Category: Marag

Ginataang Kuhol (Escargot in Coconut Milk)

Escargot in Coconut Milk, Photo by Rosie Reyes-Barrera

Ginataang Kuhol (Escargot in Coconut Milk)

I love and miss eating snails!  That doesn’t sound right!  That sounded too full-on with too much yucky factor 🙂 .  I think I would call it with the more exotic French word for snail, escargot, instead.

When I was a young girl living in Marag, we used to eat a lot of escargots, which are called bisukol in Ilocano `(and kuhol in Tagalog).

My memories of bisukol (escargot) is deeply embedded into my happy family nostalgia.  Eating these little critters bring back memories of strong family bonding.

In our province of Marag in Kalinga-Apayao, Philippines, dining with bisukol involves both hand and arms actions.  To prepare the bisukol, prior to cooking, get a fairly heavy ladle or metal spoon and tap to break the bottom of each snail.  This will allow the snail flesh to come out easily.  And the most fun way of eating a bisukol is to pick one up with your right hand ensuring that the snail opening is facing down onto your plate, then banging your right wrist into your slightly extended left wrist a la Psy Gangnam Style (the horsey bit) until the snail meat comes out and drops on your plate.  It was very satisfying watching everyone doing the arm action at the dining table.  LOL

In the West, every paraphernalia seems to be available for most food, exotic or otherwise.  Like with escargot, when eaten in fine restaurant, you will get a snail tong (like the ones with Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman) and a two-prong snail fork.

Snail fork or arms action, escargot is exotically delicious!  Below is a very satisfying recipe.


  • 2 lbs escargot (kuhol)
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoon ginger, cut into fine strips
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp shrimp paste (1½ tbsp fish sauce)
  • 2 green long chilli pepper
  • Kangkong leaves (Swamp cabbage/ water spinach), cut and trimmed into manageable size for comfortable dining 😉
  • Salt & pepper to taste
Cooking procedure:
  1. Tap each of the snails’ bottom to break, then wash the escargot thoroughly, removing all the grits.  Did you know if you live in the UK, those pesky snails in your garden are edible.  According to Gordon Ramsey,  intrepid gourmets can go to the garden to gather up the snails. As an added bonus, these wild garden snails taste far better than those which are farmed.  However you cannot just put garden snails directly to the pot and eat them.  There are steps to be taken first for health, taste and safety reasons.  First leave the snails watered but without food for two days to get rid of any toxin they might have ingested.  On the third day, give them carrots; watch their droppings.  If they start to poop orange substance, wash them again and put them in a sealed container into your fridge.  when they are soporific, they are ready to cook.  Thank goodness you can get snails, which have been purge and ready to cook.
  2. Heat up the cooking oil in a large pan or better yet a wok (kawali),
  3. Saute the garlic, onion  and ginger.
  4. Drop in the escargots followed by the coconut milk.
  5. Bring to a boil and then lower down the heat and continue to simmer until the coconut milk turns slightly creamy.
  6. Stir in the shrimp paste or fish sauce.
  7.  Add the Long chilli peppers and Kangkong ( water spinach) and simmer for 5 minutes.
  8. Check and adjust the seasoning by adding more fish sauce or salt and pepper if needed.
  9. Serve with freshly boiled or steamed rice.  Arm wrestle your way to a delicious escargot.  It is fun.

Charcoal Grilled Tilapia

Tilapia, photo by PH Morton

Tilapia, photo by PH Morton

Charcoal Grilled Tilapia

I really find it very sad that tilapias have been having a bad press lately when in natural fact, they are one of the best tasting fish there is.

They are also very versatile, they can be cooked with just a bit of ginger and a few tablespoons of vinegar or can be fried, and be made into fish balls, etc.

Whilst growing up in Marag, where we had a farm,  tilapias used to grow naturally along the dykes that run in between our rice-field.

At lunch time we would go and catch them by hand or with the help of a rattan woven like a net.  After cleanign and de-scaling the fish, the would then be pushed into a bamboo skewer and set over an open fire to grill.

