DIPOLOG CITY (MindaNews / 02 April) — Tucked in a college dorm islands away from home, I hankered for food that could only be gratified by taking an hour-and-a-half plane ride home to my southern province of Zamboanga del Norte in the island of Mindanao. No, there was no Food Panda Delivery, then.
My roommates who were from Cagayan de Oro laughed hard when I told them I was craving for “dinuldog” – an amusing name for a delicacy. But I laughed even harder upon learning that they called it a much funnier term – “tabirak”.
Well, I’d readily take a plane ride home for a big bowlful of this sweet, creamy goodness if not for the sky-high airfares that would fly me through the sky.
This delightful delicacy is commonly called “binignit” in the Visayan Islands, “guinataan” in the Tagalog regions and “biniknik” according to my cute friend having difficulty pronouncing it. This recipe could have naturally originated from the tropical Philippine Islands as we abound in coconuts, bananas, jackfruits and rootcrops of different shades and textures.
The “binignit” used to be an ordinary weekend fare during the uncyber days when people seemed to have had more time and we had household helpers to do all the mean job of grating and squeezing. The ingredients were within reach with bananas and jackfruit in the backyards and coconuts and rootcrops from the family farms. Now, the binignit takes centerstage during Holy Week when most of the populace abstain from meat, to which a neighbor quipped, “Kung tawo mamatay, maglechon, kung Ginoo, binignit ra tawon.” (A roasted pig when a man dies, but only binignit for the Lord’s death.)
Back then, this recipe prepared from scratch required a skilled coconut climber to pick some coconuts, which are then husked and grated with a “kaguran.” Before the mechanized coconut grater in markets was invented, each Filipino household needed to own a kaguran.
I remember my Mom’s story of her aunt, who, while evacuating in World War II realized after fleeing a kilometer away that she had left the kaguran. Without hesitation, she ran back home for it, only to be captured by Japanese soldiers. Yes, they’d risk a life for a kaguran! Well, my mother’s aunt was released at the pleadings of her brother, who took her place in prison.
Back to the grated coconut, there would be no binignit without it. The first squeeze was saved for last. It is also this pure virgin coconut milk which the young maidens of yore soaked their hair with for that luscious, shiny black hair.
The second squeeze was used to boil the pre-soaked violet and black glutinous rice, “tapul” and clumps of tiny powdered balls from the Buli palm, landang . Other times we use the “sago,” a kind of tapioca in different colors of red, yellow, green and white or the “bilo-bilo,” sticky rice balls. Adding to these viscous elements is the “gabi” (taro) sliced into cubes of one’s desired size from half of an inch to two inches for some in the hinterlands.
My mother-in-law was discriminating in her ingredients using only the purplest gabi to be found. To follow later were the cubed light yellow bananas ripe enough to give a hint of sourness against the sweetness of the yellow jackfruit strips and the cubed bright orange “camote” (sweet potatoes). The purple “ube” (yam) was the magical coloring that tinged the gooey cream into an enticing purple. Peeling and slicing a huge potful of these vitamin-mineral-carbohydrate laden rootcrops of varying colors, textures and density entails patience and purpose. Each spoonful of binignit with the firmness of the gabi contrasting the mushy camote, soft bananas and the tacky rice balls and sago pearls is such a luxurious symphony in one’s palate blended in rich coconut cream.
When the fragrance of jackfruit wafts to the nostrils and all the stickiness mingled with the coconut milk and brown sugar turn into a thick bubbly lava in the caldera, it means it is time for the final ingredient – the virgin coconut milk. The first squeeze comes last.
Like a mist that softens all the colors it engulfs, the silky white milk turns the deep purple into a lighter hue and all the bright colors are melded into a delightful specialty worthy of a plane ride home. There is a comforting warmth as the family sips and slurps through spoonfuls of this many-textured goodness steaming hot from the pot. After years of observing my Mom-in-law cook what we labelled as the best binignit ever, my family agrees with great bias, that finally I had gotten the taste and feel of Lola Noning’s binignit passed on to another generation of joyful eaters.
[Marietta Dalman-Romano of Dipolog City is a homeschooling Mom who also teaches piano at home (pre-pandemic) and online during this pandemic. Maita finished AB Journalism at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She posted this piece on her social media account on April 1, 2021. MindaNews was granted permission to publish this]