Monday, February 6, 2012

Isinay Units of Measuring Rice

THE PLASTIC RICE dispenser that is increasingly becoming a common “appliance” in Filipino kitchens today may one day soon render obsolete the use of certain units of measuring rice. 

One such unit of measure is the leche. It is simply the tin can of condensed milk  -- hence the name leche, which  is Spanish for milk -- the rough edges of which had been smoothed to prevent fingers from being hurt.

Leche, ready-to-cook rice, and cat on a winnowing basket.
Based on the tin can’s label (the brand of the one in the photo is Alaska), one leche (sinletse in Isinay, sangalitsi in Ilocano) is equivalent to 300 ml. (As a side note, I recall the condensed-milk  brands we had when I was young were Milkmaid, Liberty, Darigold, and Carnation.) 

I’m not sure if the leche has the same carrying capacity as the salmon (also a tin can but instead of milk it originally contained canned salmon or sardines). But I remember hearing such Isinay term as sinsalmon (one salmon) when Isinay folks would come to the house to either buy or borrow rice.

In the Ilocano village where I grew up, salmon was also used by my grandmother as term when she measured glutinous rice (diket in Ilocano, dayaot in Isinay, malagkit in Tagalog) to be soaked then pounded with al-o (pestle; e-u in Isinay) in the alsong (mortar; lusung in Isinay) when she made my favorite tupig

When we still had prolific fruiting Coffea arabica trees in our backyard, I also heard salmon being used quite often as indicative measure for how much coffee beans my Auntie Tibang (Primitiva Benitez Castro) would isange (roast) then bo^bo-on (grind) in preparation to serving brewed coffee each time there is a social gathering such as parasal (prayer for a departed one) in the house.

I recall salmon was also used to quantify how much goby fish (bunog in Ilocano, sappilan in Isinay) a fisher has caught from the river, how much black snail (ambeveyo^ in Isinay, leddeg in Ilocano) a shellfish gatherer has collected from the payaw (ricefield), how much iniruban (daluj-daluj in Isinay, pinipig in Tagalog) resulted from the tedious burning then pounding of newly harvested glutinous rice, how ripe duhat (lumboy in both Isinay and Ilocano) or boiled peanuts is measured and sold by a vendor.

I have yet to find out if the Ifugaos, Ibalois, Ifontocs, Ibanags, Gaddangs, Tagalogs, Bicolanos, Warays, Cebuanos, Maguindanaos, Maranaos, et al. are using the same tin cans for measuring rice, but at least in Dupax both the Ilocanos and Isinays used the leche and the salmon when I was young to takal (measure) or determine the amount of rice to be cooked, to be lent to a neighbor in need, or to be fed to chickens.   

Of course, I recall my grandparents also used black coconut shells (ungut in Isinay, sabsabut in Ilocano, bao in Tagalog) to scoop out rice from their Ilocos-made burnay that used to be a container of my Apong Lakay's basi, but that's another story.

Also another story is that I have yet to ascertain if the Tagalog gatang as well as the chupa are the same or rather yield the same quantities as the leche, and how many such leches, gatangs, and chupas would make one ganta, another unit of measure that was the market standard for rice, beans, sugar, salt, etc. before it became displaced by kilos. I’m not sure now in which grade we were taught this term in our elementary school Arithmetic, but I do recall one lesson went something like “4 chupas equals 1 ganta” along with “25 gantas equals 1 cavan” and “3 liters equals 1 gallon.”

Back to our milk can.

And what, you might ask, does the rice dispenser have to do with the banishment of the leche?
Well, as the photo shows, rice dispensers are equipped with levers marked 1, 2 and 3 to indicate the number of cups they are able to spew out into the collecting box at the bottom.

Which means that you only need to press the measurement of your choice or do some simple arithmetic depending on the number of people who are supposed to partake of the rice when cooked (for example, 2 cups for 3 people, 2 cups plus 3 cups for 7 people, etc.) and, presto, down pours the exact amount of rice you need to cook.

Before the memory of it gets sidetracked, I hasten to add here that when I was a kid commonly used as rice storage containers (pampurutan in Isinay, pagbagasan in Ilocano, palabigasan in Tagalog) were the rectangular biscuit cans equipped with round lids to keep the house rats and cockroaches away. Others had large burnay (mawaga in Isinay, tapayan in Tagalog).  

Alas, these containers are now being replaced by manufactured rice dispensers, in much the same manner that the kaldero (kettle) is now being replaced by electric-powered rice cookers.

Incidentally, I’m not sure if cooking rice is still part of the household chores of Dupax kids of today, be they Ilocano, Isinay or what not. But when I was old enough to carry the kaldero, be trusted with my arithmetic, became familiar with the middle-finger system of estimating the water to go with the rice after washing it, and already able to kindle the firewood on the stove, such chore was among the assignments I liked most.

Well, one reason I welcomed the rice-cooking assignment was because I enjoyed the fire-tending part of it as I loved to watch the dancing flames of the firewood and the flickering later of the resulting red embers. Besides, cooking rice saved me from washing the dishes.   

To end this sharing for now, I guess that not many kids of Dupax and even in other rural areas of the Philippines are still doing what my sisters and I used to compete for when we were small -- eating the deliciously burnt rice (na^gov in Isinay, ittip in Ilocano, tutong in Tagalog) at the bottom of the kaldero

Yes, aside from being a good Boy Scout, that was one more reason I didn't say no to cooking rice at the time -- because it gave me grand privilege or first-priority right, as it were, to scour the kettle for the aromatic and delicious rice tip.

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