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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Something different this time - Triumph over COVID-19

Some good news

Locally made rice puddings send children to college

MABINI, Batangas – Husband and wife team Renato and Jessica Balida have been making banana-leaf wrapped pudding from locally-produced sticky rice, locally known suman for the past 35 years and have successfully sent their three children to school.

Interviewed at their modest home at Sitio Mailayin, in Barangay P. Niogan, Jessica said they inherited the craft from her parents.

Sa amin pong mga magulang kami natutong gumawa ng suman,” said Jessica as she wipes clean the banana leaves they bought earlier to wrap the rice pudding which they claim to have gained regular customers.

This town is acknowledged for having a number of overseas Filipinos who regularly come for their needed vacation. On their way back, they bring with them the suman the Balida couple makes.

Mabuti pa po ang suman naming nakarating na ng America, Italy, Singapore at iba pang mga bansa subalit kami ay hanggang dito lamang,” said Renato lightheartedly. He is now 58 years old while his wife Jessica is 48.

However, COVID-19 prevented regular homecomings due to tight border restrictions and strict quarantine measures thereby reducing the demand for pasalubong abroad. Jessica said their balikbayan customers bring their suman pasalubong to their relatives, employers and friends abroad.

The Balida couple makes their suman for the regular customers, those who order in advance and a small portion is sold to marketgoers in the town proper and the famed Anilao dive site where resorts now accommodate up to 30 per cent of regular customers, domestic tourists.

They wash the sticky rice at least ten times and let it dry in handwoven winnows overnight.

At the time of the interview, Jessica said they have 12.5 kilos or five of sticky rice to make at least 700 pieces of banana leaf-wrapped rice pudding which they sell at P10.00 each.

They use coconut milk from at least 35 pieces of matured coconuts which they boil and mix with the sticky rice. The cauldron where the coconut milk and sticky rice is continuously stirred by a four-feet ladle for at least an hour. The coconut milk and sticky rice has sugar and salt to taste which makes it unique to the Filipino taste.

Dapat po ay hindi magbabago ang tamis ng suman sapagkat ito po ang hinahanap ng aming mga customer,” Jessica explained.

As soon as it is cooked, it is placed in a bed of banana leaves to cool. After an hour, they wrap the sticky rice into the banana leaf and carefully arranged in another cauldron to boil for at least six hours.

Jessica said they go to the nearby-town of Bauan or to Batangas City to buy banana leaves at P15.00 per piece.

Pag tag-init po ay mahirap makabili ng dahoon ng saging sapagkat iba po ang tubo ng saging. Mayroon din po dito sa bayan kaya lamang ay ayaw magbili ng dahon ng mga may saging dito sapagkat naiiba raw po ang bunga pag binawasan ng dahon, Jessica explained.

Suman has been a daily fare for most Tagalog-speaking provinces. There are no social occasions from fiestas, weddings, to birthday parties and even wakes without sticky rice puddings being served.

Over the years, the Balida couple have successfully sent their eldest daughter Regine to Westmead International School in Batangas City where she finished Industrial Engineering.

In a separate interview, Regine said she hopes to improve their marketing approach to improve their sales.

Their second daughter Lorena is a college freshman at the University of Batangas pursuing a degree in Psychology. The Balida couple’s only son, Jhon Rey is in the elementary grades.

Despite the lockdowns and strict travel restrictions, the Balida couple said they will continue to prepare their suman as they have orders from Batangas residents and other domestic tourists.

Although the suman-making process is tedious and tiresome, the couple and their children are grateful they earn enough to keep them all going.

They also hope the pandemic would end sooner so their regular balikbayan customers and other tourists would return to their town and buy their suman again. (Melo M. Acuña)

The Balida Family of Mabini, Batangas. (Photos/Melo M. Acuna)

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