Forget specialty restaurants overseas and take a break from the doldrums of imperial Manila
In terms of exotic foods, San Pablo is it. The Ibanags here, like their brothers in all Ibanag speaking towns in Cagayan Valley, will never run out of food, abundantly provided by the Greatest Social Worker. Majority of these foods, gathered from the wild can challenge cuisine luminaries in the world from the Mekong Delta to the waterways of Venice.
In fact, residents of San Pablo have been into gathering and cooking these foods served in high-end restaurants. As a true-blue Ibanag myself, I have the same taste buds as those of the majority of San Pablo residents. Consider the offerings: insects ( ganta, asimmawa and abalin) and reptiles (freshwater turtle, frogs and salamander). In addition you can add wild pig and Philippine deer.
To the uninitiated, he can never challenge the palate of the Ibanags of San Pablo when it comes to cooking and eating these foods they gather from the wilds in large quantities during its season seasons. For the ordinary foreign tourist, exotic yet nutritious foods are gastronomic wonders. Well, they tried and enjoyed them after initially repulsed by the physical looks of the items.
They surrendered to its aroma. I remember a British writer friend who told me that the Ibanags are fond of eating grass when he first tasted the adobong rabong and the fried swamp cabbage (Ibanag, balangak). He enjoyed it very much.
On the eastern barangays of San Pablo, residents in barangays like San Vicente (formerly Tupa) are luckier they still enjoy the juicy taste of wild boars and the deers which they hunt inside the deepest part of the forest. Thoughts of Mt. Los Dos Cuernos and Mt. Cetaceo! Its meat when it reached down town can be fetch at a very high price because of its rarity.
In fact, the best way to enjoy the two treasures of the forest is to eat them in its tapa (dried) form.
Forget Vietnam, India or elsewhere. In San Pablo, its grasshopper time few days before corn harvest. Caught in the evening, the juveniles are preferred as the Ibanag believes they are juicier and tastier than the young adults. The wings and lower legs are removed and wash before cooking. There are many ways to cook the insect but the best way is with garlic, salt and a little soy sauce for color.
It is considered done when it turn blackish brown and should be served after a few minutes. It is better to eat them when cooled. As with the grasshopper, the edible farm beetle is caught in the cornfields, tobacco fields or open area in the fields most especially after a rain. Reason? They can’t fly. There are so many cultural practices in the gathering of this insect but that would be another story altogether.
I got my greatest taste of the beetle from a high school teacher of San Pablo. He did it the crunchiest way possible and we took it like fried peanuts shooting it one after the other in our mouth. Among all insects known to the Ibanag, the choice of drinkers during its season is the abalin, the larvae of another species of beetle. It is cooked with lots of garlic and a little salt to taste.
Then, there’s the edible frog, a real exotic food among Asians. Along the national highway, frogs alongside native chickens, freshwater turtles, carabao or cow’s milk and the Philippine salamander (Ybanag, silay; Ilocano, banyas). There are reports that freshwater titles and salamander are endangered or threatened but the government seems to be looking at the other side. Good for the Ibanags. Good for the economy or are they?
The bad news is that nowhere in Cagayan Valley is there a specialty restaurant for all these bounties. It’s the same reason that at times, travel writers like me have second thoughts of promoting them. Truth hurts. Unless historic San Pablo will lead the way to finally promote such exotic foods along its national highways through a LGU-run restaurant.In th meantime, let me sample the freshwater shells of San Pablo like agurung, basikul and the liddak. (ALM/Benjie S. De Yro/PIA-2)