Wednesday, September 23, 2015

10 Exotic Foods By The Igorots Of The Cordillera Region. How Many Have You Tried?

Most outsiders know the Igorots of the Cordillera region for their unique culture. To them, the word Igorot usually conjures images of bright and colorful attires, of spears with matching shields, and of rituals where the blood of pigs and chickens soak the earth (or pavement) while an elder utters a prayer to the gods. Of course, the word Igorot also often conjures an amalgam of misconceptions about the tribes. Tails, big feet, dark skin, the usual suspects. These misconceptions are discussed in a previous article published in this blog. [Check it out here.]

Anyway, a lesser known aspect of Igorot culture is its cuisine. In all honesty, we don't have much to offer when it comes to this department given the fact that the sources of food for our ancestors were rather limited. What they ate were basically composed of what they hunted from the woods, what they planted on their farms, and what they fished from the rivers. Our ancestors didn't have much to experiment with. Still, they were able to concoct rare recipes, many of which are still being done today. Let's take a look into some of these exotic foods below. Whether you are a tourist, a non-local, or a Cordilleran who is still unaccustomed to the region's culinary specialties, these delicacies will make for an exciting and challenging culinary adventure. So saddle up, and get your taste buds ready.

1) Pinikpikan - When it comes to Cordilleran cuisine, this is without a doubt the recipe that is most well-known. If you are an advocate of animal rights, you might find the preparation shocking. The butchering process is basically beating a chicken to death with a stick. Why? To preserve the blood in the chicken's body. To allow the blood to coagulate within the parts of the chicken that are beaten with a stick - mostly the neck and wings. It's surprising that PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is yet to stick its nose into the matter.

Cooking genuine pinikpikan is a breeze. All you need is a live chicken, sayote, etag (pork that's been dried or smoked the Igorot way), and any leafy vegetables like pechay or wombok. Use barn chickens or what we call "native" chickens. What does pinikpikan taste like? It's like tinola with a smoky taste courtesy of the etag added into it. If you are in Baguio City, you can have a taste of it either at Cafe Yagam or at the Cafe by the Ruins.
Chicken and etag cooked together as pinikpikan. Photo source:
2) Etag or kiniing - This is salted meat that's preserved by either drying it under the sun or smoking it. Yes, it's basically ham. Igorots usually don't cook and eat them as is. The meat is mostly used as an added ingredient for pinikpikan. It also tastes great when cooked alongside white or black beans or any other legume. The preservation process is also very efficient that the dried meat can last for months or years if stored properly.

3) Tengba - This is quite commonly prepared in municipalities within Mt. Province. Preparation and serving of tengba is usually associated with life events. For instance, there's a tradition called nilayaan in the town of Besao in Mt. Province wherein the parents of a newborn child invite friends, neighbors, and relatives to a feast/gathering. Tradition dictates that tengba be served for the guests.

Tengba is fermented rice paste and freshwater crab (the Kankana-eys call this crab gaki). The freshwater crabs are salted thoroughly and placed in an earthen jar (gosi). After about 24 hours, pulverized white rice and an ample amount of clean water are mixed with the salted crabs. Yeast (bubod) is then added and mixed with the other ingredients to kick off the fermentation process. The jar is then sealed for at least three weeks. The tengba can be served as is. However, it's usually very salty so it's commonly used as an added ingredient to other recipes like vegetables soups or boiled meat.

4) Tapey (or tapuy, tapuey) - This is the Igorot people's version of the Japanese sake (rice wine). The great thing about tapey is that its taste depends on the amount of time it spent inside the fermentation jar. The older the wine gets, the more bitter it becomes. Tapey that are a few weeks or a few months old have the fresh and sweet taste attributed to rice wine. If the aging time goes beyond a year, the taste drastically changes. The liquid starts tasting like whiskey or brandy.
Adding bubod which is one of the steps in preparing tapey. Photo source:
5) Safeng or sabeng - I am yet to taste this one so I don't know how it tastes or how it's prepared. However, it's described by Dumay Solinggay (a Cordilleran artist/poet) as, "a non-alcoholic fermented drink, like yogurt. This drink has live microorganisms, helpful bacteria that aid our body to recover from deteriorating cells. I suppose it also strengthens our immune system. In the Cordillera region, the base is usually the left over water from boiling sweet potatoes. It is placed in an earthen jar and is consistently added with corn, cooked rice, and herbs."

6) Duom - This is a snack the only ingredient of which are young heads of rice that ain't yet ready for harvesting. The young grains are plucked off their stalks then slightly fried over a pan or vat (silyasi). The grains are then pounded using a wooden pestle and a stone mortar to remove the dry or burnt husks. The grains which have been pounded flat are then separated from the husks using a winnower (bilao). Voila, the thing is now ready to eat. Sprinkle sugar to give it a sweeter taste.

7) Wildlife delicacies - The mountains and hills of the Cordilleras are now rather lacking when it comes to wildlife. Wild boars and deer are probably extinct by now. But that doesn't mean Cordillerans have stopped hunting. There are are still some who do. And among their common targets are monitor lizards (banyas, banias), wild cats (lidaga), and civets (motet, musang). These are usually cooked by roasting them or boiling them in a stew.

8) Dog meat - This speaks for itself. There are eateries in Baguio City that serve this. Men in the region are rather fond of consuming it alongside bottles of gin.

9) Binungor - This is also a dish that I'm yet to try. So I'll leave it to a fellow Baguio City blogger to describe what it is and how it tastes like. Writing for the blog Eats In Baguio, Krish says, "binungor is a Kalinga dish that is served as an appetizer or side dish and not a viand. It is made of various vegetables found around a Kalinga household along with tenga ng daga and other wild mushrooms, and ot-an, that spiral shaped shell-fish you suck to get the meat inside. The Binungor had slight hints of sweetness and spiciness to it. I tried sucking on a couple of the ot-an but I wasn’t successful. Oh well. The vegetables tasted fresh and were deliciously chewy. I kind of understand why it’s served as a side dish because of it’s consistency."

10) Sigtim or sinigtiman (meat, fish, or freshwater snails cooked with tapey) - Tapey is not only consumed as a beverage, it's also eaten (the rice grains, that is). A lot of Cordillerans take out the fermented rice grains from the earthen jars and use these as additional ingredients for cooking. They can be added to meat-based or fish-based dishes. A favorite among Cordillerans is a tapey-freshwater snail tandem. We call these snails ket-an in the local dialect. The fermented grains can also be added for kuhol-based dishes.

These are just the Igorot dishes that I'm familiar with. I'm sure there are others. If you have anything to add to our list, feel free to leave your comments and suggestions in the comments section below. Thanks.

For detailed steps and procedures on how to prepare or cook some of the items discussed above, visit this Igorot Exotic Food resource by a guy named Daoey. So far, it's the best resource I've found on the topic.

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