WHILE in other places, a Negrosanon can always speak about his home province, Negros Occidental, “the land of sweet surprises.” In the process of conversation, “inasal-manok” (grilled skewered chicken) always takes center stage. It is our culinary ambassador. We love to talk about it; we love to eat it.

“Chicken Inasal” in our culinary art is the nucleus of our cultural relativity. We have other gustatory delights other than “chicken inasal” but this “chicken inasal” becomes our rallying point if we want to talk about the food that best describes the palate of Negrosanons.

Outsiders who come to Negros and stay only in Bacolod refer this skewered chicken to “Bacolod Inasal.” If one goes out of Bacolod, he will come to discover that other towns and cities have also their own version of “chicken inasal.”

The connoisseurs or the virtuosos in “chicken inasal” will always tell their audience that “chicken inasal” does not just refer to skewered chicken but to the different parts of the chicken that have been marinated dexterously using the best herbs and seasonings to give the skewered part of the chicken the taste of distinction.

Here in Bacolod and other towns and cities, we do not say that your “chicken inasal” is bad or good. We give numerical rating as if we are grading a work of art.

For the whole “chicken inasal,” we give the name “lechon manok.” The different parts of the chicken included in the chicken inasal are “tiil,” “isul,” “tinai,” “tungol,” “paa,” “bato-bato,” “bul-o,” “isaw,” “batikulon,” “atay,” “dugo,” “tagipuson,” “petsopak,” “petso,” “pakpak,” “liog,” and “ulo.” After dressing (or undressing) the chicken, nothing is wasted.

If you interview the different “manug-inasal,” they will always tell you what they do but they will not tell you the way to obtain their signature taste. It is always their heirloom trade secret. I have the permission of my friend, “Tiyay Digna,” on what she does with her “chicken inasal.”

She told me that President Erap tasted her chicken “inasal” when he was here in Bacolod (during his presidency). After eating five “inasals,” Erap ordered for 250 pieces to be brought to the Palace.

Here is her narration: I always prefer the newly butchered chicken (not over 45 days old). My suppliers are always reminded to provide me healthy dressed chickens that have been given feeds on scheduled time… that is very important to achieve the kind of flesh I want.

I cut the chicken to desired sizes. The other parts are placed in different containers separately. I do not mix two or three parts. That would lead to contamination and the taste of the other parts would be affected.

I use “lina,” sweet “tuba” harvested early in the morning, to marinate my chicken. I do not use vinegar. Vinegar thickens the flesh. “Lina” would be gradually absorbed by the chicken flesh. Before noontime, that “lina” becomes sour and tastes like a real “tuba” already. The alcohol present in “tuba” gives my chicken a biting taste.

I gradually add the other ingredients: lemon grass (to give aromatic smell), calamansi juice (to add solemnity to the taste of “tuba”), crushed ginger (to give punchy taste), my favorite brand of soy sauce, salt and I have three other secret ingredients that would give my grilled “chicken inasal” a distinct taste.

Marinating stops at 4’oclock in the afternoon. Over marinating will result to salty taste. Chicken parts are skewered in fresh “bamboo asalan.” “Asalan” with molds has a foul odor.

Fresh bamboo adds romantic aroma to what you eat. The charcoal used should be that of “madre de kakaw,” “kamonsil” or “agho.” Low quality charcoal coming from ordinary trees or bushes produces more ashes that damage your “chicken inasal.” Coconut shells are also good sources of charcoal.

The amount of heat coming from the charcoal should be controlled (not too hot). “Chicken Inasal” is best if done through slow cooking. It will have a “smelling-nice, tasting-nice”, and reddish complexion. Eat your “chicken inasal” while it is hot. It goes well with garlic rice or plain rice. It also matches a bottle of your favorite beer or wine. It can be salivating if you eat with bare hands. You can add chicken sauce in your rice and lick your fingers as if there is no tomorrow.

Have your favorite “sawsawan”… tuba vinegar with calamansi, siling labuyo and crushed garlic. In Negros, we call it “sinamak.” You can close your eyes to savor the classic taste, and wag your tongue to curse the punch of “siling labuyo.” That’s Tiyay Digna’s way of reawakening your appetite. Do not drink water right away after eating. Allow the chicken to expand your belly without being disturbed. After all, that chicken is our ambassador.