Monday, March 08, 2010


During summer, you'll know when you've hit the province of Pangasinan going through the Camiling, Tarlac route, which goes into Central Pangasinan, an alternative and less-traffic-dense way from the MacArthur Highway (the way to Dagupan or Baguio) skimming the northeastern part of the province. You'll know you've arrived by the pungent smell that wafts from the warm earth and assails your nose, even inside an airconditioned vehicle.

For in Bayambang, the first town of the province bordering Tarlac, are hectares of onion plantations. And by onion I mean THE red onion with which I grew up. Small but powerfully pungent, red and red-hot, a single cut of the knife is enough to induce a crying spell that seems rooted in heartbreak.

We never dared eat small red onions raw. Cooked, it retained its kili-kili power (our slang for the smell and taste - similar to the overpowering scent of underarms of the great unwashed), imparting great flavor to vegetable stews with bagoong (fermented salted fish sauce). Sautes are elevated a notch higher.

Early in my life I never knew there were onions tamer than these, such that when I learned that there's such a thing as French onion soup, I vowed never to have it. I imagined I'd gag on the pungency of it right at the first spoonful.

But there's a variety of red onions we actually use for summer salads of sliced native tomatoes and bagoong, eaten raw. It's red, and still flavorful, but the pungency is not as pronounced, refreshing more than cutting the tongue, and it's more succulent, the bulb segments thinner.

This is what is known as sibuyas Ilocano, and called by the local term lasona. Funny, I recently found out that lasuna, which I think can also be the spelling of this red onion as it is how it is actually pronounced in the native tongue, is the Sanskrit term for garlic. Our Indio ancestors must have mixed up the terms in confusion, specially since down the line we still associate onions with the Indians....

And that's not all. I also found out that the term for lasona in Bahasa, a language used in many parts of Southeast Asia, is bawang, which in turn is the name for garlic in most Philippine languages. Really quite confusing. More tidbit of information - the French shallot originated in Southeast Asia, and it looks like lasona is an ancestor.

Lasona is sold in bunches, the bulbs growing in bunches, too, such that not one is perfectly round like the common red onion. A flat side with a bulbous half is the normal shape.

As with garlic, lasona is said to have healing properties, as well. The bulbs are harvested with their spring leaves and sold thus, or trimmed just a little. This is because the leaves are eaten, too, providing a different dimension in texture and level of flavor. This can be particularly evident in ingisan lasuna - chopped bulbs and leaves sauteed with garlic - served as a side to fried or grilled fish and heaps of steaming rice.

Across the country this is what is used in pickled onions, and thinly sliced fried onions mixed in arroz caldo/congee and fried rice. I prefer fried minced garlic in my arroz caldo and fried rice, since I'm not very fond of fried onions.

Lasona harvest had been early this year, as with the regular red and white onions that I wrote about in the previous post. The air had been pungently thick since before Christmas. Probably better for all of us, hoping the health effects of lasona countered the excesses of the season.

Bahay Kubo

Bahay kubo, kahit munti
Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari
Singkamas at talong, sigarillas at mani
Sitaw, bataw, patani

Kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa
At saka meron pa, labanos, mustasa
Sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya
Sa paligid-ligid ay puno ng linga

Roughly translated as:

Bahay Kubo
(Filipino folk song)

Nipa hut, even though small
the plants surrounding it are varied and many
turnips and eggplants, winged beans and peanuts
yard-long beans, hyacinth beans, lima beans

wax gourd, sponge gourd, bottle gourd, squash
and there’s more, radish, mustard
onions, tomatoes, garlic and ginger
the surrounding spaces filled with sesame


Anonymous said...

Is the Ilokano Lasona the same as the French Shallot?
Also, the Lasona bulb and leaf look like a spring onion or scallion. The diferrence is the color of the bulb: scallion is white while Lasona is red.

Kai said...

Yes it's the French shallot alrighty, which originated in Southeast Asia. Not spring onion, though, although lasona color ranges from white to red, just that the red rubies are more common.

Anonymous said...

In Leyte, Samar and Biliran Waray-speaking areas, we call bawang as "lasona" while other Visayans (Ilonggos and Cebuanos/Bisaya) call it ahos.