Palitang Ulam: Pasig's spirit of giving
From the Desk
The whistling tubular steamers of the putobumbong is a familiar sound around the ancient Cathedral of Pasig. It is a signal of a grand feast about to happen at the strike of midnight of the 25th of December. Filipino's like to welcome Christmas in a vigil a biblical waiting like how the Jews had their Passover or a faithful lesson of the Ten Virgins in the parables. None must sleep! all are enjoined to wait for the coming Messiah.
The faithful arrived in their homes from the Church. Triumphantly for some who have completed the 9-day Novena Mass called the "Simbang Gabi". The thrill of the Dawn Masses is when you arrive at 2:30 AM or the 3:30 AM schedules. The chilling effect on a tropical paradise seemed to calm the senses as you see the illuminated crucifix atop the belfry as your only shining guide towards the Church - like how the three magis were guided by the star towards the Infant Savior. Others remain fulfilled as they attend and listened to the homily of the Christmas Eve Mass. Despite the pandemic, traditions though altered simply cannot die. Masses at the Cathedral remained well attended and though there have been reports of massive disobedience on the mandated social distancing rule, the churchgoers and the people working for the Church remain astute in their duties and responsibilities to keep this policy strictly enforced.
Upon entering a Pasigueno home on a Christmas Eve, you would see an extended family of grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and everyone whose surname is the same as yours. It is indeed a reunion and a fattening one! Your lola, the matriarch is busy cooking the immortal caldereta, hamonado and other well loved family recipes while your lolo is outside with your father and uncles grilling liempo or roasting a pig or a pig's head - the centerpiece of the table. Your mom and aunts are preparing the dinner or buffet table and desserts while your cousins, siblings and even yourself are doing whatever chore is left. The younger ones are left in a room where they play or listen to stories to make the time worth the wait. Christmas eve is the most wonderful time of the year! There is love and there is food: a combination of both is how the good Lord wants us to be: to be filled and to be at rest. No wonder January is sometime regarded as the start of dieting for December most probably made your waists wider, your bodies larger.
As you open your presents or fall in line to a money trail of doting aunts and uncles, the food is set and ready to a simple and well honored feast - a celebration of some sort to commemorate the birth of a child 2,000 years ago. But what is it in Pasig that is different? Giving is universally practiced but there is something in our town that brings about a deeper sense of communal living and sharing. The giving and receiving of food. The exchanging of food and other delicacies is not actually a Pasigueno Christmas Tradition, it is in fact a year round affair. A town that is rich in all things beautiful does not fall short on the wealth of each and everyone's table.
You would remember for sure how your neighbors would hand out cannisters or tubs of food and no matter how different yours is, it is but natural for your to to pack a portion of it and give it out. A simple practice of the bayanihan spirit or how people would like to feel your humanity by means of partaking your prepared delicatessen. Newlyweds would receive rations of food from their in-laws and parents making food once more a symbol of love and connection from the mother home. Food made the town smaller as the people know where to find what like the Buensuceso's of Kapasigan, the immortal puto of Bambang and Sumilang or the beloved kalderetang itik of Bagong Ilog. Pasiguenos somehow equated eating with giving - sharing stories around a bountiful table.
Zeny B. Soriano remembers how the lowly embutido of her mother used to dominate the table and had the unto sin sal for its outer covering. As the people learned to economize the outer coverings of the embutido became aluminum foils. In the past , cooks prepare the embutido by binding it with katsa or fine unbleached muslin tied with number 20 thread to keep its shape during the cooking process. The sweet dishes of Pasig are to die for especially during the holidays like the ube halaya, makapuno and leche flan. These are often cooked in batches and seemed to be a favorite comfort food of just everyone in the household. How a Pasigueno prepares delicacies is a stuff of legends for each family carries its own version, its own traditions. Coupled by different taste buds and heirloom recipes, food preparation became a practice that bonded families for generations.
At the onslaught of the pandemic, Pasiguenos had the taste of these heirloom recipes as different families resurrected kitchen traditions and domestic cookery. Suddenly social media sites were filled with food carrying banner ads such as the original of this, the cooking traditions of that. Pasiguenos came quickly, ordered and ate. From there little did they know that through ordering and cooking, food once more became a survival option for families in challenging times. It earned them profit with their first customers, their friends and neighbors. Another type of giving is how as a community, Pasiguenos support one another.
As we enter the holidays, Pasiguenos are gifted to give. The culture of giving is still amidst as all. It binds everyone and enjoins everyone to be part of the circle. Food is a simple element in life, but how we prepare, share and partake it offers a window to the benevolence of our souls.