'If it's work, do it fast. If it's food, eat it little by little', says a Filipino proverb. Perfect, for that's exactly how I like to savour these bite-sized morsels of Inihaw na Baboy or grilled pork skewers with banana ketchup.
At one of the stalls at the night noodle markets in Canberra, scores of giant skewers were being grilled over hot, smoky coals. The meat looked and smelled so good, that I found myself salivating. I was intrigued by signage noting that the pork was glazed with banana ketchup and could hardly wait to have a taste. One nibble and I was hooked. I told a friend then and there that I wanted to make them at home for Peter. But first, I'd have to investigate 'banana ketchup', an ingredient new to me.
A quick search of the web and I found listings for ready-made banana sauce or catsup/ketchup, a.k.a tamis anghang, which is produced in the Philippines. Fortunately, one of the Asian grocers in my local shopping centre has plenty of it in stock. The ingredients include banana, water, sugar, vinegar, salt, starch, onion, spices and garlic. You can make this yourself, or use tomato sauce in its place if you wish. According to Ray Lampe in his book, Slow Fire, tomato ketchup was in short supply in the Philippines during the second world war and so this sauce was borne from an idea by an ingenious cook and a plentiful supply of bananas, combined with vinegar, sugar and food colouring!
Now, to find a good recipe for the pork skewers. Despite having an excellent chapter on the Philippines, there is no mention of pork skewers in Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Coobook nor her Encyclopedia of Asian Food. Both tomes are my go-to guides on Asian cooking. Back on the web, I found links to numerous variations. Peter Kuruvita's recipe on the SBS Food site took my fancy and, having watched the video in the link, I remembered seeing the episode where he cooked these pork skewers on a Filipino beach. It was one of the dishes from his Island Feast series that I'd mentally bookmarked to cook. Yay!
Of course I've tweaked the ingredients slightly (as you do), and also embellished the cooking method. I served my pork skewers with a simple salad of wombok, carrot and coriander.
The verdict on the skewers? As good as the market vendor AND Peter loves them! Win-win for me. ❤
FILIPINO-STYLE GRILLED PORK BELLY WITH BANANA KETCHUP
1 kg lean pork belly
1/2 cup soy or tamari sauce
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup brown sugar or coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup banana ketchup (or tomato sauce)
½ cup light beer (optional - to tenderise the pork)
freshly ground black pepper
a few drops of liquid smoke* (see note)
First, with a sharp knife slice the skin off the pork belly, then cut the meat into bite-sized cubes.
In a large Pyrex bowl, combine the pork pieces with the soy or tamari sauce, garlic, lemon or lime juice, sugar, banana ketchup and beer. Sprinkle with a little cracked pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or if you are in a hurry allow the pork to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
When you're ready to cook, thread the pork onto metal or (pre-soaked) bamboo skewers, and reserve the marinade for basting. Cook the pork over either over a wood-fired grill, hot smoking coals or gas barbecue. You can also cook the skewers inside under your grill. Cook them for around ten minutes or so, turning the skewers and brushing the meat with the marinade every few minutes until the pork is cooked through. Take note, a little caramelisation is good! Serves 4-6.
*For extra flavour if you are cooking the pork under the grill indoors, add a few drops of liquid smoke to the marinade.
SIMPLE WOMBOK SALAD WITH CARROT AND CORIANDER
1/2 a small wombok, finely shredded
1 small carrot, peeled and julienned
1 tablespoon fresh coriander leaves
a few coriander leaves extra, for garnish
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
1/2 a bird's eye chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
Make the dressing: combine the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and water in a small saucepan over a medium heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. You can chill the dressing at this point for a really refreshing point of difference. Just before you are ready to serve the salad, add the finely chopped garlic, chilli and lime juice to the dressing. Taste and adjust the flavours to suit your palate. To finish, sprinkle the dressing liberally over the salad immediately before serving. Garnish with the extra coriander.
Tell me dear readers and fellow cooks, have you ever tasted banana ketchup? Are you familiar with Filipino food? And have you visited the Philippines? Do please shares your stories. I love to hear from you.
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.