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.
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.
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!
We used to jokingly say you can never claim to have tried genuine Sagada “etag” (cured pork) if you haven’t had one with those wriggling “foodstuff” that sometimes come with a chunk. I had my fair share way back and fortunately had the stomach to literally stomach it. But of course that’s not a recommendation. Contamination in food is a definite no-no. This just shows though that our local methods were a work in progress way back. I’d like to believe we’ve come far from the crude ways we utilized before and are now more meticulous and mindful with our preservation techniques.
Like the ancient civilizations that experimented and or accidentally discovered methods to extend food perishability, our local forefathers used meat preservation procedures that are still prevalent in today’s local food practices. Curing pork has been a tradition that most possibly dates back to the earliest settlers in our “ili” (village). Salt is generously spread on big slabs of pork, left to dry for several days, smoked then stored–accessed when an occasion calls for it.
Salt was a luxurious commodity decades ago. My grandmother recounted traversing mountains with a sack of produce on her back to exchange for a pound or two of salt with our lowland brothers, the Ilocanos. This image never fails to plaster on my mind every time I extravagantly season every dish I make with these priceless crystals.
As an elder of the village, Lolo always got one of the best part as his “watwat” (meat share when a pig is butchered during a festivity). He’d then spend days working on his slab and I could just gape but not allowed to ask too many questions. This was decades ago but I can still see myself tailing him to the back of our “inatep” (nipa house) where the magic happens.
A typical Sagada etag would be cured following these procedures. Variations are employed in-between depending on preferences but it generally follows the preservation method that’s done for pork; salting, sun-drying, smoking, storage.
*Some skip the smoking part and simply store the salted pork in earthen jars. Etag cured this way misses the reddish dark coloring that is typical of the common Sagada etag.
Like the mold that forms when cheese is aged, a thin, whitish mold would cover the etag after a few days. Maggots also hatch on the meat. Unfortunately, you can’t protect the salted meat from flies 24/7. This then requires a rigorous amount of washing prior to cooking. And of course boiling the meat in 100 °C or more to kill any bacteria that may still be thriving therein.
For the uninitiated, etag is not the kind of food that is love at first bite. Especially if one has seen those wriggly little “flavours” before they were washed off. Interesting how it was even featured as the top most bizarre Filipino food because of such. But as earlier mentioned, we’ve come a long way from the unrefined methods we’ve employed decades ago.
Today, we see more advanced ways to preserve the etag. Local entrepreneurs are even packaging this native delicacy in vacuum-sealed packets thus ensuring longevity and the prospect of importing it for sale to far places.
It is a celebrated native gourmet that Sagada has repackaged its annual town fiesta to showcase the etag as its major theme. The ingredient is featured as a main element in various dishes, to show that it can be furthered as a dish. Not just as what we’ve grown accustomed to, an enhancer to the “pinikpikan”, but a standout on its own.
The etag’s flavour profile is so distinct that personally I cannot classify it as a ham, bacon, or any cured pork product that has used similar procedures in its preservation. The secret might be with the species of the wood used to smoke it. Maybe the local pig and the local slop it has eaten. Or maybe, those wriggly “foodstuff”? That’s a secret I would not be so keen to uncover for everyone to know.
Food captivated me the moment I entered my grandfather’s nipa hut when I was barely four years old. My young mind vividly recalls the sight of corn, tied in a bunch and drying near the “dapwan” (hearth), meat that was darkened by the smoke, and the sound of chickens clucking somewhere in the corner. There was a sharp, distinct smell permeating the cramped indoor which I could not register then. I only came to find out, months later, that it was the aroma of “etag”, pork that was cured the Sagada way.
I consider myself lucky growing up with grandparents who enriched me with traditional ways. I was a daring kid who climbed up mulberry and nisperos trees with the neighborhood boys, the one who proudly came home in the evenings with scraped knees and insect bites. What had always been a treat though was being called off the dusty Dao-angan road by Lolo Bacagan an evening every week so I could go wolf down the “batikuleng/batik-o” (gizzard) while Lola had the “eges” (intestines) after Lolo finishes his prayers and “atang” (offering) to the “anitos” (spirits). I had older siblings but Lolo always set aside the “batik-o” for me. That made me feel really special.
“Pinikpikan” was the highlight of my weekends. Lolo would butcher his choicest chicken, slice generous slabs of his “etag”, scoop a ladle or two of his prized “tapey” (fermented rice) from an aged “gusi” (ornate jar) and produce the most delectable dish from the “dapwan”. My siblings and I would huddle with our grandparents as we heartily grabbed heaps of rice from a common serving plate we call a “bituto”. We each had a “sukong or apagan” (bowl made from coconut shell) that we can fill and refill to our hearts’ and stomachs’ content.
