Monday, January 31, 2011


MEKENI'S MININDAL. Street vendors entice passersby with their native delicacies spread out on their bilaos: ebus-wrapped suman and bobotu (tamales). Today, one can still find these 'kakanins' in market stalls around Pampanga, ready to be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. Ca. 1912.

A result of the ongoing renaissance and awakened interest in Kapampangan culture and traditions, is the resurgence in popularity of our favorite pedestrian ‘kakanins’. Once peddled by itinerant bilao-carrying vendors, our traditional kalame, tibuk-tibuk, suman, mochi, biku, cassava (kamuting dutung) cake—and many more--have become staples of local market stalls and mainstream food shops like Susie’s Cuisine, Delynn’s, Razon’s and Nathaniel’s, earning raves from foodies who even travel to the province to seek out these delectable native treats.

The character of our Kapampangan cuisine is defined by the products of our main industries-- rice, sugar, and to some extent, coconuts. It is no wonder then that most of our concoctions from the kitchen utilized these ingredients and their derivatives, resulting in filling rice-based treats with varying tones of sweetness that continue to delight us to this day.

Kalame (kalamay) is perhaps the most ubiquitous all-purpose food of Filipinos, made from malagkit (glutinous) rice, coconut and white sugar. The rice is first ground in a gilingan (stone grinder) to make galapung. This is a backbreaking chore, and I remember, it took two workers to operate our gilingan—one to “feed” the opening on top with malagkit rice, and the other to turn the grinder’s handle. I still have our stone gilingan, now family heirloom, incised with a date (1911) and the name of the original owner (Dr. Melecio Castro), my granduncle.

The basic kalame may seem easy to prepare, but it involves stirring the mixture constantly for up to four hours to achieve a smooth, sticky consistency. Kalame variations include ‘kalame ube’ wherein purple yam is added to give it a distict ube color and flavor. Rarely made these days is ‘kalame kulubasa’, in which mashed squash is used, giving the kalame a deep yellow color. The kalame is generously topped with ‘latik’, made from sugar and coconut milk extract.

Every town market it seems, has a stall hawking kalame slices served on banana leaf—it is that commonplace. It can be found in school canteens, on fiesta tables and birthday parties, and is freely given away by neighbors during. In Concepcion, Tarlac, a kalame variation made of galapung and gata is called ‘tocino’ by the locals.

Bibingka needs no introduction as it is equally popular as kalame, available all year-round, but more in demand during the Christmas season. Made from galapung, milk and gata, bibingka is cooked in clay dishes and browned with live coals placed on top and below the cooking dish. Special bibingka is made from pure galapung (no flour extenders please!) and enriched with ebun buru, keso de bola slices, dollops of butter and grated coconut.

I used to hear a folk song about the tasty brown kutsinta, which went “Puto kutsinta, malambot, masarap, malata!” (Puto kutsinta, soft, delicious and delicate). Pampanga’s kutsinta is created from the same ground malagkit rice, coconut, brown sugar and homemade lihiya (lye)--wood ash and water solution—and molded in tiny Chinese porcelain cups. Its white counterpart is the fluffy putu lasĂșn, and I often wondered why it should be named like that, as, “lasĂșn”, without the accent, means poison. These native delicacies are best eaten with fresh, grated coconut.

Tibuk-tibuk is another treat closely associated with Kapampangan specialty foods. I don’t think we ever called this delicate coconut milk-based dessert by its "ultra-sosy" name—“maja blanca”—we always called it tibuk-tibuk, in reference to the palpitating sound of the simmering gata (coconut milk) -sugar-carabao milk mixture as it cooked. We never added corn kernels or used cornstarch to hasten the cooking of tibuk-tibuk; instead, we allowed the mixture to thicken at its own pace, through even, constant stirring over low fire. Tibuk-tibuk is always served cold and garnished with latik—not toasted grated coconut which I often see in fancy hotels and restaurants.

Suman is cooked malagkit rice wrapped in ebus (a kind of palm leaf) strips. To give the plain, salty taste of suman more flavor, it is eaten with mangos or dipped in sugar. Suman bulagta, on the other hand, is cooked and wrapped in banana leaves, from which it acquires its greenish color. It is best eaten with latik and sprinkled with sugar. I recently visited a food shop in Tiendesitas which sold ‘haute’ sumans—laced with chocolate, macapuno, monggo and ube. The lowly, suman has finally come of age—but I still prefer mine plain and cheap, thank you.

Bobotu is another minindal favorite known to most Filipinos as “tamales”. But it does not taste anywhere near its Mexican counterpart. The mixture is prepared from giniling rice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, pepper and atsuete extract. The cooking bobotu involves many steps—after cooking the mixture in low fire with constant stirring, small portions are poured on a banana leaf, in which shredded chicken, shrimp or pork meat, egg slices, crushed peanuts and atsuete juice are added on top. The banana-wrapped bobotu is then steamed for about 20 minutes. Cabalantian in Bacolor is noted for making the tastiest bobotu in the province. Alas, some unscrupulous bobotu sellers add more banana wrappings to make the bobotu look more appetizingly plump.

Sampelut (or Ginataan to Tagalogs)—a thick sweet porridge made from gata, sugar and made chunky with slices of sagin saba, kamote, gandus, nangka and bilu-bilu (rice flour balls) can still be found offered by food stalls in rural markets, but is better made at home. I never liked sampelut because of its laxative effect, what with its high coconut content, but my sister swears by its rich, lip-smacking taste, a halo-halo of sorts but without the ice.

A visit to the local market yielded many more kakanins of my childhood, including the sticky ‘pepalto’ (palitaw), which is covered with fresh grated coconut, white sugar and anise. Less visible is the ‘mochi’-- fried dumplings filled with sweet yam or ube filling. ‘Sapin-sapin’—that multi-layered, multi-colored rice cake is, in itself, a feast for the eyes, a super sticky cake laced with ube and other flavorings. Espasol is another sweet delicacy which my Ingkung used to buy in San Fernando and Bulacan. The finger sized espasol pieces are dusted with roasted rice flour to prevent the pieces from sticking and wrapped in characteristic brown paper.

Before, I could easily find ‘maruya’ or banana fritters being sold by the side of the Sto. Rosario Church, so I think one could still find them in the city. I was less successful in my search for ‘putung babi’, pan de sal halves filled with potatos (or kamote) and minced meat, then fried in batter. They were my favorites in grade school, regularly offered by ambulant vendors.

A Kapampangan will never go hungry with the fantastic array of native delicacies available for his instant delectation. All he has to do is go out the street, locate a native peddler, and pick a kakanin from her bilao of banana-wrapped goodies. There’s always one treat there that is sure to please you—on and off the street!

1 comment:

Alicia said...

Thank you for such a wonderful read. It took me back to my childhood back in Balutu, Concepcion, Tarlac as well as in my teenage years in Angeles City.

Now that I am longing for my hometown, your article/blog gave me a glimpse of what I am missing everyday, delicious food from Pampanga!