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I was born in Manila, the youngest of seven, less than three weeks after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines. When I was three, my brother, three sisters, and I became first-generation immigrants to the U.S., where our parents had arrived many months earlier to get settled before bringing the kids over. We grew up in Carson, California, in the "South Bay" region of Los Angeles County. Lots of Filipino restaurants and bakeries!
Many foods that remind me of home are not homemade but from the restaurants and bakeries in the area: Paradise Cake from King's Hawaiian on Sepulveda Boulevard; chicken kiev we bought frozen in boxes of six at Fedco in Cerritos, where we went monthly to stock up; salami subs we picked up from Giuliano's on Torrance Boulevard on the way to the beach; red bean ice cream from Sushi Katsu Restaurant in Lomita; ube (purple yam) and macapuno (coconut sport) pastries and halo halo from Goldilocks Bakery on Main Street near my high school. Our most frequently purchased Magnolia Ice Cream flavors were maíz (corn), avocado, mango, and macapuno.
Though we were not a make-it-from-scratch, home-cooking kind of family, a few special treats stand out. Some Saturdays, my mom would serve longanisa (sweet Filipino sausage) with rice and sunny-side-up eggs. Other Saturdays, she would fry bangús (milkfish), skin and all, until it was crunchy. Then she'd remove the fish and fry rice in the same pan so that it would pick up all the crunchy-fish bits from the bottom of the pan (as she did for the longanisa). For Christmas, she'd buy a ham, spoon brown sugar on the outside, small sections at a time, heat the back of a cast-iron spatula over the stove's flame, and sear the sugar into the ham skin. It was a tedious process but (for the rest of us) worth it.
Sometimes for family beach trips, we'd cook a rice-cooker-full of sticky Calrose rice, unplug it, and take the whole thing to the beach, where we'd buy live crab cooked fresh at the pier. Then we'd set up our gigantic beach blankets and eat crab and rice with our fingers after playing in the sand and waves.
Mango was a constant, too. They were fifty cents each at the time. When they went on-sale for thirty cents, my mom or dad would buy an entire case or two. We were a family of seven, so even if we held back and ate two or three each per day, a case of mangoes didn’t last long.
Now, some decades later, my unrestrained, sticky-faced mango habit has grown into a broader enjoyment of my favorite luscious fruit. Yes, I still get messy with the mango, but I’ve also experimented, converting those plain mouthfuls into dishes: mango-spinach salad, mango salsa, and this elegant mango mousse, which was handed down to me by my eldest sister.
- 4 pounds mango, peeled, cored, and pureed
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
Did you grow up in a family that ate home-cooked food all the time, or are your strongest food memories of restaurant dishes and grocery store treats? Tell us in the comments.