I grew up eating food prepared by my wawa. Wawa was my mom’s aunt, who lived with us. She oversaw our whole household like a general and the kitchen was her domain. It was clear that cooking was not just a chore to her, but more an expression of love and care for us.
Every Saturday, she would get up at the crack of dawn to go to the market, where she would banter with and cajole her suki for the best meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
She would meticulously look over slabs of meat and pork, poking, smelling and turning the pieces over and insisting, much to the chagrin of her butcher suki, on the choicest parts to be carved out and double ground or chopped (evenly, mind you). The strong-armed butchers knew better than to argue with my formidable wawa. She could switch from being charming to intimidating in the blink of an eye, and I guess they preferred her charming.
When she was done meat shopping, she would proceed to procure poultry and seafood in the same fashion, making sure that she got the freshest and finest.
Her favorite stop was the vegetable stall. It was owned by a former neighbor of hers, and my wawa, a consummate multitasker, would catch up and reminisce with her friend while carefully choosing her vegetables. Of course, she insisted on discounts and freebies as well before waving goodbye.
When she got home, she would oversee the unpacking and repacking of the food items, making sure that everything was properly labeled. She would then have coffee and pan de sal then proceed to cook our lunch.
Homemade school lunches
I was raised on a diet of Filipino food staples—nilaga, afritada, tinola, all kinds of sinigang, almondigas and adobo which my wawa made with pork and chicken liver. We also had fried chicken, shaken in a bag of flour and seasoning, her special hamburger which none of us has been able to replicate, lumpiang Shanghai and her sweet spaghetti. Even our merienda was homemade—turon, palitaw, maruya, tuna sandwiches.
When I was in grade school, my wawa would notice that I was ravenous when I arrived from school. I told her that I couldn’t (wouldn’t) eat cafeteria food because it tasted nothing like her cooking. She was discomfited because none of my siblings had this issue.
Nevertheless, being the persuasive and caring person that she was, she got permission from our school to bring me lunch every single day, citing some vague health concern (malnutrition or allergy to mystery meats drowned in gravy).
Rain or shine, as soon as the lunch bell rang, I would race to the cafeteria where my wawa would be waiting with a table set with my own placemat, plate, utensils and water glass. Together we would unpack fresh, piping-hot food, and my wawa would watch me and smile contentedly as I finished my lunch.
Last year, my wawa passed away at the age of 90. Her loss is keenly felt by all in my family, but her passing was especially poignant for me because I couldn’t be there for her, as I was battling my own health crisis then.
The most difficult part of my cancer treatment ended during the lockdown. When my taste buds reawakened, a casualty of that treatment, I would ask my mom to prepare food that she learned to make from our wawa. Eating food that is lovingly prepared almost has a sacramental aspect to it. Cooking is not just an art and science, but a language of love above all.
I also started to crave dessert, most especially ice cream. Since we were still on strict lockdown, my daughter and I tried our hand at making our own ice cream.
I miss Wawa, but I didn’t want her to haunt me, so we used the best ingredients we could source. Our efforts were rewarded by delicious, creamy products that Wawa would have loved. Since we had a lot of time on our hands and were in danger of going stark raving mad from cabin fever, we churned out so much ice cream that we started sending some to our friends and family. With their encouragement, we began selling our ice cream along with cookies under the brand name Mootown.
Taking inspiration from my wawa’s cooking language of love and my own learnings through chef Reggie Aspiras, Mootown’s flavors are a mix of old-time favorites and new flavors made from the very best ingredients. I hope that those who have the opportunity to partake of our products will experience a bit of the love my wawa lavished upon me and my family.
No-Machine Chocolate-Banana Ice Cream
(Adapted from Ready For Dessert)
This is an ice cream recipe for those who want to try their hand at ice cream making without buying a machine first.
170 g bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 c plus 2 Tbsp whole or low-fat milk
1 c plus 2 Tbsp Bailey’s Irish Cream
3 very ripe medium bananas, peeled and cut into chunks
3 Tbsp dark rum
In a small heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate and milk. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from heat.
Pour the liqueur into a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the bananas, rum and the melted chocolate mixture and purée until smooth.
Pour the mixture in a shallow plastic container, cover and freeze at least eight hours, preferably overnight.
The author is a mother of two and co-owns Mootown (@mootown.ph on Instagram) with her daughter, Gabrielle. Are you also a passionate home cook and want to be featured? Share with us your story and recipes, along with mouthwatering photos. Send them to [email protected]