Of Ukoy, Lotto, Rizal and the Pardo de Taveras

I blame the 6/58 lotto jackpot for my recent obsession of that fried goodness, Ukoy (it's also spelled as Okoy). Cebu has an abundance of deep-fried goodies, you can find these dishes on every street corner pungko-pungko (carinderia) and food cart but not Ukoy.

Ukoy is a simple fried food that is usually served as an appetizer. The popular version is made of shrimp covered in batter and then deep-fried. In other fritter preparations, some cooks mix the shrimp with mung bean sprouts or substitute the shrimp with alamang (krill), bolinao or hibe (dried small shrimps). 

Ukoy is a cousin to the Japanese tempura. Both can trace their origins to the Iberian Peninsula which is comprised of Spain and Portugal. Both the Filipino and Japanese versions use seafood and vegetables for their fritters. The Portuguese merchants and missionaries introduced the fried batter to the Japanese.

Frying was a new concept brought by the European conquistadors when they started arriving in the Philippines in the 16th century. Italian chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, observed that the feast they were served by the native inhabitants were either roasted or boiled or steamed.

In his book of essays, Culture and History, Nick Joaquin writes, "The greatest contribution of Spain to our cookery is not any particular food or dish but the art of what we now call guisa, the art of dressing food, which is to cookery what the wheel is to the machine. Once having mastered the frying pan and skillet and the technique of blending together the proper portions of onions, garlic and tomato in hot oilt to form the basic dressing, we could advance forward in any culinary direction and would learn to invent soups and sauces, viands and gravies, and a distinctive style of cooking."

Who wants to be a lotto winner?

Who doesn't want to win a billion pesos?! Everyone has gone loco over the biggest prize money we have ever seen in a lotto draw. And I want to be part of the betting frenzy.

As I am putting my finishing touches on this post, two people won the more than a billion pesos jackpot prize (October 14, 2018, Lotto Draw). 

Even Jose Rizal was a fan of buying lotto tickets (Spanish loteria) and when he was living in Dapitan because of his exile, he won and shared the 2nd prize of P20,000 with two other winners in 1892 (winning numbers were 9736).

I would think that Rizal was already betting on his favorite numbers even when he was still living in Europe in the 1880s. Rizal biographers had written that betting on the lottery was Rizal's only vice (hmmm, I don't think it's the only thing). 

With his share of P6,200, Rizal bought land in Talisay and gave some of his winnings to his family and friends. He lived a quiet life in Dapitan and started a Progressive Boarding School until he was implicated in the Katipunan uprising of August 1896.

The Spanish Colonial government legalized the loteria in the 1830s. It continued until the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in 1896. Lotto or the lottery games were brought back in the 1930s during the American Period.

On that Wednesday morning of my lotto quest, I went to the mall to place a bet but ended up gorging on crunchy shrimp Ukoy for brunch. And it was such a random event that when I spied the Ukoy displayed in one of the food kiosks, I almost forgot why I was there in the first place.

I don't normally see Ukoy in any of the restaurants in Cebu. What they have will be Ngohiong, Chicarron Bulaklak, fried Kangkong as appetizers but no Ukoy. Maybe it's not that popular in the types of restaurants that I normally go to.

Something clicked on my head while munching a piece of shrimp that when I got home, I started going through my Filipiniana books until I found the story that I remembered.

Familia Pardo De Tavera: Exiles in Paris

"It's complicated."

I think that would have been Rizal's answer to anyone who would ask him about the Luna - Pardo de Tavera 1892 tragedyJuan Luna murdered his wife and mother-in-law in one of his fits of jealousy.

He was a close friend and confidante of both Juan Luna and the Pardo de Tavera family. He was instrumental in the courtship and marriage of the Pardo de Tavera's unica hija, Paz, and the years older Luna by introducing the artist to the expat family.

There are no known references in Rizal's correspondence about the Paris incident. It could be that there were letters exchanged with his closest friends but these are lost to history.

Another factor that could be the reason for the lack of correspondence on the incident was Rizal's deportation to Dapitan. The same time he was undergoing his trial and exile, the double-murder in Villa Dupont happened. It was September 1892 when that crime of passion happened.

