The Philopino | Jake Crisologo
“Batchoy”, contrary to what Wikipedia says, is not derived from a joke consisting of “bats” and chop suey. It is a dish with so many issues about its origin one is tempted to conclude that it doesn’t really matter.
In the Iloilo province, particularly in La Paz, where every Batchoyan practically claims to be its creators;
Batchoyan 1: “My lolo made the original recipe!”
Batchoyan 2: “We’ve had it since 1920!”
Batchoyan 3: “Liar! The first Batchoy was made in 1938 by MY lolo!”
Batchoyan 4: “Whatever.”
The ignorant alien that I am simply resolved to not resolve anything… except find the best tasting Batchoy in Iloilo in some passionate culinary crusade for the truth, at whatever cost (I arrived at Manila weighing six pounds heavier and a pimple oilier).
For four days, two of my friends and I explored Iloilo for one grand, government sponsored food trip. If you are offended by gluttony, the use of government funding for gluttony, the fact that not a lot of people in this country can afford this gluttony, the fact that you cannot do anything about it anymore, I suggest that you keep on reading, because envy is good for you- it makes you want more out of life (ahem).
We ate a lot of food other than batchoy of course, from bibingka and waffles sold on the sidewalks to baked oysters and buttered prawns larger than your fingers, pastries stored in closets and tinuom, a chicken stew cooked in parsels of banana leaves. But that’s for another article. Or novel.
My friends and I ate from four different Batchoy places, one for every day that we spent there. Batchoy, the real thing and not that instant stuff from Lucky Me!, takes a minimum of three hours to cook, where chunks of pork and beef, intestines, bones and liver are stewed with a secret recipe. This broth is then poured over noodles and topped with crispy chicharon, fried minced garlic, chopped celery, and the scissored pig parts mentioned earlier. Partnered with virtually tasteless puto or pan de sal, you’re sucked into a hearty, savory, meaty, scrumptuous and unpretentious meal that makes you forget about your unhearty,unsavory, unmeaty, unscrumptious and pretentious no-carb, no fat diet.
The cut pieces are delicately cooked and flavorful and not boiled to death into tasteless rubber bands.The noodles are yellow and soft, with a subtle savory taste that absorbs the meatiness of the broth. The broth is the most crucial aspect of the dish, where every Batchoyan claims to have stuck with the original recipe to retain a sense of tradition through it all. Ultimately, the Batchoy lore is still being written, with as little reinvention as possible, because its just so delicious the way it is.
Recently, the manager of Netong’s Batchoyan in the heart of La Paz public market, a man named Patrick who uncannily bares a stark resemblance to the University Student Council’s NCPAG Rep, is on a mission to document his family history and traditions that have been supported, sustained and ultimately, been defined by this humble dish that Iloilo should be proud of.
To all the men and women who have made the dish what is now and was, we thank you. I guess I’ll gorge on Lucky Me! Supreme La Paz Batchoy until we meet again. Farewell for now! <sniff>