Filipino Cooking: Using a Traditional Philippine Pot Oven

Filipino native Mario P. Chanco shares traditional cooking methods, techniques and secrets when using a Philipine pot oven.

| November/December 1975

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    The Philippine pot oven cooker, with reflector, grill, lid, and hibachi.
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    Interior of a Philippine pot oven (note metal liner).

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Here in the Philippines, life has come full circle.

Two or three generations ago, most Filipino town and city dwellers cooked their meals over wood fires (or an occasional gas stove). After World War II, however, along came the electric age, gas and liquid kerosene stoves, alcohol burners, and all sorts of modern cooking appliances. Then, during the energy crunch of 1973 and 1974, wood was once again rediscovered. The oil supply situation has eased somewhat since the "crisis" but — because the cost of cooking gas remains high — a small-scale renaissance of old methods is now taking place in some family kitchens.

Back in 1974 I did some experimenting along these tines myself. To be specific, I put together a device from a diagram in a book on the life of Maria Orosa (who is to Philippine cooking what Betty Crocker is to American). This gadget — a palayok (pot) oven — is intended to absorb heat from a charcoal-fed Japanese hibachi stove. I made mine entirely of local materials; a large ordinary clay pot with a cover, a wire rack, a piece of thin sheet metal cut to fit the vessel's bottom, and a piece of aluminum foil placed just below the lid to act as a heat reflector.

Filipino Cooking in a Traditional Philippine Pot Oven

Less than a decade ago, cookers of this type were easily purchased from any market or neighborhood sari-sari store. (According to National Geographic for September 1966, the sari-sari store begins as a small stand which carries staple foods, sewing needs, soft drinks, etc.... and often expands into a supermarket or other full-scale business. — MOTHER.) The advent of civilization with its gas and butane stoves and kerosene burners has pushed the old-style ovens out of population centers . . . but now that I've rediscovered the traditional cooking/baking unit, I've located dealers who tell me they can supply the oven's raw materials in any quantities I want.

When I first began testing my palayok oven, I used it occasionally to bake cookies, bread, and other flour-based products. It took some time to get up to the proper heat, but — once launched — did a good job on anything placed in it. Then I more or less forgot about the device, only to rediscover it three months later . . . near the end of November 1974, when a late-season typhoon hit Manila (capital of the Philippine Republic) and a long power brownout taught me a new use for this old kitchen tool.

At the time of the November typhoon, we were entertaining a Filipino couple, Vince and Nene Cortez, who had just returned from the United States for a vacation in Manila. As the electric power blinked off, Vince mentioned that — about this time in Oxnard, California — it was customary for him and his family to sit down and demolish a Thanksgiving turkey.

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