More on Rice
and Malagkit na Bigas

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Rice is the staple food in the Filipino diet. Despite the growing influences of Western and Continental food which offers bread, potatoes or pasta as a substitute most Filipinos cannot live without rice. Whether one is a lowly farmer or an urban worker, a student, professional, or a member of the elite, a meal is not complete unless rice is served to accompany the main viand of pork, fish, chicken, beef, vegetables or in the most dire circumstances, dry fish or salt. It is unthinkable to eat dried fish or paksiw na isda, sinigang, kare-kare or lechon without rice. The type of rice that one eats as well as the quantity of rice stored in one's home are considered a sign of one's ability to provide for his family and of one's wealth.

Because it is so important to feed the nation's population, rice, together with other major national products like coconut and sugar, has become a barometer of the state of the national economy and of the government's capacity to feed the people. Adequate rice production indicates stability, but when rice shortages compel the government to import it, this becomes a major crisis that government has to address to forestall widespread discontent.

Aside from its importance in the economy, rice is also central to the social and cultural life of the Filipinos because so many of our activities and practices revolve around rice: from our communal rituals (particularly in upland areas) of offering sacrifices to the gods and appeasing them so that they may provide bountiful harvests, to the well-known customs and practices in the lowlands, such as sprinkling rice on the bride and groom to symbolize social acceptance and prosperity. When Filipinos move into a new home, the first thing they have to bring is an abundant amount of rice, salt and sugar to ensure prosperity.

Rice is usually a main ingredient as well in festive dishes prepared in diverse forms such as steamed, fried, cooked in coconut, sweetened, used as stuffing for various dishes or vegetables or made into delicacies that are as varied as the regions of the country. The Philippines boasts numerous festivals in honor of patron saints of the farmers, such as the Pahiyas of the San Isidro Labrador in Lucban. On such an occasion the whole town is transformed into a veritable kaleidoscope of color, with houses adorned with creative, ingenious designs of rice stalks and kiping (ground rice molded into multi-colored crisp leaves) hung like chandeliers or shaped into flowers, hats, around the windows. The Pulilan festival, on the other hand, celebrates the harvest and features a colorful parade of carabaos decorated twigs, or floats of different regions displaying rice fields, green rice stalks or freshly harvested dry rice stalks.


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Malagkit na Bigas

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First class malagkit rice has rounded, ivory white grains.)

Malagkit is the Tagalog word for glutinous rice. It is boiled, steamed, pounded, ground, puffed and roasted to produce a thousand and one sticky and sweet delicacies the Orient is known for.

In the Philippines, glutinous rice is grown mostly in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog. In public markets, one can find two varieties of malagkit. The first class or "sweet" variety, which has a rounded and ivory white grain and the regular or cheaper one with a longish and almost translucent grain.

Most of the native delicacies originating from the different regions of the country contain malagkit as the main ingredient. Coconut, creamy and mildly sweet, always serves as an accompaniment to enhance the malagkit's glutinous texture.

How did the malagkit delicacies we are so fond of come to be? Certainly, their discovery could be attributed to our fore fathers' creative curiosity and experimental spirit. We could imagine, for example, that it must have occurred to them that if sweet rice was boiled in pouches made from nipa leaves or banana leaves, the result would be a fragrant and delectable snack food which we now call suman.

We may also conjure images of farmers' wives in the Ilocos region of yore entertaining the idea of using the mounds of rice chaff that abounded in the fields for cooking. They made a dough from ground sweet rice, mixed it with coconut milk and sugar, wrapped the concoction with layers of banana leaves to protect it from ashes, and placed it under the slow burning rice chaff. The outcome? The exotic tupig we all rave about!


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