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Take a Bow, Sinupiyan on Banana Leaves

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Good. Lawin, The Howler, didn’t ravaged Cagayan end of November. It could have been a tasteless and untraditional Christmas in the province as Cagayanos could have missed an integral part of their culture and tradition; the use of a top notch, nay, high-brow material for their culinary delights, the banana leaf.

Imagine Enrile’s famous Sinupiyan (Binallay in Ilagan City) without the banana leaf? Or Iguig’s inatata and Ballesteros’ patupat. You don’t use tobacco leaf for bibingka or as an earthen pot’s bedding for the Ibanag’s Pinassuk (steamed glutinous rice), either. In fact, there is no important event without it.

Bananas (Musa sapientum) belong to the largest herbaceous flowering plant, although botanically, they are classified as berry. In the utilization of banana leaves, Cagayanos will always be at par with the rest of the banana leaf users.

Among Cagayanos, particularly those in the countryside where life is idyllic, eating crossed legs on the bamboo floor with bare hands indulging yourself in ginataang fresh dalag mixed with a generous slices of native ginger plus young shoots of garden squash with mountain rice, is perfect when your plate is a big size banana leaf.

Even high-end dining can’t resist the lure of the banana leaf because it brings the best taste in food.

But why is the banana leaf considered indispensable among the Cagayanos? The Ybanags and the Itawits knew that the leaf is full of anti-oxidants and eating hot, freshly cooked foods on the leaf is one good way to get all the anti-oxidants.

It is hygienic, too. Just heat it and wipe and you get a very nutritious plate aside from its being an herbal remedy against sprains and burns. To top it all, it’s the only eco-friendly plate to dispose as it is bio-degradable for a cleaner and safer environment.

Sinupiyam is also a perfect tandem for a hot coffee. Photo by N. Gumangan

For the people of Enrile, the preparation of this iconic dessert, the Sinupiyan from glutinous rice has been perfected throughout the decades. The banana leaf plays a rather important role in the production of this all-time Itawit favourite. It’s one thing that binds them together even when continents apart. In fact, aside from peanuts and tobacco, Sinupiyan has been part and parcel of the Enrilenos culture. Among the sweet-toothed Enrilenos, the Sinupiyan is an irresistible Cagayano dessert especially served during the Holy Week, All Souls Day, the yuletide season and other important occasions. Without batting an eyelash and with due respect to other towns also serving this, my palate tells me the Sinupiyan of Enrile is so far the tastiest in this part of the country.

To the experts, the preparation and cooking of this well-loved Cagayano desserte is as easy as the ABCs but for the uninitiated, it can be tedious with a capital T. You only need ground glutinous rice, block sugar (issi, Ibanag; tagapulot, Iloco), coconut milk and residue of the coconut meat from oil extraction. As early as dawn of December 24, big sized banana leaves are selected. An open fire is set in the backyard for the heating of the leaves after which it is stripped of its stalks and sized according to specifications. The Itawes of Enrile first use the coconut meat residue, from where the milk is taken, to clean the leaves from possible dirt from the open fire. The coconut milk residue makes the leaves sparklingly bright and shiny before a clean cotton cloth finalizes the cleaning.

The Sinupiyan of Enrile is shorter than that of Ilagan City’s binallay. The ever-dependable banana leaf is the material used to wrap and tie the Sinupiyan. Placed in a big kalderu or lalaggang, (cooking pan), it is meticulously piled and is covered with banana leaves and is set to boil. What makes the Enrile Sinupiyan extra delicious is the dip(Ibanag arnibar) that goes with it. The preparation alone of the sauce or the dip is tedious particularly in the preparation of the laro (accent on the first syllable), the residue of the cooked coconut milk.

You can’t have enough laro if you don’t cook enough coconut meat to extract the oil. The crispier is the laro, the better. It is only after the cooked mixture of water and sugar turns golden brown that the laro is mixed. The more block sugar , the better.

Together with the Sinupiyan, the dip can last for three to four days. However, it is advised that you partake the dessert after it cooled down. It’s best eaten late afternoon or early morning. Such tradition among the people of Enrile continues up to this day and those living outside the province usually request their families and friends to send them packages of Sinupiyan long after Christmas.

As to why it is called so, not even Nat Gumangan, an Enrileno blogger can tell. As we celebrate the season, Enrilenos are deep into celebrating their own Christmas icon. On second thought, what’s the Sinupiyan without the banana leaves? The Enrilenos will have no immediate answer. Benjie De Yro/Northernforum.net

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