Kapeng barako and Batangas beef

[Today’s column]

Everyone believes in something and many consider their beliefs to be causes worth fighting and dying for. For some, it’s hoarding money even when it’s really taxpayers’ money. For others, it’s bad-mouthing whoever sits in power. There are those who seek to protect something like the animals rights activists and the environmentalists. There are also groups that want to deprive people of a chance for a better life like the anti-birth control zealots. And then there are those like the same-sex marriage advocates who cry out for fairness in a society that they feel short changes them at every turn. Many people have made careers out of their advocacy irrespective of whether their beliefs are right or wrong, misguided or otherwise. Perhaps, deep in our hearts, we all just want to make a difference in this world and we’re just trying to find the best way to do it.

When I write about food, I follow an advocacy too. I’m an evangelist for home cooking because I believe that no person should ever be entirely dependent on (overpriced and often lousy) restaurant food, frozen meals and over-processed make-believe food that no one really knows what they’re made of. It’s not something I impose on others, it’s not a cause I recruit people for, but it’s a cause that I have put forth on various media and platforms if only to relay the message that we have options and realistic choices, and that we can all eat better, healthier and cheaper too if we can ignore glossy food ads that say we don’t need to learn to cook because all those companies are there to take care of our needs with their indecipherable mash made more attractive with food color and a stay-fresh-longer status courtesy of preservatives which may or may not include formaldehyde. I like fresh meat, fresh fish (often whole with the heads), fresh vegetables and fruits… And I write about food and cooking in those terms — not always but about 90 percent of the time.

A couple of months ago, I was planning on spending two weeks in Tagaytay City by myself. The goal? Immerse myself in the kapeng barako ang Batangas beef culture and either (1) create a website or (2) write a book about the Tagaytay and Batangas food experience. If neither happened, I figured I’d still have enough materials for at least a dozen Feast Asia columns. It was a multi-faceted approach toward diverse goals — promote home cooking using local agricultural produce and meat, promote the agricultural products of the area, get some work done ahead of the deadlines and get a breather too and spend some good quality alone time.

Long time readers of my blogs know how much I loved Batangas beef, the incomparable bulalo culture in the area and how I never failed to buy beef at Mahogany Market every time we’re in Tagaytay. It’s a romance of sorts — the romance of the earth and its bounty and all the great meals created from them, the mystery of Taal Volcano, the cool breeze, the whiff of ground fresh coffee beans when you drive through nearby Batangas…

I felt bad when the commercialization set in and the roadside bulalo eateries started to give way to Chow King and Yellow Cab Pizza and McDonald’s. The quaint charm that made Tagaytay a favorite weekend destination for families and lovers alike was fast becoming a thing of the past. On our last two visits, high rise buildings were about to block the view of Taal Volcano from the highway.

Still, I wanted to do my part. I wanted to support the efforts that gave birth to establishments like Mushroomburger, Gourmet’s Cafe, Ilog Maria and the Flower Farm. So, I was going to do my “Kapeng barako and Batangas beef” project and write everything about Tagaytay and Batangas that I loved.

Then, the unimaginable happened. I got my story — but not the kind I wanted. The Batangas beef in Mahogany Market that I had been proudly advertising to every clueless city folk and expat who asks for my advice? I wanted to look for all those people and beg their pardon. No more trips to the Mahogany Market meat stalls for me. I’m sticking to the herb and fruit trees section. Why?

casaveneracion.com batangas-beef

Okay, I bought meat from three different stalls — two kilos of short ribs from one, two kilos of beef shank from another and two kilos of beef tripe from a third. The usual two-hour cooking time for beef? Everything I bought at the Mahogany Market had to be cooked for SIX HOURS. Longer, in fact, in the case of the tripe which I had to simmer OVERNIGHT.

What are they selling at Mahogany Market these days? Meat from animals about to croak from OLD AGE? Heaven knows I’m hoping it was a fluke – that I just happened to buy beef on a weekend when only the centenarians showed up for slaughter. My worst fear is that the butchers were passing off carabeef for real beef. And I can only hope that whatever goes on at the Mahogany Market is not a widespread practice over the entire Batangas province.

Sad, really, because I was prepared to go ALL OUT for the “Kapeng barako and Batangas beef” project to the extent of learning how to clean and prepare testicles and penises to make Soup #5. Maybe I can ditch the Batangas beef part and stick to a kapeng barako project. Or I can look for another location to gather my materials.

~End of column

[Click the link to page 2 if you want to view photos of what go into Soup #5.]