One of the highlights of my life in the mission house is that on some days I have the opportunity to cook simple meals and snacks for the kids as well as for the occasional guests who come to visit.
Now, I don’t have any formal training or a degree in culinary arts nor did I spend years slogging it in the kitchen until I could make a perfect paella from just the freshest ingredients hours before a party of 50 is scheduled to arrive. Cooking has been one of those simple joys I cherish in my moments of solitude. I enjoy the moments of preparation, from slicing the ingredients, to the hiss of spices in the frying pan, to the wafting aroma of a simple dish beckoning to those who care enough to sample the flavors of my cooking.
But let me reveal a secret: I usually cook to please myself.
A little background first.
The Korean missionary brought with him from Korea several cast iron molders of a type streetfood common in their country called boong-o bbang. These boong-o bbang are made from flour batter filled with sweet red bean paste. They are shaped like fish, mostly of the carp family.
the humble boong-o bbang
However, when the Korean brought the molders to the mission center, he immediately assumed that anyone could whip up a batter of this boong-o bbang and serve him some piping hot carp pastry with his coffee when he comes for a visit. He just told the staff of the mission house that the ingredients consist of flour and water. Indeed.
And the missionary wanted to give away some of the 60-ton molders (four in all) to the families in the community of Sleepy Hollow to kick start his livelihood program.
There wasn’t any problem with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Filipinos. It was more of how boong-o bbang, or fish bread as we decided to call it to give it some sense of adhesion to our memories, should taste since the Korean wasn’t generous enough to bring with him some samples from his homeland.
We had the families lined up for a workshop on boong-o bbang making. We preheated the molders and flexed our muscles, readying ourselves for the task ahead. We had pushcarts built to accommodate the behemoth molders so the families could peddle the Korean fish bread to the far reaches of this big city.
Yet, the problem remained. How exactly does boong-o bbang taste like?
Some of us theorized that boong-o bbang is a Korean version of the Japanese kamaboko. Yet one of those present in the boong-o bbang flavor development brainstorm proclaimed that it couldn’t be like kamaboko since kamaboko tastes like moldy football socks left in a tub of vinegar water for three weeks (no offense intended… it was only one person’s opinion which I had no chance to verify as of writing). Another thought that boong-o bbang should taste like the Japanese pancakes with cheese, ham, or ham and cheese filling sold in university canteens.
Others in the mission house have already tried developing their versions of the batter. The first trial batter consisted of flour and water, just like what the Korean instructed. The batter was poured into the hot molds, turned once, and voila! — flatfish cakes. And the taste? Don’t ask.
The second batter still had the constant flour and water. The new additions were the eggs and the heaping shovelful of baking soda. Result: passable but could use some sugar.
The third batter consisted of the ingredients from the second batter minus the baking soda, which was replaced with a heaping shovelful of yeast. Then milk was added plus the missing sugar. Result: major gas as the taste developers were also the taste testers. But the taste was better than the first two batters.
Another brainstorming ensued. It was decided that instead of focusing on how it was supposed to taste like, why not develop our own flavors that could appeal to the Filipino palate (deep!).
We had help from an uncle of mine who came to the mission house to bequeath to me a worn and mold-infested cookbook. He had training in the culinary arts so he’s legit. He stayed long enough to laugh at the stories of the failed batters and to teach all of us, from the cookbook, a recipe that changed our view about boong-o bbang.
My uncle assigned me to the task of developing the ingredients. Following the instructions from the Moldy Book of Shadows, Section on Cooking, I gathered
- baking powder
mixed everything in a bowl, transferred the golden batter (ours never turned out that color) to a pouring vessel and poured the contents to the molders.
The result: everybody happy.
Well, not quite everyone. The Korean was miffed. We had completely adulterated his national street food. He didn’t comment on the taste and left us alone in our celebration of a finally perfect batter for the fish bread.
That day, we puttered in the kitchen, crammed fish bread in our mouths and laughed at inane jokes. There must have been a hundred of those fishies baked for all of us — including the children — gathered in the mission house’s kitchen.
But until now, we are still looking for any information about boong-o bbang’s original recipe.
Actually, the recipe we have for our fish bread is for pancakes. Sometimes for breakfast, I use the recipe for a batch just enough for the people in the mission house who’d be around early in the morning. I’d ditch the molders and prepare the cakes in a good old griddle. As the pancakes turn golden, I would sometimes catch myself sporting a self-satisfied smile.
And as for the Korean, he hasn’t inquired about his precious boong-o bbang yet.