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Macamacan, the Cagayano Food

Cagayanos don’t need a silver spoon to eat good food; they don’t have to cook fancy or complicated recipes but just good food from fresh ingredients. Here’s the buzz: they come from the wilds.

The 2nd Cook Fest of the 436th celebration of the Aggao Nac Cagayan where the rice eel (Monopterus albus), river eel (Anguilla), golden apple snail ( pomacea canaliculata), and Monitor Lizard (Varanus indicus) took center stage. It was a reconfirmation that Cagayanos will never go hungry.

Why, even the Red Jungle Fowl from the depths of Sierra Madre Mountain, in its fried form, partake of the accolades and applause. Fourteen groups vied for the Best Recipe, each entry presented as much as five to seven recipes with mouth- watering names. In fact, a main dish accompanied the other recipes per entry. It was nerve-wracking as the board of judges could not determine what to judge. All are sure visual winners which challenge our palate.

Almost all forms of cooking is presented which revealed the versatility of our people in the countryside; the entries came from all rural organizations including the Rural Improvement Clubs, the 4H club and of recent, the Small Water Impounding System Association and the Agkaykasya movement.

The dishes which utilized what can be found from the flora and fauna of Cagayan were varied as they were very interesting. While much has yet to be desired as far as its presentation is concern, it is with pride that all of the entries tried their culinary best to get the nod of the judges with Ph20,000.00 cash prize at stake.

The names of the recipes are likewise mouth- watering ; steamed rice eel with dried sili Black bean sauce, Fried Frog with Cucumber, Bicol Express Golden Apple Snail, River eel meat balls, among others. I was intrigued with the Bayawak Truffle Pasta from Baggao. I did taste the coiled yet sliced river eeI but got very interested with Nigay Fish in coconut milk from Rizal.

Accordingly, the fish, possibly related to Ludong (Cestraeus plicatilis) is not familiar among majority of Cagayanos. It abounds along the Matalag sub-tributary of the Chico River, according to reports. But what’s Cagayano cuisine without the matured June Beetle (Cotinis nitida Linn.) locally called Assimmawa? I didn’t notice any larvae of the species, the Abalin; off-season possibly.

Image may contain: foodSta. Ana boasted of three kinds of eel –based dishes with paksiw, chili and ginataan. Cagayan boasts of at least four species of eel and it was only in 2009 when Anguilla luzonensis was introduced to the world by researchers Shan Watanabe, Jun Aoyamara and Katsumi Tsakamoto. It was then that the latest freshwater Anguilla discovery along the Pinacanauan River was known globally, yet has been with us for as long as we can remember.

All these dishes were spiced with all available ingredients either found in the forest or in our own backyard. What amazed this writer was the presence, possibly its debut in Cagayan food presentation, of the Blue Pea (Clitoria Ternatea) Flower in a salad.

Lucky is Cagayan to be part of a biological powerhouse called the Philippines where half of the more than 52,177 described species in the country is not found elsewhere in the world. Our very own Monitor Lizard (Silay, Ibanag; Bañas, Iloco) is part of the 70 percent reptile species share and our own bamboo shoots (rabung) is part of the 33 percent share of the country to the world’s plants.

I tasted the Agurung freshwater shellfish but I failed to take the Buguey shek , another shellfish species found in our rivers.

Still on its second year, the provincial government is on the right track in its attempt to preserve whatever culture we have as Cagayanos. However, there’s much to be done in the area of contest guidelines and the criteria for judging.

It’s time to give other regional cuisines a run for their own money. It is now just a matter of time before the world will come to know that in this beloved land, the land of the First Filipino, something is being cooked.

The invitation from the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist was not only timely as it was providential. I was with the sweet and gracious manager of Kainang Pilipino, Jayjay Gumarang and what we talked in- between I will reveal in 2022. northernforum.net

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