History on the tongue
When I returned happy and sun-burned from childhood summers in San Fernando, my mother would wash my mouth out with soap if she heard me drop Kapampangan I learned from my cousins. She discouraged me from speaking my father’s language (it’s not a dialect!), fearful that I would adopt a rustic tone or, worse, mispronounce words with “h.” After 45 years of marriage, she had not picked up enough Kapampangan to know that her in-laws were talking about her to her face. One day, while crossing the North Luzon Expressway viaduct, my father pointed out the Rio Grande or great Pampanga River as the physical and linguistic boundary between Bulacan and Pampanga. He explained that crossing the bridge, an egg (“itlog” in Tagalog) was linguistically transformed into a bird (“ebun” in Kapampangan). Furthermore, ants (“langgam” in Tagalog) became animals (“[h]ayup” in Kapampangan) while crossing from the Tagalog to Kapampangan region. My mother was not impressed.
Childhood Kapampangan returned briefly when I visited Sulipan last Wednesday, the eve of the June 29 feast of Saints Peter and Paul, patrons of Apalit. Folks here address their patron saints as Apung Iro or Iru (Grandfather St. Peter) and Apung Ambo or Ambu (Grandfather St. Paul). Now I understand why the outspoken Caloocan Archbishop Pablo Virgilio David (younger brother of Inquirer columnist Randy David) is called “Ambo.” When I was clothed as a Benedictine novice in 1993, my batchmate was given the name Peter Abelard while I was given Ignacio Maria. If I were renamed Paul or Pablo or even Pavel, my monastic nickname could be “Ambo.”
Sulipan is a barrio in Apalit, Pampanga, that has seen better days. More so, if you are familiar with references to legendary Kapampangan hospitality at the Arnedo home in late 19th and early 20th-century travel accounts of the Philippines. Sulipan was a day trip from Manila for visiting European royalty and American colonial dignitaries like William Howard Taft. Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov of Russia, supreme commander of the Russian Navy, was hosted in Sulipan in 1891. He said that the ballroom in the Arnedo house was “one of the most brilliant sights he has ever seen.” No doubt a polite exaggeration to please the host, but the English Frederic Sawyer in “Inhabitants of the Philippines” (1900) said, “brilliant is the only word that can describe the effect produced on the spectator by the bright costumes and sparkling jewelry of the women [during a ball in the Arnedo home in Sulipan].”
Capitan Joaquin Arrnedo Cruz was said to own “a magnificent porcelain table-service of two hundred pieces, specially made and marked with his monogram, sent him by a prince who had enjoyed his hospitality.” What is left of this porcelain table-service is in a museum in De La Salle Dasmariñas. Another relic of the old days is a venerated 19th-century wood and ivory image of Apung Iru that was sent off to the town church in a fluvial procession complete with fireworks, band music, dancing, and shouts of “Viva Apung Iru!”
Augusto “Toto” Gonzalez III invited us to partake of the usual fiesta fare: lechon, asado, kare-kare, dinuguan Ilocano, and the watery Kapampangan version called “tidtad” all made from suckling pig. Dessert was leche flan and halayang ube. Then there were 19th-century heritage dishes or Cocina Sulipeña I have only read about: cabeza de jabali (stuffed boar’s head), chicken galantina (with chorizo and olives), lengua con setas (ox tongue with mushrooms), caldereta de cabrito (young goat stew), menudo Sulipeña (ox-tail stew or rabo de toro), bringhe (paella-like casserole with coconut milk). Plain rice was not served, fried lapu-lapu was the only fish dish, and the only vegetables were in a tinola made from black native chicken (ulikba). Of the many fancy desserts, I stuck to the simplest: tocino del cielo (crème caramel), Apung Iru candy of hand-rolled tablea chocolate, and meringue on a cashew crust flavored with dayap, and ornamented with stripes of caramelized sugar. Said to be a Sulipan staple since Rizal’s time, the meringue is known as “Suspiros de amor.” Sighs of love indeed when you croak from cholesterol and diabetes.
Sulipan’s heyday has long passed but it lives on in the tongue, through oral history, language, and the taste of heritage dishes lovingly prepared annually for the town fiesta.
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