Sira-sira store: Pabu lang

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Friday, August 8, 2014


EVERY day man encounters something un-fresh and the ghastly thing about it is that he puts it in his mouth. And even swallows it.

Mornings might find man feasting on the carcass of a pig (sliced thinly and flavored to make it more palatable); the unborn baby of a chicken, fried without mercy; and a bowl of grain, rice may it be, harvested three months ago.

This is how man has survived for centuries; of course not just subsisting on meat (tocino) and eggs (over easy), but also on root vegetables, fruits and green leafy vegetables. Life was not a bed of roses in those days when it comes to food supply. Well, actually, it still isn’t easy these days, but now man has the luxury of freezers, refrigerators, supermarkets and gas-charged stoves.

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The thought of the caveman preserving his food comes to mind whenever buwad is served on the table. It is such a common dish that some people elevate it by saying they “had pabu last night”; pabu, implying they had turkey when in fact it was pabuwad-buwad lang. Humor is a good food extender, but may not have been in the days of old.

Food preservation is found in every culture. This is how ancient man survived freezing weather and blistering hot months. In cold countries, man froze the game he caught. In tropical places, man used the sun to dry his meat and fish.

Even without the backing of an elementary education, it was elementary for ancient man. He knew that the moment he harvested the grain, caught the fish and speared the wild boar, his food for the week began to spoil. He knew it by the way the meat darkened and the green leafy vegetables wilted in his very sight.

With the Titan Prometheus (which means forethought) giving man the gift of fire, life in the cave became better but the food had become boring. “Who wants to have boiled meat and fish all the time?” man’s ancestor must have asked his family during one meal.

Thus was born other ways of preserving food. Each culture has its own methods to keeping the shelf life of food longer.

Drying. Using sun power is not a new thing. Ancient man harnessed the heat from heaven to dry his surplus food. There is no need to go to food history in the Middle East and other oriental cultures; we just have to look at our larder for buwad.

Even before the Philippines became named after King Philip II of Spain, our countrymen were already drying fish to tie them over the lean, stormy months.

The Chinese have also perfected the drying process to save their oranges, lemons and vegetables from spoilage. The Chinese pork asado, as called by one Chinese restaurant in downtown Cebu, was dried using fire. The smoking process gave the meat additional flavor.

Freezing. In places where snow covers the land, freezing meat in ice dugouts, cellars and caves was common. One marvelous example of a high technology is the chuño. The freeze-dried potato was traditionally made by communities of Bolivia and Peru. These people were ahead of modern man in vision! After leaving the potatoes to the low temperatures of the Andes at night and then subjecting the frozen spuds to the intense sunlight at day, after five days they obtained a product that could last weeks.

Fermenting. The word automatically registers the image of red wine in a glass. That’s the classic example of fermenting.

Beer-making is a good way of preserving barley grains. According to a story, the first beer was created after a few grains of barley were left in the rain.

Soy sauce is associated with humba but it is also good for making dips. The fermentation process gives soya beans its rich color and flavor.

Other ways to preserve food are pickling, curing (ham is a lip-smacking example) and making jellies and jams. Canning came much later, around 1806, according to wikipedia.

Food preservation allowed man to stay longer in one place. Man abandoned his nomadic way of life with the discovery of freeze-drying, curing and the invention of beer. They had to stay put so they could tend the hops and the barley farm, and maintain the number of their sheep, pigs and chickens. But another kind of nomad is emerging. He is the modern man seeking greener pastures outside his native land.

(ober.khok@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 09, 2014.

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