As I've mentioned before (here and here), the Filipino term "Pasalubong" refers to the gifts and souvenirs that people receive from a traveler arriving from another destination. So when my cousin, Kathy, recently arrived in L.A. from the Philippines, she gifted my family with some wonderful Filipino goodies.
Now while my cuz's suitcases were full of presents like slippers and Manny Pacquiao t-shirts (sweet!), I of course was most interested in the edible gifts. Among the tasty Pinoy treats were the usual yummy suspects of chichacorn and various candies, but I was most taken by the appearance of Tupig.
Tupig is a Filipino snack that is a favorite around Christmastime--which was perfect for us as my cousin happened to arrive on Christmas Eve. More specifically though, Tupig is very similar to Suman: a Filipino delicacy of sweet glutinous rice that is wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. But what makes Tupig different from Suman is that instead of being steamed, the banana leaf parcels are grilled over an open fire, yielding a pleasantly smoky and charred flavor.
However, not all Tupig are alike. Aside from wrapping the sweet rice mixture in banana leaves, Ilocanos also like to place the rice in sections of fresh bamboo; the bamboo is then baked underground in a burried fire pit or baked over an open flame.
In whatever form it presents itself, wrapped in a leaf of stuffed in a shoot, Tupig is a wonderful example of Filipino culinary ingenuity--preparing an amazing dessert with whatever is at hand and with limited resources.
Let's take a closer look at these packages, shall we?
Banana Leaf Tupig
Both types of the Tupig my cousin smuggled brought were from the town of Batac in Ilocos Norte, Philippines. As you can see in the picture above, the charring of the Tupig is not exclusive to the banana leaf, but the flame also penetrates the sticky rice within.
Considering that the Tupig traveled across the Pacific to get into my gullet, I reheated the banana leaf packages by wrapping them in a wet paper towel, then nuking them in the microwave for a good 5-10 Mississippis.
Not a banana slug. Go Gauchos!
My reheated banana leaf Tupig was a thing of beauty--sweet and smoky with flecks of grated and toasted coconut. The texture of the Tupig was also delightfully gummy--think of mochi, but warm. If Tupig is this good after a long flight, I can only imagine how spectacular it is fresh off the streets in Batac.
While the banana leaf variety of Tupig is easy enough to get into, the bamboo variety takes a little more elbow grease. My mother used a heavy meat cleaver to cut the bamboo shoot in half lengthwise. But I have no heavy meat cleaver. Luckily though, I do collect the weapons of Moroland (that's a joke, btw).
Have bolo, will travel.
The trick of cleaving open a bamboo shoot is to just tap your sharp implement of choice into the top of the non-wrapped end of the shoot (one end of the tupig is wrapped in cellophane). Continue to lightly tap until the edge of the blade is wedged a couple inches into the shoot (no need to raise your blade high into the air and then chop down--risking a severed limb if your aim isn't true).
Once you have your blade wedged into the bamboo, then you can bang the bottom of the bamboo (with the blade embedded in the top) on the ground until you make your way through the bamboo.
Espada Tupig y Daga
Once the bamboo is split, the tastiness is yours for the taking as the rice and coconutty goodness is exposed to the world!
Tupig is better than one.
To harvest the sweetness within the shoot, just use a spoon to scrape out the rice. Place the sweet rice on a plate, then reheat in the microwave for a few seconds with a wet paper towel placed atop. Voila, warm and comforting Tupig.
Tupig or not Tupig? That is the question.
The bamboo shoot Tupig was just as sweet and tasty as the banana leaf Tupig, though it lacked the same smoky and charred flavor. Also, as opposed to the smooth texture of the banana leaf Tupig, the grains of rice in the bamboo shoot Tupig held their shape. And because of the bamboo shoot, the rice that was immediately adjacent to the walls of the tube were browned and crisp.
In all honesty, I thoroughly enjoyed both types of Tupig, going through a couple of tubes and a few banana leaf packages on my own. But if you were to hold a machete to my head and make me choose one, I think I'd pick the banana leaf version if only for that whiff of smokiness from a distant land.