We then have a delicious lunch with boiled rice.  We also have a home-made sauce made from small amount of water, a dash of salt and a few siling labuyo (bird’s eye chili).


Beef Lauya Recipe

~Beef Lauya, Photo by JMorton

~Beef Lauya, Photo by JMorton

~Beef Lauya, Photo by JMorton

~Beef Lauya, Photo by JMorton

Beef Lauya Recipe

Lauya is an Ilocano (people from Northern Luzon in the Philippines) dish, which is much loved by our family.  It was a special treat as meat was rather a seldom ingredient to our family meals whilst still leaving in Marag, Luna, Kalinga-Apayao in the 70s.

We kept pigs, geese, ducks and chicken, but they were more like well loved pets rather than the ‘fatted calf’ for feasting or everyday food.

There were no markets either.  You planted what you would eat or go foraging in the forest, go fishing in the nearest river. lake or lagoon for subsistence.

We lived on a healthier diet of fish, shrimp, prawns, bisukol (escargot) and vegetables though.  Although once in a while, my father would come home with wild boar or wild deer after going hunting at night with his brothers or friends.  It was a tradition or accepted etiquette to share the meat to your friends, neighbours and relatives and therefore, not a great deal was left for the family; I supposed it was only right as there was no working refrigeration then.  To preserve the meat, it had to be salted and dried like tapas.  It can then be stored and then fried when needed.  I did not really like them much as they were so tough, I might as well be trying to gnaw a leather shoe.

What I did enjoy is a dish called lauya.  The meat, which usually come from wild boar (baboy damo in Tagalog language or alingo in Ilocano) was so delicious.  The meat is boiled for at least a couple of hours until the meat is coming of the bones and the sweet, fat marrows can be sucked out from the bones.  This brings back childhood memory.

The lauya process of cooking can be applied to most meat.  With spices, you can sweat out flu and cold.

Lauya is a good recipe for cheaper cuts of beef.

Recipe follows below:

3 lbs beef shank (bone-in), cut into serving pieces
4 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and crushed (the amount is according to your taste; I love spicy lauya so I tend to add sliced ginger from a big chunk)
1tsp whole black peppers
1 small green cabbage, halved and cored
1 bok choy
Fish sauce or salt to taste


Put beef in a big pot and cover with water.  Add salt and bring to a boil over high heat.

Skim off the scum on the surface.

Add the ginger, garlic, onion and whole peppercorns (black pepper).

Reduce the heat and cover the pot and leave to simmer for at least two hours or until the meat is tender. Check on the meat once in a while to ensure that it has not boiled dry. Add more water if necessary. Remember this dish is soupy, the soup will be so heavenly.

Increase the heat a little and then add the potatoes or any other vegetable you fancy, even plantain; cook for 10 minutes.

Add cabbage and bok choy or pechay and cook for another 5 minutes.

Season with more salt or by adding fish sauce, if using.

Serve with freshly boiled rice or if several types of vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and yams have been added, this soup can be a one dish meal.

If eating it with boiled rice, a little dish of fish sauce generously drizzled with calamansi or lemon is a delicious side.


Trees and Forest

Trees and Forest

Kew Garden, Photo by PH Morton

Kew Garden, Photo by PH Morton


Aren’t these trees beautiful?  Aren’t we lucky we have them?

We should look after them, the best we can.

Let’s say NO to deforestation; No to illegal logging!

Coconut trees

Coconuts in the mountain, photo by PH Morton

There are people who are scared of the thought and sight of trees and forests. Some have pathological fear. I do understand these in some ways. When I was very young, I tagged along with my father to go to our farm. As he was doing some farm and field chores, he told me to sit under the shade of a big Narra tree. Anyway, it was so quiet that day, all I can hear was the occasional sound of wind brushing through leaves of trees around me.

As I looked up, I suddenly got very frightened of the many coconut trees. I felt they were looking at me. For some reason, I felt rather claustrophobic surrounded by trees. How strange was that – being claustrophobic in the open?!!! Probably there is another word similar to claustrophobic but that is how it felt. Luckily the experience was a one off. I love trees, I love forests as well though I find them mysterious.

