Friday, January 31, 2014

Humba, or the Dish My Grandmother Refuses to Eat Twice

I grew up eating humba (pronounced "hoomba"), a pork stew staple in the Visayas, or central region of the Philippines. It's a familiar and homey dish that sits in your stomach for days on end -- which is the point if you don't eat much meat for penny-pinching reasons.

While the pork was happily marinating in the fridge, I asked my mother if there were any family stories around humba. I didn't expect to hear a story of food igniting domestic conflict.

On Sundays, the designated cook in my grandmother's household, a maid or most often my mother, cooked a huge pot of humba to last for a few days. Back then, they stewed the meat over firewood; most cooks were confused as lachrymose folks, their eyes tearing from blowing the cinders to stoke the flames. Also back then: no fridges. Yes, there were fridges in other places, but my mother lived in a poor fishing village with little electricity in the 60s. The humba was kept "fresh" by steeping it in oil, my grandmother spooning out servings for her family at mealtime. My mother joked, "It's no surprise your grandfather died of a heart attack so young, the crap he was eating all the time." Sometimes my grandmother sent her to school with a lunch of humba sauce (no meat) and rice.

Since pork and beef were dear, most families in her barangay (or neighborhood village) ate fish during the week and indulged in meat dishes on Sundays (it so happened that pork was sold in the village market on Tuesdays and Sundays, so it worked out for everyone). My grandmother bought, slaughtered and sold pork, while my grandfather bought fish from the fishermen and sold the catch to market vendors. Understandably, my grandfather looked forward to Sundays when the unsold pork would make its way to his dinner table. Also understandably, my grandmother disliked heavy pork dishes. My mother remembers arguments over my grandmother's finicky and wasteful attitude. While the rest of her world ate humba for a few days after Sunday, she sent one of her kids or the maid to get her something else to eat. Even now, she hates leftovers. She'll eat it but she makes sure to let us know she doesn't like it.

The humba, if anything else, might cause marital strife. Be warned.
Rice to humba ratio depends on the diner, of course. 

1 1/2 lbs pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. black pepper
5 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/4 c. white sugarcane vinegar
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. pineapple juice
6 oz. salted black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. oil

  1. In a bowl, combine pork, pepper, garlic, pineapple juice, vinegar, and soy sauce. Marinate for at least an hour in the fridge. Drain meat and set marinade aside.
  2. Heat oil in a large pot over high heat. Add pork belly and cook until lightly browned. Add onions. Scoop out the garlic in the marinade and add them, too. Cook until the onions are a bit transparent.
  3. Pour in the marinade and bring to a boil. Add the bay leaf and the black beans. Lower the heat and simmer for about an hour. You'll know it's ready when you can pierce the pork's skin without resistance. 
  4. Stir in the brown sugar. Reduce the sauce as thick as you like. Serve hot. Or, if you don't have a fridge, steep in oil for the week. 
Just kidding. Never, ever do that. 

**Traditional humba also calls for banana blossoms, if you can find it. 

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