A Filipino home has two Kitchens; the dirty and the clean kitchens. The dirty kitchen is located outside the main house, in another structure. It is a few steps away from the clean kitchen that is inside the house. The dirty kitchen is where most of the cooking is done; the wonderful cooking aroma drifts through it. There are braids of garlic; bowls of shallots and onions ; baskets and tomatoes ; jars and bagoong ( fermented fish); bottles of patis ( clarified juice of fermented fish); jugs of light and dark vinegar; bottles of soy suace; urns of salt, peppercorn, and bay leaves; mounds of solidified brown sugar. There are sacks of rice, baskets of mung beans sacks of potatoes and yams in cooler corners of the dirty kitchen. Blocks of chopping boards line the windowsill; firewood is piled neatly near the stove.
In dirty kitchens in the rural areas, there is a heavy cast iron oven/ stove with four or six tops with a lower chamber for firewood or coal. A gas stove is more commonly used in the dirty kitchens in the cities. Both kinds of stove cook dishes rapidly at one high level heat.
Wok cooking in the Chinese cookery is similar to the “ one high – heat “ Filipino cooking. The ingredients are tossed into a deep pan: oil, some vinegar, some soy sauce are splashed in the left hand skillfully moves the pan around to prevent the food from getting scorched. To simmer, the pot is placed aside on one end of the stove, away from the direct heat. To grill, or to broil, a rack is placed on top of hot coals. Baking is more commonly done as a modified Bain Marie. A deep pan, filled with water is set directly on top of the heat. The pot containing the dish to be baked in placed inside this Bain Marie. Steaming is done similarly, using layers of bamboo baskets.
A cooked dish is taken from the dirty kitchen to the clean kitchen where it is placed on a serving platter or bowl. The clean kitchen is adjacent to the dining room; it is usually white tiled with shelves and drawers to store flatware, platter, bowls, china and glassware. A sink is in one corner next to a refrigerator. Sometimes, there is an oven used for baking.
In one of my parents’ homes, Balatong, the dirty kitchen is the center of the household’s daily activities. It is adjacent to a deep well. Heavy duty washing and cleaning is done in basins of water pumped from the well. Pots and pans blackened from frequent cooking are vigorously scrubbed clean with coconut husks and ashes. All around the well are clumps of fragrant ginger plants, Camia, that thrive on moist earth.
Kamias, a very tart fruit, grows in bunches hugging a fat trunk an arm’s reach away from the dirty kitchen. Kamias is used as souring agent for dishes like Sinigang. My mother makes Candied kamias, a sweet sour confection of the blanched fruit sprinkled with brown sugar, sun dried until pruney.
Surrounding the dirty kitchenare more vegetable plants and trees: papaya, banana, marunggay (horseradish tree); plots of beans, eggplants, tomatoes onions and pepper. More fruit trees, santol, chico, atis, sineguelas, longboy, langka, and kalamansi,(citrus), circle the tended gardens and sprawl into hectares of flower bedeck shrubs and vine. You can simply walk to these gardens, pluck fruits to add to a stew or a soup, or gather blossoms for a tables centerpiece.
Also in the yard are flocks of chicken and duck. Goats are tethered to tree trunks: a couple of cows are gazing nearby; a dozen pigs loiter in lines of pigpens. When the menu asks for fresh chicken, one call out to the garden crew working in the backyard to get it. Can ingredients get any freshmen.
The English, French, Irish and Italians have herb gardens that skirt the door to their kitchens. An elaborate kitchen garden had herbs, vegetables and other fruits that can be plucked, harvested and used immediately while cooking in the kitchen. Windowsills that get generous sunshine would usually display little herb plant collections. Thankfully, even tomatoes can be planted in tubs that can be grown in someone’s patio, if one does not have the yard for it. Everywhere, there is a desire to plant, grow and use fresh herbs and vegetables to enhance and enrich their cooking.