|Lentils and Longganisa|
Waking up just shy of noon with a woozy head and the need for a really large cup of coffee can only mean one thing: a most excellent party the night before!
In the past, Mr. Noodle and I have spent New Year's Eve by counting down to midnight with the television, then sleepily exchanging chaste kisses before climbing into bed at 12:03 a.m. But since moving to Manila two months ago, we've taken a decidedly when-in-Rome approach to celebrations, starting with the ushering of this Annus Novus in true Filipino style - loudly, boisterously and with no holds barred. By the time I fell into a blissful, cocktail-induced sleep in the first wee hours of 2011, my eyes were stinging, my ears were ringing and my body felt like the PacMan's punching bag. Caught up in a post-New Year's Eve, riot police-directed crowd dispersal? Nah. . . just a typical barangay fireworks display and our family's special brand of festivities.
From backyard 4th of July shows that light up small-town neighborhoods to the New Year's Eve spectacles illuminating night skies from Times Square in New York to Times Square in Hong Kong, fireworks are the exclamation points to myriad celebrations. But as entertaining as today's sophisticated pyrotechnics are and far removed from their earliest iteration centuries ago in China (bamboo sticks thrown into fires to pop in the heat), their original purpose remains the same - to ward off evil spirits with startling bursts of sight and sound. To this end, large metropolises from New York to Sydney employ stunning visual displays of color and light to blind any spook intent on New Year malfeasance. Filipinos, on the other hand, prefer the Big Bang Theory - the louder, the better.
|Filipino fireworks stand|
(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Games People Play
|Competing to form |
longest Human Chain
Thankfully, ordnance-free activities were planned for our family gathering. Fueled by an early Media Noche (midnight meal) of lechon, lumpiang sariwa, spaghetti and crema de fruta cake, and lubricated with free-flowing, vodka-spiked punch, we threw ourselves into raucous party games such as egg-tossing and Human Chain that spilled onto the streets outside. There was a competition to see who could stretch out a 'Happy New Year' greeting the longest (à la 'Gooooaaaaaaallll.....!') and a round of Musical Chairs that turned into a UFC match between cousin and aunt, complete with headlocks and takedowns. But the peak of craziness was yet to come, when it would be time for the most eagerly anticipated event of the night: the Tossing of Coins.
|Waiting for the shower of coins...|
|A fairly accurate representation of the coin toss chaos|
(Photo credit: Jonathan D. Colman/Flickr)
Familiar to many of you as congee or arroz caldo, this simple rice porridge is made with chicken stock and meat, and topped with lightly fried tofu cubes (tokwa) and tender boiled pigs' ears, a sprinkling of toasted garlic and chopped green onions, and a dash of fresh calamansi juice and patis (fish sauce). As with so many aspects of a Filipino celebration, there is undoubtedly some sort of symbolism and historic tradition attached to consuming this soup, but I suspect that it's really just a preemptive New Year's hangover cure. Nevertheless, food symbolism is a kinder, gentler and more appetizing way to augur abundance - I'd rather be eating a delicious representation of coin than flailing around on the floor for the real thing.
Eat Your Money
Across many cultures, the celebration of a new year is the perfect time to practice certain traditions meant to summon good luck and great prosperity for the household. Most common is the consumption of foods that represent money through form, color or other symbolism. For instance, the circular shape of coins are evoked by the round donuts called oliebollen consumed by the Dutch on New Year's Eve, while round legumes are enjoyed in the American South (black-eyed peas) and in South America (lentils). Eastern Europeans partake of fish, whose silver scales mimick metal currency, and of leafy greens such as cabbage that stand in for paper bills. Filipinos also participate in food-as-money traditions, gathering on the table 13* different round fruits for each month of the year plus one. *According to some, the number 13 is considered lucky among Chinese, as its pronunciation in certain dialects sounds like "assured growth" or "definitely living". Conversely, some may view it as unlucky because 1 + 3 equals the very unlucky number 4, which sounds like the word for 'death'.
I failed rather miserably in procuring the requisite number of fruits, managing only five, including tomatoes (hey, it's a fruit!) but fared much better with our New Year's Day meal. With any luck, the success of my first cooked dish of the year is a positive sign of prosperity and abundance in our kitchen for 2011.
Lentils and Longganisa
There were so many coin-inspired foods from around the world from which to choose our New Year's Day 'prosperity' meal. While I was quite tempted to have an all-cake table filled with those Danish oliebollen or Greek vasilopita, I settled on a savory Italian dish rich in its simplicity and flush with flavor: Cotechino con Lenticchie. A specialty of the city of Modena (and protected as such with PGI [Protected Geographical Indication] status), cotechino is traditionally a fresh sausage made from pork meat, fat and skin, although pre-cooked, foil-encased versions are now more widely used. I had faint hope of finding it somewhere in Manila, but I didn't want to settle for regular Italian sausage as a substitute. And why should I, given the variety of excellent native sausages, called longganisa, here? Sure enough, I found a perfect candidate.
Like cotechina, Lucban Longganisa is the namesake specialty of one town, in this case located in Quezon province just south of Manila. These sausages have a rich porky unctuousness in texture, a pleasantly sour tang from vinegar and a pretty reddish hue from paprika or atsuete/annatto (though artificial food coloring is also used). As I have never tasted cotechino before, I can't offer a definitive comparison, but I was pleased to read that Lucban longganisa seems to share similarities in texture, color and cooking with the Modena salsicce. With that, we had our lucky New Year's meal of coin-shaped pork sausage and legumes - Italy by way of the Philippines!
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 small garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 cup lentilles du Puy, rinsed
1 bay leaf
Fresh water (or use a mild broth, if you'd prefer)
Patis (fish sauce) and ground black pepper
10-12 Lucban longganisa links (or approx. 1lb of sausages)
|Lentilles du Puy|
Heat olive oil at medium-high heat in a sauté pan, then add garlic, onions, carrot and celery; sauté until softened. Add lentils and stir to mix well with the vegetables. Add the bay leaf, then add water or broth to cover the lentils by about 1/2 inch. Reduce heat to medium-low and bring to a slow simmer; cover partially to let steam escape and stir on occasion to prevent lentils from sticking to the bottom. As they cook, lentils should remain covered with liquid, so add as needed. Test lentils for desired doneness. When done, remove bay leaf and add patis and pepper to taste before serving.
Just before the lentils finish cooking, place longganisa in a small pan or skillet and cover halfway with water. Cook at a gentle simmer, turning occasionally, until done (these sausages are quite small, about 2.5" long, so they should cook quickly). Remove sausages and drain water from the pan, returning it to medium heat. Carefully prick the casings and drain out excess juices before removing the skins entirely. Carefully return the longganisa to the pan and fry until a bit browned on the outside. Remove from pan and slice into round pieces.
To serve, spoon lentils onto plates and arrange sliced longganisa over them.
Manigong Bagong Taon sa Inyong Lahat!
[A Prosperous New Year to All!]