Where it all began

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Where it all began

Aling Amy: A PDI article


I never got to spend much time with my lolo.  He passed away when I was only half a year old - which was unfortunate, since by all accounts, he was the perfect dad, the neighbor who was kind to a fault, the wise man who gave lots of sage advice to my mom.  Born Pedro Aquino, he was also a great cook, whose skills came mainly from the passing of traditional culinary knowledge rather than a formal education.  

Which was a good thing since our hometown of Malabon was (and still is) known for great cooking practices and special family recipes.  Back then they said, people seldom used refrigerators since they preferred to buy everything fresh from the market.  Other ethnic groups who also take pride in their cooking, would hopefully forgive me then when I say I grew up convinced that Malabon’s cuisine was second to no one's.  

Fact is, Lolo Endo even served as personal chef to the late First Lady Dona Aurora Quezon.  And during his time, when a few centavos can already buy a full meal, he was being paid five hundred pesos just to cook for Manila’s elite families during special events.  Never mind that some of these events were held in hotels (which of course, had their own kitchen staff), and never mind that his fee didn’t even include actual food or ingredients - he just had to show up with his knives.

Many consider it strange therefore, that he actually refused to teach my mom (who today runs our catering business) how to cook.  He told her, it was so that her future in-laws wouldn’t be tempted “na alilain ka”.  So she first worked as a seamstress and school teacher.  Judging by the handful of her dresses that survive to this day, she would have made a name for herself in fashion; but some things were just inevitable.

For one time, as they were about to have a party at school, mom’s co-teachers insisted that she make embutido - the same sort that my lolo used to make and which they’ve previously tasted and raved about.  They didn't believe her protestations that she didn’t know how and it took numerous telephone calls back to the house - one call for each step and ingredient with lolo patiently giving directions over the line.  In the end, the co-teacher’s reactions were “O kitam?  Yan ba ang sinasabing walang alam sa pagluluto?”  Lolo must have been really good at teaching himself - for my mom eventually went into the food business and made a name for herself.  Well, my name actually.

So "Henry's" was born.  Still, nowadays, mom seems to have applied the same “wisdom” to me - about not teaching me how to cook.  One good thing about it is that people who ask me for our recipes could only receive a blank stare.  "I have no idea how we make that."  Plausible deniability - I believe, is the right term used by the Central Intelligence Agency.  But that which has gone full circle with lolo and my mom, seems to be coming round again with my mom, my brother and me.  So here I am, after dodging pots, pans and knives for so long, I find myself desperately needing an authentic, traditional Pancit Malabon recipe and all I get is a “Kaya mo yan!  Subok lang ng subok!”.

It makes for an, uh, “adventurous” time in the kitchen, to say the least.  (Which shouldn’t worry our customers since it is my mom who continues to be in charge of our commissary).  For this, we’ve never minded that Lolo didn’t leave us instead with huge tracts of land or precious jewelry.  Not when we instead have something this gratifying.  It gets even better when even other people express their appreciation for our cooking as well.  (He did also leave us with lots of great advice on raising children, but I’ll leave that for another time.)

As for our catering company, we’re not exactly rushing to grow by leaps and bounds - perhaps it’s the old small town that remains in us.  But I would like to think this helps our family in better keeping our traditions alive and properly aligning our values.  Hopefully, the day wouldn’t come when people wouldn’t be asking us to cater simply because they like our decor or the contract amenities.  For us, good taste should always, forevermore, rule.  “This tastes so much better!  What’s the secret?!”  (Uh, let me get back to you on that.)

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