Half a cup of coconut milk for a pound of shrimp.  Roughly.
Use cream instead of milk, when you can.
Devein shrimp but keep heads and shells on.

I skimmed through my mom’s recipe for shrimp in coconut milk once more.  The shrimp had been deveined and cleaned.  Their spiny heads with their jet-black eyes intact.  With a rubber spatula, I stirred the coconut cream in the can before I poured it to a measuring cup.  I dipped my finger for a quick taste and suddenly felt wistful.  A helpless longing for home engulfed me.  A longing for kakang gata [ka-kang gah-] freshly pressed from coconut meat freshly grated.

I didn’t grow up with cans of coconut milk and coconut cream.  I grew up with my mom cracking coconuts with a bolo knife, grating the meat with a kudkuran [kood-koo-rahn], and squeezing out the milk with her own hands.   The process is laborious but immensely rewarding.  Extracting coconut milk by hand may seem like an extravagant use of time but it’s the kind of extravagance I earnestly wish I could afford.

The humble kudkuran is a uniquely Filipino kitchen implement used to grate mature coconuts.  It has a serrated round blade shaped like a flat spoon secured to the end of a low wooden bench, about a foot high.  One straddles the bench, holds half shells of coconut firmly with both hands, and grates the meat against the blade with a steady hand-rocking motion.  The fine strands of coconut are collected in a basin.  To extract the thick cream called kakang gata, grated coconut is pressed by hand.  The coconut meat is then soaked briefly in warm water and pressed for a second, and sometimes a third time, to yield thinner milk called gata [gah-].

Ginataan [gi-nah-tah-ahn] is the general term for cooking in gata.  Practically anything from fish and shellfish to chicken, pork, and vegetables can be cooked in coconut milk.  The dishes are typically savory like ginataang hipon, shrimp cooked in coconut milk and flavored with funky bagoong, and ginataang langka, a stew of unripe jackfruit in coconut milk cooked with dried, salted fish or tiny dried shrimp called hibe.

Ginataan can also be sweet, which is perfect for dessert or merienda like ginataang mais — golden kernels of corn simmered in coconut milk and ginataang halo-halo — a hodgepodge of fruits and tubers like saba bananas, jackfruits, ube, taro and sweet potatoes all cooked and sweetened in gata.  Tapioca pearls and dough balls called bilo-bilo made of ground sticky rice can also be thrown in the halo-halo mix.  The variations in ginataan, both sweet and savory, are virtually limitless.

 

Glossary-G

 

Ginataang Hipon Recipe

1 lb shrimp with heads and shells intact
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon shrimp paste
1/2 cup coconut cream
1/2 cup Padrón peppers or a few Thai chilies (optional)

Shrimp is cooked in the shell with its head intact to retain as much of its flavor as possible.  With a pair of kitchen shears, cut through the shell along its back starting from its head and ending right before its tail.  Remove the black veins with a tip of a paring knife and rinse the shrimp with cold water.

Sauté garlic in oil in a large pan over medium-high heat until fragrant, about three minutes.  Add the shrimp paste and shrimp.  Stir-fry until the shrimp just start to turn orange.  Add the coconut cream and Padrón peppers.  Bring to a boil and simmer until the shrimp are just cooked through, about five minutes.

 

Guinataang Hipon

 

Learn the alphabet of Filipino food through our glossary. So much is lost in translation, I know, but I hope this glossary will help those unfamiliar with Filipino food become more informed.

A is for Achuete
B is for Barako Coffee
C is for Camarón
D is for Dinuguan
E is for Ensaimada
F is for Fish Balls
G is for Gata

  • Anonymous

    I remember having done that shaving of coconuts with my grandma! I think they still do this in the wet markets. Looking back on it, it’s kind of scary since you could very well accidentally slit your wrists with that shaving implement. >_<

    I love that last picture! So yummy looking!

