THE main island of Palawan is yet undeveloped and little explored, abundant in wildlife, varied ecosystems, and untouched jungles. Its people, the Palaweños, offer warmth and openness are characteristic of local folk all over the Philippines, but their culture is something all their own, much like their cuisine.
From the sour pork stew known as laoya to the Vietnamese-influenced chao long noodles, the Palaweño kitchen offers as exciting a variety of adventures as does the island’s geography. And, as scholars point out, it pays to take a look into the local cuisine to understand a people’s culture and identity.
“One way by which a people expresses its interpretation of the world is through its kitchen.”
This is how Dr. Fernando Zialcita, director of Ateneo de Manila’s Cultural Heritage Program, introduced “Puerto Princesa’s Cuisine: A Creative Encounter.” The brainchild of the Cultural Heritage Program and sponsored by the Mama Sita Foundation, the event was recently held in Alab Restaurant in Scout Rallos, Quezon City.
Tt was a celebration of Puerto Princesa’s cuisine, as a research endeavor for the preservation of cultural history through food.
Dozens of guests from Palawan, professors of Ateneo de Manila, and the media, were treated to presentations from students in Dr. Zialcita’s class, “Introduction to Cultural Heritage.”
A requirement of the class was an immersion in Palawan and to apply basic qualitative research methods by documenting features of the locale’s cultural heritage. The presentations of the students highlighted samples of authentic Palawan cuisine, detailed the methods of cooking, and the cultural background of each dish.
From their research, the students were able to identify three Palaweño food traditions: Tagbanua, Cuyonon, and Vietnamese.
The Tagbanua tradition is one that emphasizes the relationship of the people with nature. As such, the Tagbanuans incorporate the local vegetation in their activities or chores. For example, kulyat seeds, extracted from fruit that can be found around the trunks of forest trees, are often eaten to strengthen the immune system. Because of this, kulyat seeds are often eaten by Tagbanuans who have to go on long journeys across mountains and rivers.
The Cuyonon tradition uses tropical sour fruits to flavor fish and meat dishes. Spices or condiments are rarely used, and if so, only in minimal amounts. Fruits such as kalamansi, sampaloc, kamias, mango, and tomato are used to balance the saltiness of fish and meat. Dishes such as the laoya, a pork or beef stew, also use lumabeng beans. The lumabeng beans originate from the Agutaynen river of Northern Palawan and are used to provide a counter point to the soup by providing an earthy flavor.
The Vietnamese influence of Palawan cuisine is a curious thing. It has evolved significantly thanks to its immersion in the Palawan way of life. The Vietnamese pho is called chao long in Puerto Princesa, and is paired with a French-Vietnamese bread called banh mi. These are often served in noodle houses in the city and are often frequented by tricycle drivers, students, employees, and families.
The presentations of the students were followed-up by a speech from Cecille Nepomuceno, information officer of Mama Sita Foundation. She introduced “Mga Kuwentong Pagkain,” Mama Sita Foundation’s annual food writing competition that aims to gather food anecdotes like that of Palawan’s.
The event also featured a dinner menu featuring authentic Palawan Cuisine specially prepared by Alab’s Chef Myke Sarthou.
As surprise, Palaweño Brewery, the first and only craft beer brewery in Palawan, also provided bottles of Ayahay in five different flavors of American Amber Ale, Belgian Wheat Beer, Honey Kolsch, Ayahay Ipa, and Honey Nut Brown.
Indeed, “Puerto Princesa’s Cuisine: A Creative Encounter” is a great success. The night of cultural appreciation will be remembered not only for its interesting culinary discoveries but also because it is celebrated in the customary Filipino way: coupled with good food and company.