“MARAWI is probably lost but our food is not”, Asi wrote in the short acknowledgement in his first book.
Asi or Assad Baunto cooks, no, creates food with passion. While watching him whip our meals at Palawan, I silently likened it to notes being strung together by a maestro enchanting a beautiful opus.
He’d gently line up the raw ingredients then carefully peel and slice each piece in a rhythm he heard alone.
I learned that his ‘symphonies’ were oido and learned from his Babo kolay (grandmother) while growing up at their home in Marawi.
Last year he released ‘Mga Tutul A Palapa’ (Palapa Stories, a collection of some of the culinary dishes that Assad has carried with him from Marawi to Zamboanga, to Diliman, and then to the University of Oxford while specializing in economics.
The thin publication which some call as ‘zine’ has 64-pages, a weak cover and contains interesting illustrations by spatial planner, Ica Fernandez.
It carries only eight carefully chosen and annotated recipes of Assad’s maternal grandmother and mother as these has shaped Assad while growing up in Marawi. He writes that “…food offers us a way of peering deeper into the lives and culture of what has been…”
The first featured recipe is, of course, palapa. Served as a condiment or appetizer, palapa is the base of Mranao cuisine and a favorite flavoring.
Hot and spicy, palapa’s main ingredient is the sakurab or native scallion. The sakurab is more pungent than the common scallion that its smell can purportedly ‘fill a room’.
To make palapa, the sakurab is pounded along with luya pagirisin (ginger), luya tidk (bird’s eye chili), tibuyas (red onion), and timos (salt). It is common for the Mranaos to saute palapa in virgin coconut oil or with toasted grated coconut. Others mix palapa with dehydrated and finely ground bakas (smoked tuna), shredded beef or chicken.
Then there’s biyaring, a zesty mix of odang (freshwater shrimps), palapa, sidm o a balogo (kaffir lime),tibuyas a pariop (spring onion),and timos (salt). Assad calls biyaring as ‘an authentic Mranao food’ and cautioned the faint hearted because it is raw, slimy, and very spicy. His family’s version however adds kapal(fresh oregano) and plump heirloom tomatoes to give it color and to make biyaring sweet and tangy.
Then there are other recipes for Piyaparan a manok, Piyarn a arowan, Kyunig, Pabrot, and the more recognizable Randang and Tiyatag.
Randang is the star of the Mranao culinary repertoire and of Assad’s kitchen symphony. It is of meticulously chosen beef and various spices--- kagoko (bell pepper), garlic, lemongrass, kme (cassia leaves), turmeric, kaffir lime, margas (unwashed/uncooked rice), grated young coconut meat, virgin coconut oil, and of course, palapa. Beef, when suffused with so much spices like in randang, becomes fragrant and fit for celebrations.
Tiyagtag is tinagtag (or amik to me) is pastry is made from rice flour, brown sugar ,water and fried in vegetable oil. According to Assad it is pastry that is common to most Moro groups even to those in southeast India. The common brown pastry that street hawkers sell is very fragile that a traveler cannot just pack it among-other-things like a sandwich.
What is fascinating when the tiyagtag is cooked is how the batter is strained through a special strainer called the tapisa and then folded a using wooden stick into delicious,slender lattice tubes.
Assad’s home was one of the thousands razed to the ground by the war in Marawi City. His zine or the food he cooks hopefully recreates the home he knew when this gastronome-economist dons the toque when among friends in QC or Makati.
(The publication, ‘Mga Tutul A Palapa’ was a sold-out when launched in Manila last December 2017. It is due for reprint soon.)
Published in the SunStar Davao newspaper on January 16, 2018.
Latest issues of SunStar Davao also available on your mobile phones, laptops, and tablets. Subscribe to our digital editions at epaper.sunstar.com.ph and get a free seven-day trial.