There was a time, very long ago, when eating was an uncomplicated affair than it has become now. This of course does not necessarily mean that it was healthier, only that it seemed at that time the focus was purely on the taste, when Vetsin, the monosodium glutamate flavour enhancer of choice, was a brisk seller: one bought it as often and alongside salt, peppercorns and vinegar, the main staples of Filipino cooking.
Vegetable oil usually came in one-gallon tins, but in most cases can be bought in the market in portioned-out small plastic bags, very useful in the tropics where the heat and humidity can cause it to go rancid very quickly, and very economical for most of the people who cannot afford the price of the large containers. This is to this day a standard small business practice in many developing countries: sugar can still be bought in small scoops, margarine cut and sold in tenth-portions, garlic bought in cloves instead of a whole head and even cigarettes purchased by the stick instead of the whole package .A less expensive way of frying of course is by using lard which cost much less than the healthier alternative.
In my mother’s kitchen at that time, the preferred way of flavouring was using pork fat, from leftover or discarded skin and the attached fat. Generously seasoned with salt, dropped into a very hot pan and fried until browned and crispy, the ensuing fat is collected and used for sautéing and adding flavour to any dish, without regard for saturated fat content. In the months of December and early January, one might always find a jar of this in many a kitchen, the pure unadulterated animal fat gone solid from the cool temperature. The by-product of this process, pupor, the crisp brown skin and fat, is in itself a delicacy, and oftentimes also used to add flavour to other dishes.
However, in our house, the really only way to experience pupor is simply on its own, savouring all that salt, grease and the heavenly crunch all mixed together. Oh, how I still remember and salivate over the thought of many a supper when pupor was the meal itself, eaten with sugared black coffee poured over steamed white rice.
© August 2007