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. —Jacqui MacKenzie
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
- Serves 4-6
vegetable oil, divided
small onion, chopped
cloves garlic, smashed and minced
salt and pepper
- Prepare the eggplant*: Preheat oven to 350° F. With a knife, poke 5-6 holes around each eggplant. Place eggplants directly on center rack and bake until they are soft to the touch, about 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your eggplants. Let eggplants cool completely, then carefully peel skin off the eggplant. Flatten each eggplant with a fork so that it fans out into a wide teardrop shape. Season with salt and pepper, set aside. *You can also grill the eggplant over medium-high heat until soft.
- Prepare the pork mixture: Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute onions and garlic until soft and fragrant, 3-5 minutes. Add ground pork and cook about 10 minutes, or until the meat is completely cooked through. Stir in oyster sauce until coated. Drain meat and set aside in a bowl.
- Make the omelets: In a small bowl, beat 1 egg. In a larger, separate bowl, beat the remaining 3 eggs and combine with the pork mixture. Take one eggplant and dip into the single beaten egg so both sides are coated. In the same pan used for the pork, heat 2 tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the egg-soaked eggplant, then spoon 1/4 of the pork/egg mixture over the top. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes on one side, or until the bottom of the eggplant has set. Drizzle a bit more egg over the top of the eggplant, then flip over and cook about 1.5 minutes on the other side. Set aside on a serving plate. Repeat with remaining eggplants. Serve with white rice.