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An Excerpt

At the Table with Family

When the tenant farmer who was close by noticed that Father had brought some salt, he whispered to Father that he should not let the others see the salt for they thought it brings bad luck!

During the war, I remember Father and I joined our tenant farmers for a hunt in the mountains. Since the Segundo farm in Surate, Dingras, was right at the base of the Cordillera, it was just a matter of climbing up from the base. We started hiking before sunrise and reached the hunting ground by mid-morning.
On one of those hunts, there must have been at least thirty of us, including the tenant farmers and their sons, my father and myself. I was 14 years old; a few of the other boys were about my age and some slightly younger. Since there were no guns available to most civilians during the war, we had sharpened bamboo that we used as spears, bolos (broad heavy knives), and a long trap that looked to me like a tennis net, but was three times as high and as long as the narrow opening at the bottom of the ravine.

The hunting party was divided into four groups of about six to eight people each. Group A was lined on top of a mountain ridge with Group B on another ridge facing Group A. Spanning between the two ridges, Group C was located perpendicular to groups A and B. Below, at the narrow end of the small valley formed by the two ridges, Group D was stationed just outside the long net that was stretched at the base of the two ridges. At a given signal, groups A, B, and C started the loudest racket they could make with shouts, banging cans, and dogs barking. While the noise-making was going on, Groups A, B and C converged towards the net. Group D remained quiet and waited for the wild animals to run towards the net.  As soon as the animals got entangled in the net, the men in Group D who had the sharpened bamboos approached the animals for the kill. This process was repeated, after a lunch break, in three different locations.

For lunch for the two of us, Father brought rice, hard-boiled eggs, some ripe tomatoes, and salt. We situated ourselves on the forest floor next to a mountain stream.  Some of us sat on large rocks where they were available. When the tenant farmer who was close by noticed that Father had brought some salt, he whispered to Father that he should not let the others see the salt for they thought it brings bad luck! Should we not catch anything or should some accident befall any member of the hunting party, Father might be blamed for it for bringing the salt. Father thanked the farmer, and he cautioned me to be careful not to mention it and not to be conspicuous using the salt. As it turned out, by mid-afternoon, we had captured four wild boar and one deer. It was a good hunt.

After the hunt, the men built a fire near the mountain stream. The tough hairs on the back of the wild boar were removed after pouring boiling water and before the gutted animals were laid on the fire. These long tough bristles from the back of the wild boar were used as needles by the men who made saddles or sheaths for bolos. The animals were then turned regularly over the fire and their remaining hair was efficiently scraped off with strips of bamboo. The meat was expertly divided with equal portions given to all, regardless of age. Each portion was wrapped in banana leaf, and each member carried his own share of the hunt. Father and I got our two portions. I felt immensely proud.

We started our walk back to the village while the sun was still up. As we approached the village below, there was still light. I could see and hear the women and children excitedly announce that we had been successful. We entered the village as triumphant hunters. I walked proudly with the group as I carried my share of the hunt. There was meat for the village, and all the women were happy, including Mother. You could hear happy chattering from the nipa huts into the night, and it was not long before smoke and the aroma of grilled meat started coming from the different kitchens.

The following day, you could see all the nipa huts in the village surrounded by thinly sliced meat hanging from bamboo poles. The hot tropical sun sterilized and dried the meat, and the poles were high enough to keep the meat safe from the dogs. The tapa dried under the sun for several days before it was stored safely, ready for use for many days after that.

Because tapa is made to be stored, it is prepared when there is more fresh meat or fish than can be consumed in one or two meals. Thus, the proportions suggested below are for more than one meal. The quality of the meat could include cheaper cuts like chuck or round steak since they are cut into slices no more than a centimeter thick, even thinner if you can (partial freezing aids slicing the meat very thinly).

2-4 lbs of beef (inexpensive cuts), sliced thinly (venison and wild boar meat are very good for tapa)
Worcestershire sauce or plain vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 bay leaves
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed or diced

Mix enough Worcestershire sauce to cover the thinly sliced beef (or other meat) with the rest of the ingredients. Marinate the slices at least 12 hours or more. On a roasting rack over a pan of water, arrange the meat so it is spread without overlapping. Turn the oven to no more than 250 degrees so the meat dries slowly. It might take up to two hours. The fat drips into the water, preventing the process from being smoky. When done, tapa’s consistency and appearance is very much like the American jerky.

(Ed.  note: Reprinted with permission from author's At the Table with Family, Livonia, Michigan: First Page Publications, 2004)

© Quirico Samonte, Jr.

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At the Table with Family
by Quirico Samonte, Jr.

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