Seasoning a New Palayok…


Frankly, I was shocked by the responses to my most recent poll on whether readers had ever cooked using a palayok over a charcoal or wood flame. Almost 45% of folks (as of this writing) responded in the affirmative. I was really genuinely surprised. So the novelty that I experienced learning to cook in a palayok may be lost to many of my readers. I have been wanting to learn how to cook using a palayok for years. A few of my long-time readers have even emailed me to ask if I knew if there really was a noticeable difference between cooking in a clay pot or not. So when we took a trip to Ilocos last year and finally acquired a number of different sized palayoks and the base on which they stand, I was simultaneously excited and apprehensive. In fact, it took nearly nine months before I actually got up enough nerve to finally give it a go. Actually, several of those months were spent trying to find firewood in the middle of the city… in the end, I had to “import” the wood from Batangas! So this week is palayok week on, it doesn’t get any more “native” than this…


The first problem I faced was the proper way to season a new palayok. It’s a bit daunting because a palayok is unglazed, and therefor the thought of eating dissolving hard clay, read “mud”, is hard to keep out of your mind. So I referred to a previous post on burnay and reader comments and traced my way back to counsel that said you had to fill the pot 2/3 full with water and bring it to a boil… don’t scrub, don’t touch the inner surface of the pot and throw out the water after that and it was good to go. Another sage provincial dweller said it was best to coat the inside with some “mantika” or vegetable oil or suet (animal fat). Then heat up the pot until hot, fill it almost full of water and boil that and then throw that all out and the pot would be good to go. I decided to do both versions and frankly, I can’t tell if one was better than the other, but both did NOT result in any muddy dishes so I think they both worked just fine. And don’t season the outside of the palayok. Considering that I have seasoned lots of cast iron before and other pots and pans, why this seasoning should have seemed so daunting is beyond me. The biggest problem is that the first pot I tried to season actually started leeching or leaking some water…


It was hard enough that I had to learn how to properly stoke a wood fire. I will admit now that I couldn’t have done this without my trusty crew. Two guys who are pyromaniacs masquerading as our drivers and handymen and two women who are provincial wood and charcoal fire queens. They patiently showed me how to get the wood fire going, then how to move the wood around to create a natural flow of air to keep the fire raging on… But oddly, something kept putting the fire out and we realized the first pot was leaking like a faucet with a tired gasket. One of the crew said it was fine, that tended to happen with new pots, the hole would seal itself after a few minutes. Who was I to question this wisdom? But after 15 minutes, it didn’t seem like the hole was going to “seal” itself and we removed the pot from the fire and decided to try again with another new pot.


We threw out the hot water from the leaky palayok and turned it over to see a fairly major hole/crack in the pot was clearly visible. Hmmm, another lesson learned. Do not let the palayok vendors inspect your pots for you, choose them carefully yourself! I thought this pot was headed to the garden as a planter until one of the crew suggested he would try to use a sealant on it. A little dab and a quick burn over the fire and voila! A usable palayok, which we later used on some boiled bananas. I hope we don’t die of sealant poisoning… but none of it seemed to leech into the pot itself… Before long, we had the flames roaring and the pots filled and cooking away… stay tuned for several dishes we managed to cook in the palayoks over wood fires! Oh, and one last “fishpan” tip, don’t fire up the palayok near a swimming pool, the ashes can get messy! :)


36 Responses

  1. MM, can’t wait to see (and virtually taste) all the ulam you and your crew will come up with for “Palayok Week ’08”. Lemme guess, there’s bound to be kare-kare, rice cooked in palayok with banana leaves, several variations of sinigang (meat/fish), etc. How about dessert cooked in a palayok? Suman, maybe? Like a lot of things I used to take for granted when I was a young girl living in the PI, I miss palayok-cooked food (although since it was cooked stovetop, it may not have had that 100% authenticity!)… hmm, with all the Teflon-related scare nowadays, perhaps going “native” seems to be a good alternative.

  2. MM, growing up, we always had a “dirty kitchen” where my grandmother would cook on a clay kalan like yours. I think she may have used a palayok at times, but I remember that she also used metal pots on it.

  3. I have two authentic palayoks, and I’ve been using them to cook my sinaing na tulingan, paksiw na isda and catfish sinigang. I use my regular gas stove though and not really tried using firewood. I think the firewood smoke imparts flavorful smoke to the food though, so I may try them someday.

