Humba or Umba / Braised Pork with Palm Sugar and Black Beans


Humba or Umba is the Visayan answer to adobo from the North…or is it? Although I was born in Cebu and lived there until the ripe old age of 2, I don’t really recall eating too much humba in my childhood years or even as an adult. Humba recipes vary from household to household but it does seem to be incredibly close to some Chinese treatment for pork, as in pata tim, or slow braised pork with soy and star anise. I have never made humba before, though our cook makes it occasionally for the crew and it rarely makes it to the dining table… we tend to get adobo instead. I set out to find a nice recipe and ended up using ingredients and methods from several different sources. I was initially perturbed by the amount of sugar in this preparation, but the results were delicious. There are two rough versions of this…one that is more strongly influenced by Chinese cookery and one that has evolved into a more “common” way of preparing it. Here is the recipe I made, and I would definitely make it again…

Take about a kilo or more of pork liempo or pata; fatty is good. Heat up a nice heavy casserole or dutch oven and put your cubed or humba2cut up meat (unless you use whole pata) into the pan and let it sweat and caramelize a bit. Once it is seared on all sides, add about 8 cloves of garlic, smashed and about 2-3 tablespoons of bottled black beans (tausi). Stir briskly. Add about ¼ cup of Shaoxing rice wine (I didn’t have any more so I skipped this ingredient, which would dampen sweetness a bit). Add about ¼ to 1/3 cup of cane or white vinegar. Chop up about ½ to ¾ of a block of panocha (palm sugar) and add it to the pot. Add 2 star anise or if really fresh and potent, one star anise may be enough. Add about 3-4 tablespoons of Kikkoman soy sauce and about a cup or more of water and let this simmer gently until the pork is soft, about 1-1.5 hours. Watch the liquid levels and add some water if necessary. Meanwhile, take some dried Chinese black mushrooms and reconstitute them in warm water. Chop them up and add to the humba once the meat is soft. Also add about a cup or so of the banana blossoms and cook a few minutes more. Stir and add lots of ground black pepper. Serve hot with lots of rice. I served this with a really sour, made from scratch, sinigang and the sweetness of the humba and the sharpness of the soup made for a great meal! Many localized versions call for the black beans but instead of panocha rely on a few tablespoons of brown sugar and they typically omit the chinese wine… Overall, it is an appetizing dish…the burnished dark brown and almost reddish color plus the softness of the pork and the textures of the mushrooms and banana blossoms and the intensity of the braising liquid make this a memorable dish!


20 Responses

  1. i think this dish is a ‘filipinized’ version of the chinese stew- ‘hong ba’ or ‘hong ma’ which means “red meat”. if you care to know what that is, the REAL cua-pao uses hong ba as meat filling, not the usual meat-like thing they put nowadays.

  2. I remember years ago whenever I eat sa Harrison Plaza Food Court. They sell humba pero bastardized version kasi its so commercialize but since I love eating humba I keep on coming back. Kaya everytime I go home in the Philippines and pass by Harrison Plaza, I order humba. I read this special version of humba from Philippine Inquirer where they add beer and it is good too. The best thing is, after cooking, place it inside the oven for few minutes to further brown the meat.

  3. i grew up eating humba. it’s a regular fare during fiestas, weddings and other big parties in my hometown. I never learned to cook it, though, and so not familiar with the ingredients that go into it. but i remember that our humba has no mushrooms and anise (i remember seeing bay leaf), and i don’t think folks back home have heard of chinese wine in cooking, hehehe. but we add gabi(taro roots) into it…yum!

  4. That looks really good. Unfortunately I think it’s too much work for me to want to try it.

    Hmmm… maybe I can con my mother into trying it out someday. LOL

  5. i had humba overdose in Bais City, Negros Occidental during their fiesta. Had to take hurried shots of rum coke to alleviate my suffering.

  6. oh yum! i was thinking of doing this myself but can’t get good pork with the skin on here in CO. best cuts for humba are the pork batok or the jowls…nice and fat.

  7. Here in Saudi Arabia, we have no pork. My first meal in the Philippines always consist of pork and it’s usually Humba. My mother-in-law always make sure that we got humba as our first meal (on my request). Do you think guys I can make this using cow’s leg instead of pork?

