Monday, October 10, 2011

Savoring the Sapin –sapin


What makes people so passionate about food? There are so many components comprised of a complexity of ingredients such as poultry, meats, seafood, vegetables and spices in making a single dish. Depending on which part of the world we come from, because of the type of soil and climate, each country produces their own unique cuisine. This eventually contributes in defining a people’s culture. Having the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with other country’s delicacies is the most practical way to learn about a country and its people and also get to enjoy the various tastes and smells of the food which gives us a broader understanding of how we live through how we eat.

Eating brings families and friends closer together and in a broader sense brings the many cultures together. It makes the world seem not as big and scary, but rather a familiar place we call home.

The Filipinos take pride in the multi-faceted inheritance of their culture from various foreign settlers who introduced to the country during the spice trade many ways to prepare and preserve food. We adapted these different techniques, added distinct qualities and made it our own. Thinking about the history and evolution on Philippine cuisine, this reminds me of a particular dessert called sapin-sapin. The sapin-sapin originated from the northern part of the country, the province of Abra. It is a mountainous region with rugged terrains ideal for trekkers who delight in the thought of roughing it. The people of Abra are mostly descended from Ilokanos from the Tingguran tribe who are famous for their woven baskets and blankets and, of course, the sapin-sapin.

Sapin-sapin is made with glutinous rice and coconut. It is usually served as a dessert, but because it has a tendency to be filling, it’s often eaten for brunch or merienda (afternoon snack). It’s a simple dish comprised of rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, water and coloring. To add texture to the dish, coconut flakes are sprinkled on top. This is painstakingly made by soaking rice flour overnight in water and then ground into a paste with coconut milk, sugar and sometimes yams or yam four. What makes it intriguing and special is how it’s prepared. The glutinous rice is colored and layered making it a festive dessert. The first layer is colored in purple (usually the bottom), the middle is a golden yellow resembling egg yolks and the top is white. Each layer is steamed before another layer is added. Delicious and beautiful.

The sapin-sapin is a perfect example to cite the facets of a particular culture. However complex it is, it still has that basic end result, it satisfies the hunger and allows us to get a glimpse of the kind of people the Filipinos are.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Maty’s Tapsilog


A typical Filipino breakfast is heavy because the Philippines is a country that is devoted to farming and majority of the Filipino people in the good old days started the day really early and had to work long hours in the fields tending to the crops and animals in vast farm lands and haciendas. A heavy breakfast would keep their energy up until lunch time.

The tradition of eating a hearty breakfast still continues but the variations of breakfasts are served all day long and can be eaten for lunch and dinner as well. It’s widely served in every corner of any bustling street. Even McDonald's in the Philippines serves local Filipino breakfasts.

The usual Filipino breakfast is comprised of sinangag (garlic fried rice), itlog (egg, scrambled or fried) and either tapa (cured beef) tapsilog, tocino (cured pork) tocilog, longganisa (pork sausages) longsilog, daing na bangus (milkfish cured in vinegar, garlic salt and pepper) bangsilog and other variations. The ‘si’ stands for ‘sinangag’, ‘log’ stands for ‘itlog’ and the first part of the word stands for whatever viand you choose to have.

The word ‘tapa’ is said to come from the Sanskrit term meaning ‘heat’. Tapsilog or any suffix with ‘silog’ is a Filipino slang term. The word ‘tapas’, however, is derived from the Spanish word meaning ‘appetizers’.

Many of the cities in Manila and around the Philippines have become bustling over the years and many Filipinos opt to commute to work instead of braving the traffic. Modes of public transportation available are taxis, buses, subways, and the most popular of all, jeepneys. These originated from old U.S. army jeeps that were left in the country after World War II. They are known for their colorful decorations and open air seating. You can get to almost anywhere you want to go and see the best parts of the cities you visit in the Philippines by riding jeepneys. This is the best way to immerse yourself in Filipino culture.

With the numerous public transportation vehicles available, most especially jeepneys and their drivers, carinderias (native eateries) have been put up beside main roads that have access to a lot of jeeps. One such carinderia that is popular for their delicious Tapsilog is called Maty’s. It’s located in Barangay Tambo, bordering Barangay Don Galo, districts in the city of Paranaque in Metro Manila. Tapa is made from beef, marinate in soy sauce, vinegar, pepper, sugar and salt. When I was a child, our cook from Pampanga (a province in Luzon) would pound the beef with a meat tenderizer after marinating it overnight. She would then dry it in the sun for a couple of days. The result was crispy, tasty strips of beef, something like beef jerky without the smoky flavor. It was delicious, but tedious to make. A more practical way of making tapa nowadays is to just use tender beef meat and marinate it overnight. But Maty’s style is after marinating the beef, it is boiled until tender and flaky, and then fried. It is something quite unique known only as Don Galo’s tapsilog.