As far as I can remember, as a child any trip to Tacloban would only mean one thing – PASTILLAS! This pastillas isn’t your run-off-the-mill kind. Unlike most pastillas, this pastillas is made of carabao’s milk instead of cow’s milk and requires intensive cooking and much attention which pales in comparison to the no-cook pastillas de leche.
It was only during my college days when I learned that the best pastillas pasalubong from Tacloban comes from Lumen’s pastillas in Carigara, Leyte…this is the kind that’s a little crumbly, a little chewy, mildly sweet and fragrant…the kind that reminds you of the milky smell of a new born’s head.
There are rip-offs even up to this day – these are the super thin ones that are overly sweet, turns goey once chewed because of the insane sugar content and you can’t find traces of milk oils in it’s paper wrapper.
Some decades back during trips to Tacloban we always make a pit stop at Carigara (almost like halfway between my home city Ormoc, and Tacloban) to relieve our bladders, to have breakfast or brunch (another blog entry on that.) and of course buy our pastillas loot from Kan Da Lumen on San Roque St. in Carigara.
The non-descript turn of the century house also became popular when magazine TV programs featured it when swallow birds started living in their ceiling and eventually built their nests there. We all know that swallows use their saliva to build their nests – and these nest are so prized as these are the nest that is used in bird’s nest soup that fetches a mind-boggling price for a dish made of saliva. The Chinese claims it has healing and cleansing properties. Well, one of the reasons these nests are expensive because gatherers risks life and limb in gathering them using stilts several meters high inside cavernous caves mostly in Palawan. So it’s just amazing why these birds decided to build nests inside Da Lumen’s house. Although the nests gathered at Da Lumen’s ceiling are graded class B and therefore a little cheap – bit still!
Earlier today Madam Tata Sia-Gidayawan invited me to tag along for a road trip to Tacloban – I didn’t hesitate since I want to visit their new Save More branch there and probably buy supplies for Club Hyde…and then of course pastillas (and Ocho grill) Although for several years now, Da Lumen frequents Ormoc to deliver her products to her sukis in Ormoc: pastillas, roscas, arrow root cookies and what have you.
This labor intensive delicacy requires stirring fresh carabaos milk for several hours under medium heat until your arms fall off…then it requires kneading, cooling, slicing and then individually wrapping each stick. There are several sizes according to thickness but I always favor the “double” ones – it is thick, it doesn’t dry out easily, and there’s much in every bite…fleeting moments of foodie happiness…I asked Mana Lumen how has she been making pastillas? “A long, long time…all my children already finished college…30 or so year…” that got her thinkin’…30 years – they have perfected this already!