When it’s Lent, it must be rice cake cooking time for the Ibanags.
Forever a sweet-toothed race, the Ibanag will never run out of native delicacies as he blends old culture and traditions with his kind of faith. Among the many deco he prepares would include the Pinataro, inatata, putumaya, inafiyan, patupa, and pakumbu, among others.
Yes, he does cook the palitaw and the dila-dila but unfortunately, he got no term for these glutinous rice preparations. They were borrowed from Tagalog migrants who have called Tuguegarao their home, too. Of all these deko up his sleeves, he considers one as the king of the Ibanag rice cakes; the Pinassuk, for varied reasons. Pinassuk comes from the word assuk, meaning steam. It has the longest preparation and the taste is so distinct he can always identify the Pinassuk even on blindfold from an array of native rice cakes. Consider that it is not cooked in direct fire but of the steam coming from an earthen pot. But that’s going ahead of the story.
Let’s cook Pinassuk. You need two earthen pots, the size will depend on your desired volume of glutinous rice to be cooked. The upper pot with small holes on its bottom should be smaller than that of the lower pot. Of course, this kind of pot is tailor made only for the Pinassuk. You seldom see them now as they have been modernize for convenience and that lessens the excitement of cooking.
You need brown or red glutinous rice, coconut milk, brown sugar, residue of cooked coconut oil (Ibanag, laro, accent on the first syllable) and matured banana leaves. The cooked and uncooked glutinous rice is called Deko by the Ibanags; no distinction. Soak the rice overnight.
Prepare the coconuts. Extract milk from the nuts and set aside the first extract. Make sure you have enough coconut milk as you will use them twice during the cooking process. The milk serves two purpose; one, to cook the deko and to extract the ‘laro’ (latik, reduced coconut milk) from the virgin coconut oil. Mat the earthen pot with holes with banana leaves and place the glutinous rice inside. Cover the pot with two to three layers of coconut leaves and have a clean wet cloth on top of the leaves. The purpose is to contain the steam inside the pots.
Place the smaller pot on top of the lower pot with water. Once you see steam coming out between the joined pots while cooking, control the steam by putting a thin wet cotton cloth around the pots. Slow fire is needed. This process will take more than an hour depending on the quality of your glutinous rice.
Check the deko. Once you determined it’s half done, take it from fire. Let it cool. By the way, while cooking the Pinassuk, somebody should cooked the coconut milk, save for this purpose, to extract the laro once the coconut oil has been extracted.
Put into fire the siliasi ( big frying pan, sort of) with the coconut milk and pour the cooled deko. Put a mixture of salt and sugar, the amount will depend on your taste. Under slow fire, mix the deko and coconut milk. This will take about 30 minutes. Check whether the cooked grains are already tender. Mix the Laro well. By this time, you don’t see any trace of the coconut milk anymore and the cooked rice is dry yet a bit oily.
Your queen of the Ibanag Deko is finally done. These days, very few families prepare the Pinassuk because it’s time consuming. There are Pinassuk commercially sold at public markets in Tuguegarao but these are cooked for commercial purposes. The laro is individually placed on top of the Pinassuk and the product seems to wet and non-oily. If the provincial government has its Linubbian competition in last year’s Aggaw Na Cagayan, why not a Pinassuk contest this year?
Hope springs eternal.