  8. my husband loves humba, but he does not eat the soft fatty skin, i told him we Pinoys love that part best! even his buddies love this dish.
    MM, my version of cooking this is to do an initial cooking in a casserole for just a few minutes adding a few cloves of crushed garlic (let the meat cubes sweat, as you would say), then i remove all the liquid, this way, i get rid of the porky/langsa taste, let the meat cool, then i add the usual ingredients of soya sauce, vinegar, bay leaf, whole pepper, garlic, brown sugar, banana blossoms, black beans, etc.
    adding a few drops of water to have a nice sauce…

    aboy, i reckon that’s where the name originally came from, no? hong-ba, hong-ma, humba…
    btw., and i also use the leftovers to make siopao fillings.

  9. MM,

    What can you suggest as a substitute for the following ingredients:
    black tausi sauce
    rice wine

    I have the other ingredients but I am finding it almost impossible to find here in my sleepy town of Janghowon.


  10. i used to think humba was a visayan dish since it was a staple in my relatives dinner table both in cebu and leyte. to my surprise, a chinese friend of mine ordered the dish in a chinese restaurant in cebu. surprised, i asked him “do you think they would have a visayan dish in a chinese restaurant”? he just laughed and lectured me about the origin of the humba. at any rate, although it was similar to what i knew to be humba, i guess you can’t beat what one is used to. i still like the visayan version compared to what my friend said was the “orig”.

    humba rocks!

  11. Is palm sugar in the Philippines closer to Indonesian/Malaysian palm sugar (very dark, with a nice bitter edge) or Thai palm sugar (light tan)? (Gotta know before I try this dish!) And where is it made (I’m assuming Phil. has a palm sugar industry?)?

  12. Robyn, our palm sugar is of the lighter variety. I have a picture of it somewhere in my archives and if I find it I will add a link here. Go to the last picture of this link to see a photo of Philippine palm sugar – Many times, in local homes, a nice dark brown sugar is substituted (like muscovado)as palm sugar is not so readily available anymore… choy, I am almost convinced this is a Chinese dish… Doddie, I think the black beans are imperative for this recipe, try a chinese store the next time you are in a big town like Seoul. You can use dark brown sugar instead of palm sugar. Rice wine you can skip if you really can’t get it. RobKSA, I don’t think beef would work too well as it doesn’t have that fatty gelatenous feel but you can try and let us know how it worked out! Fried neurons, this is a really easy recipe to make if you have the ingredients!

  13. i love humba, with my rice swimming in the sauce. but i do not like the banana blossom in it. it makes the dish taste mapakla-y and i dunno what. i prefer it plain. :)

  14. my in-laws have a waray version of humba which includes peanuts. it does nothing for the dish, and i think the peanuts sometimes cloud the sauce, so i don’t really like it. i prefer your “traditional” version, and i make more than enough so there are leftover to put in “cua pao” buns. you’re right, pork belly is ideal, and if i were 20 years younger, i would say the slow-cooked quivering melt-in-your-mouth pork fat under the skin is best. but since i’m not…..(big, big sigh!)

  15. Humba is available at any Via Mare Restaurant here in Manila. I miss Humba so much, never eaten humba for like ages na. In Samar, where i grew up, Special occasion is not complete with-out Humba being serve on the table.

  16. Ahh! Humba pala ang tawag! I grew up simply calling this dish ‘Paksiw na Pata’. My mom used to cook this with no mushrooms. No anise. Just banana blossoms, brown sugar, and yes, lots of black pepper. All simmered and reduced to a thick yummy sauce. Awww!

  17. Panocha is NOT palm sugar. It is traditionally made from sugar canes.

    The only traditional palm sugar I know is pakaskas, sugar made from the Buri Palm tree.

    Of course, coco palm sugars are now produced in the Philippines but not an ethnic food in general.

    Robyn, Malaysian palm sugars: gula kelapa(coco sugar), gula melaka, gula anau. Indonesian palm sugars: gula jawa(literally, Javanese sugar. May be made from cocos, nypa or arenga.), gula aren (palmyra sugar)

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  18. HUMBA is a must try for everyone that likes sweets. This is most common in Cebu, it bothers me why there are a lot of food in Cebu that does not get to Manila. This is a sweet kind of ADOBO, basically almost the same kind of cooking. Yes, it is similar to Pata Tim in Chinese but is different since it does not taste fatty and oily and is sweeter and softer. While eating this, I could finish eating 5 cups of rice.



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