Monday, June 12, 2017

*433. TABLEWARE TALK

DINNER IS SERVED, Students of Domestic Arts practice the art of setting a table using china plates, glassware, cutlery and table napkins. Our pre-colonial ancestors had their own ideas of fine dining on their low, wooden table called 'dulang', filling it up with jars, plates, jugs and pots, of all sorts. ca. 1920s.

When the Spanish missionaries came to our islands in the 16th century, they found a low wooden table in practically every native home called “dulang”. It served primarily as a dining table, around which people sat to partake of the food, eaten with bare hands. Tableware was limited to a few wooden spoons, ladles, food and liquid containers. But contact and trading with Asian traders afforded natives to have quite a wide assortment of jugs and jars, plates and pans, bowls and storage containers for both “dulang” and dwelling.

 Old Pampanga homes may still have, in their kitchens, earthenware containers used for cooking or storage. Balanga was a traditional clay pot used for cooking everyday viands, while a curan—that featured a narrower mouth-- was used for cooking rice.

Storage jars of varying sizes include the gusi, a china jar that can contain anywhere from 6 to 8 gantas (1 ganta is a local unit of measure equivalent to ¼ of a cavan); next to it is the guguling, a medium size jar. Another medium size jar for holding water is the marapatayan, which is smaller than a tapayan, that can hold some 11 gallons of liquid. A large China-made jar was called tui-tui, while a lupay was the name for a small, multi-purpose earthenware jar.

 To deter ants from infesting food, the leftover ulam are kept in bowls, then placed on a shallow, water-filled vessels called lampacan. This serves as a sort of a moat, so the ants would not be able to reach the food. When storage cabinets came into use, its four legs were made to stand on lampacans, to provide the same protection.

 Kapampangans ate with gusto using their hands, as ‘cubiertos’ were still many years away from being introduced. Rice was placed on banana leaves spread on the dulang, but plates were also known from trading with the Chinese, Annamese and the Siamese who brought all kinds of pinggan (plates). A large plate was called tapac, and a porcelain plate for mustard was called suic.

 Bowls were perhaps the most common tableware found on the native table. The smallest bowl is called sulyao (sulyo, or silyo), which is perfect for a single-serving of soup. Mangcoc is bigger than a sulyao, same with another larger bowl called lampay (or lampe). A banga is a large, narrow-mouthed pitcher, while a siolan is a small flask. A tampayac is a cruet, that was used for both condiments and for ointments. People drank water from coconut half-shells, or used a communal long-handled dipper to scoop out water from a water-filled jar.

 The Spaniards, and later, the Americans are credited for upgrading our table (and table manners, by Western standards) by introducing fork and spoons, complete silver cutlery, demitasse cups, silver table adornments like toothpick holders, lace napkins, and a bewildering array of plates, saucers, cups and glassware. The legendary reception given by the Apalit Arnedos to the Grand Duke of Russia in 1891—marked with the ostentatious display of fine china, silver and table accoutrements—was a testament as to how refined, how sophisticated we had become.

 But truth be told, it takes very little to please a Kapampangan on the dinner table—remove the silver forks and spoons, take away the fancy bone china, give him a plate of sizzling sisig and unli rice---and he will roll up his sleeves and feast away with his hands, like there’s no tomorrow. As one Kapampangan with a hearty appetite declared—“Asbuk mu at gamat ing kailangan! Mangan tana!” (You need only your mouth and hands. Let's eat!)

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