The delights I experienced from this native delicacy propelled my fascination with food and flavours. Unfortunately, it was a small town where folks send their kids to the city to become nurses and engineers. Pursuing a career in the culinary arena was rather unexplored in my time. That or it was a repressed passion for me that I was just too scared to venture on. Until now.
I realize now that my childhood was an introduction to a romance with food that was only rekindled when I reached my thirties. It’s extremely terrifying to be thinking about doing a leap between careers at this stage in my life but I know that passing up the opportunity would not only make me unhappy but will guarantee that I’ll forever be haunted by these native edibles that I can never rediscover, explore and innovate if I don’t equip myself with the appropriate and ample knowledge and training to guide me on.
We have rich local flavors that can easily be enhanced with the freshest produce from our backyard gardens. In a world where food movement is rapidly evolving to suit different lifestyles and preferences, and the ways to enjoy an ingredient is countless, I am inspired with this little dream to learn about our flavorful roots, and share. Food is meant to make us happy. Food is meant to be shared.
I’m embarking on this long overdue journey of food discovery and appreciation. They say the best way to begin is to go back where it all started. That means revisiting what made the “pinikpikan” explode with flavors. What makes it a staple in Igorot dinner tables since time immemorial? What makes it distinct? How can I describe that wonderful aftertaste? What spikes the flavor? Is it the “etag”, was it the way the chicken was butchered? I’ve eaten the dish probably a thousand times but I’m realizing just now how naive, if not clueless, I am. Maybe I’ll start with the “etag”. And that is a story for another post.
And so it was on a beautiful sunny February day when we decided to hit the trails for the first time this year. A rather late snowfall has visited Vancouver mid-February so skiers and snowshoers have been congesting the more popular Cypress and Seymour trails. As one not too fond of crowded hike spots, we opted to check out what lesser-known North Vancouver trails would lead us. And we were not disappointed.
Featuring Kaidu, the Siberian Husky, and Kojin, the dachschund, it was a delightful intermediate hike to loosen those taut muscles for more challenging hikes this 2019, I hope. 🙂
I thought I was smart enough to be able to teach my dogs, “Sit, paw, kiss mommy.” Unknowingly, they have been teaching me far more valuable lessons you wouldn’t expect to glean from someone who cannot utter a coherent syllable. Not unless of course it is a husky who is an expert in sassing. “Woo yoo woomoon!”
And probably the most important lesson would be to PLAY. Life is too short to not live in the moment. We might live it driven by different aspirations and pressures but there should always be time to play. Because this means that we genuinely care for ourselves. That we are mindful of fulfilling our ongoing physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and moral developments. Play your way to happiness.
In loving memory of Cody, our fur baby with nine lives.
It’s that dreaded time of the year when the sun will never take a peep out from the ominous dark skies and you have to wet-proof yourself from the non-stop downpours. Such weather dampened an already gruesome Monday morning as I find myself stuck at the bus stop for a ride that will seemingly never come. I had no one but these crows to keep me company. Foreboding.
In one of Lola’s many stories, there was this character, Sal-salak-en. Not much is known about her other than the fact that she was kind and hardworking. A certain bird then brought a life-changing fortune to her one day. Leading to the moral that if you are good, you will be rewarded. Well I always envisioned that bird in the story as a crow. And seeing all these crows cawing noisily without a care for this weather made me remember this exasperating little bird that meant nothing but good though. Now I will attempt to re-tell the story in our native Kankana-ey so as not to lose its novelty.
Id kasin wada nan kangadan si Sal-salak-en. Nagaget ya naanus ay ipogaw. Inagew ay umey lumukso ta wada ipakana sinan ad-ado ay anan-ak na.
Madanagan sha esa’y agew usto ay tukabana nan bagasan tay maid sinkagemgem si nabay-an. Danat kanan en ta umey mangubi ta ilaok na sinan ati-atik ay bagas ta wada umanayana si kanen da.
Magedwa et nan um-a ay kaykaykayen Sal-salak-en dapay maid makubkubana si ubi. Ngem ipapati na kayet ta bareng wada’y ulay tulo si sa makidkidan. Madama sisha’y mangubkubkob dat wada nan dedengena ay menkalkali sinan igid di um-a.
“Sal-salak-en, depapem saken. Sal-salak-en, depapem sak-en.”
Ikakamon Sal-salak-en ay umey mang-anap nu sino menkalkali danat maila nan te-e-te-en ay kuyat. “Ineh dakan dumungaw. Ala man lang ta depapek sika ta isaak sika ta wada balbalay san kimmot ko.”
