Guest Author - Rachel Meneses-Ponce
Suman and vinegar are two of the many products that are part and parcel of life in the Philippines and which Filipinos are fond of. Suman is sweet and is a favourite snack. Vinegar, on the other hand is a constant in every Filipino household which is always part of Filipino cooking and a favourite dip for fried fish, steamed shrimp and crab and kinilaw (raw seafood, usually fish or oyster, mixed with onions, tomatoes, ginger, salt, cilantro, “cooked” in vinegar or lime juice and served as is).
Some delicacies in the Philippines, may have the same ingredients, but by itself tells a story that speaks of culture and traditions prevalent in the place it came from.
Take suman (glutinous rice cake) for example. Suman budbud from the Visayas is as different from suman latik from Southern Luzon as my fingers are different from yours. Both have similar ingredients (glutinous rice, coconut milk, sugar, and banana leaves wrappings) and the similarity ends there. Each is cooked differently, does not taste the same and is wrapped in another way as well.
Budbud literally means suman in Visayan dialect. However to distinguish it from other types, it has become common practice to call this particular kind as suman budbud. Suman budbud is eaten with a sprinkling of sugar in it although you can eat it by itself as it is already sweet since sugar is added to rice/coconut milk mixture during cooking. Filipinos have naturally sweet tooth.
On the other hand, suman latik, by its name tells you that the suman always goes with latik. By itself, the taste of the suman is bland. But when you spread the latik over it or dip it into the latik before taking a bite, then the taste changes as if by magic. Coconuts abound in Southern Luzon. It is not surprising that our forebears found various uses of coconut milk. Latik is one. It is a concoction of coconut milk and brown sugar cooked in slow fire over a long period. This is also known as coconut jam. A more traditional preparation of latik is one where coconut milk is cooked over slow fire until it turns into bits like curds and oil separates from the bits.
Suman budbud and suman latik are but two of the many suman varieties in the Philippines. Other types are suman kabug, suman sa lihiya, suman cassava to mention a few. Let’s move on and take a glimpse of another product Filipinos seem can't do without.
The generic term for vinegar in the vernacular is suka. But once suka is appended with another term, then it distinguishes itself from other varieties. The appendage could be a place of origin where it was made or from the plant/source from where it was derived.
Thus, sukang Paombong means this type of vinegar originated from a town called Paombong in Bulacan, a province in the northern Luzon. Then there’s sukang Iloko. You guessed it. This vinegar is made in Ilocos region. Sukang tuba, from coconut sap, if I am not mistaken is tuba (local liquor) gone sour, no pun intended. Its fermentation period is longer than that of tuba, hence resulting in more acidity.
Then there’s sukang sasa, derived from the sap of the nipa palm. Other varieties would be cane vinegar, with sugar cane as source; sukang pinakurat which comes in variations of original, hot and spicy (usually with chilli peppers, garlic, salt, peppercorns), and hot and sweet; vinegar and honey (a local version of apple cider vinegar) and so-called commercial vinegars with artificial ingredients to simulate the color, acidity and sourness of the native suka.
There are other types of suka available other than those mentioned. What I included are the more popular and widely used.
As for me, I like the scent - if we can call it that - of the sukang tuba and sukang Iloko. Either of this two is best for kinilaw (similar to ceviche). The vinegar and honey combination is what I use for salad dressing while the hot and spicy variation of sukang pinakurat, I use for dipping. For “paksiw” (fish stew in vinegar) and adobo, sukang Paombong will do the job. The commercially prepared vinegar – does not matter which brand, although being practical I would go for the cheapest - I use for cleaning my kitchen countertops, sink and add-on to laundry wash.