The saga of the Familia Pardo de Tavera started with the Dawn of the Philippine Ilustrados. The patriarchs of the family were brothers Felix and Joaquin who married the Gorricho sisters, Juliana and Gertrudes. The Gorrichos hailed from a rich and successful merchant family from Binondo.

By the mid-1870s, the Pardo de Taveras have been forced to live abroad because of their involvement with the so-called ringleaders of the Cavite Mutiny of 1872.

Joaquin was the lawyer of the GomBurZa (Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora) priests. By the time he was exiled to the Marianas Islands, Felix has already died. When he returned to the Philippines, he and his family decided to migrate to France bringing along his brother's orphaned widow and children.

Similar with Jose Rizal and Juan Luna, Trinidad  Pardo de Tavera was a product of the Ateneo Municipal before migrating with his family to Paris, France. Aside from Rizal and Luna, the Pardo de Taveras were also acquaintances of Pedro Paterno and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. 

When the Philippine Republic of 1898 came to a realization, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and the Luna brothers (Jose and Antonio) were part of the Malolos Congress. Just imagine the tension and animosity that filled the room whenever they were all in it. 

Family lore says that the Pardo de Taveras burned and destroyed all the Luna paintings, drawings, and other artwork that they owned. And even after more than a hundred years, the Luna name is still taboo in family circles. 

So, you might ask, what's the connection between Rizal, Luna, and the Pardo de Taveras aside from Juan Luna marrying Paz who was the sister of Trinidad and the daughter of Doña Juliana? Food, it's all about food.

The Pardo de Taveras with family and friends

Recipe from an Exile's Notebooks

Doña Juliana Pardo de Tavera y Gorricho loves to cook (or maybe supervise her staff) and throw parties for the 19th century Filipino expats from her family home in Paris. In the Kasaysayan historical book series, Doreen Fernandez writes an article about the numerous handwritten recipes that the Pardo de Tavera matriarch left and that were kept by her family.

Being a guest in one of the Pardo de Taveras' Degustacion is both a privilege and an honor. Who wouldn't want to be friends with a sophisticated, rich, and cosmopolitan family?

While living in Paris, Luna had to share his household with his mother-in-law. It was expensive to live in the City of Lights even in the19th century. Even though he had commissions from the Spanish government, it wasn't enough to sustain their lifestyle. 

Doña Juliana's great-granddaughter, Mita Pardo de Tavera, translated the cookbooks into English. Reading through the recipes, one will notice that there aren't a lot of differences in the preparation of the dishes then and now. Some of the ingredients are changed or added depending on the taste preference of the person preparing the food. 

Doña Juliana prepared Spanish, Hispanized, Philippine Colonial, Indiginezed and Chinese dishes. She sourced her ingredients from Europe (especially in Spain) and the Philippines.

I noticed that in her Ukoy recipe she uses panocha or unrefined sugar which I don't see in modern ones. I'm thinking that the panocha makes the dish crispy, a little bit sticky, and sweet.

Maybe Dona Juliana was aiming for a sweet and savory profile for her Ukoy. I tried her recipe adding brown sugar instead of panocha. You need to be extremely cautious when frying since it gets burnt easily because of the sugar element. 

The sweetness balanced the saltiness of the shrimp or alamang (krill) that I used for the Ukoy

Here's a copy of her Ukoy recipe:

1/4 pound gray shrimps
1 pound flour
5 or 6 pieces of sugar (panocha)
Salt: the amount equivalent to what is picked up by 3 fingers, 7 times
5 or 6 whole eggs, well beaten
1 handful of green onions, chopped
1 1/2 liters water

The night before mix well the flour and water, using a wooden spoon. Add the eggs, one by one to the flour mixture while beating well. Add the salt, sugar, and the chopped green onions, and finally the shrimps.

Continue stirring. If necessary, one may add water, but the mixture should have the consistency of thick cream. When ready, drop a jiggerful of the mixture into very hot oil, but continue stirring the mixture while the frying is going on. 

Drain the Ukoy very well after frying.

The Visual Traveler's own version of the Ukoy

If you're interested in reading more about Philippine History and Culture, check out my recommended references by clicking on this link.