Members of my family in Estancia, Iloilo formed a private facebook group to help our “kasimanwa” ( town folks) who are survivors of Yolanda. The aftermath of the typhoon bonded us to renew our links. The typhoon made us, like other families in the Philippines, brace for ourselves,too.
Our relatives raised money to bring back livelihood to fishermen by donating pump boats ---much of which came from those who are abroad, mostly in the USA. I am not writing about this. I want to de-stress a bit this time and write about something lighter and familiar to most of us.
Our clan is one of the pioneering families in Estancia. Our great grandparents settled in Estancia mostly as fishermen to start with. They lived by the shoreline of the town. The family origin is the Reyes and Jutare family which permutated to families Aclaro, Jovero, Josue, Martinez, Vergara, Aranador, Costas, Limpoco, Buencamino, del Carmen, Baylon, Belasoto, Lim, Ravena, etc. Well, in a small town everyone becomes relatives.
Our family clan could be the serious one in Estancia. Also fierce specially the women. Also stubborn specially the men. Oftentimes, humorous people specially the young ones. Most of all, our clan talks a lot specially in family gatherings. We are all very talkative. “Pala baligya lawayan” ( local expression for selling saliva by just talking forever; also like a fish vendor selling fish with so much slime). Well, I can just describe it as a family with constant “diarrhea of the mouth”.
What supersedes the above is that we all like to go to the wet market, cook and eat. Well, blame it to the Reyeses---the family of cooks of the famed Mama Sita and Aristocrat. I remember as a young boy we always had “poncion” ( huge fiesta ) in our family. Nanay Mina Reyes Aclaro will have a battery of “cocineras” from the “pulo” ( islands) who cooked in huge “kawa” ( large iron pots) for all family members to enjoy. Tay Eusebio Reyes, who was the well-loved mayor, and doctor, of Estancia, would just sit in a corner, of course, what else, but listened to all the clan members talking endlessly…mostly our mothers and aunts who were unstoppable for their orations and litanies about anything.
Lolo Pio, was a smoked fish expert. I remember, we would nap on top of his bamboo “tinapa” ( smoked fish) hut and woke up like smoked fish as well with the smell of smoke all over our clothing. He was a simple man with chinky eyes. He would give us one cent each “apo” after church or cooked seafood like “sinugba nga isda” ( grilled fish) for snacks!
Many of our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles cooked simple dishes---mostly from the sea. The other part of our food came from the upland, mostly rice-based for “mirienda “ (snacks) or desserts. As Estanciahanons, we re-connect our stomach to our hometown. Many of our traditional food may be gone forever sooner than later. The oil spill may have contaminated our ocean produce, so we lost our seafood. Gaisano wanting to replace our traditional market vendors with a mall, threatening the extinction of our delicacies we were raised to enjoy with.
This Christmas, one or two of this food will certainly grace our table. If it will, it will remind us of our roots. It can support the poor vendors whose livelihood and sense of continuing our gastronomic inheritance is imperatively preserved. These are not the fanciest of local food, but they will remind us of our "mercado", our homes, our mothers, our childhood days, our fishermen, our "tienderas", our "manog arkabala" ( public market tax collectors), our heritage and the future by which these food icons may be nowhere in sight in Estancia any longer.
"Balingon" or "Gurayan" ( Anchovies) "Kinilaw" ( Ceviche) or Dilis Pulutan or "Sinanglag sa Uling" ( Roasted in Charcoal). We used to fish out these fish at the pier. Now, one can only scoop oil spill.
"Hilaw nga Manga" ( Green Mango) with "Kamatis kag Ginamos" ( tomatoes and shrimp paste).
"Sisi" (oysters) cooked adobo or salad with coconut vinegar. The oysters were abundant along the Estancia shoreline....now they are coated with bunker fuel than with vinaigrette.
"Lato"/ "Laba-laba"/ "Gulaman" ( Seaweeds)--rich in micro minerals like iodine, now, with the oil spill they can be rich in arsenic.
"Imbao/ Litub/ Kagay-kay/ Sigay" ( clam shells). Best as soup with lemon grass and ginger. Now with the oil spill, it can be dunked with nitrogen.
"Locus" ( baby squid). Adobo. Estancia bay is the breeding ground of the most prolific population of baby squid in the country. Now, these babies are named mutants by NAPOCOR.
