[IRL] LUGAW AS A RECIPE FOR COMMUNITY
By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
Lugaw is our go-to food when we are unwell. On a cosmic scale, lugaw is what we need to heal our sick and suffering nation. What started as a political fashion statement, i.e., “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” has broadened and deepened into inspired clusters of volunteers such as KYUSI 4 LENI, who propagate their Kindness Wednesday Habit with pop-up lugawONE, serving the people at a different crowded Quezon City locale each week.
For the lifelong political activist and creative arts worker Ruben Felipe, lugaw has become his preferred mode of organizing at the grassroots, the laylayan or community level. In his words: Magpa-lugaw, magpakain at kausapin.
A small man with a big, full-bellied laugh, Ruben was enlightened about Philippine socio-cultural, political and economic realities as a UP College of Engineering sophomore and member of the Pi Sigma fraternity. He was elected to the College of Arts and Sciences Student Council as a representative of SAMASA (Sandigan ng Mag-aaral at Sambayanan). Despite such harrowing experiences as being interrogated by a Philippine Constabulary troop while on vacation in Bicol, merely because he was a UP student, he has never looked back. Health and financial problems have not stopped him from forging ahead through the last 43 years, towards the rosy new dawn which he believes is on the horizon.
Versatility is one of lugaw’s many virtues. You can do it basically plain with just a slice of hard-boiled egg or crispy tofu, then a dash of golden fried garlic and a sprinkling of spring onions on top. It can be richer with laman loob like goto, twalya, puso at baga. Thinning the broth stretches it so that many more hungry mouths might be fed. Make it thicker and you have a festive pospas or arroz caldo, traditional favorites after misa de gallo or as an after midnight, early breakfast to start the New Year right.
Ruben’s brother, who ran a carinderia, taught him the classic way of making lugaw with chicken broth from chicken necks. The secret is in the hours-long, steady, painstaking process of cooking that broth. The ingredients are not just suddenly thrown together and left to boil in a confused jumble at high heat. It’s a matter of incrementally sautéing the various condiments—onions, garlic, fresh turmeric or luyang dilaw--with the chicken, the mix of malagkit and plain rice, all the while gradually adding water until the right consistency is achieved. Over time, the chicken skin, flesh and bones disintegrate, and the fat is rendered, dissolving together with all the other ingredients, uniting and transforming into just a singular lugaw with an authentic chicken flavor that only such a long, drawn-out effort can bring.
With the working together of time, labor and great patience, the many elements of lugaw come together as one. This may be a metaphor for the centuries-long process where a scattered group of islands and tribes, first brought together into an archipelago by imperial Spanish colonizers, is ever so slowly and often tumultuously, coming together into one nation. Many hands have stirred the pot but we’re still cooking. Through a steady diet of lugawONE during our long convalescence and healing as a nation, we may find ourselves brought to wholeness and wellness one day.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.