on eating cellulose and fermented fish rice

September 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

Our late great-grandmother used to lived in Pangasinan after she moved out from our house when we relocated to Cavite.  We’d visit her twice a year, once on her birthday and another during Christmas.    During those visits when we were younger, my brother and I detested going home to the province.  It wasn’t so much for the necessity of dragging ourselves out of bed at 4 in the morning, or being threatened with the “last stop for bathroom until we reach Apong”,  or even the one-way-6-hour long ride in the car.  It was for the primary reason that my mom always had to make a stop at the Tarlac market.   If we’re going to Pangasinan, it was a fact that we had to make a stop at the market.  We’d usually reach Tarlac around 10 or 11am with the sun bearing down on us.  Messy from all the crumbs of our packed breakfast and sweaty from the long contact with the car seats, we’d grudgingly go down and accompany our mom to the market.  It was a wet market so as children, it was horrible.  With floors covered with filth, my brother occasionally tugging my arm to point to a cockroach or a rat, and the warm characteristic miasma wafting through the cool, damp area, I loathed the market.  My mom, on the other hand, loved it.  She’d patiently stop and ogle every stall, then haggle to the death (if there was such a concept).  Sometimes she could haggle way below half the price, and during these times, you will not find me or my brother within a meter’s distance from her.  The first stop was always the meat section, where my mom would inspect every single “bagnet” (deep-fried pork which Ilocanos love to use as “sahog”), go back and forth the stalls, until she decides which stall has the best.  After that, we’d go to her “suki” for goat meat, and she’d buy the ribs for caldereta and the innards and bile for papaitan.  After the grueling footwork among the black slimes of blood, spit, flesh, and what not, we’d go out to the open area to pore over the vegetables.  My mother would then buy excesses of the native vegetables she’s always craving for, such as bamboo shoots (which is essentially cellulose), string beans, the eggplant balls and the small ampalayas.  Until the time we hadn’t planted malunggay and catuday in our backyard, she would also buy piles of the malunggay fruit and the catuday flower.  By this time, my brother and I already have really sore fingers, with the tips numb from the lack of blood circulation because of all the plastic bags we’re carrying.  If we’re lucky, my dad will find us in the sea of bodies and take the plastics to the car.  If we’re not (which is usually the case), we’d manage with interchanging the load between our hands.  The last stop would always be the burong dalag (fermented rice and fish).  There’s also burong tilapia, but my mom prefers the dalag variant.  When I was younger, I was disgusted with how the buro looked like.  It looked like regurgitated rice and fish.  I get annoyed when my great grandmother places it inside the ref as it rendered everything else inside the ref as equally disgusting.  I don’t know when exactly I first tasted it, but from that day forward, I realized I almost missed a quarter of my life by hating it.  Burong dalag is absolutely one of my favorite local delicacies!! I don’t know how the Ilocanos invented it, and as they say Ilocanos eat everything (from roots, to flowers, and to this), but they must have started doing it during the war.  Or maybe it was an afterthought of bagoong making.  I mean who in their right minds would think of fermenting rice with fish? It looks disgusting as it sounds for the unacquainted, but I swear it’s really tasty. :)  My mom buys buro from one lola only ever since I can remember.  She’s still alive up to this day.  :)  She has lots of different containers kept in a dark room, and my mom chooses the freshly made buro rather than the more fermented one (to which lola mutters under her breath that it’s a bother to get from the fresh ones when the older ones are already there).  The locals do prefer the older ones, I think it’s because they’re more salty (which is the reason why my mom doesn’t like it).  At this point, we continually beg our mom to stop buying anything else.  If we succeed, we skip buying the local sweets, but never the inuruban (smoked rice which looks greenish-black).  Inuruban is smoked rice cooked in coconut milk to make their traditional kakanin.  We never finish in less than an hour, and after that, the rest of the trip is hot and uncomfortable under the glaring afternoon sun.  That’s why my brother and I always reason out that we should skip the market to reach Pangasinan earlier.  Of course, my mother never listens to that.

Two weeks ago, we went home to Pangasinan again to visit my great-grandmother’s grave.  It’s been a couple of years since we last went home since my great grandmother passed away.  It was a weird feeling to realize that the activity I once hated was now enjoyable.  I found myself pointing to my mom what I wanted her to buy, and with my brother getting annoyed at us both.  Ever since we transferred to Cavite and went to the Silang wet market for our weekly supplies, I’ve learned to love the market as my mother does.  On second thought, I think I only learned to love it when I had to do the market without my mom.  Since my mom needed the rest during the weekends, I was assigned to do it since our house-helpers never quite did a good-enough job.  And so to spare them from the weekly tirades, I was forced into that responsibility.  In the beginning, I too got scolded every time I arrived from the market.  My mother would spot the tiniest hint of un-freshness and rant on with her rules of how to pick a good whatever.  The brocolli was never fresh enough, the carrots were too big, the ampalaya was already ripe, the bananas were not native, the onions were not hard, the chicken was too big, the pork was too tough, etc.  It took a lot of spoiled vegetables, ugly fish and old meat before I finally got the hang of it.  It was actually a very long beginning.  I also never did get her talent for bargaining, and I was always impatient whenever she’d engage into haggling.

Nowadays, I feel the thrill of spotting fresh and rare vegetables and setting up the menu for the entire week.  In fact, if I don’t do the marketing myself, I find myself not in the mood to cook at all.  I still hate haggling though, because I don’t know how to do it and because somehow it feels like taking away the hard-earned profit of the vendor.  But anyway, marketing is very much like shopping too.  You get what you pay for, and it pays to be patient in looking for the best prices.

Finally, what got me writing this today is because this is what’s for dinner: edible cellulose and fermented fish rice! :p~

atsarang labong

ginger | onions | bamboo shoot | vinegar | fish sauce | sugar

burong isda

ginger | tomatoes | buro X)

this is what it looks like when it’s raw

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