Humba is a Bisayá recipe (Bisayá refers to the people residing in the Visayan Islands as well as on most parts of Mindanao) and is a common dish found on the table during special occasions in the Bisayan household and during town fiestas in the southern parts of the Philippines. Ask any Bisayá for his top favorite food and most often than not humba would be one of the things he will mention. In fact, this is my favorite Filipino dish and would recommend this dish to anyone who would wish to have a taste of authentic comfort food for the Bisayá.
Just like in adobo, humba was made due to the need to preserve the meat for future use. By cooking the meat as humba the meat could last for several days without spoiling due to the vinegar present and especially if it is immersed in oil. There are some versions why this dish is called humba, some would say that it is from the phrase “HUmot nga BAboy” with the first two letters of the first and the last words joined together. Humot is a word in the Bisayan dialect which could be roughly translated to mean “sweet smelling”, “fragrant”, or “with delicious smell”. Baboy, on the other hand, is Filipino for pork or for a pig (it could be interchangeable depending on the usage).
If you want to try cooking humba eat it with some hardboiled egg. It is surprisingly a very tasty food combination, with the richness of the humba mixing well with the mild flavor of the egg.
There are several variations of this dish present out there, but I will provide you with the most common recipe being followed by the Bisayá. This may take some time in cooking for it is best to properly tenderize the meat in slow fire for better flavor.
1 kilo pork belly or the leg part of the pig, cut in cubes
2 tablespoon garlic, crushed
2 small onion; chopped
2/3 cup vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar or brown sugar (most Bisayá now use Sprite or Coca Cola instead of sugar)
6 bay leaves
7 star anise
1 cup of rice water (if you do not have rice water, good old water would do)
2/4 tablespoon ground black pepper
50 g dried banana blossoms (optional)
½ cup of salted black beans (you could get this in cans and it is best to drain most of the sauce/juice present in the can and only use about 2-4 tablespoons worth of the sauce/juice)
Salt (add this based on your taste)
Separate the meat that contains huge chunks of fat from those that are pure meat. Put on your pan the pork meat that has fat in it and add a small dash of water. Do this till the fat is already reduced to oil and till the meat is brown. Stir every now and then to avoid burning the meat. This is done to reduce the fats in your pork and you can use the pork’s own oil for cooking.
Boil the rest of the pork in 1 cup rice water in a separate pan (put in rice water that will submerge the pork by about ¾ so if the 1 cup is not enough add some more); add 1 table spoon of salt. Do this until meat is tender and the water is properly reduced.
Saute garlic and onion using the pork fat oil until it is brown. Add all the pork together in the pan with the oil. Stir fry for few minutes until pork is slightly brown. If by this time there is too much oil already in the pan, you could remove some of the oil.
Add the water remaining that was used in boiling the pork (see above instruction). Add ½ cup soy sauce, the brown sugar, the bay leaves, the ground black pepper, and the black beans with its sauce. Then bring to a boil until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Add vinegar but do not stir. Add the dried banana blossom. Boil for few minutes (2-3 minutes). Simmer until a saucy consistency is achieved. Taste it to make sure that it is more sweet than vinegary. If it is too sour, add more sugar until the desired taste is achieved. Adjust seasoning and soy sauce according to taste.