When I was a kid in the ’80s, I remember my father eating crispy pata like a Viking, gnawing at the bone, fat dripping down his chin. I would join in too, tearing off the golden pork knuckles’ skin, nibbling at its cartilage. For those who grew up having family dinners at Barrio Fiesta, many of us probably share this same memory.
As Happy Ongpauco-Tiu of Pamana Restaurant says, “Filipinos are indeed pork lovers.” We are known for our love of all things pork, from bagnet and chicharon to lechon. But we are also known for our ability to do things well on the cheap, to use all the serviceable parts of animals in their various stages—isaw, betamax, balut, papaitan. So how far a stretch then could pork knuckles be?
We have Ongpauco-Tiu’s father Rod to thank for the invention of crispy pata. When he was a teenager, his mother Mama Chit, the grand dame of Barrio Fiesta herself, reprimanded him for always bringing his friends to the restaurant after school and feeding them for free. It was then that Ongpauco looked around the kitchen, found pork knuckles that weren’t being used for anything, deep-fried them, and served them to his friends. The rest, as they say, is history.
Not long, other restaurants followed suit. But what distinguishes Barrio Fiesta crispy pata from the lot is its marinade, which has always been made from scratch and away from prying eyes who may try to steal its formula. “Crispy pata became an iconic dish in our country as not only is it as delicious as lechon, but it also costs a fourth of the price to make, making it affordable to many,” explains Ongpauco-Tiu.
Born by chance, the dish has since been lodged into Filipino cuisine as a perennial favorite. It has been around about the same time Barrio Fiesta has been in existence—more than 60 years—and given its undeniable charm, crispy pata with its golden, glistening, and gleaming meaty glory will always be a staple in many Filipino feasts.
Originally published in F&B Report July-August 2015