Isunga danat depapen san kuyat et ippey na sinan atubang na. Maid lima’y minutos dat kasin manakali san kuyat. “Sal-salak-en, aka ta utowem sak-en. Sal-salak-en, aka ta utowem sak-en.”
Kanan Sal-salak-en en tutuwengena ngem adi sumalsaldeng ay menpukpuka-at san kuyat. Isunga danat isaldeng nan ik-ikkana danat umey et utowena ta guminekana. Danat taynan san banga ay nautowana et umey na kasin ituloy ay mangubi. Maawni pay ya sana kasin di menkalkali. “Sal-salak-en, aka ta kanem sak-en. Salsalak-en, aka ta kanem sak-en.”
Nakibtot si Salsalak-en tay dan nauto lang garuden nan kuyat ya daan ay menkalkali. Ngem danat ikakamo et menkakana bareng tay dey dadlo nakan et maid et mangdungdungaw ken sisha. Egay sha nabsug tay te-e-te-en ay kuyat nan insibo na ngem mengasing sha tay dey dadlo maid distorbo sinan mangubi-ana.
Aye di kibtot na ustoy kanakali san kuyat sinan eges na! “Sal-salak-en, itakkim sak-en. Sal-salak-en, itakkim sak-en!”
“Ayta ka pay si kuyat ay dakan nakan dakapay daan ay menkalkali!” Makaliget si Sal-salak-en ay mangwani ngem dat umey sisha sinan igid di um-a na et itakki na san kinan na. Danat kasin umey ituloy san ubla na.
Namasdem et dapay pulos nu wada nadas-ana si ubi. Madanagan sisha nu ngan di sana ipakan sinan anan-ak na. Dat bigla wada manakali sinan igid di um-a. “Sal-salak-en, ilam pud sak-en!” Menligos pay si Sal-salak-en dat deey di batang di luban ay tinmubo san nangipabal-ana san kuyat. Dadakel ay ninkabubulin san begas san luban. Ado nan naum ya ado gedan nan egay.
Mengasing si Salsak-en ay mangbulas sinan luban. Inuma sisha si naum ya egay. “Naay dadlo’y sami kanen si malabi.” Kanana sinan nemnem na. Adi pay dat sumaa et sisha. Mid ubi ay kalgan san laba na ngem wada nan kaluba-luban.
Sumaa pay sisha danat tukaban nan esang ay naum ay luban dat bagas nan kalga na! Tukabana nan esang ay egay kaum dat du-om abes nan mentete-e! Aye di gasing Sal-salak-en.
Manipud sidi, egay et kasin kau-uwat nan anan-ak na. Bubumgas kanayun san luban. Basta umey menbulas sisha et kaneg na mamadnge kayet nan kalin di kuyat ay kega menselsat mangmangwani en “Sal-salak-en!”
Writer’s Note: Narrative is based solely on recollections from an evening storytelling beside the dying embers of the ‘dapwan’. For any deviations that may in one way or another alter or debase the original, apologies in advance. Inputs are welcomed with gladness and enthusiasm. 🙂
My earliest memories of the Anglican cemetery of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada that we fondly call “Kamusanto” (Campo Santo) with the eloquence of the local tongue were when I was but 5 or 6 years of age. I went there with my old man for almost two weeks straight when he was constructing double tombs to lay my grandparents in the future when they pass away. Yes. We made their final resting places way ahead of time.
The place didn’t have as many graves and headstones as it does now so I have vivid memories of a lot of green and red-brown dirt and me going home with a lot of knee scrapes caused by hopping from one tomb to the other.
I’ve wondered how come we were making the burial chambers in advance when I see both my grandparents being strong and healthy. Lolo could still lead the ‘amam-a’s‘ in the dap-ay and he had this voice and aura that somehow made him seem taller than his actual six feet. Lola on the other hand could not be stopped from going to the fields to ‘manungtung‘ and ‘mangubi‘ (gather camote tops and roots). My mother said building these ahead of time actually makes the lives of people meant to be interred therein longer. That made me happy and I didn’t question that any further.
Whether the belief held or not, my grandfather succumbed to cancer five or six years after his tomb was completed. His wife, my grandma, lived on to be 103 years old. I guess that somehow proves the belief then.
