FOR  THE  LOVE  OF  'BASI'

MANILA
, DECEMBER 14, 2007  (STAR) PIPIRAZZO By Claude Tayag - If there’s a singular drink that the Ilocanos cannot do without in their long history as a people, it is basi, a sugarcane-based wine infused with a tree bark called samak. It is as equally indispensable as sukang iloko, also infused with samak. This establishes the fact that we are a wine-drinking people even before the coming of the Spaniards (well, at least not wine from grapes, that is), and defines the Ilocanos’ distinct indigenous cuisine from other Philippine regions with the bitter range of flavors as exemplified by papaitan, sinanglaw, and imbaligtad (more of that later).

The Ilocanos’ passion for this brew literally exploded in 1807, when the people of Piddig, Ilocos rose up in arms against the oppressive tax measures imposed by the Spanish colonial government, particularly on the production of basi. Imagine a farmer, poor as he was, compelled to sell to a government agency his production of wine at a ridiculously low price, only to be sold back at an atrociously jacked-up price. Imagine again how the poor farmer felt, known to be frugal to this day, to pay excessively for a drink he loved so much to take after a back-breaking day’s work.

The natives of Piddig just couldn’t take the monopoly lying down. In a tumultuous two-week period from mid- to late September 1807, the Ilocano peasants and townsmen rose up in arms against the Spanish authorities. They marched south to Vigan, then capital of the Unified Ilocos. Subsequently, the revolt leaders Mateo and Ambaristo and their key followers were executed by public hanging, after which their heads were severed and exhibited in cages, to teach a grim lesson to the natives.

In 1821, the Spanish authorities commissioned the self-taught artist Esteban Villanueva to chronicle the events of the Basi Revolt of 1807 in 14 oil panels. To commemorate the bicentennial of the Basi Revolt, the original artworks are on exhibit at the fifth floor, South Wing Gallery of the Museum of the Filipino People.

Rep. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. of the second district of Ilocos Norte hosted a reception at the museum. He was joined by his colleagues at the House of Representatives and local government officials from Region I (Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan). Basi from the region was served, together with authentic Ilocano food prepared by Glenda Barretto of Via Mare. The exhibit will run until Dec. 14.

Agsubli idiay Amianan

On a recent trip to Ilocos Norte, my Darleng and I got reacquainted with the Ilocano cuisine we loved so much from several trips in the past (five, as of last count). We — I more than she admittedly — couldn’t get enough of bagnet (fried crisp pork belly), dinardaraan (crispy dinuguan), and the ubiquitous Ilocano empanada, whose vendors just pop up every afternoon practically in every town plaza all over Ilocandia. (Make mine double/double at Batac’s Riverside Empanadahan Plaza just across the Marcos Museum.)

The Ilocanos’ most popular contributions to Philippine cuisine are undoubtedly pakbet (pronounced as pak-butt), bagnet (bag-nutt), and longganisa with its strong garlicky flavor, garlic being a major agricultural product of the Ilocos. Being known to be frugal and tight-fisted as they are, nothing goes to waste in an Ilocano kitchen. They make use of everything that can be eaten. Perhaps this is due to the harsh climate and limited resources in their land and sea; they nevertheless are particular about getting the freshest ingredients.

According to food writer Mickey Fenix, in her book Philippine Cuisine — A Country’s Heritage, what makes Ilocano cooking distinct from other Philippine regions is the bitter range of flavors. This bitterness is sought after in the Ilocos. It may come from the common ampalaya or bitter melon, which the Ilocano cook retains its bitter juice by just cutting it halfway, while elsewhere in the country, its white membrane and seeds are discarded, then blanched with a little salt before it is used in cooking.

Another source for the bitter taste comes from the papait or apdo (bile) of the cow, carabao or goat. The papait, while a waste product for most, is an indispensable ingredient for dishes like pinapaitan, imbaliktad and sinanglaw giving it an Ilocano character.

Any grilled or fried fish is given the same treatment. The gills may be removed, but the innards remain intact inside the belly. A bangus is typically grilled whole, still redolent of its scales, intestines and all. Eating the fatty belly, one gets the bitter aftertaste of the innards and bile, almost like having papaitan on the side, dipping this with bagoong na isda, kalamansi and sili. In all of the Ilocos region, La Union and Pangasinan, fried fish entrails, simply sprinkled with salt and dipped in sukang iloko, is a favorite pulutan.

And of course, there’s the other indispensable ingredient present in every Ilocano kitchen — fish bagoong. It is also used as dipping sauce in most meals. Inabraw (also called dinengdeng) is the generic term for vegetable stew flavored with bagoong, tomatoes and ginger.

