If there’s one food that’s close to being endemic to Cantilan, then it would probably be the kinilaw. All those sarsiado putajes - those swimming in sauce that they make a glooping sound when you ladle them on to your plate - are either imports from China, or imitations of Spanish cooking .
Kinilaw , on the other hand, is true-blue Cantilangnon cuisine , something which has been handed down through generations, that a kinilaw loving- gene has probably morphed in our DNA. It is a food that intertwines with our cultures, and captures who we are . If you want a gastronomic definition of what a Cantilangnon is , the kinilaw may come close it.
For example, if many are wondering why Cantilangnons are so passionate in their defense of the environment, they may find the answer in that dish.
You don’t burn fossil fuel or wood to prepare a fish kinilaw . Because it must be prepared fresh, then you need not refrigerate it . Hence, spared of the trip to the icebox, it will not consume a single watt of electricity . No other dish can boast of such green credential.
And because of this premium for freshness, then the fish to be “kilaw-ed” must be locally-sourced. Unlike Wagyu beef which must be flown halfway across the world, the kinilaw must jump from the fishpond to the plate, in minutes, not in weeks, in meters, not in miles.
It’s preparation likewise leaves a small carbon footprint . You don’t have to burn a forest of wood to cook it, the way lechons are roasted to cardiac perfection . Even the ingredients to accompany the raw fish are locally available . Basic kinilaw can be made out of two ‘S’ – suka and salt. Make it four ‘S’ – by adding ‘sibuyas and sili’ , then its perfect . Add balibajon and luj-a, then welcome to kinilaw Nirvana.
You also need no fancy gadgets to prepare it. You just need two. Slice the fish with sundangay, mix the four ‘S’ in a plate, then it’s done. Leave the Oysterizers to the Bobby Flays of this world. In kinilaw, the recipe can be summed up in six words : Have knife and plate , will kilaw .
Kinilaw also captures the Cantilangnon traits of dili kun buraho and mahinatagon . In kinilaw , you only prepare what you can eat at the moment . It is not humba that can be hoarded . It is not adobo that can be reheated. It is not a glutton’s food because if you overeat kinilaw your stomach will punish you for your greed.
Kinilaw is meant to shared and not be savored in solitude. The man who eats kinilaw alone is probably the loneliest in the world. Kinilaw is Cantilan’s original boodle fight food. It is a communal dish that you share with kith and kin. In fact, the joy in eating kinilaw is not in the tasting but in the sharing.
Kinilaw is Cantilan’s party food. You serve it and the feast will automatically follow. It loosens wine bottles ,and tongues too , for serving it heralds drinking and bakak-bakak. It is bonding food that is the predicate for drinking , the premise for singing, and the preamble for drinking.
Because kinilaw must be sourced nearby, then it necessitates the imperative to protect its source . The right to enjoy kinilaw carries it with the duty to protect and preserve the seas which yield this bounty. Kinilaw and bad ecological practices don’t mix. You don’t poison the fishpond nor pollute the seas. What motivates the intrepid fishermen of Ayoke to protect their seas ? Kinilaw . Haven’t you noticed that they and the rest of Cantilangnons measure environmental degradation in kinilaw terms : “Waya nay bolinao na makilaw., Nihit na an angsuhan na puyde kilawon”
The kinilaw allowed our ancestors to sail far and wide , nourishing them in their long journeys, as they traded with villages and , yes, occasionally raiding them too . It was the convenient food-on-the-go , needing no firewood to prepare and with the teeming source just under their boat’s hull. It was also probably the combat rations of the Bajujo-Calagdaan-Palasao bravehearts when they drove the Moros out of Tandag fort in the 1750s. It could be the reason that until today, “kinilaw “ is the ultimate trash talk to one’s opponent for no threat drips with much insult and sarcasm than “kilawon ko kaw !”
I hope that like our forefathers, kinilaw remains our comfort food in the years ahead .
Kilaw ta !