31 July 2010

Sundot-Saging or Banana-cue, an Understated Filipino Invention


I have this shameless affection for the humble “sundot-saging,” risk of diabetes notwithstanding. Just imagine the saba banana, a native of the Philippines, stacked with sugar and carbohydrates as it already is, deep-fried in unhealthy cooking oil as the street vendor at the corner can afford, and then lavishly coated with spoonful upon spoonful of caramelized brown sugar.

Those from the Big City will, of course, probably not recognize the term “sundot-saging.” Ditto those below thirty, even if they are denizens of this province… On more than a few occasions, I have drawn blank stares when in the company of youngsters after mentioning the term.

But they will recognize banana-cue, as though “sundot-saging” was not self-descriptive enough without my having to explain what it is. “Sundot.” “Saging.” Duh. What’s wrong with young people today?

This latter term, if I may hazard a guess, was probably once a Pinoy’s attempt at equating the barbecue with the saba banana, if only for the reason that both may be cooked skewered with a bamboo stick.

But that is where the similarity ends, because the barbecue – or at least how some people prefer to do it – is strips of flavored pork strung together along a stick for cooking over a charcoal grill. The banana-cue, as mentioned, is skinned saba banana covered with brown sugar and deep fried in oil until the sugar caramelizes.

In jest, sometimes we here in Batangas used to say banana-kwe, a humorous and Filipinized pronunciation of the word “cue” and probably also an unconscious indictment of why so humble and so Pinoy a delicacy has to be Anglicized in name.

I just call it “sundot-saging” by force of habit, even when I draw incredulous stares from youngsters who are hearing the word for the first time. I have not outgrown my fondness for it as a snack, a throwback to the days when it was all I could afford to buy at Recess when I was still a student.

My preference for “sundot-saging” has always been for sun-ripened banana, as opposed to that harvested when still green then force-ripened with calcium carbide, a.k.a. “kalburo.” The latter’s texture is a bit chewy and the taste never quite the same.

With bananas, of course, ripening can be a tricky business since it can also spoil quite quickly. And spoiled saba is every bit as unacceptable as that force-ripened with chemicals.

But when the saba is ripened just right and coated with caramelized sugar, it’s as close as you can get to an orgasm of the palate. Few things even come close. To think that the “sundot-saging” is so cheap and ubiquitous that it is often understated as a Filipino culinary invention.

Pure genius, the Filipino who first cooked this!

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