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Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

A short history of the "Sikwate"

The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — Chocolate is more ingrained in the Filipino culture than we commonly know. In fact, if we look at the history of cacao cultivation in Asia, Filipinos are its pioneers. You like that “puto manga” and “sikwate”? This Cebuano breakfast staple goes a long way back… more than 300 years ago.

 

Cacao was originally from Central America. Its coming to the country began with a journey across the Pacific Ocean in the 17th century that took months to complete. One of the first mentions of cacao in Philippine accounts is by an Augustinian monk named Fr. Casimiro Diaz. He said that a cutting of the plant brought in from Acapulco was taken from Laguna to Camarines in 1670. The cutting was given to another priest named Fr. Bartolome Bravo.

Then, an account said, a man from Lipa, Batangas, named Juan del Aguila stole the plant from Bravo and began cultivating it. This is supposed to have been the beginning of the plant’s cultivation in the Philippines. So, should we be grateful to a thief?

Another account puts the arrival of the plant in the Philippines to an earlier date, around 1663. The year was when Diego de Salcedo took office as governor-general of the Philippines, and he was the one who first expressed interest in bringing the plant to the islands. A Recollect monk named Juan de la Concepcion wrote that cacao was first planted in Carigara, Leyte. This was supported by the chronicle of another priest named Fr. Manuel Blanco who wrote and drew sketches for “Flora en Filipinas” (Plants in the Philippines).

Therefore, while we can’t pinpoint exactly what year and place cacao was first cultivated here, we, more or less, have the knowledge that its cultivation in Luzon and the Visayas started at around the same period.

By the 1800s cacao was found all over the islands and was “most numerous in the islands of Negros, Leyte and Cebu.” Buzeta and Bravo wrote that at this point in time, those grown in Cebu were superior and comparable to the Caracas variety. Also in the late 19th century, another chronicler praised the Cebuano cacao and compared it to its Colombian counterpart.

Cebuano towns well-known for their cacao growing traditions are Argao and Balamban. In fact, until today, one can still find cacao orchards in these towns and in others in the province. Hot chocolate also remains a staple in Cebuano breakfast or “merienda cena” (painit sa hapon).

The term “sikwate” is a pidginized form of the Spanish “chocolate.” The change in pronunciation is interesting as it implies ownership. By saying that it’s “sikwate” and not chocolate, Cebuanos are in a way saying that it has become fully theirs. Then, there is also that word “ispiso,” which Cebuanos use to refer to the thick texture of the drink. It is a re-working of the word “espresso,” which connotes purity or high-concentration of coffee or chocolate. In Cebuano cuisine, the more “ispiso” the “sikwate” is, the more delicious.

“Sikwate” is commonly associated with high-blood pressure and heart disease. But some recent studies show that it has substances that help clear out bad cholesterol from veins and arteries. Why have people come to look at “sikwate” with suspicion? Some experts, who study Filipino diet, believe that it’s what is mixed or paired with “sikwate” that makes people ill. As people love their “sikwate” sweet, sugar could be one contributing factor. The other one is the salty dried fish that people love to pair with the “sikwate”; the sodium content of dried fish aggravates the condition of people suffering from high blood pressure or heart ailments. It might help, therefore, to drink “sikwate” without the sugar and dried fish! - Florencio A Moreño II, Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.

CEBUANO BREAKFAST

SIKWATE

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