The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit
While colonization by the Spaniards and Americans have so enriched our culinary culture that, in turn, helped define Negros Occidental with its aristocratic dishes, it was also scarred forever and we can only look at our neighbors for what might-have-beens.
Nowhere was this most felt as I enjoyed a bowl of Singaporean dessert called iced soursop with yellow jelly – an immense experience, not just for the blending of several levels of tartness and sweetness in it but for the cultural realizations it evoked.
This was nothing but babana, lemon jelly, soaked basil seeds and sugar syrup with shaved ice topped by a dollop of calamansi juice freshly-squeezed. It may have been called sour halo-halo, what with the perfect harmony of sweetness and sourness competing in one’s palate.
But while enjoying this, I fell into the usual Filipino tourist mentality when abroad, and started asking why we couldn’t have this dessert here in our country. We have the ingredients, definitely, especially the soursop. But the most innovative way with babana, or soursop, that I have come across here so far was as babana shake: the flesh deseeded and thrown with sugar and ice in the blender and shaken to a smooth consistency. Sometimes milk is added, and that qualifies as smoothie.
But not this way with ice and calamansi and lemon jelly. In fact, I know of five other people who shake their heads violently when offered babana, and most often they match this with a smirk. For a tree that is endemic to the country, it is baffling how many of us, to this day, could not take the babana fruit. “Ka langto, [It doesn’t smell right]” is how C described her aversion to the fruit. “I don’t like the feel of its flesh in my mouth.”
How can a palate that can tell the difference between raclette and gouda, one that knows the difference between Golden Crowne and Anchor Butter not take babana? How can the nose that can accept the microbacterial scent of blue cheese find the natural, fruity smell of babana langto and repulsive?
I can only think of our colonization, and I have not turned red, not even pinko. Our colonial past has directed our culture, down to our food tastes, towards the benefit of our colonial masters. And I think we are the poorer for it.
For one thing, it confined our palate to the very basic tastes of salty and sweet and the different shades of these. See how we go for the buttery, creamy, salty and sweet, see how we yearn for cakes and hams, ice-cream and the like. See how we like salted dried fish or fish paste.
The sour in our culinary culture is limited to the paksiw, and that has remained generally plebeian fare. We have not really ventured into the other dimensions of the sour, such as fruity sour the way it goes in soursop, or babana.
This is sad, not only because we’re missing on the taste experience, but also in very real economic terms. Our agriculture has not developed our local resources such as fruits because the market for them is limited, if not non-existent. And yet these resources, like babana, are native to our land and should be easy to grow and produce.
Isn’t it time we realized that what we put in our mouths can, in fact, impact on the rest of our economy?*
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