I love nothing than watching horror films with a forest/woods theme. 🙂

Did you know?

Fear of trees and forest are very real, in fact, there are some official phobia terms allotted to them.

Dendrophobia comes from two Greek words, Dendro for tree and phobia, of course, is fear.

is the fear of wooden objects or woods. Xylo is a Greek word for wood and phobia as before is fear.

Hylophobia is the fear of woods and can be of materialism as well. Hylo comes from the Greek for forest.

Another Birthday, Another year older

Me at 7 Months old, photo by Eligio Wamil

Me at 7 Months old, photo by Eligio Wamil

Another Birthday, Another year older

In a few minutes I will be celebrating another birthday.  I am thankful for that.  Bring them on, Lord.

Anyway, as I near my birthday, as if by synchronicity, I found this little photo, the only one of me when I was still a baby.

It was taken by my father when we were living in Marag, Luna, Kalinga-Apayao.  It is special to me because, he developed the film as well.  This is rather stupendous in my perspective because during  that time, Marag was so remote, a place where there was no electricity, therefore no gas or electric appliances to  speak of.

I was too young to remember this picture being taken 🙂  but I did remember our little sari-sari store.

I also fondly remember that we used to sell biscuits called dapan (Ilocano language term for the sole of the foot).  Well, the biscuits are made to look like a foot or the size of a foot.

When I was about 5 years old, I remember contemplating how I was going to eat the gargantuan and rather hard dough Dapan all to myself.  But fast forward 10 years later, dapan was tiny, the size of a 7 years old child’s foot.  I would need to eat at least a couple to have a filling snack.  I supposed perspective changes as one grow older!


Me & My Doppelgänger

My Doppleganger

Me & My Doppelgänger


Having seen this spooky effect photo of myself, taken by Peter while taking a walk in the park, it reminded me of a ghostly story when I was a young girl. As it is Halloween, I thought I would recount it here.  When I was twelve years old and living in the province of Marag, Luna, Kalinga-Apayao, Philippines I was told that I had a doppelgänger (spooky double).

It happened when we, my girl classmates, went to the town of Luna to attend a Girl Scouting jamboree.

We stayed at our teacher’s house in the town and as she was my cousin I was sort of given a relative preferential treatment.

All the other girls stayed downstairs and I slept in the bed upstairs.

It was a hot and humid night and it was hard to sleep because the restaurant nearby had a very noisy clientele.  Filipinos seem to sing even with the slightest provocation. LOL

Despite the uncomfortable temperature, I fell asleep all the same.  I was young then!!!

The next morning my schoolmates asked me who I was talking to outside last night? They said they saw me go out and was heard talking to someone.

This was so spooky! I told them that I did not go down after I went to bed. I would have been too scared to walk around in darkness. I never had a history of sleep walking and would have been noisy.

We were all rather spooked because they all saw me and yet I was sure I stayed in bed all night and my cousin/teacher Manang Tessie,  who was sleeping in the other bed near mine ( I was nearest the window), said she would have heard, woken up & seen  if I’d left my bed as I needed to climb over her bed to leave the room!

But my schoolmates maintained that they saw me.  Strange that!!!

Autumn Leaves

As autumn grips us further into its depths, the leaves on trees are changing colours into vibrant pink, red, orange, purple, yellow and brown.

And then they start to fall.

Probably that is why autumn is also called the fall because leaves fall down into the ground. Doh!

There were plenty of fallen leaves that had been blown into our front garden that came from the avenue of trees in our street.

I was going to try to sweep them up today but the weather turned really nasty. It was so blowy and windy; it was not very pleasant to go out so I thought I should postpone my rather industrious idea of leaves clearing for another day,  to a more subdued day – weatherwise.

When we went to take our little Diesel for a walk, Peter and I noticed immediately that the front garden was amazingly clear of the leaves and any other debris.

It was the wind. It blew the leaves away from our garden, yey. And I was  moaning and griping too about the strong wind! huh!

Thank you wind!!!

Speaking of leaves, I remember that we used to play a game when I was still quite young in the Philippines. It was some sort of leaves snap, a matching game.

