Friday, June 5, 2015

№ 198. Frontier Life at the Wild, Wild East

Masbate lies almost at the farthest end of Bicol region. It serves as Luzon's link and crossroad to Samar, Leyte, Cebu and Panay, farther to the south and deeper into the Visayas. Because Masbate’s frontier islands are also niched at the typhoon corridor of the Philippines, leaps of miles away from the country’s economic hubs, they are blessed and isolated by the seas surrounding them.

To be sure, while our seafood can often be abundant, our supply chain of goods and services is keenly dependent on clement weather, the nautical highway and once-a-day flight.

Dried seafood from Saud or the weekend market

These crossroads have come to be reflected in Masbate’s people, food and language, as well. By inhabiting the fringes of imperial Manila and the queen city of Cebu, we Masbateños have learned to cultivate a happy, sometimes confounding, influence of tongues and temperaments borrowed from our neighbors and quietly adapted to the life and rhythm of these islands.

For instance, Masbate’s insular location probably explains why our food, although not as spicy as that in mainland Albay, still has a subtle affinity for chilies. One can say that the sea has buffered the triune islands of Masbate, Ticao and Burias from the testy and fiery Mayon volcano. So, yes, we concede much fewer chilies on our jack fruit stews but definitely no less coconut milk!

Another example is our carmelado. It is often hawked at the pier, airport and bus terminals. This pastillas or milk candy is not the soft or nut-laden variety common elsewhere but the smoky and lightly caramelized carabao’s milk. Our lechon, the centerpiece in most festivities, is not garlicky like Ormoc’s but laced with lemon grass and guava leaves. Our seafood sinigang is flavored, in lieu of tamarind and kamias, by our own souring agent Batuan, a fruit also used in Ilonggo cuisine.

Rodeo Arena at the Grandstand near the airport

Several towns facing Cebu like Cawayan and Cataingan undeniably speak and cook Cebuano. The towns in Burias Island, the one closest to Camarines and Albay, sing and dance more Bicolano than the rest of the province which are oriented differently and closer to other neighboring provinces. Lastly, our capital city is, well, trilingual: Tagalog, Cebuano and Waray.

Rodeo Masbateño, therefore, while it showcases the “cattle country” of the Philippines also invites one to wrestle first hand with Masbate underneath and inspite of its many influences. One will discover, again thanks to its geography, that what is essentially Masbateño is the resilience, industry and hopeful attitude forged from a hardy life at this eastern frontier.

Here in “rodeo country” a visitor is invited to experience first-hand, through Masbate’s folks and cuisine, that opportunity opens up to many who have kept the pioneer spirit. These noble pioneers are people who brave the risks. They have the discipline to tame the horns of adversity. They have learned, through hard work, that abundance is roped in by those who are skilled in herding and steering untapped resources---humans, land, cattle, minerals, marine, agriculture, et cetera.

Through its young history, Masbate has lived out a frontier life coupled with a pioneer spirit. This frontier life, while serving as its geographical context, is also an inspiration for its evolving cultural identity.

Bento Box:

How to get to Masbate from Manila:

1. By air, daily morning flights, via PAL Express, NAIA 3

2. By sea, every Monday, via 2Go, North Harbor Pier 4

3. By land and sea (South road), daily, jump off points of roll-on roll-off (RORO) boats are Bulan, Sorsogon; Pilar, Sorsogon; or, Pio Duran, Albay via the Isarog Lines, Roro Buses and others at the Cubao Terminal behind Ali Mall.

Rodeo Masbateño,is an annual festival held in April, usually after Holy Week.

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