One of Malolos, Bulacan’s famous delicacies is its “empanada de kaliskis,” called as such because of its wonderfully cooked flaky crust that resembles the shape of fish scales. Each crunchy bite leads to a flavorful chicken filling.
Mercy’s Original Empanada de Kaliskis prides itself for starting this culinary tradition in Bulacan’s capital city. And the person behind the eponymous brand is 85-year-old Mercy Antonio who tells ANCX that the heirloom recipe is older than her—it’s 130 years old. “Hindi pa ako tao, may empanada na. Panahon pa ng Kastila,” she says.
Chef Reggie Aspiras, who interviewed Lola Mercy back in 2014, once wrote that the women who first introduced the empanada de kaliskis in Malolos were the Domingo sisters—Agustina Domingo de Jesus (Mercy’s great grandmother) and her sister Justina Domingo. This was during the latter part of 1800s. The Domingo sisters were known in Bulacan as great cooks. Included in their delicacies is the empanada de Malolos, which was later called empanada de kaliskis, as suggested by their family friend, the late food historian Mila Enriquez.
Agustina handed down her knowledge to her daughter Trinidad de Jesus Antonio, Mercy’s grandmother.
As per the Inquirer story, before the Domingo sisters passed on, they instructed Trinidad to share the recipe with family members who would like to continue the tradition. But if no one in the family is interested “the recipe should end with the last person in the family who has it.”
Lola Mercy says she learned to make the empanada from her grandmother Trinidad. She’s the only one among her four siblings who decided to learn the fine art of making empanada de kaliskis. “Ayaw ng mga kapatid ko [na gumawa ng empanada], kasi mahirap,” she recalls. They instead decided to dabble in other food businesses such as making cheese and pastillas.
So for over five decades now, Lola Mercy has become the keeper of the family’s age-old secret recipe. But since she’s already in her twilight years, her niece Tessie Lauriaga, now 71, is currently the one on top of the business, meticulously making the empanada crust while a younger pamangkin, Edcyl Bernardo, helps in preparing the fillings. Edcyl is also in charge of taking orders via Mercy’s Facebook account.
“Mahirap siyang gawin mag-isa kasi mano-mano,” shares Lola Mercy of the work each puff pastry entails. But when asked why she thinks people continue to love their empanada, she says, “Hindi ko nga malaman bakit sila nasasarapan.” And then she lets out a hearty laugh.
Lola Mercy says they’ve kept the formulation and techniques for the pastry the same ever since. “Yung luto ng lola ko noong araw, yun pa rin. Walang pagbabago.”
The food influencer “Masarap Ba?” posted this review of Mercy’s Original Empanada de Kaliskis a few years back, which possibly sums up what many people love about the popular delicacy: “Standout ang sarap nung crust at chicken filling. Lasap mo yung pagka-homemade. Tipong yung hinahanda ng lola mo sayo tuwing uuwi kayo ng probinsya. Bawat kagat, may yakap ng pagmamahal.”
Katrina Aniag says their family has been a suki of Lola Mercy’s empanada ever since she can remember. “Kapag may okasyon, Mercy’s empanada de kaliskis always finds its way to our dining table,” she says.
During the start of the pandemic, when she had a lot of time on her hands, she decided to get busy in the kitchen and came up with the idea of recreating her favorite Malolos delicacy. “Ang naging hobby kasi namin during the pandemic is to get together as a family in the afternoon and enjoy some merienda,” she says.
Kat, whose family is in the business of printing and packaging, admits she has no culinary background and very seldom cooks at home. So she simply researched available empanada recipes online. “Ang tricky is yung method how to make it flaky,” she says.
The first batch of pastries she made were delicious, but they had no flakes. The following day, she tried making another batch with a different flavor. While rolling the dough, she made a mistake—which turned out to be providential because, voila, the flakes appeared. “From then on, tuwing gagawa ako ng empanada, meron na siyang flakes. Hindi ko din alam how I came up with it, but it happened,” she says.
On her mother’s birthday that year, since they can’t invite people over, Kat decided to make empanada to share with relatives. Everyone was pleased with the treat, and suggested to Kat that she try selling her empanadas. “Lo and behold, madaming bumili,” she says.
Currently, Kat’s Catalina’s Kitchen offers chicken, tuna, cheese, adobo and spinach empanada variants. She does confirm what Lola Mercy says about the making of empanada de kaliskis requiring TLC. “I’ve tried teaching my mom, our kasama sa bahay, my brothers, my dad, how to make the flakes come out. Pero after two years of trying, wala. Ako lang talaga ang nakakagawa ng flakes,” says Cat. “I think it’s a talent. Kasi may certain heaviness or gentleness lang ng pag-handle ng dough that will make the flakes come out.”
As for the taste, she admits Lola Mercy’s original empanada de kaliskis remains unrivaled. But by coming out with her own brand of flaky empanada, she hopes to help sustain this culinary heritage of Malolos and introduce it to a larger market.
Tita Tessie of Mercy’s Original Empanada de Kaliskis tells us they’re also trying to keep up with the times. They’re in talks with a business partner who would help make their empanada available in different spots in the country. In fact, their empanda de kaliskis is now available in Pasig. They have also been offering other variants: beef curry, pork sisig, and tuna. Plans are also underway to refurbish and expand their current store and turn it into a full-blown commissary. “Plano pa naming palaguin pa ito,” assures Tita Tess.
With these old and new generations of Malolos women upholding the traditions of old while keeping their business flourishing in the now, Malolos can be assured the empanada de kaliskis will carry on and will be enjoyed by generations to come.