We would all go gather as many different leaves that we can get in secret and then we would sit around in circle and then try to match each other’s stock of leaves. The one that has the most unmatched leaves wins!

I know!!! It is so exciting!!! 😉 😉 😉 Beats any computer game! LOL

You should see the neighbour’s garden, it was like a swarm of ravenous caterpillars had a proper good feast!

Man-made or rather children-made fall/autumn does happen in the Philippines! LOL

We love the leaves of the gumamela (hibiscus) because you can pulp it and add a bit of water to it and you can have an organic blow bubbles syrup, no need to nick the washing liquid from the kitchen, but then again we do not have washing liquids then, at that time a long, long time ago in the Philippines,  we had bars of soap like Perla, Mr Clean, and Ajax for household cleaning while we used bars of Palmolive, Camay and Safeguard for bathing!  Having said that, it became a common knowledge that the laundry soap, Perla, was the best treatment for acne!  I did try Perla once or twice but thank goodness, I was really never prone to acne!  I can’t tell whether Perla worked but then again, probably it did because I did not get many blemishes! Hmmm

Sorry for this meandering nostalgia, I was supposed to talk about leaves, anyway I tried to youtube search a song about leaves and I was pleasantly surprise with this song by  the brilliant Eric Clapton.  He sings to us a very autumnly song called surprise, surprise ‘Autumn Leaves’

Have a lovely autumn everyone,wherever you may be!

Autumn Leaves

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Marag’s Gourmet Diet

Marag, Photo by Mildred Pedronan Cenal

Marag, Photo by Mildred Pedronan Cenal

I got to reading recipes from early blogs of GlobalGranary.Org.  I came across a recipe for beef tapa and got me feeling nostalgic about my life as a child back in Marag, Philippines.

The version of tapa that I grew up were usually from venison or wild boar meat.

When I was growing up in Marag, Luna, Kalinga-Apayao, Mountain Province our diet was virtually vegetarian but now and again supplemented with the fish, clams, bisukol (snails) and seaweeds (Bal-laiba and puk-puklo).

But once in a while my father with his brothers or  friends would venture in the dark forest with their shotguns (this was before Martial Law and the gun amnesty).  The next day, they would come home with fresh carcases of wild boars and wild deers.  They would clean these up and pass the meat to the women of the family, ie my mother and my aunties.  The meat were prepared, some of the meat were divided into portions and given out to relatives and close friends.

The recipe my mother made that I loved most was the ginger-stewed wild boar lauya.  She would cook it for a long time until the meat was coming away freely from the bone.  Lovely!  The ginger flavoured almost syrup-like gravy from the stew is something that I would always remember for the rest of my life.  It was so delicious that it is so hard to describe.

There were also times that we hear people using dynamite to blow up a swarm of fish of the water.  Thank goodness, it became illegal to use dynamite but now and again you hear news.

In God’s honest truth, the fish we ate in Marag was the best I have ever tasted.  Of course the fish in Manila were also good but the Marag ones are best.  It is so fresh.  From the river into a pot. The fish is so fat and so good.    I think they were called ludong or lobed river mullet.  They were plentiful in Amianan (northen) river. If you have eaten this fish, then you are lucky to have to  cross out from your bucket list of things to eat while alive.

Summer Night – Lord Tennyson

I love this poem, very evocative. It clearly describes a typical night during summer, where petals of flowers close after shadow of sunlight falls in as lights can be gleamed from the flickering of fireflies.

This reminds me of life in Marag, Philippines during summer and when the moon was full. It would be a clear night and we would be fascinated by fireflies dancing merrily around a lemon tree making it appear as festive as a Christmas tree. The flowers from the squashes and melons had long closed their beauteous blooms for nighttime beauty sleep, yet to be ready once again as the dawn breaks.

Only the sound of the crickets competed with our joyful laughter and my mother’s admonition not to go too far in to the darkness.

I love summer

Summer Night
Alfred Tennyson, Lord Tennyson

NOW sleeps the crimson petal, now the white;
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk;
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font:
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.
Now droops the milk-white peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.

Now lies the Earth all Danae to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.

