Sunday, August 12, 2012

WHY ARE WE AFRAID OF THE BIG, BAD BALAW-BALAW? Braincrumbs of a Diaspora Kid on the Pampango Signit' Burong Hipon [Part II of II]

        From Palengke to Fancy‐Pants Grocers: Balaw‐Balaw Gets a Makeover. Honestly speaking, it was only during my highschool years did I find out that the condiment that I’ve enjoyed through the years, notably Patis (a.k.a. Fish sauce), was a fermented product. And looking back today, it had occurred to me that my pre‐judgment of the rest of fermented foods (and though I speak of this plurally, you very well know I’m just referring to Balaw‐Balaw) was actually preempt‐able. It all had to do with presentation. This was the lesson I had learned during the three years that Hot Palayok Food Products had operated.       

        It’s ironic ‐‐‐‐ I never liked the stuff, but I helped manage a business where I went back and forth from the secretary level to production line. My mother was the proprietress of Hot Palayok Food Products. It specialized in serving to the public a sublime helping of Burong Hipon. It originally had intentions of eventually expanding to include more than balaw‐balaw in the line. For a business it was short lived because my dad began complaining, stating that we had come home to the Philippines as a retirement plan. And in the business, he was the only one manually placing the lid on the bottles, ensuring a tight close. (Because he was the one with the strongest grip)

        Burong Hipon production was a particularly “picky” business. Our product stood out above the rest because it was scientifically prepared. It was tested by the DOST as well as UP Diliman for bacterial content which amounted to almost zero. Hot Palayok took pride in the quality which went into each bottle. The business comprises a small staff consisting of family members, first and foremost because of sanitation culture, and the fact that Hot Palayok buro is a trade secret ‐‐‐ ours was unique as we were able to discover or invent a way so that the smell would be significantly less.

        Hot Palayok Food Products achieved export quality, reaching the states California and New Jersey. It received recognition in the Asian Ethnic Food Festival of 2000, winning Second Prize in Trendiest Product next to Via Mare. Hot Palayok was also featured in the December 2000 issue of COOK Magazine. 

        I regard my mother as the Queen of buro as she was able to give the product a complete makeover. Burong Hipon was first available in market stalls, either found suspended in clusters of small plastic baggies above vegetable merchandise or tinatakal ‐‐‐ purchasable by glass‐serving, where the
seller would scoop buro from a plastic pale. It paints a picture of the non‐existent sanitary conditions.
        The recipe my mom followed (and eventually modified) was passed down from her mother, my grandmother, who had also revised the buro recipe that was taught to her. All those who had tasted it commonly said that it was different. It was so good that it had gone beyond being a traditional side‐dish
to fish and vegetables. My mother told me that she remembers how Grandpa would prefer bread with his burong hipon, treating it like a cheese sandwich.

       The search for an exotic food product with international appeal to perk the taste buds of discerning consumers along the line of century eggs prepared by the Chinese, the Edam, Limburger and Blue Cheese of Holland, and the Wasabi condiment of Japanese cooks, Kim Chi of Korea, and the Caviar of the west inspired my mom to reintroduce to the Philippine market and present to the international market the Balaw‐Balaw. She is the first to put an elitist face on burong hipon as a product, beginning with presentation. She has told me how the social significance of product label and packaging can take the product a long way. This insight came to her through the years of shopping in oriental stores where she found how competition and the attraction of attention depends on product confidence conveyed.
Thai and Japanese companies invest in quality, laminated labels with appropriate color tones and design, while Filipino products pale in comparison ‐‐‐ labels are made out of paper and naturally when refrigerated would moisten and fall off of the container. Further, Philippine product labels andpackaging in the US from the late 80s to 90s lacked exuberance to be able to fully compete with Thai and Japanese contenders. She worked with Veronica Solano in the development of a professional, eye-catching label theme.

        From style to substance, she used her memory of grandpa’s buro sandwich and ruminated on new ways buro could be enjoyed. From being the traditional side‐dish to fish and vegetables, its application extended to the appetizer and snack entrees as a dip for pork rinds or crackers and a side dish to grilled or fried pork and beef.

(Pictures will follow)


        I find myself faced with a minute problem. As a diaspora kid, my taste buds are more Western, and as for my significant other… well, cutting to the chase, he absolutely loves balaw‐balaw. And being born into a culture where the kitchen is predominantly the territory of the female, I find that I have to confront the intimidation that is burong hipon. And for the others out there who are like me, I’d give them the same advice… For instances like these, “going scientific” seems to be THE way to go. 

         Culinary specialists training to be imperial court chefs are taught using this technique especially when it came to the preparation of age‐old recipes which required the original integrity of the dishes. Being measurement‐diligent no longer necessitates the need to taste the preparation.
       Only time will tell when I would be able to appreciate the benefits balaw‐balaw has to offer as a culinary experience. As of present, I’m still mustering the strength and courage to retry.



Douglas, Mary, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Pollution and Taboo, Routledge, 1984.
Halliday, Jess, Taste Psychologist Maps ‘Dialects’ of Flavor Preference in Science & Nutrition,
Food Navigator Website.‐Nutrition/Taste‐psychologist‐mapsdialects‐of‐flavour‐preference accessed 28 March 2012 at 2315 HRS.
Juntado, Vivian, Owner of Hot Palayok Food Products. Interview. Greenfields Country Club
Homes, 27 March 2012.
Maglaqui, Dulles & Felicidad Maglaqui, (Travellers). Interview. Greenfields Country Club Homes,
28 March 2012.
Olivarez, Brittany, Taste Aversions: A Psychological Perspective [2010] in Helping Psychology
Website.‐aversions‐a‐psychological‐perspective accessed 28 March 2012 at 2300 HRS.

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