I would say there are few people who wouldn’t be drawn to the allure of sweet and savory slow-cooked pork served alongside a creamy corn and coconut pudding. There is a select population in the Pajaro Valley who will recognize Pork Humba and Maja Blanca Mais, and that is our longtime Filipino community.
Filipinos have a painful history here in the Pajaro Valley. Ninety years ago, in January 1930, they were subjected to five days of violent attacks in an event known as the Watsonville Riots. The riots were fueled by ignorant anti-immigrant hatred that resulted in the shooting and death of 22-year-old, Fermin Tobera, and injuries for others who were thrown off the Pajaro Bridge, wounded and beaten. The riots also led to an expansion of more violence in Stockton, San Jose, San Francisco and other cities, and a severe drop off in immigration from the Philippines. Sadly, Filipinos were U.S. nationals at the time with the legal right to work in the United States.
The first Filipinos to land on what is now the continental U.S., arrived on Oct. 18, 1587, in Morro Bay, 146 miles south of here. With some Spaniards, they came on the galleon, Nuestra Senora de Esperanza, during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade era between 1565 and 1815. Landing at Morro Bay, they claimed the land for Spain and were in turn attacked by local indigenous people. After that, a decision was made to forestall Spanish colonization until a later date.
Humba is a traditional pork dish from the Visayas Islands in the Philippines and is defined by fermented black beans mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves and black peppercorns. Although this recipe calls for pork shoulder, the most authentic version uses pork belly, which in Chinese is called “hong ba.” That is the origin of the name of the recipe. The provocative ingredient list, which attracted me to the recipe, and the long preparation yielded worthy results.
The recipe is from “The Filipino-American Kitchen” cookbook by Jennifer M. Aranas, available at the Watsonville Public Library. I highly recommend this cookbook if you’re looking to upgrade your food offerings. Even if you don’t follow the recipe religiously, you and your eating audience will enjoy the upgrade. Be aware, the Maja Blanca Mais is very rich and with a little more sugar could also be served as a dessert.
Luckily, we have the Oriental Store and Food to Go at 205 East Lake Ave. at the corner of Sudden Street, where you can buy palm or coconut vinegar and glutinous rice flour. I just had a veggie and chicken lumpia that had been purchased there. They were wonderful. My imaginative friends Vicki and Norma performed an experiment where Vicki fried the frozen lumpia in oil and Norma prepared hers in her new air fryer. Both were great. Of course, the oil-fried ones had a little more flavor but the 86 percent less fat from the air fryer has a certain advantage too.
2 1/2 pounds pork shoulder cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup fermented black beans or Chinese Black Bean Garlic Sauce from the jar
2 dried shitake mushrooms
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup palm or coconut vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
3-4 cups beef or chicken stock
Put all ingredients in a large pot. Stock should cover with more than an inch over the meat. Bring mixture to a boil. Skim off foam on the top and discard.
Cover pot and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until meat is tender. Remove cover and increase heat to medium-high. Cook for another 30 minutes until you have a thick sauce. Remove bay leaves. Serve with Maja Blanca Mais
Maja Blanca Mais
3/4 cup canned coconut milk
1/2 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoon glutinous rice flour, Mochiko
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of pepper
1 cup corn kernels
¼ cup sour cream
Combine coconut milk, water, sugar, cornmeal, glutinous rice flour, salt, pepper and corn kernels in a large pan. Bring to a simmer over low to medium heat, stirring to keep from burning, for about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in sour cream and serve hot.