It’s been a week since I arrived from my seven-day vacation in Negros Occidental and I still get dreamy over the good food we enjoyed there. We dined out, yes, but we ate more meals at the hacienda where we stayed.
Is the food in Negros Occidental so vastly different from the food in other regions in the Philippines? Some are; others are dishes found and enjoyed in other parts of the country.
Lechon, for instance.
It was on the day that we were having a lechon lunch on the porch that we first heard about laswa. It came up while discussing what we were having for dinner. Yeah, right, gorging on lechon roasted right there in the backyard and we were already discussing what we were having for dinner.
But we did talk about dinner with me wondering offhandedly if anything could ever top the lechon, dinuguan and ensalada (salad) made with julienned bulaklak ng saging (banana heart) and coconut milk. Our host asked if we had tried laswa before. We giggled, pointed at a friend and called her malaswa (obscene) jokingly. Our host explained with a laugh that laswa was a soup so deeply ingrained in the food culture of Negros that it is served on the dining table of the wealthiest and the poorest residents. I was so intrigued that I asked if I could watch the cook make laswa that night. I did. And then I cooked laswa at home.
It’s a very simple dish. Boil water with aromatics (garlic, onion and tomatoes) and drop in the vegetables. Shelled shrimps are optional. Season and boil until all the vegetables are done and serve immediately. What vegetables? Arnold, the very talented guy who did the cooking at the hacienda while we were there, chose squash, patola (luffa), okra, alugbati (Basella alba) and saluyot (jute leaves).
When we were served laswa at the hacienda, my first impression was the purity and clarity of the flavors of the vegetables. Sipping the broth was like sipping liquid leaves. I liked it. And I especially enjoyed it as the perfect companion vegetable dish for the leftover lechon dishes. There were two leftover lechon dishes that night — paksiw na lechon and baked ribs crusted with grated lime zest and black pepper — and the meatiness of both was the perfect foil for the all-vegetable soup.
Apparently, appreciation for laswa is an acquired one. Speedy found it too earthy; Sam found it too slimy. So, next time, I’ll tweak the recipe. More squash and less of the slimy okra and saluyot.