t that all that matters? One might think that hot chocolate would not be desirable in a tropical country, but it was not always served steaming hot. And for several months, the weather in the islands can be downright cool—okay, “coolish” to New Englanders. And, okay, only in the mornings, but this is when tsokolate is served. Chocolate in the mornings? Sign me up!
Making it in the early 1900s went like this. First, you had to be sure your lechera (milkmaid) had come and filled the earthen jar in your kitchen. She probably did that in the wee hours of the morning, so you’re good. Grab your chocolatera—the brew pot, maybe made of blue enameled metal—and add milk, a chocolate tablea or two (sold in tiny cacao hockey pucks or even handmade balls with ground cashew nut), sugar, and sometimes egg white. The trick is that you cannot just let it burn on the range. You must constantly mix and beat it with your batidor, the wooden implement in the picture above. You swirl the batidor between your palms and it smooths and froths as you cook. The result is thicker and less sweet than American hot chocolate, but it is more true to the Mesoamerican drink the Spanish adopted. Check out this site for great action photos!
This term was originally posted on Facebook on New Year’s—appropriate since had you been in the Philippines with your vodka and tonic, you might have spritzed it up with one of these. The calamansi, or kalamansi, is called a lime, but many people compare the taste more to a lemon—or, as I’ve read recently, to a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. I’ll have to think about that one. The calamansi does have a unique flavor—deliciousness—which spices up everything from noodles to fish to cocktails. It is quite sour, but there is nothing more refreshing that a calamansi juice on a hot day. Mix in a lot of water and at least some sugar!
What do you do if you need windows—lots of them—but your country also happens to be in the Ring of Fire and therefore prone to earthquakes? Use oyster shells instead of glass, of course! The Placuna placenta is a mollusk found throughout Asia, particularly in mangrove swamps. You can see almost anything made of capiz, or kapis, in the Philippines, but best use has always been the large wooden windows found on traditional houses and buildings. The key is to keep the windows closed during the daytime, keeping the sun out, and then open them wide at night to draw in the evening breezes.
Since we’re on the subject of transportation, we cannot forget the casco—or, as the Americans dubbed them, “lighters.” These were the workhorses of Manila. Until 1908 there was no port where ships could dock directly on shore, so cascos were sent out to meet them in the bay. All foreigners, therefore, had their first glimpse of Manila aboard a casco. They would pass Fort Santiago, enter the mouth of the Pasig River, and dock on the north bank, next to the warehouses of Binondo. A casco pilot often lived in his boat, along with his wife, children, and of course fighting cocks. As a person who raises chickens, I can say that had to smell lovely. Poor family.
The calesa, or kalesa, is a two-wheeled carriage drawn by a single horse. It has one or two benches, plus a small seat for the driver (typically up front). Introduced in the 18th century by the Spanish, the calesa was a fashionable and popular mode of transportation in Philippine cities before the automobile. Wealthy people owned their own (and hired their own cochero, or driver) and others rented them for the day or a single ride, like taxis. The going rate in 1908 was 40 centavos for the first hour, and 30 for each additional hour. Tourist calesas can still be seen and ridden in Intramuros (Manila) or Vigan today, but don’t try to offer 40 centavos! Rates start at about 250 pesos, last I heard.
Featured image copyright Stephen Wallace, all rights reserved. Used with permission.