Monday, May 09, 2005

"ang sarap"

Over dinner at North Park (as part of our gang’s celebration of Free Comic Book Day, during which we were given bags of swag by Comic Quest owner and best friend Vin), conversation turned, inevitably, to food and to how certain comestibles came about. Not the precise process (for example, fermentation), but just exactly what were the circumstances surrounding the first instance of discovery.

Vinegar, for example. Scenario: Some lazy or irresponsible guy in charge of collecting coconuts or apples for storage or consumption overlooks a batch of the stuff and leaves it sitting around somewhere. Some time later, some other guy comes over, looks at the smelly mess, and then makes a momentous decision to do what no rational person would do (except perhaps for us Filipinos, but more on that later*) – he sticks a finger in the evil-looking liquid…and tastes it. “Ang sarap,” he grimaces, to the astounded onlookers who think he’s gone insane.

It’s the same scenario with wine, beer or any alcoholic beverage. Fermentation is a long process that produces something that no one will think to taste as a matter of course.

But someone did.

Take patis or fish sauce. Scenario: Someone collects fish and puts them in a jar or similar receptacle, and keeps it around for a month or two for whatever arcane purpose (maybe he just forgot?). Later, someone lifts the lid, peers into the jar and sees a horrifying sight – the fish have all but disintegrated, the bones and scales on the bottom, pasty residue in the middle, and floating on top, a film of coppery-brown liquid – all enveloped in a powerful aroma that cannot be described as pleasant. What does this guy, this ancestral taster, do? He sticks a finger in…and tastes it. “Ang sarap,” he gasps, overwhelmed by the saltiness.

Come on, who would think to do that?

But someone did, and because of those collective someones, we enjoy vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce and many other seasonings.

What characterized these unknown culinary heroes? Some would say courage, a form of entrepreneurial sensibility, a trailblazing gene or a propensity towards adventure. Others would say they were just lucky being at the right place at the right time, or were bored and just had to do something to fend off weltschmerz or ennui, or were simply stupid, or were just curious.

Whichever reason, they did something no one else around them did. They acted when others felt it was foolish or embarrassing or inappropriate or dangerous.

They changed things so that untold years later, you and I can sit at a table and say “Ang sarap!”

* It is a distinctly Filipino trait to try something out. We’re all guilty of it. And more interestingly, we like to share our newfound experiences with the people around our immediate vicinity. To wit:

(DEAN and BUDDHA are eating. DEAN takes a spoonful of food into his mouth. His features contort at the awful taste.)

DEAN: Agh.

BUDDHA: What’s wrong?

DEAN: Ugh. Lasang ipis. (This tastes like cockroach.)

BUDDHA: Yuck.

DEAN (pushes a spoonful of the dubious food into BUDDHA’s mouth): Eto, tikman mo. Tikman mo! (Here, taste it. Taste it!)

BUDDHA (tastes): Agh. You’re right!

DEAN: Yuck, right?


There you go.

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