My dad has been on my mind lately.  Just the other day, I was perusing a gift shop and a stack of playing cards instantly reminded me of him.  My dad  never tired of playing solitaire.  He could spend hours playing the game with his old, beaten-down deck of cards.  When he was still alive, I always picked up a souvenir deck from every new place I visited and sent it home along with a postcard for my mom.  He looked forward to every one of them and collected them earnestly but insisted on playing with the deck he had had for the longest time.

“We visited your father the day after the party,” my mom told me last week when I spoke with her over the phone.  The party was for her seventy-fifth birthday.   My sisters treated her to a lavish Chinese buffet to celebrate the milestone in her life.  I missed it, of course, like so many other birthdays past.

“Did you have your birthday cake?”  I asked.

“Yes, of course.  I even had two,” she bragged. My sister surprised her with a chocolate cake in the morning of her birthday and then my niece gave her another one during the party. She talked about how much food there was and how much my seven-month-old grandniece cried the entire time. “Everyone had a lovely time. Your father would have loved the party,” she added wistfully.

My dad passed away the day after my mom’s birthday four years ago.  His death wasn’t totally unexpected.  He had been going in and out of the hospital because of his failing heart and had been getting frailer and weaker every time he returned home. He barely could stand and never left his bed. We knew very well we would lose him sooner than later but still his passing was too sudden.  I had so many things I wanted to tell him.  So many things left unsaid and undone.

My dad has been on mind lately.  I’ve been picturing him sitting in his favorite chair at the kitchen table next to the jalousie windows, shuffling his deck of cards and laying them face down then face up one after the other. I’ve been picturing him sitting with his right leg folded and his knee drawn up toward his chest, eating with his bare hands. “Fish heads are the best part,” my dad used to tease me when I was little.  He would stake his claim with his bare hands and tear the head off the fish stewed in ginger and vinegar.  He would savor the head with its beady eyes and bony gills intact.  He would savor it with such immense, carefree pleasure.




Fish Paksiw Recipe

1 lb whole sardines, scaled, gutted, and cleaned
1-1/2 cups vinegar, cane or rice vinegar
1/2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1 to 2 Thai chilies, optional

Lay the fish in a pot big enough to hold everything together. Add vinegar enough to cover the fish. Add ginger, salt, and chilies. Bring to a boil and simmer over low heat until fish is cooked, about 10 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve at room temperature with rice and eggplants thinly sliced and fried.

Let the flavors seep in longer and enjoy paksiw the following day. Enjoy it with your bare hands like my father did. Kamay [kah-may] is Filipino for hands. Kamayan [kah-mah-yahn] is eating with them.





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
H is for Himagas
I is for Itlog na Maalat
J is for Jackfruit
K is for Kamayan