Lamb, Lentils and Moriones: Easter in Marinduque

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 6 comments
Braised Lamb Shank with Lentils

It's no Easter Parade.

At the stroke of midnight, Mr. Noodle and I will join the annual paschal exodus from Metro Manila to the outlying provinces, beginning with 2-hour drive to the port Lucena in Quezon province. From there, we'll board a ferry, colloquially known as a RoRo (as in, 'roll on, roll off') for a relatively short cruise to the island province of Marinduque. It may not be the Queen Elizabeth 2, but it beats an actual row boat, which might have been our only other option, thanks to my incorrigibly procrastinating ways.

Still calibrated to the American holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas as the travel periods to avoid, the husband and I nonchalantly delayed purchasing our airfare until they were nearly sold out. We managed to score return tickets, but were left scrambling for alternative arrangements for the first leg of our trip; hence, a 2-hour ferry ride in the wee morning hours during which one of us must remain awake to guard our luggage and the precious bag of Crunchy Cheetos substituting for our traditional travel snack of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers.

It's not all that bad, really. Although the seats are of the moulded-plastic variety, onboard concessionaires offer mostly hard-boiled eggs and instant noodle cups, and the condition of the restrooms can quickly deteriorate, the ship is clean, spacious and steady for the most part. When we arrive at the Port of Balanacan, I hope to see the towering figure of the Virgin Mary that welcomes ships to the harbor illuminated by the morning sun.

Virgin Mary at Balanacan Port, Marinduque

Mr. Noodle and I will celebrate Easter with my family in Mogpog, the birthplace of the Moriones Festival. This colorful, interactive weeklong celebration commemorates the story of Saint Longinus, the Roman soldier who pierced a crucified Jesus' side with a spear and whose blind eye was subsequently cured by a drop of Christ's blood. This story and that of the Morions - the anonymous local residents who dress up in colorful masks and costumes depicting Roman centurions - are often overshadowed by the more sensational (and bloody) Eastertide re-enactments of the Crucifixion and processions of penitent flagellants, complete with whippings and nailings to crosses.

Famously fierce faces of the Moriones Festival

In Marinduque, each city or town has its own Moriones with 'soldiers' stalking the streets in search of naughty children to scare straight. Their wood-carved visages painted in fierce scowls and frightening snarls have become icons for travel and tourism campaigns, but there's more to these morions than scary masks. Residents volunteer to portray morions as part of penance, in prayer for a personal cause or as an expression of gratitude for their blessings, but their commitment can last for a decade or longer. Instead of angry faces, these morions often have a serene expression; rather than helmets crested with feathers or a brush of stiff hairs, theirs are adorned with flowers representing each year of their commitment, to be removed one by one.

Mogpog Morions

And then there is the Good Friday procession during which flower-bedecked carozas (Sp. carroza='float') bearing tableaus of various saints wend their way from the local church through the town's streets. The care and attention devoted to these displays are evident in the smallest details, from the figures' life-like expressions to their ornate costumes. Even in a small town like Mogpog, this procession is a sight to behold. These are the images and icons of Easter in Marinduque that I would encourage anyone to experience for themselves.

Procession of ornate carozas

Breaking the Lenten Fast

I have previously observed that there is no signature Easter food in the Philippines. If anything could be considered a hallmark, it would be the presence of copious protein (especially of the porcine persuasion) after a long Lenten period of fasting and abstinence from meat. Otherwise, the festive meal is much as it would be for other celebrations - lechon, in particular, and whatever dishes are family favorites. Before Mr. Noodle and I indulge in just such a meal this coming Sunday, I prepared a dish that would be familiar to many Easter Sunday tables on the other side of the globe - tender lamb braised then baked with savory lentils.

Braised Lamb Shanks with Lentils

This dish is found in the 2008 reprint of James Beard's The Fireside Cook Book (first published in 1949) and it couldn't have been easier to make. Unfortunately, the recipe is not available online and I do not have permission to reprint in its entirety. Instead, allow me to share the ingredients and general procedure, then encourage you to consider adding the book to your own collection.


Lamb shanks
Butter or olive oil
Fresh thyme
Water or broth
Quick-cooking lentils
Bay leaf

To make:

The lamb shanks are first seared in butter or olive oil, then seasoned with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, place lamb shanks and add garlic, thyme and water or broth. Cover and simmer.

Wash lentils, removing any stones or broken pieces, then place in a saucepan and add water to cover. Add clove-studded onion, bay leaf, garlic and salt. Simmer until lentils are just cooked. Spread lentils in a casserole and place the shanks on top, adding the cooking liquid from both the lentils and lamb. Bake in the oven for a half hour until the lamb is tender and fully cooked.

Happy Easter to All!


  • Bob said...

    I love learning how people around the world celebrate holidays that I associate with one specific thing.

    I do enjoy lamb, I think I'll see what I can do with those ingredients but no recipe. Heh.

  • Midge said...

    Happy Easter to you! How lucky you are to be able to head over to Marinduque for Holy Week; a colleague who hails from the province says it's lovely over there.

    While I agree that there is no single signature dish for Easter in this part of the world, I am of the opinion that the Good Friday classic in these parts is crisply-fried daing na bangus (tinapang bangus works just as well) and a steaming pot of monggo guisado.

  • ChichaJo said...

    Another part of our beautiful country that I have yet to explore! Thanks for sharing your experience and nice to know where you hail from :)

    Love lamb shanks! And lentils :) I have no doubt I would gobble this all up! Lamb shanks also make a fantastic adobo!

  • SKIP TO MALOU said...

    hello tracey!
    I grew up having experienced something similar to this. Although Moriones is of a grander scale. I mean we had those carozas but nothing like the dressed up soldiers and stuff haha. Our clan has one caroza and it has been with us for more than 6 decades now. I was glad that after so many years, I got a chance to observe Holy Week like what I was used to... I really would have loved to see you while I was there Tracey.. but no worries, I know our paths will cross sometime soon... im thinking December maybe????

  • BettyAnn @Mango_Queen said...

    Sorry for missing another great post! Now I'm all caught up and glad to read your Marinduque experience. And the lamb shanks recipe looks divine! You had me at "pan seared", my dear! Thanks for sharing. I will bookmark this piece for reference!


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