  4. oh, i miss those days when i have to cook rice over wooden fire. we still have those lutuan in our province. we often cook with firewood when we need to tenderize meat and during fiestas. yep, my lola often says na iba pag luto sa kahoy :) and i must say it’s a good skill when you know to get the wood fire going.

  5. I had seen the squatters cooking with the palayok. Probably there are better palayoks which are really used for cooking. MM, try scouting or asking where they buy their palayoks. It is probably in the way they prepare it. I have a palayok but remember using it only for lutuan as kids.
    I guess that the Kare-kare served in the restaurants are not cooked using the palayok. They probably just transferred it after cooking.
    My question is: Is it medically safe to use it? Wont there be any effect if you use it on several occasions? I havent encountered any medical study about it. A study to be effective should include a big study population and that this study is repeated in another place with the same results. It has to be followed through the years before effect can be seen.

  6. one reason why most old houses in the provinces have “dirty kitchens” is that firewood and the accompanying palayok are frequently used for dishes such as inun-unan (paksiw in tagalog). i used to think it was all for show, having a dirty kitchen that is, as it resulted in the main kitchen being spotless. in hindsight, the use of claypot and the pugon is a big part of our culinary heritage which made the dirty kitchen an essential part of the traditional filipino house.

    my mom’s household is used to a specific type of firewood which had a distinct smell when burned. it was sourced from the mangrove forest located near a punong (fishpond). god knows how many trees my mother had caused to be chopped off resulting in the denudation of the mangrove.

  7. I know of some people who season a new palayok by putting sawdust inside it. The pot is then placed over a low fire until the sawdust burns. When the sawdust has turned all black, it is removed from the fire to cool down. After removing the burnt sawdust and washing it, it is deemed ready to use.

  8. This brings me childhood memories of trips to Antipolo.After we heard mass,we kids usually pestered our parents to buy us those cute palayok sets.And after having several sets of these toy native pots, it saddens me I wasn’t able to save any from my childood!:( We used to have a wooden stove in our ancestral home’s dirty kitchen and I remember my lola cooking paksiw, adobo and anything with vinegar in her palayok.She said that vinegared dishes tasted better in a palayok and now I know why—the acid from the vinegar does not react with the palayok unlike when you cook in aluminum wares– your food will have a metallic taste.Anyway MM,a few years back I wanted to relive cooking in a palayok and when I went to the market to buy one I was told by the store owner that the black colored palayok was the one for cooking because it was made thicker and the others were thinner–for planting and breaking in the pinata like parlor game in kid’s parties.My black Palayok?it’s sitting in the bodega somewhere.I never did had the time to cook in it!:)Congratulations for being brave and taking the risk to have a black soot face building up the woodfire!Looking forward to your entries on the dishes you’ve successfully cooked the native way!

  9. no guts, no glory, i say. i don’t think i’ll ever venture in this- cooking with palayok and start a fire. i love the mini palayok i used to play with when i was little. it’s nice though that you are into this for the more mature audience ( read: brave ones). more power!

  10. thanks MM for this article. it brought back a lot of childhood memories of my cousins and i cooking in our little palayoks bought by my mom in bulacan. i remember we would atempt to fry eggs on the palayok but it would always come out as scrambled eggs and cook rice on them. recently i have been dreaming of cooking sinigang na hipon or chicken binakol in a palayok but don’t have the faintest idea where to source good palayok. any suggestions would be most welcome!

  11. My mother used to own several black palayoks. She used them to cook rice, paksiw na isda, dinengdeng, pinakbet and a variety of Ilocano dishes. She was not able to replace the broken onces though because her ‘suking magpapalayok’ is now too old to make them. Before using a new palayok to cook food, I remember my mom always fills the palayok with water then she throws away the water when it’s already boiling. Building a wood fire demands a lot of patience for first timers, with all the smoke and ashes to deal with. =) As for me, growing up in the province, I always look forward to the times when my mom asks me to build a wood fire for her. Cooking with a palayok on a wood fire does make the food tastier. In fact, one of my aunts still cooks her ‘paksiw na malaga’ in her black palayok. Can’t wait to see what you’ll come up with!

