There is an old folk tale in the Pampanga province about how the Devil messed with a fisherman’s stew, but in the end the mischievous deed backfired on the evil one. This was the origin of “Paksing Demonyu” which is Kapampangan (the Pampango dialect) for the Devil’s Vinegar Stew. “Paksing” (say ‘pak-seeng’) translates to ‘stewed’, referring to a stew that was cooked. The word ‘demonyu’ (say ‘deh-mohn-yu’) is Pampango for ‘devil’.
I found this old tale in a cookbook of heirloom recipes by Atching Lillian Borromeo of Mexico, Pampanga. ‘Atching’ (say ‘at-ching’) is a term of respect in Pampango which means ‘elder sister’, but is a title used to address a female relative or friend who is older. I visit Atching Lillian often during my trips to the Philippines. Pampanga is a province north of Manila, the capital. Mrs. Borromeo cooks and hosts private chef meals. She is one of the pioneers of Kapampangan heritage cooking and a visit to her home is like a delightful call to a dear aunt. She is warm, gracious, whips out a delectable ‘merienda’ (afternoon snack) she cooked and tells me stories about her recipes and its origins.
One amusing yet slightly dark tale is the story of ‘Paksing Demonyu’, one that Pampango grandmothers often retold during Good Friday of Lent, for the purpose of ‘warding off the Devil’ during those holy days.
Once upon a time, there was a poor fisherman who brought home the fish he caught for the day. He asked his wife to cook the fish in a vinegar stew with vegetables as soon as he got home. The Devil decided to play tricks on the fisherman. When the wife was not looking, the Devil mischievously removed the fish and replaced it with vegetables simmering in the pot. The Devil playfully re-seasoned the tangy broth and added sugar, resulting in a sweet sour flavor. Instead of being angry at his wife, the fisherman praised her for such a tasty vegetable stew. One of the fisherman’s children revealed it was the Devil whom they saw playing around with the stew, and not their mother’s doing. The fisherman’s enjoyment of the vegetable stew did not please the Devil who abruptly left the home, never to come back again.
This was at the home of Mrs. Lillian Borromeo, whose cookbook was my source for the story.
Paksing Demonyu - A Devil's Vegetable Vinegar Stew
- Medium-sized Stock Pot: 8 or 10 quarts
- 1 cup cubed kabocha squash peeled, seeded
- 1 whole ampalaya (bitter melon) sliced or about 3/4 cup, seeded, white membrane removed
- 2 Tablespoons salt to soak the bitter melon
- 1 cup water for stew; or use vegetable broth
- 3/4 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 2 pieces siling labuyo (bird's eye chilies)
- 1 whole large red onion sliced
- 1 Tablespoon thinly-sliced fresh ginger peeled, sliced in 1-inch pieces
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 whole large tomato sliced
- 2 whole Asian eggplants sliced ; or use aubergines, sliced to yield 2 cups
- 2 cups sliced sitaw (long green beans) cut in 2-inch pieces
- for serving: steamed rice
- In a small stockpot, boil the cubed kabocha squash in water for about 15 to 20 minutes till it is soft when pierced with a fork. Drain water and set aside.
- Prepare the bitter melon or ‘ampalaya’ in a small bowl by adding 2 tablespoons of sea salt and rubbing it well by hand to coat the slices. Let this mixture rest for about 10 minutes. Then wash off the salt and drain vegetables on paper towels. This process helps to remove the bitterness of the ‘ampalaya’. Set aside.
- In a medium stockpot, over medium high heat, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, siling labuyo or bird’s eye chilies, red onions, fresh ginger, garlic, salt, peppercorns and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a slow simmer.
- Add the eggplants, ampalaya, sitaw, tomatoes and the boiled kabocha squash. Let this simmer for about 10 to 12 minutes till vegetables are cooked.
- Serve with steamed rice.
- Cook’s comments : The original recipe of ‘Paksing Demonyu’ did not have the kabocha squash nor does a regular ‘paksiw’ dish do. I added the squash because I had it in my vegetable bin and decided it would add color and a new flavor to the vegetable stew.
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Notes on Nutrition: The nutrition data for this recipe includes the full amount of the marinade ingredients. The actual amount of the marinade consumed will vary. The nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.
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