Thursday, August 18, 2011


Batangueños are, on the whole, rather proud of their province. And there is much to be fairly chuffed about - coffee, cattle, Christianity.
The coffee is not at all bad.
Their beef can be good.
As for the Christianity....... opinions differ a bit.

And although their version of Tagalog is purer than Manileño Tagalog by far, it's a bit weird hearing 'eh' after everything.
That's rather Canadian, eh.

Locals point out the national dress shirt ('barong Tagalog') is made with pineapple-leaf fibre from their province, where it actually originated, and they boast about their alcoholic beverages. At times they will also speak of the butterfly knife (balisong), which was invented here, and without which no Batangueño feels fully able to go out in public.

"Eat our fish! And labong cooked in gata!"

One thing that they almost never mention is tikwe.
Which is odd, because that, along with coco jam and Tabacalera cigars, made the biggest oral impression on me.
Batangas produces the ingredients for the first two, and along with several other regions grows some of the contents for the last one.

[Tabacalera is a brand of cigars made by La Flor de la Isabela (as are also 'Don Juan Urquijo', '1881', 'Alhambra' and 'Calixto Lopez'). La Flor is the heir of Compania General de la Tabacos de Filipinas, founded in 1881. Most of the best cigar leaf is grown in Isabella in North-East Luzon. The two best known brands are Alhambra and Tabacalera. Both are hand-made products that are easy to like, reminiscent of Java and Sumatra leaf.]

Tikwe: Sticky rice flour, coconut milk, molasses. Mixed gloopy, then slow cooked to a fudge-like consistency, cut, and cooled. Very simple. Depending on the proportions, it can be sticky, waxy and rich, or soft and chewy.
Halfway between biko (Filipino glutinous rice cake made with whole grains) and dudol (Indonesian glutinous rice taffy).

Batangas is one of the main sugar areas of the Philippines, with azucaleras established there centuries ago. Consequently there is a wide range of sweets made locally, many of them variations on the ingredients listed above. Rice flour, coconut milk, molasses.

Coco jam, which is nice on toasted pan de leche, is also made here.
Both tikwe and pan de leche con coco jam are good with Batangas coffee. Not quite the breakfast of champions, but an excellent basis for the first cigar of the day.

Tikwe. Coffee. Cigars. Rain.

I did not spend very much time in Batangas. While it is a beautiful part of the Philippines, with a number of scenic sights and historic places, it can be a bit unsafe. This is where the revolution against the Spanish started, and where the last general to fight the American invaders kept up the struggle (till 1902). Like any area with a colonial cash-crop economy, especially if sugar and tobacco are part of the equation, the province has produced both poverty and rebelliousness.
The NPA are still active in Batangas today; a quarter of a century ago they practically owned the place.
The great estancias and wealthy conventos have long since been broken up, but the underlying inequalities remain.


That is what it is called in Pangasinan. Dried fish, and julienned bamboo shoot cooked in coconut milk. A Tagalog speaker would call it 'daing at ginataan labong'. Same dish.
The combination is easy. For one pound of fresh bamboo shoot (labong), use one and a half to two cups coconut milk. Cut up the shoot, simmer till tender in salted water. Rinse thoroughly, then squeeze out well. Colour some chopped ginger and garlic in hot oil, add the bamboo shoot and sauté briefly. Then pour in the coconut milk, add a small whole dried fish on top for extra flavour. Simmer till the liquid is slightly thickened and the dried fish can be broken apart.
It should still be soupy enough to wet your plate of rice.

To me any dish with coconut milk requires at least a pinch of turmeric and a little hot chili added during the cooking.
But that isn't essential, and Philippinos omit both ingredients.
The chili in any case can be a fresh paste on the side, or sliced into a little bowl of vinegar.

Daeng tan ginataan labong: It's the dinner of champions.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly: 

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Anything that combines dried fish and sugar?

Search This Blog


Porkchops, milk tea, and the morning news from elsewhere on the telly in a restaurant with no tourists. It would be nice if they had more bu...