A Filip-Irish dessert: not quite a shamrock . . .
I am not Irish. Not even close. Oh sure, I can try invoking heritage through matrimony: my mother-in-law's lineage traces through a grandmother who emigrated from County Clare at the turn of the century. But the undeniable truth is that I was born in the Philippines to fully Filipino parents whose gene pool holds plenty of Lopezes, Villasters and Valeros but nary a Murphy, O'Sullivan or Kelly. Tagalog, yes; Gaelic, no.
I possess not a single iota of Eire and yet, like millions of other non-Irish people in America on this day, I am celebrating St. Patrick's Day as if to the Irish manner born, complete with wearing of the green and pouring of the Guinness. While science may belie any genetic connection I claim to Erin, it can not deny me the wondrously peculiar affinity I have for Ireland.
When Mr. Noodle and I travelled to that fair isle in late spring of 2007, the 10 days we spent driving from Dublin to Killarney and back seemed almost like a homecoming. I felt so comfortable in my own skin - that is, without any of the anxiety that accompanies being a stranger in unfamiliar surroundings and among new people. Instead, I basked in the same sense of naturalness as when I visit my sister's home in California or during our recent trip to the Philippines: I knew that, somehow, I belonged.
Flowers on a Skerries beach
Some people may explain it away by saying that Ireland's economic success in the past decade has made its cities, particularly Dublin, as cosmopolitan and multicultural as any international urban center, and that its participation in the global marketplace has made access to familiar material goods and service as easy as it is in the US. But I didn't feel this rapport only as I strolled down and around Grafton Street among well-known American and European retailers and food purveyors.
A Kilkenny street
I felt it when I peered through the window of the local butcher shop in Kilkenny to marvel at the fresh cuts and sausages; when I stepped into the silversmith's workshop in Kinsale to admire the beautiful work of its friendly proprietor; and when we tucked into delicious seafood at Stoop Your Head in Skerries. And it hummed through me like the sweetest musical note at Gleninchaquin Park near Kenmare as Mr. Noodle and I gingerly tiptoed up a steep hillside generously mined with sheep poo, before reaching the top of a magnificent waterfall and gazing upon a verdant valley dotted with those same thoughtful sheep. How to convey the utter beauty in words? I simply can't. Capturing it in photographs was nearly as impossible but hopefully these offer a glimpse.
Gleninchaquin Falls through trees
Gleninchaquin vale - trust me, those poopin' sheep are there!
Skeptics among you may say that anyone who has ever enjoyed a vacation in any part of the world can claim such a connection and see themselves throwing off the drudgery of everyday life for a perpetual holiday. But I honestly think there's something primal at work, as if the Irish and Filipinos share some cosmic bond that make us closer than the 7000 miles (as the crow flies) between our island nations. So, to start connecting the dots, I've compiled this list of commonalities between the Philippines and Ireland.
Separated at Birth?
Five Things Shared by the Irish and Filipinos
(Many thanks to Brenda at Aesthetic Dalliances, whose own wondrous lists inspired this one!)
1. Beer. What else could possibly be number one? Although they are distinctly different drinks, Ireland's dry stout Guinness and the Philippines' San Miguel Pale Pilsen are both humble home brews that have become iconic brands regionally and globally, and are now conglomerates encompassing other spirits such as whiskies, tequila, vodka and gin (Ginebra San Miguel is considered the world's best-selling gin, although most of it is consumed by Filipinos). Whether it's Guinness and oysters or San Miguel and sisig, Filipinos and Irish know that everything tastes better with a pint.
Coconut: the Philippine Potato
2. The Ubiquitous Foodstuff. The preponderance of potatoes* in Ireland is exceeded only by the copiousness of coconuts in the Philippines. According to Central Statistics Office Ireland, potato yields in 2007 equalled 220 lbs of spuds per Irish citizen while every Filipino could expect 330 lbs of coconuts, based on 2005 yields per the Philippine Coconut Authority. (These numbers are probably closer minus the weight of the latter's shells.) As a result, potatoes and coconuts enjoy prominence in their respective national cuisines with the tuber standing on its own in such dishes as Colcannon or as an integral part of others, such as Irish stew, while the big brown nut is used in both savory dishes such as ginataangs (method of cooking using coconut milk) and most desserts. If you haven't had a potato during an Irish meal or some coconut in a Filipino one, then I don't know what cuisines you're eating.
