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Lily’s Laing (Lah-ing) aka Taro Leaves In Coconut Milk

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Family Story

Lily was my childhood nanny. Hailing from an area south of Manila, from a place most famous for its perfect cone-shaped volcano (which probably influenced the locals’ love of spicy food), she came to work for my parents a few months before I was born. Not having received any formal education, my nanny came to the capital armed with the skill of cooking delicacies from her hometown. One of these dishes is laing, and Lily’s version is one of my father’s favourites. After my youngest sibling was born, Lily’s responsibilities focused more on overseeing the household, and cooking was then delegated to the more junior member of the household staff. But from time to time my father would ask Lily to cook laing. I must admit I don’t remember eating the dish growing up. This probably was for two reasons: first, I was very much partial to fried foods, and secondly, growing up I had an aversion to vegetables. Any vegetables! My nanny retired when I was already in my twenties. Not having children of her own, she moved in with her sister in a small town south of the metro area. Every year around her birthday, I took a six hour bus ride (each way) to visit her, and during these visits she would gladly serve up a meal from produce that she grew herself. This was when I started to get a real appreciation for her cooking. One year she joined me on my trip back home for a short vacation. Even though it was a leisure trip for her, she gladly obliged to cook her version of laing when I asked her. She made sure that each ingredient we procured was to her liking, and once we got into the cooking portion, she explained every step down to the smallest detail. One thing was certain, she was careful not to waste any ingredients in making her laing. From a simple hometown dish, laing would eventually become a mainstream staple not only in Manila but also in Filipino restaurants overseas. I had many opportunities to make it for friends in the States, but I admit taking a few shortcuts from what I was taught, making my version. But Lily’s lessons are still with me (thanks to recent digital developments) and I know that one of these days, I would again make Lily’s laing, which is food in its purest form.


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