Just when you thought you’ve tried all the baye-baye there is to try comes this pleasant and delicious surprise of one that came my way this week.
As usual, it came from Good Friend F, who quickly unspooled one from its cheap plastic covering when she saw me, quietly urging me to try it, like we were part of some secret conspiracy. “Pwerte kanamit!” was her terse endorsement as she broke an inch thick from the baye-baye roll for me to try. “Soooo delicious!” she said. And so it was.
F, who travels the world in search of delicious and I who cannot even hope to approximate her mileage, belong indeed to this conspiracy of some sorts, a culinary ring in search of the delicious, especially on the local front. One of the things that excites us is to discover new tastes and flavors from the old and the trite, the ordinary if you please, hereabouts.
Thus, the excitement over this baye-baye, the local sweet delicacy made from glutinous rice and coconuts which are pounded together in those giant, wooden mortal and pestles.
Now, we all know our baye-baye. It can either come to us smooth, sweet and slightly creamy which means it most probably went through some mechanical grinder. Or it can come rough, bits of coconut surfacing as you bite and chew on it. The color, too can vary, depending on the sugar used – some are almost beige, others very dark brown and even almost black, the difference being on the kind of sugar involved, washed or refined, which produces the “clean” beige-coloed baye-baye or muscovado which produces the dark variant.
Most of the baye-baye around is the brown or beige variety, which is probably the more popular one. There is an outstanding version of this that is sold in the Iloilo pier that has survived generations of food trends; another one, sexier, even smoother and creamier, is sold I think in Pavia town. [There, why do these old food icons survive across the straits and not here?]
But I understand baye-baye, the ordinary and common variant, lives on in the manuglibods, our food vendors, particularly those who peddle their goodies in our terminals.
To look for the brown or black baye-baye, you have to wait for All Saints Day, which is our traditional season for all these rice-based pastries. It seems like to produce it, one has to find the time and the energy, to choose the rice, to find the right kind of coconut and to prepare them properly. As is usual in coconut-based dishes, some wisdom is in order when one selects the coconut for baye-baye: it should be a bit mature, but not too mature that it will ooze out coconut milk in the pounding.
Now, about F’s baye-baye. First there was the unmistakable taste of sesame seeds on it, but you cannot see the seeds, which probably means these were roasted along with the rice. Too, there was a decidedly different edge to this one, which we both agree must have come from the way the rice was roasted. It must have been roasted a bit longer on the pan, perhaps just before it got burned.
I don’t know. But this baye-baye had a smoked character to it that is not quite smoked, a minor mystery that adds to its charm, and makes it different from all the baye-baye you’ve ever tried.*