Gormandizing in Negros

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By Ver Pacete

As I See It

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


THE November 5, 1898 Revolution in Negros was conceptualized by the “Gastronomes,” a group of good eaters from “buena familias” of Silay. “Vamos a comer!” The gathering was not just about eating and drinking. The participants were brewing a plan to liberate Negros from the bondage of slavery.

The cuisine of Negros Occidental is a part of history and lifestyle of the people. At the turn of the century, the “hacendados” were having “jamon Serrano” with chocolate flavored by carabao’s milk and muscovado sugar for breakfast. At the end of the milling season, there would be “fiesta grande” for the “jornaleros” in the hacienda. Cows and carabaos would be butchered for the “agape” at the plaza. This would be followed by a dance sponsored by the “hacienda” owners.

There was a change in the lifestyle during the Second World War. The big shots were also eating camote and salted pork in the evacuation center. Food could no longer be lavish but “tinolang manok-bisaya” was still there. For a day, it could be “dried gumaa” with mongo beans and chopped young jackfruit flavored by coconut milk. The labor class who went into hiding also was allowed to farm in the sugarcane fields that were no longer productive. The peasants eat “laswa” (mixed vegetables with heavenly broth) and could still afford to prepare any recipe of chicken from the open range.

Negros Occidental has retained the food of its past, offers culinary innovations to suit the taste of the present generation and prepares to relish foods from nearly all of the world’s cultures. In my hometown Silay, guests of the “buena familias” are offered “bas-uy” for breakfast. Pork loin is finely sliced and mixed with “alogbate” leavened with ginger and “tanglad” (lemon grass). The cooking is done with low fire. In the breakfast table, it would be coupled with scrambled fried egg sweetened by ripe tomatoes accented by young “ampalaya.” The morning will be brighter with spiced chorizo coupled with “uga balingon” dipped in “sinamak” (hot vinegar). End your breakfast with a stomach loaded with “kalo-kalo” made savory by fried garlic.

Optional breakfast may feature red organic rice cooked with “pandan” leaves producing angelic aroma. It goes best with “pinitaw,” shredded flakes of chicken sprinkled with spring onions. The excellent pair could be “ibos” or “but-ong”, but it could be more enjoyable also if there is “salab”, fried young coconut, or “puto lanson” (creamy rice cake with “ube” color) made affordable by the snack sellers from Silay roaming the streets of Bacolod as early as seven o’clock in the morning. Offer your guests organic coffee, the brand of Gov. Freddie Marañon. It could be premium or classic blend.

While the “buena familias” have late breakfast, the “sacadas” (transient workers) and the “dumaans” (permanent workers) in the “haciendas” have to wake up very early to prepare their own breakfast. A “jornalero” breakfast may seem ordinary but it is carbo loaded to prepare him for the four- to five-hour cane slashing or “caro” loading. Cooked hot rice (not the first class) could be served with “uga tabagak” dipped in sizzling hot “sinamak.” The manner of eating is hand-to-mouth combat.

The other plate could be loaded with “takway adobo.” That could be complemented with “tahong” or “balaskugay”. Laswa could be the centerpiece: hipon (smallest shrimp), sliced squash, “balatong”, “okra”, “tugabang”. The wife may add malunggay leaves, sliced gourd, or eggplant. The broth is believed to be a male stimulant. That could be the reason why sugarcane slashers are energetic lovers. (I have a research on that.)

Sugarcane workers, who wake up late, may have the option to have mid-morning breakfast in the sugarcane field. They would leave their houses hurriedly after drinking a glass of three-in-one instant coffee. The wife would prepare breakfast and that would be delivered romantically to the husband. The wife (usually pregnant) would pack up the food in plastic plates and bowls with water in any available bottle (sometimes Tanduay long neck).

The wife delivering the packed breakfast should look charming because she will be scrutinized by the co-workers of her husband. A hacienda wife is always demure. She does not prepare food only but she takes care of the children, feed the pig and chicken, clean the house, wash the clothes, and be ready to get pregnant again. (To be continued)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on March 11, 2014.

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