I was cutting up a dressed chicken into pieces for tonight’s adobo dinner when I got to thinking about hearts. Chicken hearts, to be precise, of which I’m a fan. When I was a child, my mom’s favorite fresh chicken vendor in our neighborhood talipapa, Aling Lulu, always knew to save the hearts for me. Aling Lulu’s stall stood in the corner, next to a muscular teen selling coconuts (it was never the same guy, but they were all strikingly muscular and young) and Aling Mimi, who was our suki for fresh beef.
Aling Lulu had a big metal pot full of boiling water on a stove next to her. The chickens clucked gently in a three-storey metal cage beside it. At regular intervals Aling Lulu’s assistant stuck his hand in the cage, selected one, and killed the animal swiftly with a deft cut to the neck using a sharp knife, bleeding them out. They were then boiled, feathers and all, in the pot after which Aling Lulu would de-feather, behead, remove their internal organs (the liver and gizzards were set out separately on the metal tray) and chop off their feet (adidas or chicken feet were sold separately too). Aling Lulu’s movements were skillful and quick. She was fascinating to watch; chatting nonchalantly with my mom without missing a beat. If I was there she’d smile at me and automatically start scooping the little treats out of the dark breast cavities, dropping them in the same plastic bag where she put our fresh chicken. The bag felt pleasantly warm to touch.
It’s not just the chicken hearts. I find offal tasty in general; one of my all-time favorite dishes is lengua estofado, ox tongue in tomato sauce. I like dinuguan (pork blood stew), Hubby’s aunt’s tinumis (similar to dinuguan except it has more meat), and kway chap, a local Teochew dish made of braised pig innards, pork belly, tofu and hard-boiled eggs — much to the delight (and disgust, for some, haha) of my Singaporean colleagues. I’ve had ox brain from Ababu, a Filipinized Persian restaurant in UP Teacher’s Village which we frequented during university for their shawarma rice (it came with a glass of free iced tea, a square of butter on the rice, and unlimited garlic sauce). My dormmates and I often went to the vacant lot next to UP’s Ilang-Ilang Hall for their isaw, served in small plastic cups of spiced vinegar. My favorite part of English breakfasts is the slice of black pudding. I couldn’t wait to try haggis in Scotland. I like my fried liver — be it chicken or pork — on the slightly bloody side.
My mom remembers the hearts and knows about the rest; she tsk-tsks and reminds me of the health risks.
I find a certain satisfaction to cutting a whole chicken just right. If I place my knife properly it cuts through the joints cleanly, and it’s easy to separate the drumsticks from the thighs, the wings from the breast. If I don’t, I hear the disappointing crunch of bone against knife.
The dressed chicken here comes complete with the head and feet, something which I hadn’t seen since my Aling Lulu days. In the UK the chicken we bought was chopped / diced / portioned / stuffed to cater for convenience; I couldn’t really tell whether the bag of diced chicken I had in my hands even came from the real thing. (The Hubby and I loved Sainsbury’s stuffed chicken thighs though, and bought it whenever we could.)
In Singapore, the chicken bears a tag on its neck with the name of the poultry farm where it was sourced as well as the date of slaughter.
No hearts inside, sadly.