Sunday Lifestyle

Much ado about ube

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE - Jim Paredes - The Philippine Star

I was invited by Air Asia Philippines and the local tourism board of Bohol to come and celebrate the 2017 Ubi Festival in Tagbilaran last weekend. If you are wondering what ubi is, it is the Boholano spelling for what we in Luzon refer to as ube, the common purple yam that we Filipinos love to eat.

Once a humble tuber, ube (or ubi) is now made into jam, ice cream, halo-halo, donut, cake, puto and candy and has become part of the dessert menu and snacks of every Filipino.  I love ube. Every time I go to Baguio, I make sure to drop by the Good Shepherd Convent to get a few jars of their famous ube jam. I know many people who do the same. This has become a must-do when in Baguio.

Boholanos are very big on ubi. They speak of it with pride, fondness, familiarity and great respect for this tuber. Ube can be found in many places in the Philippines, but we were told that the best varieties come from Bohol. San Miguel Corporation buys its ube exclusively from there. The ube jam we buy from Good Shepherd in Baguio is also made from ube harvested in Bohol. The most delicious variety is locally called kinampay.

Our tour guides told us about the importance and significance of ube to Boholanos. During tough times in their history when people had to leave their homes due to pirate attacks, or when the province was struck with famine or was invaded by foreign forces, the only food that sustained them was this purple yam. It was what saved them from hunger during World War II.

 There are traditions that Boholanos practice in relation to ube. One is, when you accidentally drop the yam, you must kiss it when you pick it up. Otherwise, it will rot or ripen too fast.  Ube to the Boholanos is more than just comfort food. They have a reverential connection to it based, in large part, on gratitude. The bond between the Boholano and his ubi is basic and strong. It was forged under tough conditions and is, therefore, practically sacred.

This year marked the 17th that Bohol has held the festival. Last year, a contest was held among hotels and restaurants to see who could utilize and incorporate ubi into their menus. Bellevue Hotel won.

 At dinner in the wonderful Amorita Hotel where we stayed, the chef blended ubi into the meal seamlessly and naturally. We had soft bread rolls, fried ubi prawn puff with Hoisin barbecue sauce, purple yam and shiitake mushrooms, purple yam museline with ginger sweet soy reduction, along with other mouth-watering dishes such as pickled cabbage salad, pork soup, and surf and turf (composed of aged Australian rib-eye, yakiniku with soy glazed shrimp mushroom, prawn tempura on sesame bok choi). For dessert, we had yummy ube lava cake. It was a meal to remember.At the city’s main park were booths set up by sellers from different parts of Bohol showing the many qualities of the purple yam. The yearly effort is to celebrate and institutionalize the province’s respect for their No. 1 crop. Every year, the festivities seem to get bigger.

 I have been to Bohol many times and I have enjoyed its beaches, hotels and the hospitality of its people, but this is the first time I’d heard of this province’s passion for the ube yam. It is quite fascinating, even from a historical and cultural point of view. Witnessing a grateful people pay tribute to this once humble tuber made this visit a unique surprise and a gastronomic delight.



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