A family member experiences the occasional bout with gout so we’re usually considerate of what’s offered on our Sunday lunch table. But not today.
Chicharon bulaklak occupies rock star-status in our family’s pantheon of edible greats, and today my Mom has acquired enough of it for 10 people. Made from a length of pork intestine cut crosswise, they’re also known (in the American South) as chitterlings, chitlins, and other similar phonetic variations. Of course being the offal that they are, they must be mercilessly cleaned and boiled to death to be rid of any impurities.
These chewy variety meats are one of my cherished foods of memory. My tito, whom we called “Uncle,” always used to have a mini mountain of these waiting for us when we’d visit him in Pampanga (see links below). Walking into his house, the air would be heavy with the smell of oil and pork topped off with a feral almost musky edge.
As little girls, my sisters and I would stand behind Uncle, mindful to keep some distance between ourselves and ”“ what looked to me ”“ like a vat of raging oil. We were entranced at how the bulaklaks ”“ soggy, misshapen little things, would puff upon hitting their scorching nirvana and “bloom” into what some people say resemble Hawaiian baby woodroses; quite a munificent description that. Looking back now, I marvel at Uncle’s fearlessness and his adeptness at wielding a metal turner in each hand to move the bulaklaks up, down and around.
After hovering over the stove for what seemed like hours, Uncle would turn off the flame and we’d scamper to the kitchen table. We watched bug-eyed as Uncle grabbed his trusty bottle of Aji-No-Moto and sprinkled the umami liberally over the smoldering mass, the crystals glistened and then dissolved into the fat. (I think it’s this memory which explains why I’ve never agreed that vetsin is bad nor have I ever suffered its supposed ill effects).
Alternately blowing and fanning the bulaklak impatiently, I’d gingerly pick one up and nibble its crispy edges. Then, bit by bit, I made my way to the center where crispy gave way to chewy. A swoosh! of oil gushes into my mouth, an intoxication of pork and fat. And utter glee. Though my parents preferred the bulaklak dipped in a seasoning of vinegar, pepper, and garlic, I always loved the bulaklak as it was with its smattering of Aji-No-Moto.
Today, as my family and I eat the chicharon bulaklak that my Mom has procured, we’re (almost) as gleeful as we were many years ago when Uncle was cooking. It’s different now though: there’s the family member who has to be careful not to eat too much [of it] because of his gout, there’s no vetsin on the table, and most of all, Uncle isn’t the one who cooked.