Showing posts with label philippines. ilocos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label philippines. ilocos. Show all posts

29 July 2013

The Giant Bear of Batac

The city of Batac, Ilocos Norte, has a giant teddy bear near their city hall. It has gone from being a sort of Santa Claus Christmas decor to an orange bear to this version, taken months ago, in pale wrapping paper. The "message heart" contains message upon message. Better than the Koons dog, in my opinion.

14 August 2012

Ilocano Canvas Reuse

An old house has an old pillow covered by an old cotton banner.
And another.
Perdido Funeral Homes' garage features coffins covered by old flour sacks sewn together.


Dressed frogs.
The weekly market in Paoay features a few things that would make the Manileño throw up a little in his mouth. I am a slightly morbid non-meat eater who is often faced with things that make me shudder, but my cultural curiosity often outweighs any initial horror.

I can imagine siblings fighting over the frog segment that has the eggs hanging from them.
But also, the presence of frogs, ant eggs, and whatnot in the Ilocano menu is an encouraging diet that is "hedged"-- i.e. still includes a variety of species, in particular some that haven't quite made it into the industrial realm. Frogs or tokak from the rice fields are eaten just like chicken-- battered and fried, stewed in coconut milk or adobo-style.

There was a lady from Paoay, bla bla selling frogs, bla bla pink flower on slippers bla bla.

16 April 2012

03 April 2012

Ilocano Halo-Halo and Ice Shaving Improvisation

Halo-halo in cups, waiting for ice and milk in Ilocos.
Other countries have this flower or that blooming, or some bird singing to mark the coming of spring, the Philippines has the gradual cropping up of halo-halo stalls to mark the coming of summer. This weird rainy summer is no exception.

Colored gulaman (seaweed jelly) and sago pearls at the Alabang market.
Propped up by a seasonal halo-halo economy of market vendors selling sweetened beans, garishly colored jelly, and colored (pinipig) toasted rice. Truthfully, there's a little too much color for my tastes in it, but once in awhile is okay.

Gulaman being molded in plastic cups in a kind of grody setting, Alabang market.
 Ilocos Norte is not usually the place you would expect halo-halo. Of course, it's all over the country, but you wouldn't be surprised not to find it in this relatively sedate province. It is terribly hot out there. Its delicacies consist generally of rice cakes on the sweet side, and deep-fried pork things on the savory side.

I was fiending for something cold, and had been asking the locals about halo-halo for days. I got some free time and stopped by a stall with some friends along Paoay Lake.

The stall, under a bamboo frame, with a curtain shading the owner from the harsh sun.
So of course, Ilocanos being the resourceful and the tightwads that they are (local stereotypes are fun), supplement store-bought ingredients (colored jelly and sago balls) with cheaper (but better) ingredients such as freshly grated coconut, boiled and lightly sugared sweet potato, and my favorite thus far (in place of the usual canned or yellow sweet corn), nixtamalized corn (usually used in binatog). It sounds fancy, but nixtamalized corn is really creamy, alkalized white, glutinous corn that does not have skin. More on that later.

Colored toasted rice, sweetened beans, sweetened sweet potato, sweetened banana, nixtamalized corn, and grated coconut.
Nixtamalized corn. Creamy and super delicious.
Grated coconut.
Another super great thing is that the woman manning the stall (sounds funny doesn't it. What-- womanning?) had invented an apparatus to keep the ice (made from water frozen in plastic bags) from slipping while she shaves it. It was made from pieces of wood and bottle caps.

Bottle caps nailed to a small piece of wood board.
The wood hold the ice while the vendor shaves, thus allowing her to exert maximum force.
Ice on bottle caps.
A nearly spent piece of ice. The board also has bottle caps as legs so it doesn't slip either.
Ice Man Ice Shaver.

05 March 2012

Recent Containers

It is always encouraging to see plant material being used for practical things. Despite the fiesta baratillo being filled with cheap, made in China plastic implements, Ilocanos still use bamboo and other woven things for practical purposes. This contributes to the stewardship of species and the general beauty of everyday life.

Bamboo baskets for catching and placing fish.
Bamboo pole lunch. Last time I saw this guy, his fish catch was dangling from the front portion of the pole.

A typical Northern Philippine backpack, except the two straps replaced by a snakeskin shoulder strap.

29 September 2011

Coconut Merienda

A sheath style that seems to be popular in Ilocos.

The sweetest coconut ever.
Entertaining is easy with coconut trees and large knives. Coconut meat for eating, coconut water for drinking.

18 April 2011

Makeshift Muscles, Part IV

More improvised weight sightings, this time around Northern Luzon.

Milk cans filled with cement, rusty boys. On an Abra farm.

Beside the sidewalk in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. A bamboo bar.

Molded cement with bolts that make the weights removable.
Makeshift muscles, Part I, II, and III.

20 March 2011

Religion in the Octagon House

Top-view of belen... on a plate.

The Octagon House is a beautiful old octagon-shaped house in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. It is lived-in. If there is anything I like more than plain old houses, it is old houses that are lived-in. Their stories continue, and they continue to have good, livable ventilation.

The octagon house from the outside.

The house was built by a local, Constancio Duque, in 1939. He was inspired by his stay in the Chicago, where houses were going beyond the boxy styles and into a so-called "bubble" style. Before being known as the Octagon House, it was called the idiay nagbukel or "round house".

Inside there is the typical assortment of Filipino Catholic paraphernalia.

Belen, frontal view.

Altar and Constancio's wedding photo.

Very large and unsettling figures.

Handpainted reproduction of that famous mother and child poster, by the owner of the home.

02 March 2011


A sack of rice on the head.

