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More tales from our ‘Mula’

By CLAUDE TAYAG, The Philippine STAR Published Feb 17, 2022 5:00 am

My column last week on the Kapampangan mula elicited so many comments from several kabalen (province-mates) living here and abroad. Not only did they have similar experiences as kids, growing up in their respective grandparents’ mula, but also they were all pining for the same dishes I had as a child.

But, the best comment, which I received through e-mail, was from eminent food historian Felice Sta. Maria: “It is a well-written recollection, Claude. I love the way you mention the feeding of children. It is the combination of rice, viand and broth that we learn to enjoy while young. It is the Filipino way. Love you for writing about it and your whole family experience.

Within sight of the Kapampangan open kitchen is the mula, or a flower and vegetable garden.

“What comes to mind from food history is that your mula was strengthened by the grid-iron city planning of the Spanish when the old barangays were demolished and residents were moved under the bells.

The queen of Balé Dutung, Mary Ann, eyeing the Golden Queen mango fruits (origin: Taiwan) that can grow to more than a kilo each. Best eaten while green, with a firm and crunchy texture, it’s more sweetish than sour in taste.

“The personal garden was important to the Spanish food security and tribute system. There were ordinances sometimes with the King’s approval, other times the Governor-General’s. What to plant in the garden was specified, at times under penalty of fine or lashes. Domestication of pigs and chickens was also ordered, both for family or community food self-sufficiency and in order to pay tribute to the King and to the church/parish.”

The Indian mango variety, which is small, roundish in shape, slightly tart, and best eaten while still green with its firm, fibrous flesh. When in season, it is a popular street food served with a slathering of savory, spicy bagoong (shrimp paste). The mango fruit is rich in vitamin C, minerals, antioxidants and high in fiber. Mangoes originated from the Indian sub-continent and spread gradually throughout Asia, including the Philippines. It was during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1575-1825) that it was introduced to Mexico and the rest of Central and northern South America.
A nation’s cuisine is shaped not only by its landscape, with all its regional climate and topography, religious and historical laws, but also by economic and political conditions that regulate production and trade of such.

I thank Felice not only for her heartwarming and encouraging words, but more importantly, for shedding light on the mula from a historical perspective. It’s no wonder every town and province under the shackles of the Spaniards, and then the Americans, had the same setup.

Sampalok (Tamarindus indica, tamarind) is a good source of fiber, vitamins B and C, as well as magnesium and potassium. In Filipino cuisine, the unripe, tart fruit and young leaves are used to make sinigang and sinampalukang manok soups, while the sweet ripe ones are eaten as is, or made into candies. If backyard space is tight where you live, try growing a dwarf tamarind variety in a large clay pot, even in a terrace or balcony in a condominium.

Speaking of the Americans during the Commonwealth period, Felice published a paper, “Food Literacy in Adult Education of the Philippine Commonwealth, 1937-1945,” in The Journal of History, Vol. LXVI (Jan-Dec 2020) pages 301-350.

Kamias (Averrhoa bilimbi) has a zesty and mouth-puckering acidic taste, making it the most popular ingredient in making the sour sinigang soup. Its prolificacy makes it easily available and inexpensive, bearing fruits twice a year. The fruits literally cling around its main trunk and branches, even as a young tree. It has significant amounts of vitamins B and C, calcium, phosphorus and iron. It can be made into a refreshing drink mixed with crushed ice and brown sugar.

She wrote: “The Americans encouraged home gardening in the 1930s, not only to stabilize the food supply and to use excess harvest for home enterprises, but also to prepare for the impending World War 2.

Malunggay (Moringa oleifera, or drumstick tree due to its long, slender seed pods). This commonplace Pinoy backyard staple has been dubbed in recent years as the world’s wonder food. Most of its parts are edible: leaves, stalks and stems; young and mature drumstick seedpods; fragrant flowers; and the young seeds and roots. Moringa has the potential to improve nutrition in developing countries, as well as boost food security, foster rural development, and support sustainable land care. In Filipino cooking, the leaves are added to tinola, munggo, suam na mais (corn chowder), or just about any clear broth-based soup.

The rural enhancement effort encouraged having a front ornamental garden made of flowering plants, and then at the back the kitchen garden. For backside fencing, the following were recommended: madre de cacao or kakawati (multi-purpose herbal treatment, effective as antiseptic and anti-parasitic properties), as well as malunggay and katuray, which were considered good veggies. Same fencing was also recommended for schools.”

Papaya (Carica papaya) is a tropical, succulent, evergreen tree that bears fruits year-round. Its fruit contains high levels of antioxidants, as well as vitamins A, C and E. In Pinoy cooking, the unripe fruit is used in making tinolang manok, ukoy (fritters) and lumpiang sariwa (fresh rolls), while in its manibalang or half-ripe stage, it is eaten as a snack dipped in spiced vinegar (Kapampangan sisig kapaya). The ripe stage is known to flush out toxins from one’s body (being a laxative), as well as lower bad cholesterol and prevent heart disease. It is also known as a natural meat tenderizer. Puree ripe or unripe papaya, spread it over the meat and keep it refrigerated for at least three hours. Scrape off the puree before cooking the meat.

As for home kitchen gardens, Felice wrote further: “Sinkamas (jicama), eggplants, sigarillas (winged beans), peanuts, bataw (hyacinth beans), patani (lima beans), kundol (winter melon), patola (Luffa gourd), upo (bottle gourd), squash, radish, mustasa (mustard green), white onion, tomato, garlic, ginger and sesame.

Bayabas (Psidium guajava, guava) is an evergreen tropical tree, native to Mexico, the Caribbean and northern South America. It was brought into our country during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1575-1825). The small round fruits are made into jams, or to make the Four Seasons drink, as well as savory sinigang sa bayabas soup, called bulanglang in Pampanga. Its leaves, however, when boiled into a tea, has plenty of medicinal uses: stopping diarrhea and other intestinal disorders, reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels, antioxidant, cure for acne and improving skin health. The boiled leaves are used to cover wounds, making the healing faster.

“Imported veggies were also promoted for home and commercial gardening like cabbage, cauliflower, sayote (chayote), and several varieties of onions and tomatoes. Root crops like ube, arrowroot, sweet potato, taro, and cassava were also promoted and were planted in large-scale farming.”

Avocado (Persea americana) is a tree native to the highland regions of south-central Mexico to Guatemala. Its pear-shaped fruit has a rich, buttery flesh when ripe. It comes in different varieties with green, brown, purplish, or black skin when ripe, and may be pear-shaped, egg-shaped, or spherical. In Mexican and western cuisine, it is considered a vegetable. It is the main ingredient in making guacamole, the indispensable Mexican taco dip, or used in savory salads, soups and sandwiches. Meanwhile, in Pinoy cuisine, avocado is more popularly treated as a fruit; hence, it is used in making milkshakes, ice cream and other desserts. It is rich in fat, vitamins B, C, E, and potassium.

Thus, a nation’s cuisine is shaped not only by its landscape, with all its regional climate and topography, religious and historical laws, but also by economic and political conditions that regulate production and trade of such. A regional/national cuisine is the sum total of its history.

By the way, our aunt, Imang Esmie Suarez, whom I mentioned in my column last week, though busy with paperwork even on weekends as a school principal, nevertheless took care of bathing and tucking us four tykes aged 3 to 6 years old into bed. Just imagine the smell of dried sweat and grime on our necklines, having played outdoors the whole day. That in itself was no easy task for anybody. God bless her soul, as well as our Tatang Geni, our three grandaunts, brother Bam and cousin Nico. Their memories are etched in the meals I have shared with them.