ONE of the native delicacies that the visiting group of Manila-based journalists (of which my husband Raff and I were a part of) indulged in during our recent stay in the Province of Isabela to cover the 2013 Magical Bambanti Festival was Binallay. It’s a sticky rice flour cake wrapped in banana leaves that originates from the City of Ilagan, where it’s considered as a Holy Week delicacy because it’s a tradition for the people of Ilagan to fast during Holy Week and eat nothing but binallay.
Binallay is a kind of suman that Jun, Daisy and Nathan, the media coordinators assigned to us by the Office of Governor Faustino ‘Bojie’ Dy III during our four-day visit, brought us for breakfast one morning at Hotel Sophia, where we were staying. Despite the fact that all of us has had a filling breakfast already (which included lobsters, adobo flakes and scrambled eggs with steamed rice courtesy of hotel owner Lala Bernardo and Theo Garcia), we all still had room for the curious-looking flat suman that had just arrived and proceeded, without much prodding, to try the binallay.
But not without first being taught how to properly enjoy it.
First, there is a technique in unwrapping and eating the binallay. First, you have to spoon a generous amount of its sweet syrupy sauce called laro (made with panutsa and coconut milk with little curdles of latik) onto your plate. This is to keep the binallay from sticking to the plate once you plate it. Then, you hold a piece of binallay up, peel off its banana leaf wrapping in strips to keep the sticky cake intact and prevent it from sticking to the banana leaf, and then let it fall gently on top of the sauce. Then you start forking your way through the binallay just like regular suman.
A quick bite of the binallay and we had to be off to our official press conference and interview with Governor Dy at the Governor’s Mansion, fondly called Balai, which stood right beside the Provincial Capitol in Ilagan. After the official function and the lunch that ensued, the lady who made the binallays that we enjoyed for breakfast that morning arrived at the Balai with more binallays and was all propped up to show us how to made the local delicacy.
We proceeded to the Balai’s kitchen, and, there, Natividad Ricafrente, who has been making binallay for over 10 years now, conducted a demonstration on how this popular food product from Ilagan is made. The binallay of Ilagan, Isabela, can last for five days to a full week.
2 cups malagkit (glutinous rice flour), of bongkitan variety*
1. In a bowl, place the malagkit rice flour (*bongkitan is an organic glutinous rice variety grown in the Cordilleras).
2. Add just enough water, a little at a time, to hold the rice flour in place and form a dough.
3. Knead the dough until pliable.
4. Divide dough into small balls the size of an egg or pingpong ball. Knead the small ball of dough until smooth, roll to an oval shape and slightly flatten using both palms.
5. Dust small pieces of banana leaves and lay on working service in a stack.
6. Place a small flattened dough ball in the center of a banana leaf. Wrap the banana leaf around the binallay dough, then fold both edges to seal.
7. Place banana leaf packets in a steamer, and steam for 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked.
1 cup freshly grated coconut milk
1 cup panutsa or tagapulot (whole raw sugar)
1. Pour coconut milk into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously until thick and brown in color.
2. Add panutsa or tagapulot. Continue stirring until the sugar is completely melted and caramelizes.
3. Add just a little water and simmer until of thick sauce consistency.