“SAPAL: A Smelly yet Yummy “Kakanin” found only in Sibalom”

Written by Christine Joy Obuela, B.S. in Applied Mathematics III.

Sapal is a “kakanin” or a native food in Philippines that is found only in Antique, specifically, in Sibalom, Antique. It is basically made of rice with some other ingredient to put flavor on it and is wrapped by a leaf. Many people claim that Sapal is one of the cleanest food in the whole world because if a single dirt is present on the it or they call it ”malibugan”, the rice will harden and the taste will be sour. It is a food from long time ago that old people eat especially when they work on a far place because this food do not get spoiled, it just gets bitter and shrinks in size but it can still be eaten. This food is also believed to be a remedy for cough, rheumatism, and stomachache. In the whole Sibalom, only two Sapal makers are left. One is from Lacarun which is a barangay located in north of Sibalom while the other one is from Tigbalua, also a barangay but is located in South of Sibalom. The latter is Mrs. Jennifer Alvior, 45 years old with two kids. She started making Sapal five years ago with the guidance of her mother. She learned how to make Sapal from her mother because this food is not something that you can do with pure luck. Mrs. Alvior said that she does not make Sapal regularly because it is tiresome and she also works in the farm. She makes it if someone arranges an order or on special days like on Tuesdays because Tuesday is the market day of Sibalom or during Halloween because people in Sibalom tend to prepare food especially “kakanins” on this day.

Preparing Sapal is very tedious and difficult. It requires time, effort, and accuracy because a single mistake can lead to disaster. A single mistake can ruin the whole work, meaning all your effort and ingredients will be put to waste. There are also a lot of restrictions and beliefs in making Sapal. One of it is that you can’t make it if you have menstruation. It is also believed that you can’t make it if someone is from a wake or a funeral be it the maker or a bystander. Although it is not proven as to why this is so, they still practice it to this day in order to be assured. It is also a must that you should first wash thoroughly all the materials that you will use. After that, wash it again using guava leaves or lemongrass to make it cleaner. Also, take note that all the materials used is exclusively for Sapal making only, that includes the pot, the mortar and pestle, the basin used for washing the rice, everything, down to the stick that is used to mix the rice for faster cooling.

There are only three main ingredients of Sapal namely, Rice, Sugar, and Tapay. Of course the first two can just be bought from a store but the last one is what makes Sapal a food that is difficult to prepare and also the reason as to why this “kakanin” is different from the others. Also, take note that you can’t use just any rice but you should use a rice that was from the last harvest or the older one, they call it “laon nga bugas” it is so because if it not “laon” the rice will harden. You can use any sugar but refined is better because it is colored white and doesn’t add some unnecessary color to the Sapal.

It takes approximately five days to make Sapal and the first three days is for the making of Tapay which is the main ingredient. It is made up of four ingredients namely; seven pieces of medium sized ginger, seven pieces of “kutitot” chilli, seven small packs of ground pepper, and three cups of “laon nga bugas”.

In the morning, soak the ingredients in two cups of water, first three in the bottom then rice in the upper part. After five hours, pound the mixture using “lusong and hal-o”. It should be done manually, not by machine. Pound it to the extent that it should be of floury texture then shape it in a circular manner. Put it on the “kararaw” with straw (the straw should be washed first) and leave it there for three days in order for it to dry. When it has already dried up, put it under the sun for five minutes to easily brush off the molds that has accumulated, do it for the two sides of the Tapay.

Now, that the Tapay is ready, all you need is to prepare the other two ingredients which is the rice and the sugar. Wash first the rice three times and cook it in a traditional manner. Boil 15 cups of water in a pot then put 15 cups of rice in

  1. After the rice is cooked, put it on a clean table with banana leaf as a cover and let it cool down. It’s okay to mix it up in order for the rice to cool faster. The rice should be cooled because if not, the

taste will be sour. When it has already cooled down, pound again two pieces of Tapay using Mortar and Pestle. Now that all the ingredients are ready, mix it all up including one and one-fourth sugar. Mix it all thoroughly until it become a little bit wet because of the sugar.

To wrap the Sapal, “Talos” is being used. It is a kind of wild leaves that grows on farms. It is thick and is a little bit smooth in texture. The leaves should be wiped one by one first in order for it to be clean before using it. Use a measuring cup, in this case is made of coconut shell, to measure the amount of Sapal to be put on each leaf. After all of the Sapal is packed, put it in a basin and leave it there for two days in order for it to ferment. After it has fermented, the Sapal is ready to be sold or eaten.

In the past, you can buy Sapal for Php5.00 each piece but nowadays, because of price hikes of many products the price of it also increased. Mrs. Alvior sells Sapal for only Php15.00 for two pieces. She also accepts orders of Tapay which is Php20.00 per piece. She sells every Tuesday on Sibalom market from 7 am and she usually finishes it before lunch time because she prepares only a fair amount of it.

Like all food, some people likes Sapal and some dislikes it. But in this case, most of the people don’t like it. It’s not because of its taste but because of its smell. Some people describes it as the vomit of a drunk person and some are out of words to describe it because it is very foul-smelling. It’s because the moment that you open the fermented Sapal, the unpleasant strong smell serves as a greeting to the consumer. Even those that eat Sapal is agreeing that indeed it is malodorous but they just ignore it. Instead they eat it without minding the smell it emits. Disregarding the smell of the Sapal, the taste of it is good. It’s a little bit spicy, a little bit sour, a little bit bitter, and a little bit sweet at the same time.

Not so long ago, there were many Sapal makers including the aunt of Mrs. Alvior which ceased to make Sapal now because of her age. As I have mentioned before, there are only two Sapal makers left so, speaking of production, it has really declined. Also, in the past, Mrs. Alvior makes three “gantang” of Sapal or approximately six and three-fourths kilo but as of now, she only makes one “gantang” or approximately two and one-fourth kilo because it will be put to waste if she can’t finish selling it all. Although she could eat it, the money that she used will not be replaced that would lead to a deficit.

Being a food from long time ago, it is a given that many of the old people know this food but it seems that the young ones are ignorant that this certain food exists. Many factors affect why this is so, one of which is the introduction of other country’s food. As we all know, Filipinos have this colonial mentality which is the preference of foreign things over local things. This also applies to the food that we eat. Many restaurants that serves foreign foods can be seen all around the country. Be it in the mall, in the city or even in a local town, many Filipinos patronize these foods rather than a food which represents their own culture and tradition. When I asked some young people (ages 19 and below) if they know what Sapal is, majority of them said that they don’t but when asked if they know what a Sushi is, they quickly replied with a yes.

Making Sapal is indeed very tiresome and requires a lot of time. It may be the reason as to why not many people chose to make it. If no one would make it, what will happen to Sapal? Many of the things that are long existing are slowly being forgotten, consciously or unconsciously. Those things that the new generation continue to ignore well in fact, these are the things that they should know because these defines what they are for it represents tradition in their specific place. For example is this Sapal, only two people knows how to make this, what happens then if they stop making it because of some reasons? It’s good if their children will continue this work but what if they’ll not? The production of Sapal already depreciated over a short period of time and so are the people buying it.  As you can see, our country is quickly changing and so is the people in it. Things outside our country influences those that are inside. Some may be good influences but some aren’t. Sapal may be a food that is not nose-friendly at all but it’s worth a try. Try eating it, or you may even try making it in order for this food to not be forgotten or, in a worst case, be gone forever.

About the artist:

Name: Jennifer Alvior

Address: Tigbalua 1, Sibalom 5713, Antique, Philippines

For more information, contact the author of this paper, cjobuela@gmail.com.

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