Monday, January 25, 2010

A Place Called BATO

The nation's history is made up of the histories of families, of individual experiences that connect with the experiences of our countrymen. This war, as with any other painful national state, forms part of the Philippine story and tells us much about who we are. Stories of survival and moments of joy, snatched from under the heel of oppressors reveal to us how we manage in different forms of warfare today -- be it a war against poverty, political and class oppression, or simply the struggle to get from day to day with body and soul together.
Reader Alberto Lee, of Houston, Texas  sent us this narration of life in WWII Philippines. His final sentence reminds us of how he is ever the doctor.

Shortly before the Japanese Imperial Army invaded Manila in 1941, my parents and all their relatives took refuge in a place called Bato. This tiny village has but a handful of people living in it. Although Bato is just ten kilometers or so from the township of Bacon, Sorsogon, it can only be reached by either a banca ride or a trek through thick jungles of shrubs, wild bananas,coconut trees,and abaca plants. My father bought this property from a friend long before the outbreak of the WW II. My parents thought we will be safe from the Japanese soldiers but they were wrong.
During our four-year sojourn in this rather isolated place, we learned to live with the natives the Bayanihan way. My parents and the rest of the clans formed a cooperative no different from the present day communes.The natives planted rice, corn and sweet potatoes as our main staples. From the ocean, we have our seafood gathered by the fishermen no differently than the way their ancestors did generations ago. On a clear day, we can see the island of Samar.

My parents raised chickens, pigs, cows, ducks and geese. I remember vividly how i would gather eggs every morning from here and there for all the chickens and ducks roam our yard freely. It was a particularly happy day for me if i found a giant goose egg.

Of course there was no electricity or running water to be had. Our houses were made of nipa leaves and coconut tree trunks. We slept on mats called banig. We dug our own wells, made our own soap, and my mother made all the clothes we needed on her single, foot-powered Singer sewing machine.
At the end of each harvest, be it rice, corn or vegetables or fish, everybody took their shares equally. Any left over is either salted, dried or stored properly for rainy days.
Yes, the Japanese soldiers found us. There were about a dozen of them when they came that day. Luckily,they did not brutalize anyone. They slapped some faces for no apparent reasons.Why are the Japanese soldiers so fun of slapping innocent civilians? They did search for guns and flags but found none for my father had buried them somewhere in the yard. They took all the chicken eggs, some of my favorite pet chickens, a pig and everything else that they needed and left. It was a harrowing experience to say the least.

It was under these circumstances that my mother learned how to cook the native dishes which she later passed on to us. The laing dish i described on a previous note was a simplified form with only two main ingredients: coconut milk and dried taro or gabi leaves. Another version consists of half a kilo of pork belly chopped up into cube-size pieces sauteed with plenty of fresh garlic. Any fat from the process should be discarded. Add salt and hot chili to taste, mix in the coconut milk and dried taro leaves and simmer slowly without stirring until the water content is reduced to practically nothing. Some people add onions and bagoong but i found this unnecessary. WARNING:This dish is high in saturated fats.


DeliSyosa said...

I love laing. In fact, I love anything cooked in coconut milk. But maybe thats the Tagalog in me. Maybe thats also the next article. :D

LPM said...

Laing is one of my most favorite dishes and I always have to ask folks to make it without shellfish(shrimp or talangka) because of my severe food allergy. Thank you for this recipe, Dr. Lee. I shall make it and will have to substitute taro with spinach. I wonder if that would work ok. :)

LPM said...

My niece just returned from her volunteer stint in Panama. While in the island where they fixed solar panels, they were unsure of the quality of water so their rice was cooked in coconut juice/milk. Rich and so delicious especially when they used coconut milk.

DeliSyosa said...

Rice in coconut juice. Sounds delicious. There are some recipes that call for rice cooked in the "bao" or coconut shell, or cooked in the bamboo tubes. The containers impart their aroma on the rice.

Anonymous said...

I love the hot and spicy taste of laing!

juliuscesar103 said...

i don't think spinach will do, LPM. there is something about taro leaves that make the dish so unique.