There really isn’t anything I can think of about Old Manila that starts with the letter X – especially considering that X is not part of the native alphabet to begin with. So I’m going to cheat and use a word that though it does not begin with the letter X, has a letter X in it.
X is for Ox-Tail Stew, or Kare-Kare, a popular Filipino dish that, as the name implies, uses ox-tail as well as ox tripe as its meat component cooked in a peanut sauce along with local vegetables like eggplant, green beans, and bok choy.
With its sauce of roasted peanuts, ground toasted rice and annatto seed extract, or for those in a hurry, peanut butter, it’s often accompanied by a small side of bago-ong, or salted shrimp fry. The saltiness of the bago-ong enhances the flavors of the peanuts and the ox-tail just right.
No one really has a definite answer when it comes to learning about the origins of this dish, though some say that the name kare is Japanese for curry, and therefore is how it got its name. But then, kari means curry in Bahasa Indonesia, and their dish is also eaten with something similar to bago-ong, called sambal ulek or sambal bajak. Some say that it came from Pampanga, known as the culinary capital of the Philippines.
But wherever its origins, there’s no doubt that this is one dish, at least for me, that ranks up there among my favorites – though these days I make the vegetarian version below.