Preserving culture and history as embodied in our cuisine
The softcover anthology Sangkap: Basic Philippine Ingredients — Five Years of Winning Stories from the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award (2013-2017) — was launched on May 9 at the Unilab Bayanihan Center on Pioneer Street, Mandaluyong. On the same occasion, the winners of the DGFFWA 2018 competition were announced and given their prizes.
A project of the Food Writers Association of the Philippines (FWAP), the book is edited by Michaela Fenix and Felice Sta. Maria, and published by Studio 5 Designs, Inc. It’s a follow-up to Savor the Word (2012, Anvil Publishing), the first compilation of the DGFFWA winning entries for the first ten years. Copies are available at all branches of Fully Booked.
This time, the topics for 2013 to 2017 covered rice, coconut, herbs, vinegar and bagoong — on which the contest entrants wrote. These also served as the chapter titles for collected winning entries written by Jun Belen, Teresa “Titchie” Carandang, Ruby T. Cariño, Angelo Comsti, Wilson Lee Flores, Noelle Q. de Jesus, Lolita R. Lacuesta, Raymond Aquino Macapagal, Gio Mangaya-ay, C. Horatius Mosquera, Elmer I. Nocheseda, Jenny B. Orillos, Josephine V. Roque, Grace Celeste T. Subido, Becky Torres, and Giney Villar — a few of whom won more than once.
Guest writers included FWAP members Michaela Fenix, Felice Sta. Maria, Myrna Segismundo and Marily Ysip Orosa, as well as DGFFWA judges Corazon Alvina, Karina Bolasco, Mol Fernando and this writer.
Excerpted from “An Appetite for Life” by Maya Besa Roxas, which also served as a tribute to her aunt Doreen in the earlier anthology, were the following passages:
“Tita Doreen had staked her claim in the academe, in teaching, research, and writing. Her concentrations are literature, journalism, composition, theater.
“The most vital role she plays, however, and what has remained the crux of her three-decade affair with food writing, is to safeguard and preserve our culture and history as embodied in our cuisine.”
The book’s bonuses are a Glossary of culinary terms in Filipino and ten recipes prepared by chef Myrna Segismundo, who writes: “Recipes are the homes of select ingredients that establish the identity of dishes. A recipe offers a good sense of which ingredients complement each other, which suitable cooking applications can be applied in preparing a dish, and if a recipe can be of any worth in one’s kitchen.”
The annual judges were asked to contribute guest essays on the chapter topic of our choice, resulting in Bolasco’s “The Rice Is Cooked!,” Alvina’s “A Vinegar-y Chat,” Fernando’s “Perfume of the Kitchen” (for Bagoong),” and my “On Coconut.”
Following is the latter half of my contribution.
One attraction on a countryside jaunt was seeing a man shimmy up a trunk effortlessly, a bolo strapped to his side, the same that he’d use to hack off green nuts from their cluster. Their customary efforts led quickly to a taste of the freshest coconut water.
(W)e also appreciated how these climbers not only shimmied up trunks but crossed a grid of bamboo bridges connecting several trees. This time they also went up with bamboo containers — a small one to collect sap overnight from cuts they made on budding flowers, and a larger one the next day for gathering this sap and taking it down.
These tuba or coconut wine gatherers practiced a consummate craft that varied depending on the region. In Southern Luzon, the colorless sap was either drunk fresh or distilled into lambanog — a favored drink of higher alcohol content. In the Eastern Visayas, particularly in Leyte, the tuba gatherer or mananguete added barok, the bark of a mangrove tree, to the bamboo container that receives the sap overnight, turning it into reddish tuba or what’s called “coconut red wine.” This isn’t drunk until after a few days, and more often undergoes a sedimentation and decantation process for a year to three years to produce the full-bodied and much-preferred bahalina.
Oh, there’s so much more of coco lore that can fill up volumes of pages. Indeed, the tree of life provides an inexhaustible supply of products for everyone — from the fortunate inhabitants of a coconut-growing country to worldwide consumers.
Fronds are turned into roofing material for tropical huts. The trunks become lumber. Parts of the tree have been transformed into a prizewinning product to mitigate soil erosion. Coconut oil has long been traditionally extracted from the dried meat of what is known as copra.
From the oil used to light wick-lamps for centuries to what still gives a shine to a country lady’s long hair, this has now evolved to produce the popular virgin coconut oil or VCO. Coconut sugar is yet another recent product.
One typically Pinoy use for the coconut tree that I find personally fascinating is as a post on which to attach a basketball goal.
I must also hark back to … teenhood, in the old days of Metro Manila, when I traveled far and wide in urban territory to consort with various turf gangs. One was in San Juan. On Blumentritt St., passing under the tubo or large pipe that protruded from the high ground of Tuberias St. to traverse the road, I would catch the unmistakable wafting of a most gratifying scent. It was that of latik, for there was a coconut factory in the area.
Again, eventually I would learn that latik varies between Luzon, where it is simply coconut cream simmered until reduced to solids or “coconut curds” that are fried until golden brown, for use as toppings for delicacies, and the Visayas where latik is the syrupy “coconut caramel” used as a dessert sauce.
In any case, the Luzon latik I’ve been more familiar with remains the quintessential essence of my memories of coconut awareness — as that rich, heavenly scent that promised gustatory delectation.
The rest of coconut cream’s use — for chicken stewed inside fresh bamboo, or for cooking crabs, shrimps, vegetables, assorted tubers and fruits as guinataan — is gravy for everyday memory.