It took me a long time to finally decide on this month’s entry. For a while I thought of skipping it but my friend Catsudon, who is the genie of my blogs, admonished me not to chicken out. So, back to the rules. I’ll just pick bits and pieces from Carlo’s stipulations since taken as a whole, they seem to eliminate everything from this side of the world. And because I work on my food entries from Pampanga, a province known for many exotic delicacies even for Philippine standards, close to nothing qualifies as taboo or forbidden.
But as for sharing our unusual food and recording the reactions of those who try it, I had a lot of pictures! I found one taken in December and shows May-May, a four-year old who ate tÃ¢gilÃ³ like oatmeal where others cringe. However, she wasn’t a â€œwilling victimâ€ but practically begged to have a taste. Does that qualify? Perhaps I should then go back through time, not limited with this IMBB’s timeframe.
So that picture from my electronic treasure chest decided the entry. TÃ¢gilÃ³ it is and I can even do a little â€œscientificâ€ work on it. I have many memories associated with this victual. Sometime back, one of my cousins, who was in her teens that time, cried over an empty bowl because she fell asleep before lunchtime and woke up to find our other cousins finished all the tÃ¢gilÃ³ our grandmother prepared. Another cousin would also hanker for it each time she comes to the house. Those who marry into the family, and who did not grow up eating this seem to be more â€œaddictedâ€ to it than we are. Even friends who eat with us seem to have developed an intense liking for it that they now and then bring empty bottles to be filled.
Now, what is this again? Let’s just say it may be the distant cousin of sushi. How now?
I didn’t realise this until some years back, a very dear friend who spent time studying the history and art of sushi-making told me the lore behind it. He thought he was just making conversation but he had no idea how it unlocked something I have always thought about. According to him (and a website on The Evolution of Sushi), sushi started out in Southeast Asia as a means to preserve fish with rice, with the rice thrown away later. The practice moved northward to China and Japan and evolved to its current form.
In Southeast Asia however, some of this original practice remained, like kassam in Borneo. Now, my friend is currently incommunicado so I can’t ask what exactly is kassam and I can’t find any sources but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is something very similar to tÃ¢gilÃ³.
As it has evolved, this is a Capampangan or Central Luzon delicacy of fermented rice with shrimps or fish. Since our recipes are not coded, we do not have a standard for measurements and ingredients. Even the names vary between places. In our town, it refers to the paste of rice and shrimps while in others, tÃ¢gilÃ³ would refer to fermented rice and fish (usually bulig, dalag in Filipino and mudfish in English) while that with shrimps is called balo-balo. Tagalog provinces know it by the name buro – burong hipon (shrimps).
Not all Capampangans eat this though. I have heard some are disgusted by just the thought of eating â€œrotten riceâ€ while others cannot take the smell alone. Outside of the province, only gourmets are said to eat it. What then is so special or disgusting about this sauce? Perhaps the answer lies in how it comes to be.
TÃ¢gilÃ³ requires the use of live freshwater shrimps, the smaller the better since these have a softer shell. Frozen or dead shrimps simply would not do. They will impart a mild bitterness to the dish. My aunt in Madrid once attempted to use frozen saltwater shrimps, to disastrous results according to her. Another aunt in Ontario had the same complaint. I’ve never attempted this in the city either.
Many commercial sellers of tÃ¢gilÃ³ often shortcut the lengthy process by adding vinegar to the rice, much like sushi, and this does not sit well with connoisseurs
My grandmother cooked only small amounts of the victual, but now it seems that with more family and friends who long for tÃ¢gilÃ³, we have to cook it in large amounts, every single time.
Update: Now that I come to think about it, I did follow the rules! In the process of preparing this entry, I did taste some tÃ¢gilÃ³ that wasn’t cooked at home. Normally, I wouldn’t because I’m not sure about the hygiene of its preparation. And how did I like the other samples? No comparison.