By Vina Medenilla
Slow Food is an organization that aims to protect food culture and heritage all over the world. It is a global movement that involves millions of people that work together to ensure that the populace gets access to sustainable, clean, and fair food supply. Slow Food has established different programs, which includes Ark of Taste.
The Ark of Taste is a set of dishes, crops, or livestock that are in danger of extinction hence, the need to identify, promote, and preserve them by increasing their production and demand in the market. Through Ark of Taste, anyone can nominate products that are forgotten in their locality.
In a webinar on Archiving Ark of Taste Ingredients in the Philippines held by Slow Food Manila, the importance of producing, consuming, and experiencing native ingredients were discussed.
Slow Food Manila councilor for Southeast Asia Pacita “Chit” Juan says, in the Philippines, we traditionally use different ingredients for flavoring that varies per region; many local crops that are used as souring agents like kamias, sampaloc, and bayabas in Luzon, batuan (Garcinia binucao) in Visayas, and tabon-tabon (Atuna racemosa) in Mindanao.
Ige Ramos, book designer and food writer, studied Cavite food years ago, which includes one plant that is yet to be registered for Ark of Taste called dampalit.
Dampalit for Ark of Taste
Dampalit or sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum), is an edible herb with a salty taste that can also be a candidate for Ark of Taste, said Ramos. This can be found in the mangrove forest. Although dampalit is already long forgotten, there are still people who consume them. Dampalit shoots or tops are normally used. In some provinces, they also make atchara and salad out of dampalit. The best time to collect this is during the high tide when the water is salty. Dampalit changes its color to magenta or purple during this period so it will allow you to distinguish them better when harvesting in the wild.
In his research study, Ramos discovered that dampalit is wildcrafted (something that can be gathered from the wild) and that they grow alongside mangrove species like banalo or malapuso (Thespesia populnea), api-api (Avicennia), and pagatpat (Sonneratia caseolaris). “Dampalit will be gone forever if we don’t protect the mangroves. A lot of our food, actually 30% of our food is wildcrafted,” Ramos explained.
At first, you’d think that dampalit is just an unimportant weed, but Ramos says, it is crucial to preserve the mangrove forests where it grows as there are many things yet to be discovered in them. Ramos suggests that legislators write or enhance laws that will cover the protection of endangered plants in the Philippines.
Remembering taste in memory and experience
Archiving is more than just a list of things stored in books or papers. Even our human body can serve as an archive, too, says Raymond Macapagal, an assistant professor teaching food culture and heritage at the University of the Philippines Diliman. “Food has to be looked at as an experience. It’s a multisensory experience, it’s one of the few human activities which involve six or seven human senses,” Macagapal expounds that to remember the taste, one will have to experience it firsthand.
As a professor, he lets his local and international students try coffee tasting, including Barako and other locally-grown coffee varieties like Arabica and Robusta. “Barako is not just a taste, there’s also the texture, smell, and even how it sits in your stomach,” says Macapagal. Besides taste, one will have to study other aspects of a product like its color, sizes, and shapes to fully experience it. And of course, the experience won’t be complete without knowing how to produce and gather them.
In Ifugao, harvesting rice is something more than just the practice itself as they sing traditional chants before and during the process. Food is also about culture, the professor says, “In the Ark of Taste catalog of the Philippines, these are not just products for us to consume because these are heritage products, these are rice varieties that are linked to particular rituals.”
“It’s not just about traditional ingredients, it’s also getting these traditional, endangered ingredients and making them look more modern,” Macapagal said in making it enticing for the younger generation. “The archiving of Ark of Taste products in the Philippines entails going beyond lists and descriptions.” As per Macapagal, it is crucial to remember these ingredients not just through smell and taste, but also through sight, sound, and feeling.
Watch the webinar here:
In the future, we wouldn’t want to see more ingredients listed on the Ark of Taste catalog, but savoring these food crops is better than remembering their presence when they’re already gone.