Now slides the silent meteor on, and leaves
A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.

Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom and be lost in me.

Agdapil: Making Treacle & Molasses

Living the good life!


Back when I was a child in our barrio, Marag, Luna, Kalinga-Apayao, Mountain Province, my family used to practise self-sufficiency. We grew, made and/or found our own daily food . In the 1970s, there were no real vegetable or meat markets in Marag. If you don’t plant rice and vegetables, then you’ve got to forage for edible ferns called paku or pick clams and go fishing, otherwise you won’t eat!

We had a large farm in Marag. It was/is in Alit-tagan. We planted everything,  but funnily enough,  I can’t remember if we ever planted potatoes. Instead we planted sweet potatoes. This was much better for self-sufficiency because the leaves, especially the new growth of the sweet potatoes make a very  good salad dish. Just blanch them in hot water and then add lots of tomatoes and spring onions with a dash of fish sauce or even better, with fish bagoong like padas.

In our farm we also planted sugar cane, my favourite. To plant cane, you have to cut a long pole of sugar cane in several segments ensuring that the joints in the pole are left intact. It is in these joints that the new shoots will spring from as well as the new roots. We also used the strong side shoots of the sugar canes to replant and even the bushy heads of the sugar canes which were trimmed before replanting.

My father used to plough the earth and we children would drop cane joints at 12 inch/foot long intervals into the prepared soil. We would use our feet to then brush the soil over the cane to lightly cover them.

After about 4-6 months of regular  watering & weeding,  the canes were ready to harvest. These canes are delicious when chewed.  I like the cane that are not fully mature. They were softer and easier to chew. The sweet juice you get is so worth the chore of biting and chewing a fibrous pole;  we then spat out the chewed out fibres. 🙂

Those canes that we have not managed to chew, lol, were harvested with a sharp cut near the roots using a jungle bolo, a long robust knife.

After they had been topped and tailed, they are run in between two cylindrical wooden mangles to drain every bit of the juices. This is a long process, cumbersome and hard work. We needed the help of our  friendly, patient  giant  carabao named  Siccubing, to pull the long wooden handle of the mangle. We used to have fun following the carabao as it went round and round the mangle. It was always a bit of a giggle as we would all end up queasy and much to my parents indulgent annoyance would get in the way of the industrious, Siccubing. By the way, I love Siccubing so much, carabao is my favourite animal in the world, a true beast of burden.

During break time for Siccubing he will be allowed to have a drink of water and would be led into our rice field ditch. He always got his revenge on us kids because when  were riding this gentle beast, he  would never give a sign of he will do next; he would just plop into any body of water, whether muddy or deep. We on his back would be soaked or muddied and had to make our own way to safety and later face our mother’s wrath. 🙂

Anyway the juices extracted from the sugar cane crop can be several gallons, which were then transferred  into a huge vat.

My father, dug a huge hole near our Nipa Hut farm-house. The hole would be  used as a furnace to hold the huge vat with woods from twigs, chopped tree trunks, dried bamboos & dried coconut leaves as fuel. The juice would simmer for up to 4 hours until the juice start to thicken.  Any social services personnel would have had apoplexy seeing four children sitting around a boiling lava of sugar juice  in a huge vat unattended. Thinking about it now, it was certainly an OMG moment 🙂  I supposed it was a different world then; we were brought up to have responsibilities at an early age and knew what was right from what was wrong.

During the last hour of the boiling process, my father would give the cooking juice which had now turned into treacle, a molten golden syrup of absolute sweetness, a stir using a huge wooden paddle. He would then drop several chunks of cassavas’ outer skin which will caramelised in the sugar. This was our treat for being good children. The cassava skins were delicious, crunchy and coated with sublime sweetness 🙂

The finished product will be liquid which is called in Ilocano as tagapulot. It is often stored in huge earthenware jars. Overtime the top bit of the tagapulot in jars will crystallise into sugar granules. I must admit I would sneak up and get the liquidy tagapulot and wind it over and over a spoon. This was taste of heaven. I would eat boiled rice with the tagapulot with breakfast and that was the most delicious marvellous memory of childhood for me 🙂