Terra Madre Day – Cavite style

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

Everywhere in the world where there is a Slow Food community, Dec. 10 is celebrated as Terra Madre Day. It is a time to commune over heritage food, heirloom recipes and to also display and use some ingredients which may not be so much in use anymore and may even face extinction.

In the Slow Food Cavite community, a group who gathered to “preserve, promote the biodiversity, food heritage and gastronomy in Cavite,” we were pleased with the spread of different dishes prepared by Cavite farmers from lowland, midland and upland parts of this populous province. Though many towns have been converted to modern cities like Tagaytay, many still remain as rural and therefore still practice “slow food” ways in consuming food.

We had a dialogue with farmers who were so elated that the chefs and we the diners got excited over normal fare for them – coconut chutney as a rice topping, nilupak with a hot tomato salsa and a range of kakanins (native snacks) like sapin-sapin, bibingka (rice cake) and tilbok from Magallanes, Cavite which is a purplish rice and coconut treat that’s chewy, rich and good! There is nothing like home cooking, and these farmers brought their specialties, some of which they proudly claim sent their children to school (the tilbok maker takes pride in this).

I, in turn, shared about coffee processing, traceability and the importance of picking only ripe coffee fruits, drying them, not pounding them but having them dehulled properly and gingerly sorting each batch to ensure we get very good Cavite coffee. Most of the upland towns in the province still grow coffee although it has gone down to maybe just 3,000 hectares from a high of about 14,000 in the late 90s as estimated by our PCBI (www.philcoffeeboard.com) director and Cavite native Dr. Alejandro C. Mojica. The ladies, from coffee-growing towns, nodded in agreement and promised to do better in their harvesting ways.

The beautiful congregation was made more special by the presence of another Cavite weekend farmer Loren Legarda, who spoke about waste management and protection of the environment. She shared as well about growing native varieties in her farm and growing her own food, almost. Her farmhand was around to share with us how they managed to train their neighbors in proper waste segregation and how to keep their village free of plastic and other waste products.

The lunch celebration was not a political event. It was a commonfolk affair – everyone just in the right mindset of environment preservation, sampling heirloom Cavite recipes and connecting farmers to chefs and consumers who can now use more of the ingredients we have not heard of for so long. These are alagaw, ayo, alibangbang to name a few. They can be used for sinigang and other stews, instead of instant chicken powders or processed flavoring mixes.

As we jogged their memory of days yore, the farmers started to name recipes, ingredients and processes which can now be documented and preserved and even used again by today’s younger cooks and chefs. That is how we can preserve biodiversity. That is an answer to climate change. Yes, you can connect the dots, and be proud to know the role that food plays in protecting our planet. Where does your food come from? Who grew your food today?

The farmers also told us about their trips to the city for comparative checks with products sold commercially. They lament that these commercial versions have strayed from the original recipes. We explain that sometimes that is needed for today’s commercial business to survive. So it was such a treat to try the original flavors, made at home using only the best ingredients usually found in one’s backyard or in one’s remote village. And this is how these farmers remember their grandmother’s recipes and how they ate well and better in the past.

Another area of interest is the Slow Food Youth network. Cavite’s community invited some students to participate and understand the food of their forefathers, in the hope that this next generation can carry on. They will support the programs for avoiding food waste while they learn of recipes that must be preserved to keep the unique identity of their hometown, Cavite.

I am an adopted daughter of the province, having had a farm for the last 15 years in Amadeo. I have eaten tinola in many versions as this is a chicken dish every farming family cooked for visitors. I have had black coffee served with a lot of sugar served in every home, cooked in a caldero or huge pot and the coffee served using a dipper. That is country-style coffee served in most homes when we started our learning experience back in the early 2000s. Today, we have seen the emergence of little cafés, coffee kiosks and specialty coffee being served in every restaurant in the tourist-rich places like Tagaytay and Silang. After all, Cavite grows a lot of coffee, of the three varieties – Robusta, Excelsa and Liberica (the Barako).

Terra Madre Day comes but once a year, but the farmers and chefs pledged to continue this rediscovery throughout the next 365 days. There will be Earth Markets at a big hotel in Tagaytay for farmers to have a venue for their heirloom recipes. There will be fresh food and Ark of Taste ingredients for those wanting to try an heirloom recipe at home. There will be much to look forward to.

So, next time you visit Cavite, look for the unusual and the extraordinary. Maybe it’s time to discover what Emilio Aguinaldo ate, rather than having the same burgers and fries which are so easy to find in Manila. We look forward to trying coconut chutney and tomato salsa again, Cavite-style.

Thank you, Slow Food Cavite, for coming at a perfect time. The holiday season is a good time to trek to the uplands and try something different. And together with the rest of the world this Dec. 10, let’s celebrate heritage food and protect biodiversity while having fun.

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