The coconut tree has always symbolized island life.
The use of coconut and spice must go back to precolonial times. Like our neighbors in Southern and Southeast Asia, and even in other tropical countries, using coconut in savory dishes with some spice seems to be a natural thing for us in the tropics.
THIS parcel of everything coconut, and taro is one of my favorite Bicol/Quezon/Laguna dishes. While there are many variations, the basic principle is the same: coconut meat and protein (fish, crab, shrimp, pork or a combination of these), wrapped in fresh taro leaves, tied and braised in coconut cream.
Gata Dish Starter
I normally have a basic, do-it-all gata base. It’s like a sofrito for spicy coconut-based dishes. Of course, you may add more ingredients for different dishes but, as its simplest, most basic form, this “gata starter” should suffice.
1 pc. red onion, sliced
1 pc. thumb-sized ginger, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp. bagoong alamang
2 cups coconut cream
1 finger chili
2 tbsp. oil
- Sauté onion, ginger, garlic and bagoong in oil
- Add coconut cream and whole or sliced finer chili
- Simmer on low heat until oily and curdled
Note: If I’m cooking something for a long time, say 20 minutes or more, I use the second pressing of coconut first and then the cream toward the end. But under normal cooking, I just use the first pressing. I also cook gata till it splits and curdles. For me, that is the only way to cook it, with the oil rising to the top and the cream curdling. Anything white and cream is raw or undercooked gata in my opinion.
300g peeled shrimps, chopped
200g ground pork
2 cups shredded young coconut
1 head garlic, minced
1 pc. large onion, minced
2 tbsp. finely minced garlic
2 tbsp. minced lemongrass (white part)
to taste salt and pepper
20 pcs. whole taro leaves
2 portions gata starter
siling labuyo (optional)
- In a bowl, combine shrimp, pork, coconut, garlic, onion, lemongrass, salt and pepper.
- Take two taro leaves and place two to three tablespoons of the shrimp-pork mixture in the center.
- Roll taro and tuck edges in to form a parcel. Tie with some coconut fiber or lemongrass so secure.
- Repeat until you end up with 10 parcels.
- Prepare gata starter, but add one cup water.
- Place taro parcels into the gata and cover.
- Simmer for 40 minutes to an hour on low until taro is soft and sauce has become curdled and oily.
- Serve at once.