GUEST POST: An Ilokano Summer Picnic With Reggie Aspiras

by Eugene Caccam

From top, clockwise: Kilawing Bangus, Adobong Saba, Summer Salad

From top, clockwise: Kilawing Bangus, Adobong Saba, Summer Salad with Sweet Sukang Iloko dressing

Summer officially entered my calendar on Thursday, March 12. Despite a panic attack of Russian Syndrome (“Rush yan, rush yan”) in the Workplace, the prodding of the Great Spirit of Ilokano Food led my hands to the Lifestyle Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer; there, for my RSVP, lay open the invitation of the Accomplished Ilokano Master Chef Reggie Aspiras to a picnic of “’Kilawing bangus with salted duck egg’ and other Ilocano summer flavors.” A must-join, I prayerfully muttered to myself amidst the din of mental clutter.

I like Reggie because although she has trained in the best schools in Europe and is at home with the finest dishes of the world – the recipes for which she has unselfishly shared with her readers – her heart has not lost its Ilokano fervor.

Until I lost her number, I would text her for advice particularly on substitutes for ingredients. And she’s humbly Ilokana: in one of her columns, she openly confessed that the best Igado recipe she had ever had was the one cooked by her driver (Uray no Arroz a la Valencia ti ibagbaga na, kasla Ilokano met laeng ti panagsurat na.).

My heart was particularly warmed by a line in her recipe for kilawing bangus: “more chillies for color.” Exactly what I always intend with red siling labuyo; suddenly, I felt I was in her league.
She admitted that this time she was not going for traditional or authentic cooking but was making dishes that would scream summer.

Though a purist on Ilokano cooking, I joined her picnic vicariously today for the experiment and adventure. I know our Ilokano values are intact, so even with this experiment, we will not abandon our Heirloom Recipes in their unadulterated form. For a change and fun lang ito, baga.
For lack of time (I’m still finishing my strategy paper!), I was able to partake today of only three of her for-the-gods-picnicking-on-the-beach-in-wild-abandon-let-me-be-a-mortal menu:
KILAWING BANGUS WITH DUCK EGG. Could there be anything better? The saltiness of the duck eggs (Itlog na pula, itlog maalat) is a perfect platform for launching more and more of the vinegar-calamansi-bound kilawin onto the tongue, blunts the piquantness of the labuyo, and transforms the marinade into a creamy spread for the bangus cubes.
SUMMER SALAD WITH SWEET SUKANG ILOKO DRESSING. I love this blend of textures, flavors, and colors. Crunchy, crispy, and sour-sweet light blend of singkamas, suha, blanched eggplant, ampalaya, kalunay (spinach), camote tops, sitao, sigarilyas (wing beans), tossed in Sukang Iloko (sugar cane vinegar). Ilokano pride reinforced with arosip (lato, sea grapes). Sad that I was unable to find macopa and katuray, which would have added to the novelty and excitement. And more colors of course.
ADOBONG SABA. Half-ripe saba simmered a la adobo with brown sugar. My apo says it tastes like Korean barbecue!
Dios ti agngina ditoy a parabor yo, Apo Reggie.

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