MY holiday began early when I received this gift bin. In a season replete with generosity, this group of companies stands out for its consistent patronage of locally made products and reuse of materials.
Made from recycled newspapers, the bin was braided by local community groups. The weaving can compete with the best works of artisans of South America and Africa, whose weavework is so magical, it can keep in or out liquids despite the use only of organic, porous materials.
Granted, we are fortunate not to have to transport water in a locally made vessel after walking for miles to draw from a remote water source. Yet, affluent or not, we are interconnected. This argues for using especially the holidays as an opportunity for sharing “ethical gifts”.
Consume consciously; consume with conscience. While past Christmas gift packs contained meaningful mementoes—such as “kasing (wooden top)” and “takyan” that brought to mind the childhood games of old, which were fun, inexpensive and not harmful to player and environment—this year’s bin contained food products made by people’s organizations in areas where the companies are located.
A fish lover, I was drawn to the “tawilis” in corn oil. This was produced by the Family Farm School, a Batangas association of youths, families and professionals that partners with the Research and Development Center of the Department of Science and Technology.
Buying a bottle of sardines contributes to the group’s livelihood project, which aims, among other things, to educate rural youth.
It has been recently reported that ham, a major feature of the traditional Christmas feast, may be more expensive this year. Care for “tawilis”?
Before you look down your nose, “tawilis” is only found in the Philippines, specifically in only one lake in Luzon, Taal Lake. “Sardinella tawilis” used to thrive in the Balayan Bay until a major eruption in the 18th century sealed off Taal Lake from Balayan Bay. Over the centuries, the marine waters turned completely fresh, making “tawilis” the only member of the Clupeidae family to exist entirely in freshwater.
For those with less snobbish tastebuds, “tawilis” is related to the other clupeids, more familiar to Cebuanos as “tamban” or “tuloy”.
It can be the cheapest fish in the wet market at P35 a kilo. In December, when food prices normally go up, the “tamban” schools are populous; thus, the price dips. To enjoy “tamban,” you can broil, fry, stew in vinegar or cook in oil. The thick and omnipresent scales work best during charbroiling because these keep the fish meat tender and juicy. Freshly caught “tamban” is so oily, the Omega 3-rich droplets will drip and make the coals sizzle, a “sizzling” dish that will not make your pocket or diet erupt in flames.
Another jar contained gourmet “tuyô.” Though daunting in name, the dish turned out to be another familiar. Dried herring flakes in vinegar and oil is, translated, “tinabal”. It is comfort food that must be consumed with extreme prejudice, swimming in oil , spices and salt and requiring avalanches of piping hot rice to douse and tame.
Herring is known to Cebuanos as “malangsi” or “mangsi”. It resembles “bolinao” but with scales. In Badian and Alegria, fishermen evolved the Sabi net, a combination of the purse seine, bag net and beach seine, to catch this fish.
After tasting the gourmet “tuyô,” I remembered my late aunt’s “bacalao”. Until she passed away, my aunt’s table was famous in the family. One dish that was never served during feasts but given to her relatives during Holy Week was “bacalao”.
In place of the required but imported cod, lapu-lapu or any large premium fish was substituted. Deboned, skinned, salted, dried, desalted, flaked, boiled, fried, simmered—only past generations could invent and go through all that slaving in the kitchen just to go around the rule of fasting and abstinence.
Never a stickler for tradition, religious or otherwise, my mother loves “bacalao”. For my mother, my aunt made “bacalao,” a Lenten shortcut, into a celebration of Advent.
My aunt has moved to the kitchen in the sky. Unlike Lake Taal’s overfished and vanishing “tawilis” or “biyâ”, “mangsi” and “tamban” still thrive. Yet, our growing population unduly taxes the sea, necessitating the concept of eco-markets. Fishermen must not only abide by the law but buyers, too, must not feed the demand for illegally caught fish, undersized fish and overfished species.
In the midst of merriment, consume consciously; consume with conscience.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 5, 2010 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column