November 7, 2008

ihaw-ihaw (backyard grilling)

Philippine-style backyard grilling is called ihaw-ihaw. Filipino restaurants serving grilled food are popular with the locals and tourists as well like this one with everything from grilled fish, pork and chicken in their menu. When my uncle, aunt and cousins from Chicago recently went back to the Philippines to visit family, my aunt thought about this traditional gathering right in the backyard of their home. Based on the photos that my cousin A took, the ihaw-ihaw was a success. The guests were close family members who all helped make the party fun and memorable. Thanks to my cousin A for her dedication to food photography, we were able to see how the ihaw-ihaw party went. We felt like we were part of the event.

The star of the event was the grilled pork belly (above) served on a tray lined with fresh banana leaves. We seldom use aluminum foil in the Philippines. What's great about these leaves is that they have a natural non-stick surface and they also add a nice flavor to the food. Banana trees also grow everywhere in the Philippines even in vacant lots and backyards so there's no need to buy the leaves.
The particular side dish above uses thinly sliced banana hearts as the main ingredient. It has a tart vinegar sauce with a little heat from the green chilis. To maintain the light color of the dish, it's important to soak the thinly sliced banana hearts in salted water before cooking.

Making use of local varieties of squash and yard long green beans, this popular side dish has a creamy coconut milk sauce. It may also be cooked without the pork for a healthier vegetarian version.

A variety of cooking bananas called saba was used in this local dessert. The bananas were sliced and simmered in a brown sugar syrup until cooked. It's a favorite snack and dessert all year round but in the summertime, we usually top this with crushed or shaved ice and evaporated milk for a refreshing treat.

The backyard lunch side dish spread consisted of steamed rice, banana hearts in vinegar sauce, a mix of local veggies, tiny shrimps, squash and green beans in coconut milk, fresh fruit and sweet saba bananas for dessert.
Shown above is a traditional set-up for a backyard ihaw-ihaw party, usually under the cool shade of a big tree, with guests helping out in the preparations. Ihaw-ihaw or backyard grilling is a great idea for family to be together in a relaxed setting. Food preparation becomes more enjoyable when everyone's having fun.

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