11 January 2011

Puto With "Yema"


I was never a fan of puto Biñan, those spongy, sweet pieces of bready rice cake (or cakey rice bread) cooked in a bilao and cut into diamonds, topped with some sort of cheese food. They were always a little bit sour due to natural fermentation for leavening, and were a common Sunday sight at the church courtyards.

Ambulant vendor of puto and cuchinta.

Friendly and yapping about the "puto epicenters": Pulang Lupa (Las Pinas) and Indang (Cavite).

But, on that fateful morning, I initially bought something as an excuse to chat the manlalako (ambulant vendor) up about his old-style horn (100 pesos, neighborhood bike shop). Then the guy opens one of his compartments, and I spot a can containing a thick, creamy spread.

Cuchinta and slather-material.

What was it? Yema, he said. Spreadable yema.

I'd always encountered yema in the form of little confections. Our yaya would make the little balls of boiled down condensed milk and eggs, and would sell to the neighborhood kids during the early 90s. I remember the fragrant boiling pots. No one could refuse them-- not even her own son, who often asked her for one peso and then used that to buy a piece. (My brother and I found it hilarious. It was funnier than it sounds).

But, according to the vendor, the spreadable yema doesn't even have eggs in them. In the global scheme of yema-- the word originates from Spain and means "yolk"-- there is at least one spreadable version (a Jewish one called jemma, from the same yema "family tree"). The customary Philippine one, those sugary little balls, are unique for containing condensed milk. To do away with the eggs altogether makes it a completely different thing. It's just boiled down condensed milk, in the can itself. Dulce de leche, in essence!

Another yema vendor, somewhere in the north. The can in which dulce de leche is made.

Whatever it was, slathered onto every puto slice, which was then sprinkled with grated coconut (or plain, as seen below, in my second encounter with the snack). It is great stuff.

Halfway through slathering.

I do like to note that Puto Biñan tastes different these days. Gone is the sourness that you find in other fermented rice cakes (e.g. Indian idli). These days, it is leavened with baking powder, and does not have that sour taste that made me think, as a child, that it was always a bit past its prime. Mixed feelings about that. But, nothing could mar the experience. Dulce de leche, on puto. Puto Biñan , saved.

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