“NATIVE chocolate drink” was the Tagbilaran waiter’s rejoinder to my order of “sikwate” for breakfast.
I could not fault him as the menu indicated the exact words he used.
It was more of a personal preference that I chose “sik-wa-te,” prolonging each syllable, as if I were already holding a cup in hand, blowing at the steam rising from the opaque blackish brown surface, sipping the viscous lava, seeking the sweet in the bitter, and, after adding a little hot water to swirl the sludge silting the bottom of the cup, trying to sip the drink to the very last greedy drop.
With genuine “sikwate,” you cannot. Cheat, get enough of, sate.
The dregs that settle down like a clotted conscience prove not only that several “tableya” coins, unsweetened and unrepentantly bitter, were used to make the “sikwate," but also that the “tableya” is pure and made entirely of cacao seeds picked by hand, dried, roasted, pounded, kneaded, and shaped into the dark coins that turn breakfast into memories and family lore.
The waiter’s choice of an English phrase disappointed. His hotel’s choice of “tableya” supplier did not.
The cup he set down still bubbled, as if the “sikwate” had just been whipped to a foam inside a metal “batirol (pot)” with a wooden “boloneo (whisk)”. The only difference between this cup and one I would be sipping at home is that I had to add milk and brown sugar to taste.
Those cups of “sikwate” in Tagbilaran reminded me of other cups of native chocolate encountered, with varying degrees of disillusion, in places faraway from home. In Tagaytay and Baguio, powdered chocolate drink, sipped as the house specialty, only made me more homesick and alienated.
If the locals accept this as “native chocolate,” was I to also settle for this “tsokolate-ah”?
According to lore, thick and rich “tsokolate-eh” (“espresso”) is served to guests. However, for uninvited visitors, decorum still requires a serving of diluted “tsokolate-ah” (“aguado”), meaning less “tableya” and more water.
My friend, Lilia, a diabetic and a sweet tooth, prefers “tsokolate-ah” as healthier. “Tsokolate-eh” is more sinful and thus, like love, must be taken with moderation.
In our family’s traditional yearend sojourn to the south of Cebu, we wended our way to a roadside store in the interiors of barangay Canbanua in the town of Argao.
We smelled the “tableya" even before we saw a young man carry out white-rimmed-with-blue metal “sarten” bowls with telltale smudges of brown.
At the source, where Miguela “Guilang” Lanutan, 92, and her family still makes them, the “tableya” coins are wrapped in old newspaper. Stark and pure, love in no other form demands abandon and no reservations.
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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s December 31, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”