Wednesday, March 26, 2008


[Ginataang halo-halo/rice balls, bananas and various rootcrops in coconut cream]

Happy Easter!

With the end of Lent we're on to a summer that's going full blast. It's along the lines of everything's two-sided - the sultry heat that can sweat you out dry, but with it comes the vibrant colors that only a red-hot sun can bring. An abundance of all things edible, in all colors that Crayola can think of, prettying up lush fields and gardens.

[from top, clockwise: bananas, ube, langka, kamote, anise]

Rootcrops are available year-round, but they're in profusion, and at rock-bottom prices, at this time. Langka has just gone into season, and it is the ultimate ingredient to a comfort food from my childhood, the memory made and nurtured in my paternal grandparents' house.

My lolo and lola, although not born to rich families, were able to acquire tracts of land by sheer prudence and good management of their finances. From these properties we enjoyed the fruits of their labors - rice and crops planted by tenants, the produce of fruit trees planted by my dad, and his papa, when he was but a child.

During summer, stocks of produce arrive at the house, and it was there where I came to know about what the land can give, and how it is made into food, the knowhow from an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation.

Easter was celebrated with these crops, and I remember seeking solace from the afternoon heat in the dark dining room, where I would come upon my dad's cousins rolling rice flour dough on the table for that day's treat. I would join in on the fun (fun at the start, becoming tedious later on), pinching inch-long pieces from the dough rolls and rolling them between my palms to form balls, smearing my hands with sticky dough.

That experience, and the memory of it, has become priceless, now that my grandparents have passed away, the house is being let, the cousins have their own families to tend to, and there's nobody to watch over the properties that the tenants have stopped giving our share of the crops.

But I recreate home, now that I have my own, in a place where my children are sometimes laughed at because they mix their languages - because I insist that we use my and my husband's mother language even when we're in Tagalog country. I once had my then two-year old son point to a favorite ingredient of kiniler, saying "I want banana-saging-ponti," all in one breath.

They find forming balls out of sticky dough quite fun, too.

Kiniler, the Pangasinan term for what is commonly known as ginataang bilo-bilo or ginataang halo-halo, can be as simple as rice balls and diced seba (saba) cooked in coconut cream thickened by ground glutinous rice. But it can be as lavish - a cornucopia of all things the land can yield - as a stew of all these things: kamote in three colors - white, yellow and purple - saba, langka, even buko and mais, anise.

I like my kiniler multi-textural - soft and sticky (bilo-bilo), crunchy (langka and ube), chewy (sago and saba), mushy (kamote). And full of varied flavors - the rootcrops and fruits transcending from one level of sweetness to another, the buko providing a refreshing respite, the bilo-bilo and sago a foil for all the variety of tastes, the anise punctuating with bursts of spice and aroma. All rounded up by the creamy goodness of gata.

A fitting celebration of life, the after-life, and hopes for a better one in the next.


Anonymous said...

guinataang halo-halo.. one of my favorites! so yummy!

Lou in SanFran 1111001atgmail said...

It's a very romantic article, in a decidedly passionate, well written blog. If this were a book, it would be a keeper; a complex cultural study. It makes me proud. Macapalic-liquet.

Kai said...

Lou, you are very kind. Thank you very much for showing your appreciation, I am honored.

Anonymous said...

I just love that word: macapalic-lliquet

Kai said...

Yes it makes you feel happy just by reading the word