For the next few years after my lolo’s demise, the ‘Kamusanto‘ has been a sanctuary for me. I find myself wandering to his place late in the afternoons simply because I enjoyed the tranquility and peace riddled within the boneyard. I’d bring my textbooks and hard bounds and spend long hours studying, reading, or napping right on top of lolo’s tomb. It may seem like a creepy way to have a me-time but the place never gave off the eerie ambience most cemeteries are expected to have. I’d often find empty booze bottles snuck inside the vacant cavern next to my grandpa’s which proved the fact that I was not alone when I say the place is not at all a scary place to chill. Heck, those punks who drank those 4 x 4’s most probably after town curfew are way more courageous to go drink their poison amongst the dead. Cemetery ‘jamming’, anyone?
These graves and the spirits therein have probably seen so much more than we let on. Drunken confessions, lovers’ trysts, first kisses, first heartbreaks, first drag of that stick that made you cough, last embraces, last tears.
Even for non-locals, the place cannot be missed as it is strategically located as a scenic detour when going to the Echo Valley and the Underground River.
Much controversy arose before too when this gigantic network erected its tower, looming right over the tombstones and monuments.
The years have seen so much physical changes as expected. Imprinted in my earlier memory is this spacious hill–a lot of white but so much more grass and dirt. Today, the whites have crawled higher, lower, southward and northward. But obviously the vibe is still the same. It remains a buoyant place and so much alive, a nice irony. And this is probably why it’s always poignant to be unable to join the family when we do the yearly remembrance for departed loved ones during All Saints’ Day. Like I know I can always do my thing from wherever I am. I was brought up with the teachings of ‘atang‘ and ‘luwalo‘ (offerings and prayers) so I still light my little candle and leave a shot glass of booze and fruit on the side (and chug the remaining contents of the bottle of course). But actually being there, getting sooty and smoked with the rest of the family is something that’s really missed.
First recollections of the place were those long hours with my dad, now he’s resting there himself. I never fail to visit every chance I get whenever I’m home. I walk my dogs there often that I can guarantee they know their way around, even without me.
There’s no telling what other changes our beloved Kamusantu will witness and undergo in the coming years. But nothing can change my sentiments about it. The way the place enthralled me with its serenity and peace will always be what I’ll look forward to– living, and in the afterlife.
If I fancy myself being immortalized in a painting, I’d be elated to be depicted as a poodle in a tutu. Not saying this because of my obvious devotion to dogs but because I’m aghast at the reactions of people who are socially crucifying a painter who had portrayed two anthropomorphized dogs donning Igorot native attires and dancing to the beat of the symbolic gangsa.
People were quick to hurl furious comments not just at the piece but the artist behind the work. I find it quite appalling that such scorn can be easily given without giving second thoughts to the probable reason or reasons behind the creation of the piece. Following the train of thought that it is demoralizing to be likened to dogs because of their nature to be rabid and ferocious (also an outright misconception), it is the humans who are now behaving as such with their overzealous, cringe-worthy comments and reactions. The irony.
I too am an Igorot, proud and true, but in no way did I feel debased and insulted when I saw this artwork being scornfully construed online. In fact, to be rendered as one of these four-legged animal should be very humbling because we don’t even come close to the poignant admirable characteristics a dog innately has. Attributes that humanity evidently needs.
On a daily basis, we see hundreds of animals given manlike facets since the advent of media and the internet and no one bats an eye. Then an artist puts some ethnic clothes on two dogs and all hell breaks loose. Reason presumably being it is culturally insensitive and demeaning. I won’t even try to justify these vehement reactions just to be impartial to the onion-skinned.
I am in no way knowledgeable about art and do not pretend to have an inkling about artistic expressions and interpretations, but it does not take a pundit to glean from a subject if it is meant to degrade or not. Just like a lot of people are passionately conveying their indignation towards the painting and the man behind it, this piece was simply an expression without the least bit intention of causing malice to anyone. Imaginably, it is an optimistic foresight for the Year of the Dog taken into context when it was done. Or better yet, have the artist himself relay the thoughts behind its conception. Moreover, the painter himself is an Igorot. To say this is a slur on our ethnicity seems far-fetched. How can this be a case of ethnic prejudice?
Each to his or her own opinion and by all means, express. But sometimes, maybe all we need is a chill pill. Or a dozen in this case.
***For a very enlightening reading, I beseech you to please read:
Way before this placid little lake became a subject of boundary issues and there was no dissent whether to call it Banao or Danum; long before cows grazed its now dwindling patches of green, and before flocks of tourists did jump shots against a mesmerizing fiery backdrop of the sunset, this place was once a plain plateau, a waterless mesa en route to barter places with our lowland brothers. Now the story of how the lake came about has varied through the years. But I will attempt to retell it the way my grandma awed me with the tale the best way I can.
“A man was on his way to exchange his pig with some lowland products that were scarce in his highland home. Presumably he would have been on his way to Besao where traders would convene. As he was passing through what is now the expanse of water that we know as the lake, he spotted an old lady sitting on the ground.
