So many different but not so different after all kinds of food were treats that we got in Zamboanga City. Thanks to an invitation from old friends who celebrated milestones this week, we had feasts from breakfast to dinner and beyond. I am glad to have had the pleasure of keeping this weekly lifestyle for almost four years now and sharing the pleasures of eating and traveling. I learned to appreciate places and dishes here and there. This time let’s eat the Zamboanga way.
Tiulah itum is perhaps the unusual but should be familiar to the Cordilleran because of its familiar flavors. This is food for royalty in the southern parts of the Philippines that is prepared with burnt coconut shell.
On this second trip to Zamboanga, I realized that this is so similar to our pinikpikan. The essence of the burnt feathers in the singed chicken is the essence of the burnt coconut shell except for the gritty texture while eating the boiled beef. Similarly, the ginger is a similar spice but in the tiulah itum, there is lemon grass, too. This soup is richer and a little thicker than that of pinikpikan and the meats used different. It is the black soup that might make this aversive, but it is actually delicious and so pinikpikan.
Curacha, the spanner or red frog crab, is the signature food in Zamboanga because this is where this crab abounds. This is a cross between the crab and lobster with a shell that is difficult to crack and such a pity because one cannot get to the sweet meat in between the shell. The thing about this meat is that it is dry and thick. This is why the Alavar sauce has become popular as an added flavor. This is a sweet and spicy concoction from the crab roe. This makes for the savory difference in this crab served here.
Sea urchin rice was the most surprising food presented in this trip because the rice inside the sea urchin shell was flavorful because it absorbed the mild salty tasteof the sea urchin and combined it with the sweet glutinous rice. Steamed in the shell, this preserved the mild flavors inside with the rice. This brought back memories of Tacloban where we got to eat fresh sea urchins that we scooped out with teaspoons.
Imbao or halaan in these northern parts have been reduced to thumb sized shells. In these areas, they are served larger and actually served fresh, like oysters. It was unusual to have no kalamansi and lime was also few, so I dared to taste this minus the vinegar or citrus. It was salty and chewy and burst in the mouth with subtle fish or sea taste. With the vinegar concoction with onions and garlic, the tanginess actually ruined the natural flavors of this shellfish.
There was another large clam that was finely cubed to make a kind of kilawin, or cooked in vinegar solution with onions, ginger, chilis. This would have been tough and chewy but when sliced and cubed, this is a good pulutan or appetizer with alcoholic drinks.
The shrimp or sea mantis is always delightful because this is large here. The fried edition that presents this seafood in halves is even better. The roe is best appreciated because it is solid. The meat is firmer unlike when it is steamed, it is very tender and juicy. This is far sweeter than shrimps and crabs if you ask me.
The river snails cooked in coconut milk with fern added was one to enjoy too. This had natural sweetness too. The rivers here are still teeming with these mollusks and the addition of the fern made this another familiar treat. Sucking it out was not as difficult because they took the sharp ends off to make the air flow through.
The flavors of the sea in these dishes and the tiulah itum are welcome changes from the regular diet of chicken and pork. But mind you, these are dangerous too when taken in large doses.
Enjoy the pleasures of food while traveling!