I often think about a parallel universe where, by some twist of fate, carrying stuff on the head gained more popularity than carrying stuff off the shoulders. Carrying stuff on your head does, after all, allow you to bring around 20% of your body weight around without increasing energy consumption.

A woman carrying some stones in a basket on her head.

How would our modern bags look? Would we be reaching above our heads for our wallets, not doing the whole cumbersome backpack maneuver? Would the cliche silhouette of the mountainclimber resemble like The Head?

Rootcrops up the mountain, on her head.

A bunch of grasses, on a banana leaf to prevent itchiness, on her head.

Upland pottery with a woman with, well, stuff on her head.

An empty "head basket", containing a pine needle cushion for the top of the head.

10 August 2010

A Tiny Bit on The History of Intoxicating Sugarwater in the Philippines

Arak ti basi (distilled basi ferment) and basi.

It's an acquired taste. Though commonly called "sugarcane wine", I perceive basi to be more beer-like in flavor (and usage), pleasantly fizzy while "young", and especially good when very cold. The drink is typically made from cane juice fermented with samak (Macaranga tanarius) fruit, leaves, and bark. The predominant flavor of samak leaves, a dull astringent taste, is what defines the drink for me.

The basi in traditional earthen jars, aging.

Depending on the producer, a blend of other ingredients such as duhat (Syzgium cumini) bark and ground rice are added, among other things. Various other "secret" ingredients include cacao, ginger, and peppers.

Collected and dried samak leaves.

Outside of Ilocos (and Pangasinan), however, a starter culture (bubud, made from rice flour) in place of samak berries is utilized to aid in fermentation, and I cannot say I have tried that variety. It is still called basi, but I'm not sure how it compares in terms of taste, and it confuses me, considering it would mean that there is no clear way to define basi separately from the other sugarcane wine varieties in the country, other than the name and region, perhaps. The bacterial and enzyme population of the two starter varieties differs significantly. For more technical information, you can pick up a copy of Philippine Fermented Foods: Principles and Technology by Priscilla C. Sanchez.

Spent samak leaves, which will be put in distillation equipment to produce arak ti basi.

Basi comes from sugarcane juice. Making it may have been one of the first widespread applications of the plant in the country. Before sugar became the source of so many dramatic fortunes, sorrows, and toothaches in the Philippines, the grass was a sporadic subsistence or limited-cultivation crop around the islands. There was "wild" sugarcane that grew uncultivated, consistent with assertions that sugar originated from Southeast Asia, or at least, the South Pacific (still debatable).

The green "native" variety, which spreads rapidly by creeping.

Before processing came about, the "natives" were already said to enjoy chewing the fibrous, sweet cane, using it to pass their hunger, or even as pacifiers for babies. We still do today, across the region. I remember being young and stopping at the Batangas sugar fields to eat some peeled tubo, and have bought several bags of plain chopped sugarcane in Cambodia and Thailand. The concept of utilization is simple-- find a sweet part of a plant, chew it for pleasure, spit the fiber out (or just suck on it instead). Interestingly, a similar pattern works with the roots of the cogon grass, a reported "miniature sugarcane" among Bicol children, and wonderful for the kidney as well.

The dark, high-yield Alunan or La Carlota variety of sugarcane, in Mindoro.

Inevitably, there would be evidence sugarcane alcohol production all over the country. The fourteenth cenutry saw Chinese traveller Wang Ta-Yuan probably had the earliest account (the link describes several others) of the plant's use in the country, describing the ability of natives to make wine from its juice. The drink was called many things in many parts of the country. But we are following the samak basi trail, and that inevitably leads us up north.

Before this still, the drink was in production in the (way north) Batanes area, as stated in 1686 by Dampier. The crew on boat liked basi so much and drank copious amounts of it. And that was how, for a period in history, the group of islands around Batanes came to be known as Bashee Islands, after the drink we don't all love today. But don't take my word for it:
Their common drink is water; as it is of all other Indians: besides which they make a sort of drink with the juice of the sugar-cane, which they boil, and put some small black sort of berries among it. When it is well boiled they put it into great jars and let it stand three or four days and work. Then it settles and becomes clear, and is presently fit to drink. This is an excellent liquor, and very much like English beer, both in colour and taste. It is very strong, and I do believe very wholesome: for our men, who drank briskly of it all day for several weeks, were frequently drunk with it, and never sick after it. The natives brought a vast deal of it every day to those aboard and ashore: for some of our men were ashore at work on Bashee Island; which island they gave that name to from their drinking this liquor there; that being the name which the natives called this liquor by: and as they sold it to our men very cheap so they did not spare to drink it as freely. And indeed from the plenty of this liquor and their plentiful use of it our men called all these islands the Bashee Islands.
Alright? Just a note, the "berries" may have been duhat, but given that they were described as "small", I am betting on samak. Duhat yields fruit larger than the normal European berry.

Other northerly tribes apparently enjoyed basi more than the sugar, with Jenks claiming widespread fermentation of rice and cane wine in 1905 in the Bontoc area. (Interestingly, of sugar itself, he says: There is not much sugar made in the area, and a large part of the product is purchased by the Ilokano. The Igorot cares very little for sweets; even the children frequently throw away candy after tasting it.")

An Igorot basi vendor, from the Jenks publication.

The Jenks publication describes extensively how basi was utilized extensively in Igorot ceremonies (and it has cool pictures, do click on the link if you're interested).

An Igorot bamboo tube for carrying basi, from the Jenks publication.

So where is basi today? Since Dampier and Jenks, it has become a cottage industry in Ilocos, with many trying to "commercialize" it into a wine. None of these attempts have tasted good to me, however. And the Bashee Islands? They call their sugarcane wine palek now. What happened in between? We can only guess, and keep searching for clues.

Basi producer, Laoag.

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