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Ginat-an in My Mind

The photo would have misled me: it was a tad purplish. But the caption was like a revenge for all the iniquities my mind suffered as another language dictated how that “thing” should be pronounced. I looked again and even from afar I knew it was that concoction of all rootcrops assembled with saba, a kind of plantain.

I was containing myself. This could be not the food of my memory. And so I looked again, up close at the illustration. I entered and asked the woman all shrouded in cookies and bread of all persuasions if that thing on the photo, that thing being sold for 45 pesos outside was what I thought it was. She said yes but she also said no to my question about any available seats. I knew all tables were occupied but I thought the stranger in me would bring out from her some kindness. But no.

I went out and inspected the tables outside. They were all infested with people who thought they were entitled to occupy tables and chairs even if they had not ordered anything.

I walked away with the name inscribed forever in my mind: Ginat-an.

Here in Iloilo, that afternoon snack – or evening or during storms – had the accent of my childhood memory. I am in Iloilo and the name for that food that reminded me of lazy, easy days in the huge warm living room of my grandparents was exactly the label my town or, in fact, the entire island gave to that cooking. What to do next? In these days, you do not end experiences with memory; you post it on Facebook. Which I did.

Whereupon came comments as delectable as the Ginat-an that captivated me. They, too, recognized the food/snack.

The name may change but it will taste the same was the general judgment collated from the commentaries. I wanted to agree because the remarks were not only remarkable but also logical. N nostalgia and memories have nothing to do with logic or with any shadow of the rational.

I was feasting on the sight of that name, that Ginat-an, that rebellious cut between the “nat” and the “an.” Why find revolution in an accent, you might ask? Well, it was in Ticao as a little boy that I first encountered the name and the invention called Ginat-an. It was always Ginat-an in our home in the island and in Naga household where we moved. But, the neo-Marxists are right about dominant ideologies: the moment I stepped out of our home, I became conscripted under a dominant language, a mainstream tongue. I had to remove the stop between the last two syllables and let all the three syllables flow unto the end. I would not have been surprised if the local linguists then derived conclusion of elegance in the pronunciation of the mainland Bikol.

To belong or to have the feeling I was accepted, I opted to follow the rule of the land. It was “Ginatan” until I moved to Manila, where it further changed.

This obsession with accent does not mean the “ginatan” in Bikol was not delectable enough. It was in some places. In particular, there was Manay Metz (Arquilla) in her small stores beside the main gate of University of Nueva Caceres. Friends would complain that they would only get chunks of cassava and camote when they ordered their ginatan because Manay Metz would tell them there were few “saba” in her edition that day. When I arrived, however, my bowl would be filled with the “saba” banana, not too ripe but not green either. It was just the right softness and succulence, a tenderness that wavered between love and eager desire.

Whatever you call them, these ginatan of varied provinces and provenance would taste the same.

I don’t think so. The unique taste (its piquant distinction visible to the one tasting) of a Ginat-an comes with the name that brings back childhood and comfort. The most vulgar label for this kind of experience is to call it a comfort food. I agree and not agree.

I would like to summon at this point the words of Sapir and Whorf who, combined together, would provide a very facile linguistic point: language is culture.

I know I have always introduced this hypothesis as vastly discredited. I had done that maybe because I had not yet confronted the trauma of being forced to use a different accent for a food that obsessed me. Presently confronted with the power of how a name for a favorite snack could make the difference, I summon therefore a quote from Edward Sapir himself. Listen to what he stated: “The worlds in which different societies live are distinct worlds, not merely the same world with different labels attached ... We see and hear and otherwise experience very largely as we do because the language habits of our community predispose certain choices of interpretation.”

Ginat-an will always taste differently because with space between the last two syllables are my Lola Miling, Lola Doyi, the Erlina of our childhood, the afternoons in the house behind the old church, the old songs sung over the radio before we woke up to the sound and scent from the kitchen, the ghost of all the chances, the years gone by and recovered again because in some indiscreet mall somewhere in Western Visayas the name of this perpetual dish echoed the island of my birth.

If the Japanese could invent their “umami,” the taste that was not bitter, sweet, salty or sour, then what is stopping the Tigaonon (a reference to those living in Ticao and has nothing to with Tigaon) from coming up with a dish commemorating the questions and not the answers to what is sweet and salty, that infinity of oral rapture that is neither here nor there, between and betwixt.

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