My first introduction to the concept of a kulawo was in 2003, when I visited Ugu Bigyan’s home and pottery studio in Tiaong, Quezon (see this page). Visitors could call ahead and arrange to have lunch in one of his beautiful gazebos, where they would savor his signature dish, the banana-heart kulawo. In Laguna, a neighboring province north of Quezon, it is the kulawong talong that stirs many nostalgic food memories among the locals. Both versions are tart because vinegar, instead of water, is used to extract the milk from freshly grated coconut singed with a hot coal. Interestingly, if one travels further south, the Bicolanos’ burnt coconut cream is not vinegary at all, since water is used as the prime medium of extraction.
The use of burnt coconut cream has been one of my most treasured discoveries in Philippine cooking, and I have never stopped wondering why I never encountered this while growing up in Manila, which is just a two-hour drive from Laguna and Quezon. We would like to thank Nicholetta Labellachitarra, a Filipino chef working in Boston, who shared her memory of this dish—grilled eggplant with burnt coconut cream—with Romy, inspiring him to create a version of his own.
© 2006 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.