This lady requested the man to spare some of his time so he could help her get rid of the lice on her head. This generous man obliged without any qualms. He then realized that it was not just lice that was populating the old lady’s head. There were little snakes and worms and all sorts of poisonous insects. He was a bit alarmed but he slowly removed these little critters till her head was free of any parasite. He did so meticulously and without the slightest hint of disgust. When he was done, the old lady gave the man a bundle of pine needles and straw with the advise that he put them in his granary for the night. He was puzzled with this strange suggestion but he never questioned the woman and did as instructed. The next morning, he was greatly bewildered to find his granary overflowing with the finest rice.
Now this man lived in small village and naturally everyone was curious, if not envious of the good fortune that has befallen him. His neighbor immediately set off in the same direction carrying his fattest pig. He saw the old lady in the same place. He scornfully obliged when she made the same request that he remove the lice from her long locks. How he reacted when he saw that the woman’s head was a little jungle of insects and snakes! He spat, cursed and shuddered in disgust. By the time he was done removing the vermin from her head, he was a picture of revulsion and contempt. Nonetheless, she gave him the same bunch of pine needles and straw. When the man turned towards home though, he stood immobile on his spot then gradually changed into a wooden post. The woman then magically disappeared.
Not very long after, a man and his son were out gathering wood. When they saw this stout wooden post in the middle of the field, the man slashed it with his bolo and out gushed water that overflowed in all directions. The pair had to run fast towards higher ground to save themselves from the angry waters. Gradually, the water ebbed and calmed to what we see it now. Lake Danum.”
They say that bit of the very same post still stands erect somewhere within the lake. Maybe one of these days, I’ll endeavor to find it.
***Danum is the Kankana-ey and Ilocano term for water. Translating the name to a redundant Lake Water.***
Without hesitation, I claim that the mountains of BC are love at first sight and experience for me. Simply because I am reminded of home with the painfully familiar coniferous bounty that British Columbia’s forests boast of.
I lived below the century-old pine trees of Tangeb back in Sagada so I got to smell the pungent sweetness of sap and pine needles that waft through the breeze all day long. I yearn for that most times hence every chance I get, I indulge in getting lost amongst the pines, oaks and redwoods of this province’s bounteous forests.
Like a runner’s high, I experience that euphoria once I succumb to getting lost in a mossy paradise. I feel most tranquil as I slowly start to lose my grip of time, gawking at the overgrowth of life around me while swatting away mosquitoes or wasps.
Elk Mountain has entranced me the first time Dalifer and I climbed it back in 2015. Almost fifteen hundred meters (1,432 m) high and a medium-difficulty hike I believe for non-hard core hikers like me, it is a haven frequented by paragliders and occasional hikers who’d do the connection trail from Elk to Thurston to Cheam. I love it for the fact that not a lot of people come here. Unlike other highly-advertised trails in BC where most times you have to pace yourself with the person before or after you, you only get to meet a lone climber every 30 minutes or so. In a way, you own the trail.
Which is why we’ve made our Elk Mountain trek a yearly must. And each time, I would keep on thinking how a lot more awesome it would be if I was hitting this trail with a dog.
This year would be our third trip to Elk’s peak. It is very special since my wishful thinking of having a dog to egg me on towards the top came to fruition. Not only do I have a scout, I also have a sweeper. And so like a little pack, we trudged onwards on a drizzly weekday.
We make an interesting team. We have this dude who kept on complaining about his Vibrams that were apparently killing his feet and who was panting more than my double-coated boy. Tireless Kaidu who whines with impatience everytime we do a water break. And Kokujin, staunch and indefatigable Kojin who personifies will and determination even with his short, stubby legs.
Back when it was just a duo between Dalifer and me, hiking in bear territory was not such a big deal as the unspoken truce was that we push each other as the token quarry if a black bear comes traipsing through. This time though, besides doubling the water bottles and carrying a dozen poop bags, we seriously considered getting a fog horn as we considered the wiener dog an effortless prey for a hungry carnivore. But of course that’s overdoing it. We settled for a whistle.
To the untrained eye, the topography and flora may appear repetitive. But if you love forests as much as I do, you’d see how interestingly diverse the forest life is although it would seem to be just thick, lush green all over.
I can keep coming back to this place as its magic will never dull. A couple of years ago, I wished for dogs to hike with. It happened. Is it pushing it when I’ll endeavor for little tots to run ahead of me in these same trails in the next year or so? I whispered to the forest gods and demi-gods. 😉
Photo Credits: DBG