Lydia Go’s sinigang na lechon is the best I’ve ever tasted; her arroz caldo with lechon skin, instead of chicken, an epiphany. God knows how many reincarnations of leftover lechon she can create so masterfully.

Tastes like these never leave the memory. That’s why, last Christmas, I squirrelled some scraps of the roasted pig and channeled Lydia Go as I cooked sinigang na lechon for the first time.

“But why is my sinigang na lechon too soupy and not as thick?” I asked Lydia Go at our Thursday Group’s year-end get-together. She leaned over, as a master chef would to share a secret with an apprentice. “Dagdagan mo ng gabi.”

Is that it, just add more taro? No other secret ingredient, no extra rituals, no conjuring of spirits? And isn’t adding more taro to thicken sinigang soup already public knowledge?

Dagdagan mo ng gabi… she said softly.

But knowing how much more taro to add to a pot of sinigang requires an instinctive grasp of alchemy, a cellular memory that probably goes back to the invention of fire and the discovery of how it transforms the enzymes in a piece of meat, or a root. It’s not so simple for the less gifted, more so for the latecomer in the kitchen, like me, who will need years of trial and error to hone such instinct and, eventually, trust it.

Dagdagan mo ng gabi... actually left a lot unsaid, I realized. “Take the pieces of taro,” Lydia Go must have meant to say,”… weigh them in your hands, pay attention as you mash them into the soup, seek that delicate balance between the sour and the salty, the broth and the starch, and listen. Listen to your inner chef, the voice of your mom, the laughter of the family at the dinner table, listen for stirrings in your memory , listen until that moment of recognition comes, which is quite like a snap of a finger, only softer, the gentle crescendo of an mmmmmmm….”

Now I get it. Thank you, Tita Lyds.

(You’ll find a lot of posts about Lydia Go in my old blog. But you’ll find a good one in Anton Diaz’ Awesome Planet, here, about a dinner that Lydia Go hosted for us, a group of bloggers, in 2007.)