*For more on the great potato, visit the awesome Daily Spud, winner of the 2009 Irish Blog Awards' Best Food/Drink Blog!
3. Religion. Although there is some debate about growing secularism or conversion to other faiths, Ireland remains a pre-dominantly Catholic country with nearly 87% of the population baptized as such. Similarly, the Philippines is still very much a Catholic nation but is also dealing with comparable issues as Islam and other Christian denominations attract more adherents. Nevertheless, with 80% of the population as followers, the Church of Rome still holds strong sway among Filipinos. On a lighter note, this means that both cultures feature a whole host of saints' feast days - like St. Patrick's! - that calls for festivity and celebration, naturally centered around food and drink. Amen to that!
4. Driving. This is strictly a personal, Tangled observation: driving in either of these countries requires a stout heart, a firm grip and really good car insurance. We agreed during our Ireland trip that Mr. Noodle, being the better navigator, would handle the map while I drove. For the next 10 days, dear husband sat trapped in terror on the passenger side as I careened through the impossibly narrow paths that pass for Irish back roads, with impenetrable hedges on one side and oncoming traffic on the other. It was no better on more well-traveled routes: driving the Ring of Kerry in our little rental was a constant game of chicken with tour bus drivers who couldn't care less if we were scraped up against the cliff walls or launched over the cliffside. At least there are road rules in Ireland - in the Philippines, and specifically Manila, it is anybody's game. Traffic signals and signs are merely suggestions, and regardless of painted dividers, the number of driving lanes depends only on how many cars can squeeze abreast without actually touching. But I'd rather be in a car than on foot: pedestrians crossing the street deserve combat pay and an award for valor. After these experiences, damn straight I want a Guinness or San Mig.
5. Gems of the World. Last but never least, the natural beauty and incredible hospitality to be found in Ireland and the Philippines have earned them jeweled monikers - the Emerald Isle and the Pearl of the Orient Seas. For those of us who have been to both lands, no further explanation is needed; for those of you who have yet to experience them, I'll leave you to discover the treasures behind these names.
Although my experiences and connection with all things Irish are miniscule compared to that of my birthplace and fellow Pinoys, I consider them just as precious. So, in honor of the lovely nation in the North Atlantic, in whose patron saint's name we celebrate today, I offer this sweet dessert that bears hallmarks of both cultures - coconuts and the color green - for a truly Filip-Irish treat.
Erin go bragh and Mabuhay! [Ireland forever and long live!]
This dish is as simple as its name, consisting of strips of buko, the soft, custard-y meat of a young coconut, and gelatin cubes flavored with pandan, a slightly floral essence extracted from screwpine leaves (Pandanus amaryllifolius) and used widely in Southeast Asian cooking (Food Lovers' Companion, 614). Folded into a mixture of whipped cream, coconut cream and sweetened condensed milk, buko pandan can be chilled to an ice-cream consistency that's both rich and refreshing.
1 pkg Pandan gelatin mix (also referred to as 'pudding' and found in many Asian groceries)
1 cup buko, cut into strips*
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup coconut cream**, chilled
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
*Frozen buko may also be used. For this recipe, I couldn't find buko so I used freshly grated coconut instead.
**Coconut cream and coconut milk are NOT the same! The cream is much thicker due to less water content and it should be as available as the milk. It makes a huge difference with the texture of this dessert so it's worth looking for.
1. Prepare gelatin/pudding as directed;
2. While gelatin is setting, combine heavy cream and coconut cream and whip until stiff peaks form;
3. Gently fold sweetened condensed milk into whipped cream until just mixed;
4. When gelatin is firmly set, cut into bite-sized cubes (or size as desired) and place into a bowl with the buko strips;
5. Add sweetened whipped cream, folding mixture gently until all pieces of buko and gelatin are well-coated;
6. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. This will yield a soft, creamy sauce. For a more ice cream-like consistency, place in the freezer for an hour before serving.