Friday, June 02, 2006

Nanay's Lumo

Certain tastes are shaped by traditions, flavored by affection, and seasoned by the many textures and savors of experience. This is why of all the possible gustatory delights that crowd my memory one dish that stands out from memory: my Nanay’s lumo.

I grew up in a sleepy town tucked along the fringes of the Leyte Gulf where it was customary for families to fatten their own pigs as "haray," waray term to mean offering for a special occasion. The term is similar but not quite the same as the Tagalog "alay." A "haray" was a fattened pig, necessarily sacrificed at the altar of some patron saint, but was more of a promised feast for all. Thus, my parents always made sure there was a pig or two being fattened months in advance for upcoming occasions. A common comment among the townspeople was that an "occasion" was definitely pushing through when the peace and quiet of the neighborhood would suddenly be pierced by the ear-shattering squealing of "haray" being slaughtered one after the other.
In our town, and in our family, there are rituals and traditions associated with practically everything including the slaughtering of a haray.

First, they boil water for scalding the pig’s skin so that it would be easier to shave off. Water for this purpose was always boiled in a big kawa right at the backyard in full view of everyone. The kawa would be held upright by three hollow blocks (or large stones) arranged strategically as a sug-angan, the local term for a makeshift stove.

Then they prepared the pig for slaughtering. This was the part I dreaded the most when I was growing up as it involved the very grisly details of hogtying the pig, positioning it across a bench, and setting it firmly in place by having someone lean heavily on it (I was tasked to do this a number of times). As they cut the pig’s throat with a sharp knife and let the pig’s blood drip into a bowl where salt, rice and some condiments and herbs have already been added beforehand, I remembered always looking away at this point although the mass of quivering flesh and gasping for breath could not negate the reality of the experience.

The dead pig would be dunked into the boiling kawa for a few seconds and then the shaving would commence. If the pig was too big, then a makeshift tabo made of a discarded milk tin can attached to a bamboo stick was used and the big was bathed with the boiling water ladled out one after the other.

But the best part of the whole process was the first dish produced by the haray. This was Nanay’s Lumo – a delightful dish redolent with the aroma and taste of a mother’s love. As far back as I can remember, this dish was always ready even before the whole slaughtering process was completed. As the pig was being cleaned, a slab from the haray’s pigue would be sliced off along with a small portion of the liver to be brought directly to the kitchen for Nanay to work wonders on. As if right on cue, by the time the haray was finally chopped off into its main meat parts – legs, head, liempo, ribs, etc., and hung from the ceiling to dry, everyone who helped in the slaughtering process would be called to the dining table to partake of the lumo almost as reward for the hard labor.

Lumo was a dish eaten piping hot. Regardless of the hour, it was always eaten with bahaw, left over rice. Perhaps because noodles lose their taste when soaked for a long time in broth, or perhaps because there were more sophisticated dishes like hamonado and mechado to choose from afterwards, left-over lumo never tasted the same way. Thus, Nanay only prepared just enough lumo regardless of the occasion.

Lumo is actually a simple dish. It is essentially pork sauted with noodles. Nanay most often used bihon, although I remember a few times when she used misua noodles instead. I personally prefer the hard consistency of the bihon over the mushy texture of the misua.
This is how I remember Nanay’s recipe. She would broil the pork directly on hot coils, not really to cook the meat, but to seal the flavors by singeing the skin and the exposed parts of the meat. Then the half cooked meat would be sliced into half inch strips ready for sauteing.

On a skillet, Nanay would saute cloves of garlic until they were black and burned. And then she would add onions and then the half-cooked pork. To this she would add broth and then the noodles. I have tried to repeat this procedures many times, but sadly, what I come up with never ever taste just as good as Nanay’s lumo. This convinces me further that taste is truly an acquired thing.

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