It’s hard to believe that a year has passed. This time last year, we flew back to the Philippines where our Quirino family came together in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, a UNESCO World Heritage City to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of Elpidio Quirino, 6th President of the Philippines (1948-1953). The visit back to my husband’s family roots in Vigan was a joyous event. Not only did we get together with relatives we had not seen for years, it gave us a close look, taste and feel of Ilocano cuisine.
These thoughts about Ilocano food inspired me to cook Pork Kilawin, a simple dish of pork cubes, pork liver cooked in the robust flavors of vinegar, garlic and onions. There are many versions of ‘kilawin’ depending on the regions and provinces around the Philippines. As in previous posts I have mentioned, local dishes in the Philippines are created from ingredients and produce grown around one’s backyard or environment.
Kilawin , in Pilipino, comes from the word “kilaw” which is a process of preparing food, a manner of cooking—not in fire but in vinegar or some other souring agent that transforms food “from the raw to the non raw”, explained Doreen G. Fernandez and Edilberto N. Alegre in Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness, quoted Chef Heny Sison in her cookbook ‘Naimas’.
The original Ilocano Kilawen or Dinakdakan contains pork that is raw then boiled and sits in the mixture of vinegar, salt, seasonings and chilies till the meat “cooks” in the acidity, similar to the Spanish ceviche with seafood. The use of liver and innards in this dish is characteristic of the Ilocano frugal ways of not letting anything go to waste.
In contrast, here in my American kitchen, my version of pork kilawin is different because I sautéed the meat thoroughly. I did not have the rich, dark Ilocano vinegar found in Ilocos which has a nearly balsamic texture. Instead I used cider vinegar, organic garlic and onions which when put together in the saucepan emitted a garlicky, tangy aroma around the house that did not go unnoticed by my family. And typical of all dishes cooked in garlic and vinegar, this pork kilawin tasted better even days after, especially served on a bed of steaming white jasmine rice.
Last year’s events to commemorate one of the best Philippine presidents this generation has seen was important for our family. To celebrate the event, my husband, Elpidio and I together with our sons, Constante and Tim created a book to honor President Quirino. And from a young man’s viewpoint, my son Constante wrote an insightful essay “Quirino At 125: A Statesman and Survivor” (on Positively Filipino) where he pieced together historical events and milestones during the president’s term and how the Quirino legacy lives on to this day. I am proud to say that my son’s essay gained much attention among Filipinos worldwide and was the recipient of a Plaridel Writing Award, Finalist, for Best in Filipino-American Journalism, given by the Philippine-American Press Club in San Francisco, CA last October.
As my family enjoys Pork Kilawin, a simple dish with strong flavors at dinner tonight, we look back to last year’s events in Vigan, to today’s celebration of the 126th birth anniversary of Lolo Elpidio. And with anxiety in our hearts over the turmoil of global events, we look to our world leaders today with much expectation, hoping they can keep raising the bar of excellence and leadership for the sake of our children and the generations to come.