Of Gods and Wine

“Tinagtago, Tapey, Tagay!”

Definitely one of the indisputable challenges of living away from home is missing the local tastes and flavours. Though it’s always thrilling to explore something new and different, taming the palate to not crave for tastes that one’s accustomed to does not happen overnight.

Hence my delight when after three years, I was finally able to once again have a genuine, non-commercial, homemade “tapey”. I was brought to tears with elation. Because that’s how powerful food can be. It’s not just the euphoric gastronomical experience but the emotions that come with it. And in this case, “tapey” is home–a surge of heartwarming memories that involved a daringly playful childhood, a warm hearth all day long in my grandpa’s hut, village parties, “watwats” and “kikans”, lavish offerings to the deities and the gods.

 

The beauty of Sagada’s tapey is that we are taught to enjoy it in its unrefined version–to indulge in both the fermented rice and the juice alike. But since we’re making and selling the rice wine commercially these days, we now see them mostly in packaged and corked bottles.

Vintners are now featuring other varieties from local produce; bugnay, blueberries, lemon, persimmon, strawberry, and mulberry to name a few. (CTTO)

Japan’s sake and or the Chinese rice wine is not any different in terms of the fermentation methodology. But for some reason or reasons, the tastes are tremendously different. So when I was on the quest for finding a traditional “tapey” here in Vancouver and got kind recommendations to get Chinese rice wine as an alternative, I said, it just won’t do. I have to have that familiar taste.

Local winemakers tend to be meticulous in choosing the ingredients they work with. I’ve seen and heard numerous times that the secret lies in the “bubud” (yeast) used. Our local yeast come in hardened, pancake-shaped chunks that you simply crumble and add to cooked red rice (balatinaw) as required. These are not widely sold however that I remember having to  scour the public market to look for one before.

Bubud, a small chunk is enough to ferment a jarful of balatinaw rice. (CTTO)

As grapes are fermented and stored in casks made out of oak and other kinds of wood that contribute to the woody or vanillin flavors of red wines, “tapey” is traditionally aged in heirloom jars, thus keeping the purity of the red rice. Sugar can also be added to alter sweetness levels as desired. No wonder my grandmother can finish a bowl of “tapey” like it was just porridge.

I originally searched for “tapey” in this city hoping I could utilize it as an ingredient in a pastry I was working on. But when I uncapped the jar and got a whiff of its contents, all I could think of now is blowtorching a whole broiler and making myself a hearty pot of home. Then I would call on my ancestors and the deities to partake of this local ambrosia. Pinikpikan it is!

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