Philippine Culture – Humba: A ‘Buried’ Filipino Dish

They say that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. The process is not going to be done by an Endoscopy procedure but rather with food. However, culturally speaking, the best way to get to know and really get to know a certain culture is through its food and the dishes that they serve.

Filipinos love to eat. That is the bottom line statement. It is in the culinary aspect of the Philippine society can one take a closer look at the culture and traditions.

The Philippine’s colorful history is marked by the vibrant color of its food, delicacies and many dishes. Filipino foods are difficult to categorize or to simply put in the box because all dishes are made out of scratch. Any attempts in making it instant or easy results to a substandard taste which is very far from the original.

The generation today may know only a few of the Filipino’s original recipes. It may be due to the advent of a modern era peppered with fast food, junk foods, and instant foods. A lot of Filipino dishes have not been tasted so long by the elder generation. Some of these dishes, to an extent, are never even tasted yet by the present generation. These dishes have been buried along with history.

One of the most intriguing and even scandalous of these buried dishes is the Humba. It is a dish originally from the northern Philippines. By buried dishes, Humba is both figuratively and literally buried. Yes, buried.

Humba is a slab pork dish with meat taken between the pig’s belly and the jowl. It was very famous in the early decades of 1900s until about after the World War 2. Humba is very much famous in the rural areas in the Philippines. This dish is preserved with vinegar and a little bit of liquor using either wine, rum, or beer. It is cooked for hours in a clay pot (which is the Filipino version of metal cooking pots) and then allowed to cool. After cooling, the Humba is then sealed on the clay pot with a loin cloth and then buried- literally- on the soil about two feet below the ground.

Humba was originally created so that Filipinos can preserve their dishes and be eaten when most needed. This was especially evident during the war. These were very difficult times and food was scarce. Preserving the food prolongs its shelf life and makes sure that there will be food in the future.

Before and after the World War 2 Humba was prepared in time for the harvest. The dish will be prepared, cooked, and buried sometime in June which is the planting season and after the season of feasting. The left over meat from the roasted pigs will then be made into Humba. The dish will then be unearthed during the Christmas season (which is after six months) in time for the celebration in honor of those who helped and work during the planting season. There were some accounts saying that their Humba was buried up to a year!

Burying the Humba allows the meat to really absorb all the mixed taste of all the ingredients that will be used. The cool temperature of the soil will make sure that the Humba will not rot, together with the liquor of course. Clay pot is used to lock in the taste and to preserve the Humba.

The ingredients of Humba include the slab of pork, sugarcane vinegar, soy sauce, salted bean cake, salted black beans, cinnamon stick, dried oregano leaf, garlic, onion, whole black pepper, brown sugar and the liquor or alcohol. These ingredients will make sure that the Humba will not rot even if buried for at least six months.

The process of the Humba is very simple. The slab of meat is mixed with all the ingredients mentioned above in the clay pot. The proper proportion of the soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and the liquor is the key to the taste of the dish. The slab of meat is gently “massaged” so that the meat will be ready to absorb all the other ingredients. It is then cooked in a very low fire for about three to four hours until tender. Low fire is the key to make sure that every fiber of the meat absorbs the taste of the other ingredients. Cooking the Humba in wood fire is preferred than the “artificial” fire generated by the stove.

The Humba is then allowed to cool down on itself. A fan is not needed to hasten the cooling. The Humba should cool down on its own. If it is cool enough, the clay pot is covered and then sealed with a loin cloth around its opening to make sure that no species, soil, and water will get inside the clay pot. Any of these foreign objects will rot the Humba and put it to waste.

A small whole in the ground which is just enough to make room for the clay pot is dug. It is made sure that it is not very wet or very dry. Right amount of moisture is very important for this dish. With the clay pot tightly sealed, it is put in the whole and covered with the dug up soil. A mark is put above the soil where the Humba is buried.

Humba in a sense reflect the Filipino virtues of resourcefulness, patience, and love of celebrations. By resourcefulness, it means that a Filipino knows what to preserve and stretch in order to make sure that he or she has something to feed his or her family tomorrow, especially during times of difficulties like the World War 2. Patience, likewise, is reflected by the way the Humba is waited for and anticipated for months! And notice when the Humba is usually served. It is usually served as a reward for hard work with the community. And also in the celebrations of even in the simplest of life.