Every weekend morning, I am always in the wait for the food I will eat for breakfast. In those moments of annoying hunger, they remind of Negrénse delicacies I miss so much. Oftentimes, if resources allow, I would cook some of those dishes I miss but one problem that often gets on the way is that these delicacies are rare. Negrénse or Ilonggo food for that matter is a play of flavors ranging from sour, sweet or mildly spicy. Perhaps this is because of the prevailing type of plants growing in Negros Island. The forested areas of Negros sports the most diverse kinds of spices or sour fruits that give a distinct flavors to Negrénse food. It has been known that wild boars caught from the forest of La Carlota or wild chicken commonly known as bisaya ng manok burts in to flavor because of their diet consisting of these spices. My parents or my titas would ask anyone coming to Manila from Bacolod to bring things like ubad sang saging (banana core) and tanglad (lemongrass) that I mentioned in my previous blog, the famed batwan, or bangkiling. Because of their flavor enhancing qualities, they constitute a vital ingredient in Negrénse cuisine but the only problem is that they are rare in Metro Manila and seldom appear in Cubao or Market-Market.
Batwan for example is commonly used to give flavor to cansi or for its sourness in tinula nga manok o isda (broiled chicken or fish). This fruit grows on a tall forest tree and bears a dark green fruit when mature. The baboy ramo (Visayan warty pig) is known to have a rich flavor because it has a diet of fallen batwan that is abudant in the forests of Negros. It is known that some houses of hacienderos grow two of these trees in their backyard for their consumption. As I have read from another blogger, this is a superstition that is attached to batwan. Because of its rich sour flavor, it is often attached to the phenomena of abudance and sourness of life. Primarily, they are grown in two’s to facilitate faster flowering and fruit bearing. Some Negrénse houses in Manila especially in Forbes or Ayala Alabang are characterized with these kinds of trees for their own consumption of Negrénse dishes. According to my Mom, they would usually buy candied ones near their school for their recess break or wash some fresh ones to eat with coarse rock salt. Batwan goes well with sinigang that sometimes, sinigang made from iba or kamias would just be dismissed as a weird sort of concoction. Speaking of iba, I have made a perfect concoction of kamias juice when I was young, slightly sour, alcoholic but sweet when mixed with muscovado. Even with its abundance in Manila, it is often a rare commodity that can only be found seasonal and peddle by business-minded vendors that are often Negrénse or Ilonggo. This fruit would often be on the list of must-brings that my tita would ask from me when I spend a week in my hometown.
Bangkiling on the other hand is another kind of sour fruit that has the resemblance of some cross between green baby tomatoes and grapes. Like batwan, bangkiling is abundant in the foothills of Mt. Kanlaon or the forested areas of Negros. Game birds found in Negros or again, the baboy ramo, has this fruit as one of their staple. Though I heard this also grows in Ilocano-speaking areas or the house of Negrénse descendants in Batangas, I rather find this rare as well in Metro Manila mercados or wet markets. Though sour, I experienced eating this because it has a soft consistency. The flavor that comes close to this is kamias but bangkiling has a more pronounced sour flavor that is often candied as well or eaten as is with coarse rock salt. Though can be used in sinigang like kamias, bangkiling is often used in paksiw (vinger-cooked) to enhance flavor. I have chanced upon paksiw nga tulingan (vinger-cooked jack tuna) cooked with bangkiling instead of the Batangueño dried kamias. As some Negrénse have told me, this is also good with paksiw nga lukon (vinegar-cooked prawns). This tree is most memorable to me because my mother’s tiyays (aunts) has this abundant in their house in Victorias City, Negros Occidental that is situated beside an elevated portion of the riverside. My fiesta experience in Victorias City would not be complete without picking this fruit either to eat or just play with. As I have discovered, I can also concoct a flavorful juice blend from a mix of Japanese guava juice, kalamunding (calamansi) juice and of course the extracts of bangkiling mixed with muscovado or cane juice. If I would be given a chance to visit my Mom’s tiyays in Victorias City or the organic market in the foothills of Mt. Kanlaon, I would not hesitate to bring some back to Manila.
It is a shame that I can only enjoy some of these native ingredients in Bacolod City. There are days that I wish they would become abundant in Manila as a bulong sa hidlaw (cure for homesickness) which my fellow Negrénses could attest. I have heard that ECJ Farms owned by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco in Pontevedra produce some batwan but fruits like bangkiling can only be found abundant in the mercados of Bacolod and overflowing in the tiempo tienda (market day) of nearby towns. ECJ farms unfortunately markets batwan as a puree instead of the whole fruit form as much to my dismay. Negrénse organic products include batwan and bangkiling in the list of organic produce. I just hope that the Province of Negros Occidental would empower farmer’s cooperatives to grow fruits like these to raise much of these to sell in Manila. With the growing number of Negrénses and our kasimanwa Ilonggos here in Manila, this would be a big hit. If I have the chance to plant a sizeable farm, I would surely have these two together with lemongrass as an option to cultivate. I hope I’d chance upon some of these in the upcoming Negros Trade Fair in Rockwell.