"Sinugba nga Aguma-a ukon Lagaw" ( Grilled fish). Estancia is the Little Alaska of the Philippines because it has so much fish. Now it is the Little Mongolia of the Philippines because the oil spill drove people to live in so many tents in dry arid land.
"Kasag" ( Crabs). Estancia process crab meat and exports them. At our public market, they are still sold with bamboo tie becuase they are catched by hand. "Langgaw" ( vinegar), please!
"Pasayan Linusgusan" ( Baby shrimps). Nope they do not grow bigger, don't be alarmed. In Estancia, women vendors usually sell them in "tumpok" ( clusters) and can only cost so little. The bay where the oil was spilled is Marine Protected Area (MPA) and these shrimps are screaming for help.
"Tinola sa Batuan" ( Fish soup with batuan--a souring fruit). "Batuan" coming from the "pulo" ( island) is the best. My cousin Bernadette Reyes' favorite. She can not live with out "batuan!"
"Laswa" ( steamed vegetables) with "hipon" ( small shrimps) and even smaller "Kalkag". The "Utan" ( vegetables) are sold in our public market which Gaisano wants to substitute with Italian lettuce.
"Suman Latik". Sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves cooked in coconut milk and topped with "Bucayo" ( coconut meat in caramelized brown sugar). Gaisano will offer donuts instead.
"Puto Lanson" made from grated cassava and steamed in banana leaves.
"Ibos kag Paho" ( Rice cake and Mangoes). Rice wrapped in coconut leaves and cooked in coconut milk. With sweet mangoes, it is heavenly. With sugar syrup "Pulot" is eternally yummy. This is our family clan's favorite "balon" ( packed food) on excursions to Bayas Island or Tanza which is now dressed with bunker oil syrup.
"Palitao" / "Moasi". Grounded sticky rice dunked in boiling water. When they rise up the water, they are cooked. Add grated coconut and roasted brown sugar mixed with "lingga" (sesame seeds)....and you will forget your name...but you will remember Gaisano because you choked over its take over.
"Buco" salad ( coconut salad). It is a traditional to go "pangulabo" ( climbing and gathering coconuts) on weekends in the barrios of Cano-an, Bayoyan, Daan Banwa or Malbog. I like it milky white, not filthy black like the oil spill.
It has to be this pink color to be authentic, I call it "barriotic" "Gulaman" ( gelatin) dessert. One should go to the public market to buy the bloody red gulaman. Add Darigold or Alpine evap milk in can and it turns pink. But Gaisano's version will remain bloody red when our public market is gone.
"Bitcho-bitcho". Sticky rice coated with aromatic brown sugar and dunked into hot oil. The outside is crispy the inside is chewy. Gaisano's version will be called " Bitch- choke Bitch- choke" --the outside is charred, the inside is tough.
"Linugaw"/ "Ginataan" . Sweet sticky rice porridge with rootcrops, tapioca and the yummiest jackfuit. One can buy per bowl in the public market. Or even in a plastic bag! It is colorful like the Filipino way of life. At Gaisano mall, it will only be in one color--- white--- with no other ingredients---because they, well, do not know how to cook it.
"Bibingka". The best. Rice flour cooked in banana leaves over a tin pan and open baked with charcoal on top and bottom. Add some grated coconut and cheese or yellow "mantikilya" ( margarine) and it is business. Please buy Bibingka at Gaisano in cling wrap which you can reheat in microwave oven. Add one peso for your "mantikilya". Look for your own "banana" leaves to make your puto look the real thing.
Finally, "Pan de Siosa" ( local bread served hot with some oily surface) or " Pan de Sal" ( salted bread but it is actually sweet or bland) with "Kape Barako/Bisaya". I remember buying pan de sal from C.Ying Bakery or Ali. The coffee in tin can which my Tatay and Nanay would asked me to buy at 6 am from our house up the hill and down the "mercado" ( public market) by just walking as fast as I could...making sure the coffee arrived in our house still hot! If Gaisano, can replicate the " Pand de Siosa" of Ali or "Pan de sal" of C Ying and the "kape" from "mercado", I still will not like Gaisano to take over our public market. If it insists, we can make some "Pan de monium" instead of "Pan de sal" or "Pan de coco" or "Pan de leche"!