Don’t mind its pungent smell, fermented food is the dish to eat these days.
Major media organizations around the world rely heavily on local sources and analysts when writing stories. In the Philippines, one of the most credible and sought-after political scholars is Dr. Clarita Carlos, a genuine Ilocana who has never forgotten her roots.
Very recently, she commented on Facebook about her grandparents’ living into their 90s, perhaps due in part to a fermented rice dish called binubudan.
“I just remembered that when we were young, my grandfather from Ilocos would bring in a clay pot full of a pungent-smelling rice called binubudan,” Dr. Clarita said.
She recalled how difficult it was to make the young members of the family eat the strange-smelling dish.
“I know there is always a struggle to make us eat it, but given the dictatorial way my father runs our household, he made sure we eat this foul-smelling rice,” she said. “We usually eat it by putting clothes pins on our noses.”
The Covid-19 pandemic uncovered the efficacy of fermented food in increasing the human body’s resistance to diseases, including the dreaded coronavirus. Dr. Clarita is grateful to her grandparents for introducing her to binubudan.
“Now, I know why… Thank you, Lilong! Now I realize that you certainly know more than we, city dwellers,” she said. “Trivia: Lilong died at the age of 99. Lilang died at the age of 96.”
FERMENTED FOOD EVERYWHERE
Buro is the most common word used in many parts of the Philippines to mean fermented vegetables, fish, or meat. It is a very popular method of food preservation in Pampanga and many parts of Central Luzon.
Among foreign food imports, kimchi is arguably the most visible and accepted fermented product, boosted by published studies that point to kimchi for low Covid-19 fatality rates of South Korea. According to the British newspaper The Sun, Dr. Jean Bousquet, honorary professor of Pulmonary Medicine at Montpellier University, France, and his team studied a link between low fatalities and national dietary differences and found that countries where fermented cabbage forms a key part of their diet had lower fatalities.
Fermented cabbage helps decrease levels of ACE2, an enzyme in the cell membrane mostly found in lungs and used by Covid-19 virus as an entry point into the body. Consuming high levels of fermented cabbage reduces the number of ACE2, making it more difficult for the virus to invade a host. High in antioxidants, fermented cabbage also boosts immunity.
The research team also looked into Germany’s sauerkraut, which is finely cut cabbage fermented in salt and often served with sausages and meats. The study also found that nations that consume a lot of yoghurt and caviar, such as Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, have also experienced low death rates.
Dr. Jean advises people to eat fermented vegetables at breakfast.
Filipinos prepare and consume many kinds of fermented products. Most widespread is atsarang papaya, made by preserving grated unripe papaya with ginger, garlic, and chili peppers in vinegar. Next is burong manga, composed of whole or sliced green mango in brine.
A bit more complex is burong mustasa, mustard leaves immersed in salt and rice porridge. Similar to a classic Chinese preserve, it is cooked in Pinoy homes with scrambled eggs or in omelets during the rainy season or whenever fresh vegetables are unavailable.
My personal favorite is burong dalag, mudfish preserved in fermented rice. I like it sautéed in garlic, onions, and tomatoes, wrapped in fresh mustard leaf and served with crisp grilled catfish.
Other veggie atsara I have in bottles are okra, onions, and kangkong stems. These are my arms in battling the pandemic.