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Rice turned into a snack becomes kakanin—“something a lot of Pinoys love to eat till the next meal. The kakanin remains as constant as rice and as complex as our identity as Filipinos. With simple ingredients like glutinous rice, coconut milk, and sugar, we can turn them into kakanin of unending varieties.
We hear the maglalako (hawker) shout "Puto! Kutsinta!" or honk their wares while balancing tin containers on a shoulder. Market stalls still sell them by the bilao or packaged in neat Styrofoam at the supermarket's native deli.
Glutinous rice is used to make kakanin instead of the type we cook with our ulam. Calling them cakes may seem misleading but that is what they are—“rice cakes that are meant to celebrate our staple food.
This special kind of rice are so prized that early Filipinos offered the best kakanin to the gods as thanksgiving. These are also served in our fiestas, holidays, and other special gatherings. Aside from malagkit rice, we also use cassava, ube, pinipig, and other root crops in making our kakanin.
Filling, sweet, and sticky, here is a sampling of our favorite Filipino kakanin:
Sapin-sapin is a colorful layered rice cake, made from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and sugar. The best sapin-sapin is the one with a texture so fine it glides and tastes milky. Its colors—“violet, yellow and white—“makes it more attractive. Latik is sprinkled on the top. Also served with grated coconut.
Origin: From the root word sapin which is Tagalog for "blanket," the name pertains to the layers of rice cake. The best sapin-sapin I've tasted was freshly made from the pamilihang bayan of Malabon, also home to many rice cake makers. Gilda Cordero ernando notes that the best sapin-sapin is claimed by all Central Luzon provinces, one of which is Nueva Ecija. She says their ersion is six or seven-layered, creamy, and melt in your mouth.
Interesting layers: To achieve the blankets of kakanin, each layer is steamed until set before the next layer is added. Before the advent of food coloring, Sta. Maria notes the traditional colors were purple (ube), golden brown (brownsugar), and white (white sugar). Some sapin-sapin are sold as several small rectangles of one color each formed in concentric circles.
SPOT recommends: Dolor's Kakanin, P145 good for 2-3 people (Malabon 281-2739; Quezon City 927-4453)
Sweet basics: A rice cake made from glutinous rice and usually wrapped tightly in leaves. Sta. Maria notes that the leaf wrapper—“banana, palm, buri and pandan—“varies according to locality. Some can be bought in bunches or in single portions.
Origin: Filipinos have been making the suman since pre-colonial times. We offer it to the gods and as presents to visitors. Antonio Pigafetta, according to Sta. Maria, provides the first description of the rice cakes, which he observed "were wrapped in leaves and were made in somewhat longish pieces."
Interesting layers: Almost all provinces have their own special suman. There's suman sa
ibos, suman sa lihia, sumang balinghoy, sumang inantala, sumang mais, sumang maruecos, sumang saba, suman sa budbud. From Pampanga there's suman a duman, suman a inangit, suman a patupat. From Dumaguete, the budbud kabug is made from millet instead of rice. In Leyte, there's suman nga matamis, suman inasin, tinipa, morĂłn,
sagmani and binagol.
Tita Lynn's Flavored Suman, P25 per piece (Coco Mas and Ube flavors); Abe (Suman sa Lihiya with Latik, P129 and Choco Eh! fondue with Fried Suman, P220)