Yesterday I was able to taste what I think is the best pinangat I’ve ever tasted in Manila. My father was from Bicol, but we only visited his childhood home as a family twice. We grew up pretty disconnected from my father’s Bicolano roots except by way of food. He was a pretty awesome home cook, and when we went to Bicol, our palates just reveled in all the familiar food that he cooked for us at home. My favorite was pinangat from this particular restaurant called Paayahayan. It was so memorably delicious. It made such an impression on me that from that time on, anytime I would see pinangat at any carinderia or restaurant, I absolutely must try it, but I have to admit that it’s been hard finding well-cooked pinangat in Manila. What a surprise it is to find one that is so close to the one I tasted 21 years ago at Paayahayan, and I found it on Facebook, of all places (here’s the page, if you’re curious, it’s called Jo’s Pinangat).
From what I can gather, pinangat is made with slices of pork or fish wrapped with gabi leaves and tied up in a neat bundle with tanglad. It’s simmered slowly on low heat with a generous amount of kakang gata flavored with garlic, ginger, alamang, siling labuyo and tanglad stalks. It’s simmered on low heat until the coconut cream curdles and become yellowish, and the leaves become so tender. The pinangat I had yesterday had leaves that were so soft, and pork bits that were so tender. The maillard reaction on the kakang gata has caramelized it and made it thick and sweet, it’s almost like latik. It’s incredibly delicious. I think that the pinangat that I tasted from other sellers don’t have enough kakang gata so the taro leaves taste…leafy, not creamy, and the texture is a tad dry instead of melt-in-your-mouth soft. Properly cooked pinangat is when the leaves are so soft that it’s mixed so well with the kakang gata infused with delicate flavors of aromatics and the saltiness of alamang. It takes time to make, but of course all good things take time.
Eating this wonderful serving of pinangat yesterday brought a flood of happy memories with my family, especially of my papa’s excellent cooking. It just made me so happy.