Unlike my daughters who got introduced — unfortunately — to potato chips at an early age, my earliest memory of potato chips was a can of Pik-nik. I was about five years old, we were at the cemetery on All Saints’ Day and an uncle hurt his fingers while pulling off the tab of the Pik-nik can. It was a real can in those days, not the carton that most are familiar with today. And the tab and top cover were of tin, not reinforced aluminum foil. It was something new to me and it was a rare treat until I was well into grade school when local versions of cheese curls, tortilla chips and potato chips were introduced by Jack ‘n’ Jill, the chichirya pioneer in the country.
Turrones de casuy, turrones de mani, turrones de pili, boat-shaped tarts (above) filled with fruit jam, nuts, or both, my favorite among which was the kind topped with dry and crumbly meringue… all these I enjoyed throughout my childhood. By the time I was in college, these Filipino delicacies seemed to have been relegated to nostalgia. Or, perhaps, it was just the canned food diet that my mother fed us with — she didn’t cook — that gave me that impression. In my case, unless we went to their regions of origin, these delicacies were not that easy to find. They were available in most pasalubong (souvenir) shops in tourist spots but one hardly found them in supermarkets. In the U.P. College of Law, after Christmas break, I remember how classmates brought back delicacies from their respective provinces and they were such treats — panucha (plate-sized “cakes” of whole peanuts in hardened caramelized sugar), piaya… even the ones from Baguio could sometimes be cajoled into bringing back peanut brittle.
For the past decade or so, there appears to be a renewed interest in traditional Filipino pastries. I don’t know where or how it started. Probably, with the cake shops like Red Ribbon and Goldilocks when they began selling tarts and pastillas side by side with the ensaymada and mamon. Perhaps, the real craze began with the set-up at Market! Market! with stalls selling regional specialties. A lot of supermarkets and malls now have a similar set-up. Or, perhaps, it is the export-oriented economy that drives Filipino entrepreneurs these days. With millions of overseas workers and Filipino expats who miss and crave for native delicacies, there is indeed a global market for these delectable pastries.
One of my all-time favorites is the turrones de casuy (above). Crushed cashew nuts and melted sugar are formed into a kind of meringue that is at the same time crisp, chewy and rather porous (below). The mixture is wrapped in a very delicate wafer, what we labeled as hostia when my brother and I were kids because it is the same stuff as the wafer that the priests put in your mouth when you have your Holy Communion.
The variety of Filipino pastries is endless and they differ from one region to the next. In Bicol, where pili nuts are abundant (but expensive, nevertheless, because shelling them is too labor intensive), there are pili nut tarts (below) and a wide array of candies and sweets (see entry on pili nut delicacies).
All of the above items, I bought yesterday from the supermarket. I was only eying the turrones the casuy, saw a box of mango tarts, got tempted and finally settled for a tray of turrones de casuy and a box of assorted tarts. Been munching on them since last night and I’m enjoying every nibble. :)