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The Language of Pochero

By A. Semana|

My father never said he loves me. He never said he cares. He is never warm nor sweet. While all of this is true, it is a non-issue.

With all my father’s meekness or sometimes indifference, he compensates with his superb cooking skills and commitment to do it. I vividly remember when I was young that every day, he wakes up at 5:30 in the morning to cook breakfast for his five children and prepare everyone’s packed lunch for school. When he gets home from the office every afternoon, he rests for a moment before he embarks to his undying kitchen adventure or torture.

While I have been away from my family for almost 6 years now, I try to visit them at least once a year. And every visit means an opportunity to devour my favorite foods. With all my culinary exploration in the Philippines and abroad, I claim that the best cooking can only be found in my home in Batangas, through the culinary prowess of my dad.

Every homecoming is a feast and every meal brings wonderful childhood memories. I always look forward to tasting my father’s adobong Tagalog na manok sa dilaw, kalderetang kambing, kare-kareng pata ng baboy, and tinolang Tagalog na manok, which is always paired with fried native chicken legs marinated in calamansi, garlic, and fish sauce. But my ultimate favorite of all his cooking will always be pochero, and to be honest I have never tasted anything like that anywhere outside our home in Batangas. No one can beat his pochero, as in no pochero tastes better than his. I cannot overemphasize its quality, but let me put it this way, every time I have the chance to taste another’s pochero, I ended up being prouder of the father’s recipe.

During my last visit, I wake up to the pleasant smell of boiling meat that my father is preparing for lunch. I go out to check what my folks are up to and see that my mom is having coffee at the terraza while my father has started his 4-hour journey of pochero cooking by setting up the big burner and kawa, which is a typical scene during fiestas in Batangas. He pours the water and boils the pig’s head for more than an hour, once done, he cuts meat diagonally, which he fries until the meat is flaky but not crispy. While waiting for the pork to reach the right amount of crunch, my father chops all the other ingredients like garlic, onion, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and bell pepper that go with the meat. This, he said, is the most exhausting part and I totally agree. He then s fries saging na saba until golden brown, which are also cut diagonally to match the shape of the vegetables. Once done with frying, he puts everything into the kawa where he generously adds tomato paste, soy sauce, and cheese, and he let it simmer for 20 minutes.

I know I am not the best person to judge my father’s cooking given my bias towards him. But my wife, who I married the year before, is with me and she gets to try it for the first time. When transferred into a bowl, the pochero’s heavenly aroma is as appetizing as its appearance: flaky meat with colorful vegetables and reddish sauce with right amount of oil. Now my wife gets some rice and a spoonful of meat, her eyes sparkle with approval, and then my heart beats proudly with so much relief and joy.

To be honest, I am catatonic at that moment until she says it is indeed the best pochero in the history of all the pochero. I am quite nervous with two possibilities; will my father be CHOPPED? Or will my family chop my wife? I do not know which one is better. Or worse.

While my father, up to this point, never said he loves me and he never said he cares,his cooking expresses everything what words can never say.