Close your eyes.
Allow me to take you to a place where you would meet someone special.
This is at a far away land from many years back where the sun firmly shines you will feel grains of sweat break up and race down your forehead across your face and neck until they rest on your chest. No, there’s no tumbleweed blown by a melancholic wind. This sleepy town, nonetheless, is ruled by a woman named Maria.
Open your eyes and look around. What you see in front of you is the market. You are in Asingan – a small town west of Pangasinan in the northern Philippines. People are too busy they didn’t notice your sudden arrival, out of nowhere.
Maybe except for one, Maria. Her eyes fixed on you as she slowly, hesitant at first, takes steps towards you. Men remove their hats as she passes them by. Women become quiet. Still, with every step, she has not taken her glance off you. She has a basket firmly dangling on her left arm. And as she draws near you she moves her right arm to grab something from the inside, stretches that hand towards you and says “Tupig?”
Tupig (two-pig) is a local delicacy made of sweet sticky rice and shredded coconut wrapped in banana leaf and roasted over charcoal. While Pangasinan as a province is known for this, Asingan produces the best. Maria, meanwhile, is the pioneer and most famous tupig maker. Hers has the sweetest taste and with her unique skills she produces them with enough crunchiness on the outside and delectable softness in the inside. The flavor lingers in your mouth while you uncontrollably crave for more.
Maria follows a strict grind that never sacrifices quality. Ultimately, it earned her a reputation. While the town progresses throughout the years, Maria remains the same. The town mayor has given her the privilege to virtually rule in the market. She surely knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Her reign will last for decades to come.
Ok, the tour is over. Close your eyes as I bring you back to your own place. You can now hear the soft murmur of the fan near you and the faint voices coming from your television set. Open your eyes and you can see your familiar surrounding, You’re now back in 2013.
On the other side of the globe, Maria receives guests in her humble abode – two miles outside town. People come from all four corners of the earth to pay homage to the godmother of their palate. As she heaves precious breaths, strength has long been gone, my grandmother lies down on her bed with her eyes closed waiting for that one last rendezvous – for that one person she longs to see before her final journey.
And now, I close my eyes…
I wrote this tribute this morning before the crack of dawn as I was challenged by PostADay to write a story about a local flavor. I remembered my grandmother’s world-famous tupig and my mind was flooded with wonderful memories. I haven’t seen her for five years.
This afternoon, she never opened her eyes.
She has embarked on that final journey where life in Christ trumps hunger, disconsolate and woe.
I close my eyes and I see her so young, so vibrant, so full of joy – commanding respect under the arch of the pearly gates.