Filipineses


What goes into guinataang halo-halo or bilo-bilo? (Peregrine Notes at Business Mirror Philippines)

guinataang bilo-bilo with ube jam in Manhattan

Within minutes, my friend and I had kneaded and rolled and set aside about two dozens of marble-smooth bilo-bilo. On separate bowls, sweet yam (kamote), plantain (saba), jackfruit (canned) and tapioca pearls (sago) lie in wait. Coconut milk is poured into a stew pot; when it rises to a boil, the tapioca pearls and yam slide first, the plantain and jackfruit next, and the bilo-bilo last and let boil until afloat. Our guinataan would be done in 10 minutes.

No special occasion, really. She would take a few spoonfuls at a time for dessert or as second breakfast; I like it mixed with my fruits, cereal and wheat bran. Cold guinataan for breakfast is hardly a Filipino ideal—a skewed image even.

Consider sounds afloat with it—no crowing roosters, yelping dogs, squalling children, high-pitched mother’s calls for missing kids, and vroooming diesel-driven tricycles, screeching on dirt paths. Flowing with the steady air, instead, is just a kind of distant roaring like the sea, an occasional scream of sirens on a 911 call, the timed grating of steel to steel on subway tracks, and a crowd rising in a chorus with each move of Tiger Woods’ or Rory McIlroy’s in the Ryder Cup championship on the golf channel, this typical Manhattan Sunday morning.

None of that would enhance the precious taste of guinataan with whiffs of home except, perhaps, on a wall in the apartment like here, a tiny oil painting of nipa hut idyll picked up years ago from a side street on Session Road in Baguio, and a doll in pink Maria Clara gown tucked in a luggage some forgotten-return-trips ago now propped up beside the TV.

If I were to complete the atmosphere with an outside view, I’d rather trace our way back through the network of streets where like a pilgrimage to that patch of Asia in NY’s Chinatown, we braided our way to get to the shelf for each ingredient of the bilo-bilo, aiming with arrow-like focus. For without blinders, we would get snagged in a paradise of robust salmon heads, as well as hill-sized mounds of pea tips (that makes talbos-ng-camote-like salad), radish as round as my arm that would be perfect for sinigang, and crisp bak choy (pechay) for greens to top it with.

Our first stop would have to be Mulberry St. closest from where we get off the N train on Canal and Broadway and head straight to a grocery for malagkit; for the right texture, it has to be a bag from Thailand. And on to the blinding walls of Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester and Elizabeth through tunnels of shelf stacked with soy sauce in a dozen brands, including Datu Puti, and noodles as familiar as Nissin, we get to the canned preserves for langka and coconut milk, and lastly along an aisle for miscellaneous ingredients that include sago—all from Thailand. The Chinatown trip would have completed two other trips we would have had a few days before to a Korean produce store for kamote and a Spanish grocery for saba, both on the Upper West Side.

None of this is exclusive, of course. Cravings for the taste, flavor and aroma of food from home have built communities, it turns out, across hemispheres. Most ubiquitous in capital cities is Chinatown though Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian food products have ballooned Asian markets, and where, once in a while, Filipino goods rivet a longing eye.

But as our search for perfect guinataan taste demonstrates, we cross yards, too, with Hispanics, whose neighborhoods have swarmed here in New York, and not only for saba but also for chicharon, called cuchifritos made exactly like our lechon kawali. Once while crossing Lexington and 116th St. in Harlem, I stopped agape at a corner sidewalk umbrella-stand for this scene: The tiny Mexican woman was scooping a whitish drink from a small transparent barrel into a plastic cup, a gesture that transported me to Manila streets or highways toward Laguna where we would stop for ‘sa malamig’.

If our ‘pilgrimage’ to Chinatown for guinataan is a bit extreme, consider how a group of Filipino friends drove from New York to Toronto for a bag of Laguna lanzones, and occasionally drive or take the Path Train to New Jersey for Max’s chicken, with some Manhattanites leaping regularly across the East River to Jackson Heights in Queens for lunch either at Josephine’s or Barrio Fiesta.

Beyond bodily nourishment, as I now realize, food that has formed a distinct taste, aroma, flavor and even color and texture in us, turns out to be an invisible driving force in our lives, and migrations have enhanced it. I think, culture as label does not quite cover the essence of this invisible force. Seeing how Chinatown and other community markets draw daily crowds like furious bees, and how one feels elated with but the sight and smell of home, it’s easy to imagine how tasting some could heal. Exile often descends in thick fumes of cold grey longings that an aroma rising from crevices of forcedly forgotten memories could dissipate—a bowl of guinataang bilo-bilo, for one.

Copyright by Alegria Imperial for Peregrine Notes, Business Mirror Philippines, Oct, 21

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great read. I’m looking forward to cheking out more comments later.

Comment by Jaime

Thanks for oyour comment and for coming by, Jaime. I do have a commentary on the elections, which came out last Sunday in Business Mirror But I had chosen to be less relevant here though maybe I could post it here tomorrow. Thanks again.

Comment by filipineses09




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