  • http://saberkite.com saberkite

    I remember vainly trying to grate coconuts using the kudkuran when I was small. Of course, I couldn’t, but my lola indulged me anyway. I still can recall the rhythmic sound of the coconut shell as it hits the grater. Back then, it meant we were having bilo-bilo for merienda. Such a wonderful trip down memory lane. Cheers Jun! :)

  • http://www.asianinamericamag.com Betty Ann of AsianinAmericamag

    Great post on Guinataan Hipon, Jun ! I love this dish…this would go well with our rainy weather here in the east right now. Come to think of it, I have all the ingredients….so I must run to the kitchen and get cooking !

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t do it.  I remember grating the meat into thick shards instead of fine curls.  I tried my hardest but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Betty Ann!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    When my mom was here last summer, she mentioned that you can still get grated coconut meat and coconut cream fresh in the wet markets but I think they’re a bit more sophisticated now and use a motorized grater of some sort — a step-up from the kudkuran!

  • Soma

    This is a lovely post. I did not grow up with cans of coconut milk either. But saw the entire process of peeling, cracking the coconut, removing flesh and making the coconut milk! :) and I think elaborate it might be but beautiful in its wholesomeness. I have the coconut grater here and sometimes I like to lose myself  in the laborious task of grating the coconut.. only sometimes:D

     Love shrimps and we have a very similar dish called “Malaikari” ..(West Bengal. India) ginger is used along with green chili pepper, and the shrimp is cooked in the coconut milk.. but it is a curry with sauce. 

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Soma.  Did you grow up, too with a grater bench or did your mom use a handheld one?  I’ve seen handheld ones somewhere and if I remember it correctly they were of Indian origin.  But I maybe wrong.  Glad we have something in common.  I have to try malaikari soon!

  • Anonymous

    There’s usually a section in markets now where you can get coconuts grated on motorized graters :)  

  • http://psychosomaticaddictinsane.wordpress.com Iya S. Santos

    Everything with gata is yummy! Na-try mo na ginataang santol? Good sidedish ng pritong tanigue or any prito!

    Also, samalamig na gata with gulaman cubes!

    Ginataang hipon! Hay ang sarap. Mejo goodluck lang sa sakit sa batok sa mga hina-highblood na. Ahehehe!  

  • Jo Zalea Matias

    What a lovely post. One of my first childhood memories is sitting behind my Lolo Gus on a kudkuran while he grated fresh coconut. I loved being handed those first, fresh, sweet pieces of meat. I can’t remember if he was the one who would press the meat for the gata, just that my lola would end up making a huge pot of ginataang manok later on in the day. Thanks for bringing back those memories!

    My favorite ginataang recipe is one my dad adapted when we moved to the US. I always request catfish cooked in coconut when I go home!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shweepea16 Natalie Therese Bisnar

    this looks fabulous.. i’m trying it this weekend.

  • http://80breakfasts.blogspot.com/ joey

    Oh gata!  How I love it so!  I always end up eating more than I intend when gata is involved!  This is such a classic dish…you are making my tummy rumble and it’s almost midnight over here!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    I’ve never had ginataang santol but it sounds like a perfect match with pritong tanigue. And of course samalamig with gata… sarap!!

  • http://www.spicesnaroma.blogspot.com Vijitha Shyam

    Loving your series. I am so eager to know whats next – H?

  • Arudhi@Aboxofkitchen

    What a gorgeous picture!  This might be the simplest recipe using coconut milk I`ve ever knew and I definitely will give this a try. Thanks for sharing! And I love the names of halo-halo and bilo-bilo. They sounds really cute!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Ginataang manok is another favorite.  My mom adds lemongrass bruised in her mortar and pestle to add another layer of flavor.  Ladled over steamed rice, it’s delicious comfort food. Thank you, Jo.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Arudhi.  I know, the recipe is unbelievably simple.  Using the freshest ingredients makes all the difference but, sadly, living away from home makes it challenging, but not impossible, to get fresh gata.

  • http://www.foodista.com Alisa

    I grew up eating a lot of “gata” in our meals, sadly I didn’t get the chance to learn how to cook it. I’m glad you shared this recipe. This is even better with some squash/kalabasa. Thanks :)

  • OysterCulture

    What a delicious sounding recipe, and thank you for sharing with us the story behind what makes it special for you.  I cannot wait to give it a try.

  • Heather in SF

    Love your alphabet series, I am learning so much!

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