Filipino Rock Salt

29 January, 2012

For the most part, and I’m a home-cook foodie, dishes never really taste the same as the first time you eat them – nor should they – and more often than not, they never taste as good as that first time either. This, however, could be due to a psycho-emotional reason and not due to palate or taste. That’s not to say I’ve never had anything that was better some place else or made by someone else from the first time I tasted it but when it comes to a traditional Filipino breakfast it’s never quite right unless Filipino rock salt is used in cooking the eggs.

Before we go on, for those of you who aren’t familiar with what a traditional Filipino breakfast is, here’s the scoop. Very simply, it’s fried egg (itlog) over rice (kanin), which can be everyday steamed white rice or fried with garlic (sinangag). All of that is usually eaten with some kind of meat. In some cases bacon or Spam™ will make a Filipino very happy but what will make us really giddy is if the egg and rice are served with longanisa (Filipino sausage), tocino (sweet, cured pork), or tapa (Filipino beef jerky). Tapa is also referred to as beef tapa, which is sliced sirloin that has been cured with kalamansi, toyo (soy sauce), sugar and garlic. Each variation of a traditional Filipino breakfast has its own name depending on the combination; its name derived from its parts. For example, the version with sausage is referred to as longsilog.

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Longsilog with plain white rice

The one with tocino is called tosilog and, you’ve probably guessed it, the beef jerky version is called tapsilog. In the 1980s, at The Intercontinental Hotel in Makati, at their lobby restaurant called The Jeepney, there was even a version that served breakfast with fried pieces of pork adobo. Fried bangus (Milkfish) is also an option. If you’re ever ordering a Filipino breakfast, just make sure you specify what kind of rice you want – garlic or plain – but, going by their names and I concur, sinangag is the preferred choice. Finally, you eat all of it with any or all of the following sides/condiments: vinegar; vinegar with hot peppers; Jufran™ (banana catsup), and atchara (pickled papaya).

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A weekend family breakfast. Three orders of ‘egg rice.’ Notice the bottle of Jufran™ in the middle. 

Okay, so back to the salt. Living on the United States’ east coast, the term ‘rock salt’ makes one think of ten or twenty-five pound bags piled high outside the local ShopRite or Home Depot with the words printed in bold across their front. It conjures up images of clanging trucks driving by and spraying salt pellets onto the blacktop roads. In The Philippines, however, the term ‘rock salt’ refers to salt used in cooking that’s big and even crunchy. In appearance and feel, rock salt looks like Pop Rocks. The morsels don’t always dissolve –which is the best part – and the taste is strong and earthy. It’s a taste all its own and one you don’t get with the fine iodized salt we all have in our pantries.

Over the years, I’ve tried to find it here in the United States. Even venturing to the various Filipino and other Asian supermarkets I know of doesn’t always yield positive results. Moreover, the rock salt is often on the dearer side of things and that’s if they have it. On two recent occasions when friends went home to The Philippines for holiday, I asked if they could bring some back for me. One of them managed to, procuring a small bag (about 1kg) that I used sparingly. A couple of years later, when my 1kg bag was close to finished, another friend tried but her bag of rock salt, which I think was significantly larger than 1kg, was confiscated at the airport. I wonder if they thought my friend was smuggling, very openly, some strange-looking kind of cocaine. Joke lang.* Talking with friends about this – Filipino and Fil-Am friends and non-Asian friends – they suggested I try sea salt. So I did but I wasn’t totally satisfied. It wasn’t big or crunchy enough. As a seasoning and flavour enhancer, it was sufficient. As a substitute for Filipino rock salt, it was less than.

More recently, however, I discovered a new product in the salt aisle at my supermarket. Something compelled me to pick it up and shake it. When the salt rattled inside the canister, I smiled. I took a chance and bought it and the next opportunity I had to make a Filipino breakfast, I used it. I wasn’t disappointed. It looked, felt and tasted like Filipino rock salt. After I broke the egg and watched the yolk ooze into the rice and mixed the two together, I took a spoonful into my mouth and I was sent back forty years to our home in Pasay. I was eight or nine, maybe ten, and having longsilog with a glass of very sweet black Sanka™. (My coffee, of course, was in the empty and washed narrow glass container that was the previous jar of Sanka™ my grandparents had.) Thanks to this new salt product, I was in food heaven! I can’t say that this new product tastes exactly like Filipino rock salt but it’s as close as you’re going to get. Filipino rock salt crystals are also larger but, again, so far, this is the closest I’ve found.

And what is this new product? It’s Morton™ Coarse Mediterranean Sea Salt.

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The great discovery! Morton™ Coarse Mediterranean Sea Salt. 

Yes, sea salt but coarse and from The Mediterranean. I haven’t made sinangag with it yet but I will for sure and I can’t wait to taste and feel the crunch when I have a bite. So, fellow transplanted Filipinos and Fil-Ams, when you’re in a pinch (pun intended, siempre naman!**) and in need of a quick fix that only Filipino rock salt will give you but don’t have any, give this product a try. You’ll be glad you did. Oh, and just for the record, I don’t work for or have any connection with the Morton™ company. I’m just a Fil-Am writer and teacher who’s excited that he’s found the taste of his youth in something that’s new and, more importantly, easily accessible.

Now, if I could only buy Baguio cooking oil in America, I’d really be in home-cook foodie heaven. Thanks for stopping by.

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* Lang is a Tagalog word that can be translated to ‘just’ or ‘only.’ It implies a lessening of severity or seriousness from what was actually said. “Joke lang” is a common Filipino phrase that equates to “just kidding.”

** Siempre is Tagalog for ‘naturally’ or ‘of course.’ Naman is a word used for emphasis.

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