At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Saturday, August 02, 2014


A few days ago a friend reminded me of a dish we had eaten several years ago during Eid, asking "eh, you wouldn't happen to have a recipe for tiyula itum, would you?"
Well, it's not truly a genuine recipe, but I can fake it.
I've watched it being made, and helped a bit.

Tiyula itum is a beef or goat soup-stew of Tausug origin from Sulu (Jolo) in the Southern Philippines which is always served at weddings, often also at any other celebration, and not uncommonly after Ramadan. It's most salient characteristic is that it is black - greenish - dark grey in colour, and may seem singularly unappetizing to the novio. The blackness is due to the inclusion of burnt coconut as a flavouring, that being an ingredient unique to the Tausug culinary environment.

[Tiyula: soup, wet stew. Itum: black. Tausug: the dominant ethnicity in the Sulu Archipelago between Zamboanga and Sabah. They are Muslims, their language is distantly of Visayan origin. Jolo: the main Tausug island, and the common name of the main port on that island, which is also called Tiyanggi.]

Many celebrated ethnic dishes tend toward an excess of one or other ingredient, which is how they developed. One naturally thinks of British-style vindaloo, which by the standards of the average Goan is nearly inedible. And rendang from Sumatra or Den Haag is far, far hotter than anything a Malay or Javan might touch.

[Rendang: equal amounts chunked water buffalo and mashed chili, simmered in a vat of coconut milk well-flavoured with lemon grass, turmeric, lengkuas, and ginger, till the moisture is all gone and the meat frazzles in the rendered oil. Once it is a dark brown and waxy in texture under its crust it is done. A little bit goes a long way.]

Tiyula itum is like that. One imagines someone centuries ago saying "I want it toastier", whereupon his friend said "oh boy can I do that!" And within a few iterations, the toasted coconut had become entirely charred, the amount used was upped considerably, and extra chilies had been thrown into the pot for a bit more oomph.
Then they sat down and watched whatever passed for football.
Which in that age may have been more entertaining.
All in all they were very manly.

It has been gentled and improved somewhat since then.
Their wives probably told them to act normal.

To make tiyula itum, meat chunks are rubbed with pamapa, then braised with fried onion and garlic. Turmeric, ginger, and galangal (langkuwas) are added, and after a little bit more simmering, liquid is poured in. It is cooked for ten more minutes and served with rice or ketupat.

[Pamapa: pounded spice; in this case, two cups of charred coconut meat, two to four stalks lemon grass (sae; sereh in Indonesian), and half a dozen cloves garlic, all pounded very fine and mixed with a little oil. Galangal: dwarf ginger, called Lengkuas in Indonesian and Malay, also known as langkuwas and lengkang. Lemon grass and galangal are signature ingredients in a lot of Indonesian and South-East Asian cooking. Ketupat, Katupat: compressed rice; rice cooked in leaf packets, which causes the grains to loose their individuality and become dense.]

Properly made, it will be blue-black, with a faint hint of a greenish hue due to the turmeric.


Two pounds of goat or beef, chunked on the bone.
Two cups of grated coconut.
One onion, chopped.
Three stalks of lemon grass.
Six cloves garlic.
Three inches of ginger.
Three Tsp. turmeric.
One Tsp. galangal powder.
Half Tsp. dried ginger powder (non-standard!).
Half Tsp. ground pepper.
Two to four TBS sambal ulek or Sriracha sauce.
Generous pinch sugar.
Small pinch salt.
Liquid: coconut milk, broth, and water.

Cut the lemon grass into two or three inch long segments.
Bruise them by whacking, which helps release the flavour.

Roast the coconut shreds in an iron skillet till they are a disturbingly dark hue, black even. Then grind this fine, and add two or three tablespoons of cooking oil. Rub this all over the meat, which you have washed very well to remove all traces of blood.

Fry the onion golden, add the garlic and ginger, fry a bit more. Add the meat and lemon grass, cook till very fragrant, four or five minutes. Add the powdered spices and sugar, plus the sambal or Sriracha sauce, stir to distribute over heat. Let it gently seethe on low for a few minutes, stir to prevent it scorching.

Add the liquid -- about two cups each of water, broth, and coconut milk -- and raise to a boil. Turn low, and simmer for about ten minutes.
Some whole red chilies can be thrown on top.
It can eaten as soup, or served alongside rice.

Coconut milk is not necessary, and often left out. The amount of liquid is variable, and depends on your own preference. If you are making it soupy, increase the quantity of charred coconut, spices, and chili.
If more stewy, decrease.

In the traditional recipe, chunks of fresh coconut meat are charred over flames till they are easy to pound. That is rather hard to manage here, so instead I utilize shredded coconut, precisely like what is commonly made into serundeng.

Note that turmeric and galangal are used fresh in South-East Asia, but are hard to find in anything other than powdered form in the West. They will consequently taste a little different when added. Fresh chili pepper leaves (daon lara) are sometimes thrown in; these will have a slightly bitter taste. Chopped tomato can also be included for flavour, but is not, strictly speaking, traditional. Regarding the dried ginger, I tend to employ that with galangal for a slightly broader gingery influence.
You could also add a little temo kuntji.

Other dishes you might wish to serve if you have a lot of people coming over are kulma (korma), piyanggang manok, satti (saté), and sambal.
Plus suwan suwan: fried fish in a coconut sauce with vegetables.
Djuwalan (pisang goreng) as a sweet.

Also serve plenty of cooked vegetables (sayul-sayul).

Not really festive, but good for the digestion.

It isn't a proper feast without paliya.

That may be my own peculiarity.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

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