A long time ago, Filipinos bring their baon (packed lunch) wrapped in banana leaves. Similar to what sushi is to Japanese, rice wrapped with banana leaves are the next best thing to food heaven. Rice is essential to the Filipino diet, so much so that once upon a time (probably 50 odd years ago), the Philippines was a major rice capital of SouthEast Asia.
Sadly, due to the onslaught of typhoons, volanic eruptions and possibly the mishandling of some political power, the Philippines is a rice capital no longer. In fact, the Philippines is now the World’s Biggest Rice Importer – a far cry from a country once known for exporting tons and tons of rice.
But I digress. I’m just trying to make a point that… Filipinos do love their rice.
And so for a recent party with some of the coolest Filipino friends around, I decided to go back to basics and make something that will surely bring back memories of sitting down in bahay kubo, eating with your hands, feeling the soft breeze against the mango tree and with that distinct cackle of firewood as lunch is prepared. The pungent smell of the pandan-infused rice and the aromatic gisa of garlic, ginger and onions – this is the true blue authentic Filipino dining.
To keep in track with the Filipino theme, I decided to cook a traditional family recipe passed on from my great grandmother down to my mum and aunts. Binalot means wrapped, and this is usually a technique used with rice and some sort of ulam ie meat, vegetables, or fish. My aunt taught me how to cook Chicken Kagikit – a fried, aromatic, salty, shredded chicken dish paired beautifully with pandan rice and wrapped in banana leaves. She told me that when they were kids, my grandmother would make their pack lunches this way, and during lunch when they open the banana leaf bunches, a strong appetising smell would permeate through the whole room. This dish is also native to the Muslim part of the Philippines – Mindanao – where my mum grew up. Now it’s a very interesting concept: half of mum’s relatives are Muslim, while the other half is Christian. And because they’re Chinese, there are some Buddhist relatives thrown in the mix. I can’t say that I fully understand the family dynamics, but at the end of the day despite the differences with our faith, we’re all one big (and I mean very big!) happy family.
Binalot: Chicken Kagikit
1 kg chicken breast
1 large onion, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb size ginger, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
Rice cooked with pandan
1. Cook the chicken in plain boiling water. Once cooked, remove from water and set aside to cool. Once cooled, shred the chicken into very small mince – use a food processor if needed. Set aside.
2. In a large pan, heat oil under medium to high heat. Cook onions, garlic and ginger until brown but not burnt.
3. Add shredded chicken, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Cook until the liquid has dried and the chicken is almost sticking to the bottom of the pan.
NB. Preparing the banana leaves is exactly the same way as the Suman na may Latik recipe.
1. For the leaves to become pliable and easier to use as wrappers, place banana leaves over an open fire and pass through the flame. The leaves are ready to be removed from the fire once they change colour and become shinier. Don’t leave for too long as it will burn the leaves.
2. Place the banana leaf on a flat surface.
3. Add 2 tbsp of cooked rice in the middle.
4. Create a “groove” in the middle of the rice by tracking your finger along the middle section.
5. Add a few spoonfulls of the cooked chicken kagikit (I like a lot of chicken so I usually add the same amount of chicken to rice proportions).
6. Fold 1/3 of the leaf over the rice and chicken.
7. Fold both ends of the leaf, and “roll” again until the leaf has fully covered the rice.
8. Cut a few thin strips of banana leaf, and use as string to tie and secure around the banana leaf.
9. Place on top of the BBQ for a few minutes until the banana leaves have browned, remove from heat. Open the parcel and serve warm (complete with one leg up on a chair and eat with hands!).