  12. Wow! Some guys get to do all the fun things!
    I never cooked with a palayok but did a lot of campfire cooking. Y’know that Chili con carne you just did? That would have really kicked butt had you cooked it over a wood fire.
    I hope you have more fun and I am looking forward to more Posts on your Palayok adventures!

  13. You know what?I guess if you cook in a palayok on your gas stove top it will not be the same!Maybe the good taste is not from the palayok at all but from all the smoke generated by the woodfire!:)

  14. welcome to the palayok users’ club, MM! Like you, we have gone through leaking palayoks as well. Then the vendors in the palnegke said the black palayoks are usually the ones used…still we bought some leaking ones. Finally, my husband found a way to test if the bottom is thick enough by tapping the bottom—if the sound is thin then chances are the bottom is thin. Also, we use charcoal from coconut shells for our “gatong”. I think it is less messy. A little amount of kerosene is enough to start the fire and a small electric fan to help keep the fire constant so it would induce hot embers. Our kalan is our ideal energy-saving slow cooker for making coconut oil…then there is the bulalo! We keep our kalan over a gypsom board in our dirty kitchen and even leave the pot filled with beef meat and bones boiling overnight. The next morning is just glorious well cooked beef bulalo!

  15. My family always have 2 palayoks: one for cooking adobo and the other for cooking fish paksiw. When I got married and have a home of our own, I also bought 2 palayoks for the same purpose. Pork adobo and “inun-unan na isda” are best cooked in a palayok.

  16. I just discovered your site and found it interesting, informative and enjoyable. It’s now bookmarked and for sure. it will be a site I’ll be checking out daily.
    I live in Leyte and cooking in palayoks is quite an ordinary thing here in the province. I use it when softening meat for nilaga or cooking “inun-unan” (fish paksiw). It has a particular taste which is quite distinctive and different from food cooked in metal cookware.
    I agree with Bernadette, using charcoal for “gatong” is the way to go! Really economical and less hassle.
    More Power!

  17. Get the black palayok. They are seasoned right off the factory – they were fired up in the oven hence the color is telling. When you send you crew on a palayok shopping spree tell them to bring a jug of water with them. Pour the water in the palayok and watch for drip – naturally if drips are present then is not a good one. The palayok vendor will agree instead of coming back to them and getting a refund and the soaked palayok will dry eventually. I love your swimming pool!

  18. Heeheee…”Oh, and one last “fishpan” tip, don’t fire up the palayok near a swimming pool, the ashes can get messy! :)” the authenticity somehow got Altered :)…

  19. I do have the black palayoks and I’ve been using the tuntungan from the Chinese Wok kit and has been cooking with that on my gas stove. I do lay some banana leaves at the top and bottom of the pot on all the paksiw, pinangat and sinaings that i cook, and I do think it does make a difference when cooking the aforementioned using the palayok rather than the regular steel pans, if not for the taste at least it is more appealing to the eye ;-)

  20. Hi MM,

    I enjoyed your palayok post. It triggered warm childhood memories growing up. My sister and I love playing house and cook in our small “baby” palayoks in the backyard. I can still taste and smell the burnt rice and watery soup we made. Definitely nothing gourmet, but those were the best tasting rice and soup in my eyes.

  21. Speaking of palayok, and being a typical “filipino girl” back then, i remember owning a few sets of palayok for playing “bahay-bahayan/bahay-kubo”. Normally after mass on sundays, just outside the church, vendors lined up selling all kinds of stuff including palayok. Although, I remember that me and my cousins back then have tried to cook rice in a palayok, it turned ok,it was edible as we ate it, but it was on the mushy side! :)

    Aside for it’s other purpose, I remember very well at every kid’s party there’s always “hataw na palayok”, oh how I love that game, but now that I think of it and now that I’m a mom, it’s rather dangerous as the chunks and pieces of clay are flying every direction!

    I also heard that cooking sinigang and paksiw are best done in palayok! And it’s also good to store water in banga (which is also made out of clay just like the palayok) as it keeps the water cool. Is that true?

