Certain foods bring back memories of someone or an experience or even one’s childhood.
My Aunt Tita Blitte said her Rainbow Steamed Fish always reminds her of her mother, our grandmother Wowa.
We called her Wowa partly because her name was Aurora and friends called her Au-au. Actually, we used to call her plain Lola for grandma. Then one of her grandchildren had a hard time saying “lola” and instead said “wowa.” It caught on for its cuteness and that’s how we started calling our grandmother.
“Whenever I make Rainbow Steamed Fish today, I remember mama. She always made steamed pugapo covered with bands of colors forming a rainbow using mashed eggs, chopped ham and mayo, among other ingredients. She made it for special occasions but today, I don’t reserve it for holidays. I make it whenever I want to remember and share her love.”
My nephew Pannon asked, “Wowa, are you going to make Rainbow fish for us today?”
My aunt replied, “Sunday would be a good day.”
Don’t get confused why Pannon called my aunt his grandma. She is technically his grandaunt.
It is confusing. In Philippine relationship transactions, every aunt’s or uncle’s sibling is called grandma/pa; every first cousin becomes the uncle or aunt of a second cousin.
Even the spouse of an aunt or uncle gets called grandpa/ma! It complicates lineages but simplifies identification especially for huge families.
The system makes all blood relatives near in progeny and excludes no one from the clan. Even in-laws get the honor of clan relationships. More on this next time, still in relation to food.
NO FISH TALE. For now let’s talk steamed rainbow fish. No fish tale here. My aunt allowed me to share Wowa’s recipe for dressed steamed fish.
LABOR OF LOVE. Start with very fresh, white-fleshed fish such as pugapo (lapulapu) or mayamaya. Descale fish and clean well, allowing remaining blood to drain.
My aunt even peels off the skin after steaming the fish but you don’t have to do this. Stuff the cavity with ginger and pounded lemongrass before steaming to remove any fishy smell and for added flavor.
Steam fish for 30 to 45 minutes depending on size. Pierce the fish with a fork. If it is flaky, it is done.
Remove the spices. Place fish on a serving dish and stuff with cheese if you like.
Spread fish with tuna mayonnaise or plain mayo or sandwich spread to act as “cement.”
Cover the head with the whites of chopped hard boiled eggs mixed with mayo. Alternately cover the body with chopped egg yolks, minced ham and cucumber salad, pickled red bell pepper, grated carrots and pickle relish. Enjoy!