Monday, April 23, 2012

Finding the Pearl of the Orient in West Tennessee

It was a sleepy Saturday morning in West Tennessee. I had received an invitation to a fundraiser being held by the West Tennessee Filipino American (Fil-Am) Association. The event was held at the home of Fil-Am members Charlie and Mitzi Williams of Jackson Tennessee.The annual event included a yard sale and homemade Filipino food being sold to raise money for the organization.

While the cold weather threatened to stop the yard sale, there was a smell that emitted from the backyard of the residence that could not be stopped. A door on the front porch opened revealing the sights, sounds and smells of cooking, eating and fellowship. As I entered I was thrust into a wonderland of sights and smells. (It was like a casino of good food. Lights, sounds and sensory overload!)

I was given a plate and led to a table where mounds of food begged for my attention.
The first dish I was given was homemade lumpia. For those not familiar with lumpia, lumpia are deep fried spring rolls filled with meat and vegetables. These golden delicious treats were brought in straight from a propane driven boiling wok on the back porch. A nice fluffy cloud of steamed white rice was soon spooned onto my plate. " Pour some of this on top of your rice" a lady advised me. I ladled some of the dark shrimp paste onto the rice. The paste was salty and savory.  As I turn, another person slips a piece of round crispy pork onto my plate. " This is Tocino" she says. The pork is sweet, salty and delicious. Tocino is a traditional Filipino breakfast sausage made from cured pork. It is sometimes made with pork, sugar, fruit juices and garlic. Imagine a sweet piece of Canadian bacon. Really, really good.

Before I could take a bite another kind lady offers me a sample of fried squid. Long crunchy strips of squid meat and fried fish are placed on my plate.  I am led out the back door to the patio where I meet the man responsible for many of these wonderful dishes. My friend laughs and tells me that the man responsible for all of this wonderful food could be the 'unofficial mayor of the local Filipino community". She introduces me to head cook Eli Masangkay as he gingerly begins to submerge a dried translucent squid into a vat of hot cooking oil. He then turns and opens the lid on a gas powered grill to reveal a gallery of gorgeous marinated kabobs. Strips of pork and chicken pop and crack over the hot blue flames releasing scents of heavenly origin.

After watching Eli apply his masterful touch to the squid and kabobs, I wander back inside where I watch a young lady take hardened brown pieces of chocolate and place them in boiling water. She begins to grind the chocolate disc back and forth using a wooden tool known as 'Batador' (which is similar to the Mexican 'Molinillo' used in making Mexican hot chocolate.) Filipino hot chocolate known as 'Tsokolate' is traditionally made from small discs known as 'tablea'. Tablea discs are made from ingredients cacao and sugar. The discs are placed into water and then blended. The result is an amazing smooth, sweet chocolatey beverage. 

I feasted on several Filipino dishes and finally capped them off with some wonderful frozen mango.

The food was impeccable. The hospitality was remarkable. The West Tennessee Filipino American Association hosts a number of events throughout the year. I highly recommend that you make plans to attend any of the organizations community functions. You will not be disappointed!

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