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Honoring the DGF Food Writing winners

By ALFRED A. YUSON, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 19, 2021 5:00 am

The 2019 and 2020 winners of the Doreen G. Fernandez Food Writing Awards were honored via recorded video last Saturday, April 17, as part of the Food Writers Association of the Philippines’ observance of Filipino Food Month. The awarding was aired at 5 p.m. on the Filipino Food Month page and the Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award page on Facebook. 

Nana Ozaeta of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement introduced FWAP president and 2020 DGF awards chair Micky Fenix. 2019 DGF awards chair Marily Orosa then announced the 2019 winners for the contest theme of Fish:

  • Foreign-based Filipino-American journalist Jennifer Fergesen won the first prize for “Migratory Species — The Filipina fish processors of the Faroe Islands”
  • Second-prize winner was UP Visayas-Miagao teacher Marie Joy Rosal Sumagaysay for “Siirup and the Sea Breeze”
  • Jennifer Fergesen also won the third prize for her “Dalagang Bukid: The Mountain Maiden of the Seas”

Awarded Honorable Mentions were:

  • \Recipe book author Edelwisa Roman Gonzaga for “The Ichtus in Talibubu”
  • MFA degree in Creative Writing student Samuel Evardone for “Sarciadong Aquarium” and
  • Film Development Council of the Philippines senior editor Rosy Mina for “What’s in a name? When Philippine fishes go by reduplications”
  2020 Doreen G. Fernandez Food Writing Awards first-prize winner Kaye Leah Cacho-Sitchon of Baguio City

The judges for both years’ contests included three veterans: multi-awarded author, food historian and cultural worker Felice Sta. Maria (also a FWAP director), home cook and president of an asset management group, Mol Fernando, and this writer. New blood was added in 2019 in the persons of writer-editor Nana Ozaeta and writer and chef Datu Shariff Pendatun III.

The 2020 winners (on the subject of Livestock) were announced by Micky Fenix:

  • Kaye Leah Cacho-Sitchon, a Communications instructor at Saint Louis University, Baguio City, won first prize for “Sinanglaw for Breakfast”
  • Jeanne Rebollido Jacob-Ashkenazi, a resident of Valencia, Spain who has authored reference books on international and Japanese food history and culture, won second and third prizes for “Bile: More Than Just an Unlikely Condiment” and “Welcoming the Goat to our Tables”

Honorable Mention winners were:

  • The Philippine STAR columnist and Kamuning Bakery Café proprietor Wilson Lee Flores for “A literature teacher’s ‘magical’ kitchenette and her unforgettable Pata Tim, Adobo”
  • Rosy Mina for “Are You What You Eat? Raw Definitions, Refined Tastes,” and
  • UP Bachelor of Arts in Language and Literature graduate and current California resident Shulamite Maiden Pormentira for “The Bitter, The Better”

Besides teaching, 2020 first-prize winner Kaye Leah Cacho-Sitchon is a freelance content writer and copy editor for Pilipinas Popcorn, Linkage Web Development, and other websites. Here’s sharing her winning essay:

Sinanglaw for Breakfast

Growing up, I’d spend a lot of time during the summer at my grandmother’s karinderya in San Fernando, La Union. It was a quaint shop in between homes of neighboring families, across the Lion’s Park, behind the Town Plaza’s majestic treehouse. Employees from the city hall and passers-by would get a quick meal there at any time of the day. The menu changes daily, but there were staples I’d call Mercedes’ Classics: sinigang na boogie, adobong baboy at pusit, tokak (frog) either fried or as a tomato and coconut stew, dinengdeng, dinuguan, inbaliktad, lumo, iggado, dinakdakan, silet, and of course, sinanglaw. Once the karinderya opens at 7 a.m., locals would order bowls of the assorted beef meat soup for breakfast. I was intrigued by this and I had to experience why. 

Since the locals know that livestock is butchered at dawn, they enjoy that bowl of sinanglaw in the morning, when meat is at its freshest. As a nine-year-old, I learned this, as I’d tag along with my grandmother during market day.

My first bowl of sinanglaw was confusing and comforting. That mouthful awakened the in-betweens of my taste buds I never knew existed. The odd chewy and slimy textures from cheap cuts, ox blood, tuwalya (tripe), cow fat, intestines and gummy sticky skin, teased my teeth and tongue, but it was the broth that made the dish easier to deal with. In one bowl, I felt the relationship between saltiness, spiciness and sourness that gets mellowed down by the bitter-sweetness of diluted bile. This delicious confusion was as comforting to me then as it is now. 

That pait or bitterness from bile is home to the Ilocano palate. Edilberto N. Alegre, in his book, Kinilaw, exquisitely explains how distinct this flavor profile is. Pait is a dominant but not a singular taste in Ilocano cuisine, he says. “It has a basic layer of sweetness: after the initial invasion of pait on the tongue’s surface comes a quiet lap of sweetness. One does not taste the bitter and the sweet at the same instant; rather, it is the longer-lasting spread and overspread of bitterness first, then the brief underlay finishing of sweetness. Thus, papait must be fresh.”

Since the locals know that livestock is butchered at dawn, they enjoy that bowl of sinanglaw in the morning, when meat is at its freshest. As a nine-year-old, I learned this, as I’d tag along with my grandmother during market day.

After buying the freshest ingredients, we’d go back to the kitchen where my uncle was waiting to turn cow innards into the day’s breakfast. First, he’d clean the innards thoroughly, taking off all undesirable liquids and nasty bits. The meat is then sliced into tiny pieces, becoming indistinguishable from what they previously were. Pots are heated up over a blasting fire, then the oil goes in. Ginger and onion are sautéed, followed by the innards. Everything gets tossed together by a large cooking spoon, with each long push forward and quick flip backwards. The meat is seasoned with salt, pepper and vetsin, and browned until its oils have let out. After that, with the heat lowered, water is added and the meat left to simmer. In the last two minutes, fresh bile is sieved into the boiling pot, and kamias is added for flavor. Soon, that encouraging hot, clear broth with beef bits is poured onto bowls for the regulars waiting for the first meal of the day. It was urgent for the day’s toil.

Sinanglaw for breakfast is an assurance that the day will go well for each one who partakes of it. Its bitter taste speaks of the Ilocano’s source of strength and is reminiscent of the local’s daily life. As farmers, fishermen, and livestock raisers, the fresh start begins before the first light, already toiling, bitter as it feels. Then, when they’ve finished their tasks just after dawn, they’d have that sweet comforting bowl of sinanglaw. In the busier town center, there is some similarity in experience. Early in the day, they get to enjoy some sweetness over a bowl of sinanglaw, a time of quiet before the daily grind’s bitter bile. Every day is always bittersweet. 

I’d cook a pot of sinanglaw to remember how important the dish is as an Ilocana — then Sinanglaw-bookmark that page when I learned how cooking food in the kitchen that nourishes and encourages can make make bitter days a lot sweeter and bearable. Luisa Igloria’s poem “Pinapaitan” is precise for this sentiment:

“… that one olive-/ shaded sac you’ll puncture/ those bitter drops to scatter/ like benediction over the soup:/ May you live with this aftertaste/ of metal, with this glint of iron/ and the sharpness of bile. Dissolving,/ let the wound make bearable/ every taste that follows after.”