Thursday, March 10, 2011

*241.CREATURE COMFORT FOODS

CUT AND BASTE. A woman prepares a bayawak for what would be another exotic Kapampangan adobo dish. This picture's provenance is attributed to Pampanga, ca. 1911.

Many years ago, a roadside restaurant was put up along the highway between the Bamban-Mabalacat boundary, that specializing in exotic delicacies: dishes made from deer venison, wild fowls and snakes. It created quite a stir when it opened, catering to a niche market with the taste for the strange, the bizarre and the unusual.

Indeed, Kapampangan cooking has often been described as a cuisine of extremes. In times of plenty, a cook will spare nothing to come up with the most lavish creations using the finest ingredients he can find—from lamb chops to imported turkey, quezo de bola, olives and expensive canned creams. But in times of profound want, he will eat anything that’s available out in the field, the forest or even his own backyard--be it something that crawls, croaks, slithers and flies.

True, Kapampangans have made dishes out of bugs, insects, mollusks, beetles, woodworms, amphibians, snakes and reptiles. But these creatures also appear in the food specialities of other countries, prized for their taste and valued for their nutritional benefits. Arabs, like Kapampangans, feasted on sun-dried locusts—but they served theirs with milk. Jamaicans and Native Americans ate roasted beetles. New Guinea natives supplemented their diet with lizards and mice. Vietnamese restaurants offered snake dishes in their menu, which were believed to enhance male virility. At the Chatuchak weekend market in Thailand, I have seen some large species of cockroaches sold by the glassful as some sort of a protein food.

Closer to home, Igorots, like Kapampangans, also ate dog meat---there was even a lively dog trade in Baguio in the early part of the 20th century. However, it is on the Kapampangans that the dogeater label got stuck, a reputation that has become permanent—and quite legendary. In Macabebe, a sweet and spicy dog stew known as “Kubang Asu” is a favorite pulutan of beer guzzlers, while in Mabalacat, it is cooked “lutong Bumbay” style, laced with red chili peppers and mashed potatoes. Similarly, the Stone Age Tasadays of Mindanao ate tadpoles and frogs, but I am pretty sure not in the same manner that the finicky Kapampangans prepared them—stuffed with ground meat and spices, then deep-fried.

My father used to recount how he relished “ebun pau” (turtle eggs) which were collected by the dozens under mounds of sand near rivers and streams. When boiled, he said, the eggs had a soft toothpaste-like consistency, almost runny and with a taste that's creamier, more 'malinamnam' than chicken eggs.

Rarer than these amphibious treats however, are the reptilian delicacies, which are challenging to prepare and perhaps, even more daunting to eat. Topping the list is the ‘barag’ (monitor lizard) which also goes by the name “banias” among Kapampangans.

“Ali ya manenaya ing barag keng burak nung ala yang panenayan tugak" (The barag will not lie in wait in the mud if no frog awaits him), so goes a Kapampangan saying. But the barag’s patience can also be his undoing, with the hunter unwittingly becoming the hunted. Barags were captured with live baits of chicks, frogs or birds. Thus trapped, they were slit by the neck, skinned, disemboweled, beheaded and chopped into small pieces for cooking.

Barags were often cooked like caldereta or adobu. The meat is first marinated with soy sauce, garlic, vinegar, salt and spices then boiled with water until the liquid dries up. It is then stir-fried with oil and is served as a main dish or as a pulutan. The taste is said to be akin to that of chicken, except more flavorful.

All these Kapampangan exotica have been met with a mix of delight and disgust, shocking the faint of heart and fascinating the adventurous few-- which just goes to show that, taste—like beauty—is relative, an acquired preference brought about by circumstances of culture, history and the whims of nature. Kapampangans, however, have brought their own special flair in cooking these creatures, turning them into unique, delectable treats. Today, a few of these dishes have gone mainstream, like the adobung kamaru and tugak betute.

Who knows, the pest that you see crawling under your house today may be the next big thing on your plate. One man’s vermin, may yet be another man’s viand. When that happens, you will most likely have a creative Kapampangan kusinero to thank for.

1 comment:

domjullian said...

Kapampangan=food authority