Published on Page A21 of the November 18, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
DESPITE the competition coming from big sugar mills, kalamay-making continues to provide alternative sweeteners to residents of the town of Carigara in Leyte.
The process thrives in the interior villages of this small town and has survived the onslaught of technology with an outmoded piece of equipment still being used in the food processing?a carabao-operated, decades-old sugarcane juice extractor.
Kalamay is made from hardened sugarcane juice and coconut milk that are placed in molds, with each mold about the size of half a coconut shell.
The sale of this indigenous sweetener is brisk, especially in rural areas.
Kalamay is considered in the rural villages here as the best sweetener for native delicacies like suman (steamed sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves), biko (sticky rice cooked with caramelized sugar), and bokayo (sweetened cooked young coconut).
As a substitute for refined sugar, it could be used on beverages like lemonade, milk, coffee and chocolate. In some cases, it serves as a dessert or even as a viand.
In upland Barangay Tigbao, about 8 km from the national highway in the poblacion of Carigara, 66-year-old Lamberto Parto and his family have been making kalamay for nearly a decade now.
Born in that village, Lamberto was a sugarcane planter as a young man, cultivating about two hectares of land in the area. During harvest time, he would sell his sugarcane to kalamay processors in Barangay Tigbao or in the next village, Barangay Candigahub.
In 1959, he married Armenia, now 55 years old, and they had two daughters and three sons.
The family depended mainly on sugarcane farming for their livelihood. But in 1998, Lamberto bought a second-hand sugarcane juice extractor from a businessman in Barangay Amahit of the adjacent town of Barugo, for P9,500.
?I also had to buy the vats, the molds and other things like plastic containers. I also built the building,? Lamberto says.
The factory building is just about 20 m from their semi-concrete house. The building?s roofing is made of GI sheets, while dried coconut fronds serve as walls. At the rear of the building is the stove, where two big vats await the sugarcane juice for cooking. Beside it lie the kalamay molds.
Inside the building that sunny Sunday morning, a carabao was silently and continuously moving around a juice extractor, as a man feeds sugarcane to the extracting gears of the machine. Except for a small space left for the worker to move around, the beast and the machine are surrounded by bundles of dried sugarcane stalks, from which juice was earlier extracted.
?I hired four persons to do the work. Each of them is paid P100 a day with free meals,? Lamberto says.
Usually, they would cook 10 vats or baong of the sugarcane juice-coconut milk mixture, and each vat would yield 20 pairs of half-coconut shell kalamay, he says.
The processed kalamay are usually brought to the Carigara public market for sale at P20 apiece.
According to Armenia, there are three other types of kalamay: the taruon, lanking and radyo. Taruon, she explains, is gummy and tasty and commands a higher price. Lanking is usually used in sweetening iraid or steamed grated cassava wrapped in banana leaves, while radyo is syrupy, she says.
The Parto couple says that in the past there used to be three kalamay processors in nearby Barangay Candigahub, but these are now not operational either due to mechanical defects in the extracting machine or the lack of interest in the family of the owner to continue the business.
But in Barangay Tigbao, the couple adds, there are four kalamay factories and all of these are still operational.
Lamberto says some of these kalamay factories, particularly the older ones that are now idle, were already operating when he was still a boy.
Lamberto says customer patronage and the availability of sugarcane in the area kept the business alive.
There are patches of sugarcane fields in the rolling hills of Barangays Tigbao and Candigahub.
According to Lamberto, it takes about a year before the sugarcane could be harvested, but farmers do not immediately replant the field with sugarcane. Instead, they would plant other crops like rice, corn or root crops, he says.
They practice alternate cropping, he explains, to retain the fertility of the land. ?We do not use chemical fertilizer on our field,? he says.
And in the traditional way of processing kalamay, Lamberto says they also do not use preservatives.
Kalamay has been with them for quite a time that many people have been used to its distinct taste in native delicacies, whether in candy form like tira-tira or as sweetener for snacks like suman latik.
This may be one of the reasons why, despite the presence of big sugar mills in Ormoc City, about 50 km west of Carigara town, which churn out bags after bags of refined sugar, life goes on for kalamay processors in Barangay Tigbao, like Lamberto Parto.