The venerable pakbet is flavored much the same way. According to Nonong Ablan, owner of Palazzo de Laoag Hotel, the pakbet is cooked in a kawali or palayok, with the different vegetables laid out in layers, with the firmest pieces at the bottom, then topped with tomatoes and chunks of bagnet, and finally doused with the bagoong before it is covered and cooked. The dish will actually be cooked in the veggies’ own sweat. And according to anac ti Batac Irene Marcos Araneta, with whom we had the pleasure of partaking a wonderful heritage meal at Ablan’s Hotel quite recently, she’d give a failing mark to a pakbet that has squash in it or is flavored with bagoong alamang or shrimp paste. (That’s the Tagalog version, according to her.) By the way, Irene swears by Ablan’s mother dinuguan.

The names of some Ilocano dishes may sound obscene to the uninitiated. Puki-puki is a simple tortang talong (an eggplant is first grilled, then flattened before it is fried with whisked egg added), but it would probably elicit some giggles, because it is named after the female’s private part, not to mention its accompanying egg beaten. Is it perhaps the opposite sex’s way of getting back at us male species? Speak of domestic violence! (By the way, in an Ilocano home, the kitchen is pretty much a man’s world.) And then there’s dinardaraan or dinuguan, which sounds like dinuraan or “spat on” to the Tagalogs. The Ilocano version of this blood stew is a thick porridge made with liempo or pork belly, much like the Visayan version. In Pampanga, our tidtad (short for tinadtad or “chopped”) is more of a soup, with chunks of the coagulated blood mixed with either pork liempo, pata (trotters), or intestines. In the Ilocano version, the blood from a freshly slaughtered pig is whisked briskly in a large cauldron while sukang iloko is slowly added to form a silken creamy paste, which becomes the dinardaraan’s base. In Dawang’s Place, a hole in the wall in the fringes of Laoag City, its version makes use of chunky bits of crispy bagnet, giving each spoonful an unexpected crunch to the normally mellifluous stew. Rating: Out of this world, but deadly sinful!

Dinakdakan is a dish made from slices of pig’s ears and cow’s brain, while imbaliktad is paper-thin slices of beef (sukiyaki cut) marinated with ginger bits and papait or bile, giving it a faintly bitter taste. The term imbaliktad means “to turn over,” a literal description of how the pieces of meat are cooked: pan-seared slightly on each side.

Different varieties of edible seaweeds find their way to the Ilocano table. Gamet is a popular one, much like the Japanese nori, which also comes in sheets. It is a seasonal delicacy found in the coastlines of Pagudpud and Burgos towns. It is used to make soup, omelet or salad. Dinengdeng is a fish stew made with malunggay leaves and gamet. Pukpoklo is a stringy variety, while kulot is the hair type, much like the Chinese black hair seaweed, which resembles, gross as it may sound, the curly hair collected in the shower drain.

Also gathered from the shoreline are the different seashells like tukmem, siek, bukasit and unnok. These are normally sautéed with tomatoes and ginger, or mixed with leafy greens.

Another wild-gathered food is buos or ants’ eggs. This exotic delicacy is collected seasonally from the nests of winged ants found in the mountain forests. It is slightly sour in taste, and is usually sautéed with tomatoes and salt. Considered by many as an aphrodisiac, it is eaten with rice or as pulutan. Full-grown ants are also cooked and eaten in the same manner. And so are locusts.

“Fear factor,” is not in the Ilocano vocabulary. In spite of the region’s seeming harsh climatic conditions, the Ilocano ingenuity brings plenty of good chow to the dining table. And all along, people thought it’s just politics they know how to cook up north.

Panaggapas: The Ilocano Harvest in Makati

On Dec. 15, the Salcedo Community Market welcomes the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte with an Ilocos food and crafts fair showcasing the finest fresh produce, specialty food items, and indigenous crafts from the Ilocos region. The daylong event is organized by the Ilocos Norte Tourism Office, in cooperation with the Museo Ilocos Norte, the Gameng Foundation. Governor Michael M. Keon describes the special event as “a showcase of Ilocano talent, creativity, and industry,” while Rep. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. invites everyone “who appreciates good, honest food, and hand-made quality products” to visit the fair.

The festival is the first time the Salcedo Community Market, Manila’s most popular weekend market, will host a fair of regional Filipino specialty food items and traditional crafts. Specialty items on sale will include popular products such as Ilocos garlic, shallots, cornick, linga (sesame seeds), miki, bagnet, empanada, longganiza, tupig, sugarcane wine (basi), and sugarcane vinegar (sukang Iloko). Among the non-food items are the traditional abel Iloko, or woven cotton fabrics, as blankets, runners and napkins, as well as handcrafted baskets and mats that are renowned for their tight, intricate weaves.

Panaggapas Festival will also include a cooking demonstration of traditional Ilocano food by authentic cooks brought in specially for the event, as well as representatives from the province’s hotels and resorts. The Salcedo Market is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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