Sira-sira store: Sinugatan-A A +A
By Ober Khok
Friday, September 21, 2012
THERE were many summers in my home when relatives from neighboring towns would come for a short visit.
It was always a matter of ritual greetings—the shouts of joy upon seeing long-missed cousins and the bear hugs to emphasize just how long it has been since the last visit.
The women in the house would chatter away and I, only a little boy back then, would get the dreaded pinch in the cheek with the accompanying exclamation: “Ah, Ober, has grown up so fast! How old are now?”
And I would dutifully reply, “I’m 10 years old,” or whatever age I was at the time I was asked.
There would be another round of surprised comments. “What?! Ten? My, you’re so tall and big for your age. You can be an athlete when you become a man.”
Too bad the sports I engage in today are pull-the-ref-door, walk-12-steps-to-the-kitchen, and shoot-the-burger-into-your-mouth.
My aunts, mon and older sisters would plop into a corner sofa in the living room to swap lurid details about the neighborhood flirt, an ailing relative, a suddenly rich man who used to mooch, and other assorted juicy bits of gossip. I could hardly understand what they were so excited about, but I stuck around because there was so much fireworks in their conversations.
The men, my uncles and older brothers, would congregate around a low table set with frosty bottles of beer, and as the level of alcohol in their blood rose, beer was replaced with rum on ice.
Talk dwelt on currents events most of the time—I knew that. My teacher in English would discuss news headlines every day as part of our writing and reading exercises.
The week or two that my cousins spent with us were not missing in action. There were trips to the movie house, the mall, the restaurants they had not tried before, and a day at the beach. The best part for me was the food that my older cousins brought with them.
They called their gifts their sinugatan. It comes from the Cebuano word sugat, or to meet. And so sinugatan is something you bring with you when you meet someone after you’ve gone away.
Nanny would bring torta from Argao. The tuba-laced pastry made my head swim but it was very good. She said that my uncle, her husband Teny, insisted that she bring the cake for me. “It’s the specialty of the town, Ober.”
Maming would pack her famous banana cake—a moist loaf heavy with mashed bananas, raisins and crushed pineapple. Her friends in Alcantar, where she lived, would not hold a party without her banana cake.
Epie, who lived in Carcar, knew how to make chicharon and so rather than buy her sinugatan from the market, she made the crispy snack herself.
Ludivie, who lived in Sibonga, always joked about her beloved town as having no particular mark when it came to food. However, she said that the “town chef” Noy Anoy was a town treasure. His kaldereta and mandungada were boiled till tender and the sauce perfectly blended with the spices. And so she brought that these as her sinugatan.
Pasing, who relocated to Balamban when she got married, always brought the town’s pride, the roasted liempo.
The ritual of bringing gifts, the sinugatan, stands out in my boyhood memories as a joyful testament of how people strive to please loved ones long not seen.
Sinugatan made me feel special. The word needs to be used more often, if only to strengthen the ties we have with loved ones.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 22, 2012.