In our own car, my sister and I, kids then, were seated quietly with our parents. Food was packed in a cooler in the trunk, beside the floral arrangements and sets of large candles. The car inched slowly through the traffic. As we got closer to our destination, the cacophony of noises grew louder. Modern pop music blasted through speakers. Drivers impatiently honked their cars. Loud voices could be heard. The smell of burning candles & the scent of flowers was all around.
Thousands of Filipinos go to their family tombs on November 1. Cemeteries in the Philippines have mausoleums. Each one has generations of families buried in one plot. Filipinos adorn their family burial sites with flowers, and candles. Food is brought on site, and eaten like one is at a picnic. It is an all-day event, [preparation for] which starts a few weeks before when the grave sites are cleaned up.
Our relatives traveled from Manila, and put up with the heat and traffic for 3 hours to get to our family’s mausoleum in our hometown in Tarlac. We’d sit by the family tombs and my aunt led the prayers for the departed.
At the cemetery, we’d run into old friends, who were also visiting their own grave sites. Stories were shared. These were customs and traditions we practiced on November 1st, when I was growing up in the Philippines. Coming together at our ancestors’ graves on this day was like a big social occasion for Filipinos.
My husband recalls as a young boy, how he and his cousins would go grave-hopping and collect candle wax from different grave sites. With those collected candle wax, they would form little balls and goof around.
Filipinos love celebrations. The 'Day of the Dead' on November 1st was always a reason to cook a lot of food and have family reunions.
Even if I’m far away from the Philippines I think of those traditions on November 1st. Prayers and remembrance are constant, the first thing I do to start that day.
So today in my American kitchen, I couldn't help but get caught up in my memories. I want to celebrate so I am preparing “fiesta fare”-- an Asian Fried Noodle dish. The good thing about Asian dishes is that ingredients are always “a little of everything”. There is a little meat, a few shrimps, some vegetables, broth, garnishings and noodles.
The sizzling hiss from the garlic, onions, celery and ginger in the pan is irresistible. And as I mixed in the pork and shrimps with the vegetables with the noodles and seasonings, the dish is ready. The aromatic noodle dish flavors brought back memories of how we celebrated November 1st back in the Philippines. What we call "Araw ng mga Patay" (Day of the Dead) was all about celebrating the living. It meant family, good food and good times.
Asian Fried Noodles
Serves 4 to 6
Chinese wheat noodles - 1 pound (pre-boiled, from Asian markets)sotanghon cellophane noodles - 1/2 pound, pre-soaked in water for 20 minutesground pork - 1/2 poundfresh shrimps - 1/2 poundvegetable oil - 3 Tablespoonsgarlic - 1 teaspoon, mincedfresh ginger - 1 teaspoon, mincedonion - 1 whole, choppedcelery - 2 stalks, choppedfish sauce (patis) - 1 Tablespooncarrots - 1 cup, choppedsalted black beans - 1 Tablespoon, canned, drainedorganic chicken broth - 1 cupgreen beans - 1 cup, sliced in 1-inch piecesNapa cabbage - 1 cup, shreddedsea salt - 1 teaspoonfreshly ground black pepper - 1 teaspoonegg - 1 piece, cooked scrambled, for garnishscallions or green onions - 1/2 cup, for garnishfried garlic bits - 1 Tablespoon, for garnish
1. Pre-soak in water: the sotanghon noodles for about 20 minutes to soften. If the fresh Chinese noodles from the Asian grocery are already pre-boiled, wash and drain them and set aside.
2. In a large wok or skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic, onions, ginger, and celery. Stir fry till onions and celery are soft, for about 2 minutes. Add the black beans and mix.
3. To the wok mixture, add the ground pork and stir fry for about 3 minutes till meat turns from pink to brown. Add the shrimps and continue to stir fry for 5 minutes.
4. Add the fish sauce and chicken broth. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes more. Let the flavors blend well.
5. Add the vegetables: carrots, green beans. Add the cabbage at the last 5 minutes just before adding the noodles.
6. Drain the sotanghon noodles. Together with the Chinese noodles, add both to the skillet and blend together with the rest of ingredients. Stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Serve warm, garnished with scrambled egg, scallions, and crisp garlic bits.
COOK’S COMMENTS: There are many varieties of noodles available. There is no strict rule as to what noodles to use in this dish. The beauty of an Asian noodle dish is that it is a very forgiving dish. Asian cooking is based on what is available in your backyard or pantry. Use meat, vegetables and noodles you have on hand or those that you can easily buy in major groceries near you.