  22. MM, your palayok post made my mouth water for the excellent sinaing na tawilis and tulingan our farm caretakers make in Batangas. They line the bottom of the palayok with banana leaves, then layers of pork fat,then the fish, dried kamias and salt. They will cook this over firewood for hours and the resulting fish is tender, smoky and the patis is just excellent over steamed rice :)

  23. dhayl- yes, the banga keeps the water cool. that’s where we kept our beer in the middle of a semi-desert in Chad (Africa) in the absence of electricity.

  24. “pyromaniacs disguised as drivers and wood and charcoal queens…” i enjoyed reading this entry MM. Frankly, i didn’t know a palayok had to be sort of cured first before being used continuously. Iloilo has its Hibao-an pottery. Funny but the baldosas that it produces, they still call Vigan tiles. Di ba dapat Hibao-an tiles na lang?

    happy palayok cooking week!

  25. my lola used to cook adobo in the palayok…yum yum yum… it brought back childhood memories. thanks marketman

  26. i was 5 years old when i had my first dirty kitchen experience cooking mixed vegetable soup, viasayan style. This is called in vernacular as “law-uy” or “utan bisaya.” I have to climb over the edge of the kitchen and made some foot marks all along to make fire and keep it going; blowing from the old “tayhop” made of bamboo to the ones made from aluminum and/or iron. I was in a municipality of cebu back then.
    Now I am in Dublin, Ireland. And it’s still great to cook and being appreciated, whixh as traced, was a product of palayok and ashes from our dirty kitchen.

  27. When I was in college, my sister & I went to visit my lola’s old house in Cebu. All the cooking there was done via woodfire & palayok. My sister was really excited to cook this way, so she volunteered to do the rice. As she tried to get the fire going, she blew into the fire with that little bamboo tube (I don’t know what it’s called). Next thing we saw was a cloud of ash right in her face!*P it was like something out of an ai-ai delas alas movie.

  28. My mom, until now cooks sinaing na tambakol in a palayok, cooked slowly over firewood. My friend and i used to devour it after swimming , you can imagine how much rice we eat with it, complimented with kamatis, calamansi and patis, haaay….. those were the days when you care less how much rice you eat and sodium you ingest.

  29. Hmm, makes me want to pick up a palayok next time I visit. The only experience I had with palayok was playing with the miniature palayok set we bought in front of the Antipolo church. We cooked Santan leaves and flowers in water. Good thing that we didn’t burn the house down. LOL

  30. MM, i’m so glad i found your site.i live here in the us and i always use my palayoks ( i use it on the stove though).i make sinigang in it and sinaing na isda.i have one for meat and another one for fish.i also have kawali which i use everyday.i brought them back from the pi last time we were there.i love your blogs btw.

  31. ” enjoyed your palayok post. It triggered warm childhood memories growing up. My sister and I love playing house and cook in our small “baby” palayoks in the backyard. I can still taste and smell the burnt rice and watery soup we made. Definitely nothing gourmet, but those were the best tasting rice and soup in my eyes. “… the same memories I had in the province!!! If you are in Bicol, TIWI., Albay is the place to buy palayoks and paso for the plants.

  32. The reason I write you I’m hosting aFilipino Christmas Party here at Arizona Phoenix area, I want everybody to feel their at home,even though where really faraway on our beloved land PHILIPPINES,anyaway I really want to cook a good pilipino dish and Iwant to cooked it in palayok but the problem is I dont know where to buy palayok around here,I search in the internet but unfortunatelly I have no luck,please if you can help me to provide where can I purchased palayok .I will do appreciate your help hope you can reply on this mail.Thank you and We missed the Phillipines so much especially on this comming holiday!

  33. I was in Batangas yesterday with two school friends who are here for their 40th high school reunion (UP High, Manila). We had lunch at the residence of their relatives, the Hidalgos from Tanauan. Menu: sinaing na tulingan (sa palayok, 4hours); bulanglang (local string beans called “paayap”, with kalabasa & tomatoes, ginger; some crispy pork liempo. For dessert, there was sumang dapa with kalamayhati (coconut syrup) and biko (rice pudding). A very memorable meal indeed! I am sold on the idea of using the palayok.

  34. We call this in Batangas as ” TAYA” oR ”PAGTATAYA” ..this is done to get rid of dirt or bacteria present on the claypots…”sterilization” perhaps to avoid spoilage of food stored in a palayok… In Batangas we only use the ”black palayok” for cooking since it is more durable …with a smooth surface and is fit for cooking….



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