Meet our featured “Babai”
Atching Lillian Mercado-Lising Borromeo is a celebrated culinary figure and cultural icon hailing from the Kapampangan region of the Philippines. She is widely recognized for her unwavering dedication to preserving and promoting the rich and diverse Kapampangan cuisine, which is considered one of the most complex and sophisticated in the country. As a result of her efforts, Atching Lillian has earned the respect of many, becoming an esteemed authority on Kapampangan cuisine and a source of inspiration for chefs and food enthusiasts alike.
Recognized by culinary enthusiasts and scholars of Philippine cuisine alike, Atching Lilian Borromeo is often referred to as the guardian of Kapampangan cuisine, a title that reflects her vital role in promoting and preserving the cultural heritage of Pampanga and the Philippines.
For those seeking to discover the flavors of traditional Kapampangan cuisine, Atching Lillian Borromeo’s cookbook, “Atching Lillian’s Heirloom Recipes: Yesterday’s Favorites, Tomorrow’s Legacy” is a must-read. With over 150 recipes, this book offers a tantalizing culinary journey through the rich cultural heritage of Pampanga, featuring stories and anecdotes about Atching Lillian’s life and experiences in the culinary industry.
Additionally, Atching Lillian has a YouTube channel called “Atching Lillian: Cusina Cu, Cusina Mu” where she shares easy-to-follow videos of her recipes, making traditional Kapampangan dishes accessible to anyone who wants to learn.
Let’s delve into her story, explore her culinary expertise, and learn about her unyielding commitment to preserving and promoting the rich and diverse Kapampangan cuisine through this short Q&A:
How did you start your journey as one of the most successful female culinarians in the country?
I was born in Manila but was raised in Pampanga, and I am the only girl among my seven siblings. Sadly, four of my siblings passed away at a very young age. As young as three, I was already playing in the kitchen (luto-lutuan), and my mom and grandmother taught me how to cook classic Kapampangan favorites like adobo and sinigang.
In college, I pursued home economics at the University of Sto. Tomas later went to the Philippine Women’s University. I also went to Baguio to further my skills.
While I was already known for my small business of making San Nicolas cookies, my big break came when a former Tourism Secretary visited me and saw my traditional cookware inherited from my family. I started serving groups of only fourteen, eventually becoming known to celebrities and other famous people.
Although I have hosted VIP guests and celebrities, I value a person’s character more than their reputation or status in life. Sharing my culinary knowledge with different people and generations is something I enjoy, and the legacy I leave is what matters most to me.
What are the most memorable parts of your journey?
One of my most memorable cooking moments was when I hosted the then first lady, Imelda Marcos. We prepared a sumptuous spread that included palitaw for her and her foreign guests. To our surprise, they asked for the English translation of palitaw. Right there and then, I remembered that the dish was inspired by the Philippine islands, as it resurfaces from the oil in the pan when it is thoroughly cooked. I shared this story with the guests and they all loved the concept behind the well-loved dessert.
How do you play and relax for you to live out a bold lifestyle?
I like creating new recipes and I’m about to finish a new book as we speak. I also used to bike a lot pre pandemic.
Who are the women who inspire you and why?
My mother and my grandmother, or Impo, have been my greatest source of inspiration in life. They have imparted most of my knowledge, particularly in cooking. Initially, I took their teachings for granted, but I eventually realized that their words of wisdom have paved the way for my successful culinary career.
What message would you like to share with other women who would also like to succeed in life?
My message to the women of this generation is to embrace a teachable spirit. No matter how much you’ve already accomplished or how much you know, approach each day with the mindset of a student who is open to learning. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude, and be thankful for both the big and small things in your life. And always remember to acknowledge those who have helped you along the way, giving credit where credit is due.
How can women thrive in Pampanga?
Sharing is key to personal growth and success, as people thrive when they share. By being selfless and sharing your knowledge with others, you help them to grow and succeed alongside you.
"You can achieve the dream you conceive.
But you have to put in the work. "
Atching Lillian Borromeo
Philippines Culinary Icon
Atching Lillian’s story is a shining example of the importance of preserving cultural heritage while also embracing innovation and ensuring it remains relevant and accessible to younger generations. Let her legacy inspire us to celebrate and preserve the unique cultural treasures that make our world a richer and more diverse place.