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Every week, we’re unearthing Heirloom Recipes -- dishes that have made their way from one generation's kitchen to the next.
Let me start off by telling you that this is not my Lolo and Lola's recipe for tortang talong, because I don't have a Lolo or Lola. Lolo and Lola means grandpa and grandma in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, which is where my parents were born. The only grandparents I ever knew lived far away and died when I was very young. I never got to cook with them or learn about their favorite foods. Every Filipino recipe I've learned to cook has come from my parents. They have grandchildren of their own now, who call them Lolo and Lola, and for whom my parents cook the familiar foods of my childhood such as pancit, tinola, kare-kare, menudo, lumpia, and adobo. And, of course, tortang talong.
Growing up, I never knew this food as tortang talong. I called it eggplant omelet, because really, that's all it is. In fact, I still call it eggplant omelet. Just like I called menudo "the one with raisins," and kare-kare "peanut butter stuff." I gave my own simplified, Americanized labels to foods that my parents ate in the Philippines because when I was a kid, food was just food. It wasn’t part of my family history or a window to Filipino culture. It was Wednesday night dinner, and it was comforting and good.
In some cases, like with this eggplant omelet, I didn't even know it was a Filipino food. There is nothing noticeably “Asian” about it. No special noodles or vegetables that you can only find at the Asian grocery store. Just eggplants and eggs and pork -- although the addition of oyster sauce may make it seem a little more "exotic" for some. It's not the dish that my mom would make when having people over, or when asked to bring a special Filipino food to an American potluck. It's a weeknight dinner, something quick and easy to feed the kids. It so simple and -- I’ll admit it -- ugly, that I thought it was one of those dishes my parents made up, like so many people do when they find themselves staring into the fridge and wondering what to eat.
I learned, though, that nearly every food my parents put on my plate had some tie to the Philippines: the scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions that my dad would make for my breakfast, or the canned corned beef my parents mixed with potatoes and served over rice. I was shocked to find recipes for these dishes online on other Filipino food blogs, and to learn that eggplant omelet is actually called tortang talong and that other people share my love
It makes sense that every dish we bring to the dinner table has some sort of history and heritage to it. They all come from somewhere -- whether an heirloom recipe from grandma, or the product of a desperate late-night hunger that evolved into a family favorite. With every dish that I cook today, I find myself thrilled at the thought that I will cook these foods for my own children, and that hopefully they will cook them for their own kids one day. I know the Filipino favorites like lumpia and adobo will stick, but I'm hoping the little ones that often get overlooked -- like eggplant omelet -- but still hold my heart because they taste like home, will live on.
4 small eggplants
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
1 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
Salt and pepper