The Papisik: Photo taken by the author
August 2016. It was tiempo muerto in Negros. The season when fields and paddies refuse, quite literally, to yield so everyone tries to save rice, sugar, coffee and whatever that could fill and give warmth to the belly. It is rare, in barrios like ours, for people to savor mouthfuls of menudo, mechado, tinola, ginat-an nga tambo (bamboo shoots in coconut milk) and other viands requiring an array of elements during these scarce times. Even the prospect of the minimalist adobo, demanding five ingredients at least, seems remote. And, it is with this milieu that a dish of three humble ingredients was born out of the old kaserola (casserole) of my lolo.
My lolo, Elmer Agustin by birth and Manoy among relatives and friends, always has a knack for cooking sumptuous meals. In family gatherings, he would often be asked to cook three to four of the dishes in the menu which everyone would commend during the salu-salo. Be that as it may, he would often complain that while it’s easy to prepare delicious food, missing ingredients make things utterly difficult. And so he faced with a dilemma on that day in mid-August of 2016 when all he got were his free range hens, salt, and a bunch of lemongrass from his kumpare’s backyard. However, with firm grasp of flavors and dash of daring he manage to pull-off a culinary wonder — the Papisik.
As with its ingredients, the process of cooking the Papisik is simple. Someone with casseroles and the three ingredients could easily end up with a hearty, fulfilling meal of Papisik and rice.
According to lolo, this is how you cook his signature Papisik: First, chop the chicken into pieces (you may cook it whole but as lolo observed, the flavors would not be as rich) and chuck them into your casserole. Then, add in water until your chicken is half-submerged, lemongrass in its traditional knot, and a couple pinches of salt. In medium heat, bring all of these into a boil. Once boiling, you may again season with salt to taste. You may also want to add pepper or chili for additional flavor but these are optional. Then in low heat, let it simmer until the water has reduced into a sort of oily aromatic liquid. By then the chicken Papisik would be ready to serve.
The name Papisik, lolo said, is derived from the pisik (splashing) sound salt makes upon contact with the casserole as the dish cooks. He thought of the name just seconds after I ask him what we should christen the tasty dish, which only goes to show — contrary to his humble claim that the dish is fortuitous — careful observation and calculated steps went into the process.
In many ways, the story of how Papisik came to be, is the story of a typical rural Negrense family — one struggling to make ends meet especially amid tiempo muerto, and one living a simple yet fulfilling life.