Whew. Finally, some time to sit down and blog. Days have been extremely busy, filled with academic requirements. Take for example my day earlier: started with a LONG Long Test in Cultural Heritage, went to my group’s parish for our Theology 5-week long project on the “Season of Creation”, went back to Ateneo for Philo and Theo, then watched my friends’ pre-thesis play. All under very, very odd weather conditions of rain-sunshine-drizzle-sunshine-strong winds and heavy downpour.
Days like these make me crave for a Pinoy comfort food I never tire of: Lechong Manok.
Lechong manok is an easy dish to make and also, a very accessible cooked food of choice. Almost every street, at one point in earlier decades, had a lechong manok stall. There are also many choices to pick from, ranging from the two most popular ones such as Andok’s and Baliwag, as well as San Pedro’s and almost all the major supermarkets’ lechong manok varieties, this dish is cheap, yummy and delightful.
Considered a healthy dish, lechong manok is either roasted over charcoal or inside a rotisserie or turbo. One can prepare it in several ways but the most common would be dressing the chicken with calamansi (a small, native lime), toyo (soy sauce), salt and pepper and stuffed with tanglad (lemon grass) or other spices. Easy, healthy, delectable.
For my family, we have a slightly different take on the lechong manok. We coat it with Sinigang mix, patis (fish sauce), calamansi, and put either tanglad or a whole onion inside. We marinate this for a considerable amount of time and turbo it. It’s a delicious chicken dish that all my friends and classmates frequently request me to bring when we have pot-luck get-togethers. They call it “Manok ni Quino”.
What I like about the lechong manok is the fact that it is very, very malasa or savory. Its skin is caramelized and its meat, since chickens used for this dish are usually small, aren’t as starchy and cumbersome to chew. The natural juices of the chicken mix well with the light marinade, which isn’t heavy to the palette. The inner cavity of the chicken is given a zing or a tangy taste because of the lemon grass. The tanglad also contributes to the wonderful aroma of hot lechong manok, freshly roasted.
I have had many memories with eating lechong manok. From nights when Mama or Papa simply didn’t have the energy to cook or when I wanted something different, lechong manok was often a dinner option. There was also the memory of my mama, papa, Ana and i, with our hands, eating our lechong manok, the first night we went home after our house’s major renovation (I was eight years old then, and I could still we had Andok’s for dinner.) Likewise, I still remember those random Friday afternoons when two whole Baliwag lechong manoks would be delivered to our house along with other food gift items by Mama’ 4-A student, who apparently owned Baliwag Chicken. I also remember the lunches my classmates and I shared in the Andok’s in Boracay’s D’Mall during our graduation get-away to that island. Then there were the countless inumans (drinking sessions) and get-togethers when friends requested me to either bring or COOK for them my family’s lechong manok recipe. Although I prefer my lola’s recipe for Roast Chicken, in the Western style, complete with liver gravy, stuffing, and boiled vegetables on the side, the lechong manok is much easier and accessible way of roasting chicken.
However, if for those who live comfortable lives merely see lechong manok as an easy alternative or a “go-to” ulam, the majority of Filipinos find the lechong manok a luxury, a symbol of financial security as well as of celebration. The lechong manok for them is not simply a “take-out” item; it suggests happy times, important moments or occasions worth remembering. Thus, the lechong manok, aside to its juicy meat, succulent caramelized skin and savory sauce, is truly a Filipino “comfort” food. It suggests joy, peace and stability.
Such are the memories and insights I have of lechong manok, a dish I consider not only something to be gobbled up but really, a source of joy and pride. How a simple chicken dish can inspire the sharing of lives and smiles, as well as hopes and laughter, is truly a dish hecho ayer.