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READ: The insect-eating Ybanags

9 min read

Start eating insects now. With 8 billion people on earth, you will have no choice.

For all you know, the Ybanags have made the decision centuries before the United Nations called on every earthling to consume more insects. Or else.

As I’ve said in my previous Jurassic articles, the Ybanags will never go hungry because as a free-thinking tribe, he has recognized immediately the gastronomic wonders of insects. With more than 1,900 edible insects species in the world, Ybanags made some of them part of their daily diet, er, seasonal diet.

From the delicious walking ants, highly nutritious beetles, ground grubs and crunchy grasshoppers to monitor lizards, frogs and freshwater shellfishes, how can he go hungry? He knew that insects are packed with protein, fiber, good fats and vital vitamins even before food scientists told him insects convert food into protein much more efficiently than livestock.

All Ybanags are ‘ entomophagous,’ meaning, consumer of insects as food. Why, even before the Food and Agriculture Organization of UN realized that a 100 gram of red ants will provide a person with 14 grams of protein, more than eggs can offer, the Ybanags have consumed tons upon tons of larvae of red ants (ansi). With salt, vinegar, ginger and onions, the ‘illukna ansi (ants larvae)’ is steamed for a real exotic lunch or dinner which can put Vietnamese, Cambodians or high-brow specialty restaurants in Asia, to shame.

In fact, the UN has declared insects as Food of the Future.

As soon as corn plant reaches its flowering stage, residents from nearly all barangays of Tuguegarao, except the city proper, would stage an untold invasion of all cornfields available to gather grasshoppers (caelifera) locally known as ganta (accent on the second syllable) early evenings to the detriment of the Talaan Bobbog (spotted spiders) and the brown corn spiders which, at that time of the day, are busy perfecting the designs of their webhouses.

The grasshopper is the most consumed type of insects in the world because they are all over and are easy to catch. The Ibanags usually handpicked it in the evening but uses a ‘takiong’ to catch them early afternoon. Among the true-blue Ibanags, they carry with them fashioned bamboos to place their catch. Because its early evening, the gifu (gas lamps in gin bottles) is a must to light your harvest. The thorny forelegs and wings are removed and are cooked, deep fried with lots of garlic, a little salt to taste and local vinegar. One of these days, I will suggest to Art Tabbu of Lighthouse to introduce canned or bottle ‘ganta (accent on the second syllable, grasshopper).

Like the grasshopper, locust and crickets, two other winged favourites have neutral natural flavours which allow the Ybanag Chef to concoct his own culinary masterpiece to offer to wide-eyed and gaping Caucasians. The Ybanags? We munch it like peanuts of Enrile, Cagayan without batting an eyelash.

Like the other Asian tribes, Ybanags have been catching, cooking and eating these crawling, flying, soil-boring insects, now considered by the United Nations as the Food of the Future. So you see, we Ibanags have been so futuristic for all we care.

How about the assimmawa (Beetles)? It will take us more than this article to describe how it is catch by the Ybanags and the ceremonies that go with it. Imagine a bark, soaked in mud for a few days to be used as bait for beetles during their season? Discover it yourself and be amazed at how a foul-smelling bark of the mansanita tree could attract hundreds of beetles to their death.

As a tourism attraction, why not package a tour which should include the catching of the Ybanag beetle? Will that be too difficult for our tour agencies? Or shall we wait for Kalinga, Apayao or the Ilocos to do it ahead of us?

Beetles, according to the National Geographic are efficient in turning cellulose into digestible fat. It has more protein that most other insects. But wait. To complete the troika for the Ybanags’ most sought-after insects, let’s not forget the abalin (ground grubs) suspected as the larvae of the beetle.

These days, abalin is expensive more than the beetle itself because of the difficulty in finding them. I know of a family who are forced to walk more than an hour just to find the abalin. A hoe and a crowbar are used to unearth the insects. As to which is more delicious and palatable, the assimmawa or the abalin, would be an endless debate among the Ybanags over bottles of Gin or beer. At times, it depends on the spices used to cook it.

So next time, my barangay Annafunan or neighbour Linao offers you ansi, asimmawa, ganta or abalin, grab the opportunity. Afterall, we are offering you foods of the future. By Benjie S. De Yro/TNF

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