CURING CUS­TOMS

One farmer did not only pro­duce a Sagada spe­cialty, he also re­vived a dy­ing legacy

F&B World - - NEWS - THANKS TO THE GROW­ING POP­U­LAR­ITY OF ETAG, CURED MEAT NOW REP­RE­SENTS SOME­THING BIG­GER Text by AN­GELO COMSTI Pho­tos by JILSON TIU Spe­cial thanks to THE DEPART­MENT OF AGRI­CUL­TURE

It’s an un­godly hour, but 50- year- old Leon­cio Malidom is al­ready up. He does his best not to make any noise— at the risk of wak­ing up the rest of his family— as he makes his way to the back­yard to tend to the meat in his makeshift smoke­house.

In dark­ness, he grabs just enough pieces of pinewood his frail and weary arms can carry and throws them into the dy­ing fire. It’s a rou­tine he has got­ten used to. It has dis­rupted his sleep­ing habit, but he wouldn’t trade the chore for any­thing else as it has been his family’s main source of liveli­hood for the past seven years.

SLEEPLESS IN SAGADA

Malidom has given up farm­ing in or­der to pro­duce etag, a gen­er­a­tions- old Sagada spe­cialty. With the rich soil and ideal weather of the Moun­tain Prov­ince, plant­ing a myr­iad fruits, veg­eta­bles, and heir­loom rice is of­ten the de­fault liveli­hood of the com­mu­nity. How­ever, Malidom saw a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity in mak­ing what peo­ple loosely de­scribe as smoked moun­tain ham. Af­ter all, the process is quicker and the re­turns are promis­ing. Be­sides, not a lot of lo­cals are do­ing it for com­mer­cial sale, and so Malidom thought that it would make for bet­ter busi­ness. He ex­plains, “Mas okay ito kasi sa farm­ing maghi­hin­tay ka pa ng apat na buwan [ bago maka- har­vest]. Ito mas ma­bilis.”

How­ever, the tran­si­tion wasn’t as smooth and quick as he thought it would be. He is a mem­ber of the Kankanaey tribe from whom the etag is be­lieved to have orig­i­nated from yet he ad­mits to start­ing ev­ery­thing from scratch. He didn’t learn the craft from any­one. And from what lit­tle that he knew about the process, Malidom had to go through sev­eral trial and er­ror ses­sions un­til he was sat­is­fied with what he came up with.

To guar­an­tee the qual­ity of pork, he raises and slaugh­ters his own pigs. He typ­i­cally feeds his na­tive pigs kamote and ba­nana stalks, and grows them big to yield more weight. The belly, ribs, and face are the most prized parts, he says. Af­ter debon­ing the whole car­cass and di­vid­ing them into one kilo por­tions, he pro­ceeds to rub rock salt over ev­ery square inch of the meat, then packs them on top of one an­other in a huge plas­tic basin. They are al­lowed to cure, cov­ered, for two days. Af­ter which, he pierces the meat with a small sharp knife,

ties a string around the hole, and lines them up in a row us­ing a metal rod. The pork parts are then left to hang in his smoke­house for a whole week, re­quir­ing him to feed the fire day in and day out. “Tu­luy- tu­loy da­pat ang apoy kaya gu­migis­ing ako sa gabi. Da­pat di­retso ‘yan,” he says. The fla­vor of the smoked meat de­pends on the wood used. For his part, Malidom burns a mix of pine, guava, and al­nus wood to achieve his pre­ferred taste.

The process of mak­ing etag— called panag- etag— may dif­fer slightly when done by others. There are those who rub vine­gar on the pork be­fore salt­ing it to pre­vent flies from swarm­ing on the hang­ing meat. There are also those who choose to let pork parts dry un­der the sun for an es­ti­mated three hours daily for a whole week.

As a re­sult of his ex­per­i­ments, Malidom knows ex­actly how much rock salt to use on his etag, mak­ing sure that it doesn’t end up too salty. He also prefers his Igorot ham smoked as it en­sures longer shelf life com­pared with the sun- dried va­ri­ety. Af­ter years of pro­duc­tion, he can al­ready tell when the pork slabs are ready just by look­ing at them.

HOT COM­MOD­ITY

When we vis­ited Malidom, there was smoke com­ing out of the smoke­house lo­cated be­hind his hum­ble home in Barangay Am­bas­ing, Sagada— a tell­tale sign that he was in the process of mak­ing etag. He told us that 200 ki­los worth of meat were bask­ing in the heat.

Once the etag is done, Malidom’s wife Martina will bring half of the batch to the Pobla­cion Mar­ket in front of the mu­nic­i­pal hall in time for the week­end mar­ket where they are able to sell al­most all of the goods for P250 per kilo. The re­main­ing items will be re­served for an­other week while some por­tions would be set aside for the family’s meals where the etag is cut into small pieces and thrown into a veg­etable stew, mixed with rice, or sim­ply fried and served.

Some restau­rants in Sagada also pur­chase Malidom’s etag and use them in their dishes. They add it to an Igorot chicken dish called pinikpikan, use it as sea­son­ing agent for soups, and one tourist- friendly shop even of­fers it as pizza top­ping.

To date, some fam­i­lies still make their own etag. Akin to mak­ing lemon con­fit, they layer small cuts of pork and salt in a jar and let them cure un­til ready for use. They eas­ily snip off what­ever they need for their home cooked dishes and store the re­main­ing parts back in the con­tainer for an­other time.

LIFE SUP­PORT

Many peo­ple know etag as a del­i­cacy, but back in the day, it had much more cul­tural rel­e­vance be­cause it was a vi­tal part of rit­u­als. The smoked meat is usu­ally an

of­fer­ing that com­pletes prayers to spir­its. It is served dur­ing mile­stones— from the day a mem­ber of the tribe is born un­til he is led to his grave. But those days are gone. And along with these dis­ap­pear­ing tra­di­tions is the pos­si­bil­ity that etag would also be for­got­ten.

Malidom though is do­ing his part to pre­serve the tra­di­tion. He may not have in­her­ited the art of mak­ing etag from his family but he is firm in pass­ing it on to his chil­dren. Luck­ily, his kids are al­ready in­volved in the process, help­ing him with the smoked meat pro­duc­tion. Still, the Malidoms are only one of four fam­i­lies mak­ing and sell­ing etags in Sagada.

While there are ef­forts to pre­serve this age- old tra­di­tion, it re­mains on the brink of ex­tinc­tion. “The best way to un­der­stand the cul­ture of a coun­try is through its cui­sine,” says Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture Un­der­sec­re­tary Berna Puyat- Ro­mulo. “Ark of Taste, which is main­tained by the Slow Food Move­ment, is de­signed to pre­serve at- risk foods that are sus­tain­ably pro­duced, unique in taste, and part of a dis­tinct re­gion. We want to re­vive Filipino her­itage food so we can pre­serve our Filipino cul­ture but also pro­mote the use of in­gre­di­ents pro­duced by lo­cal farm­ers. Etag, which is on the list, is an im­por­tant part of the cul­ture of the Moun­tain Prov­ince es­pe­cially since it is eaten in all their spe­cial oc­ca­sions and rit­u­als.”

For many tourists, etag is sim­ply cured and smoked meat. But for others, it is so much more than that. For Malidom, it’s what’s sus­tain­ing his family. For the Kankanaey tribe, it’s es­sen­tial to their his­tory. And for Sagada, it’s part of its cul­tural iden­tity.

Two hun­dred ki­los worth of etag hot-off-the-smoker and ready to be brought to the mar­ket.

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