Tupig is a rice and coconut cake wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over glowing charcoal.
It falls under the broad array of suman but the fact that it is grilled rather than steamed makes it unique. It may be associated with Pangasinan but it appears to be Ilocano in origin.
And that shouldn’t be surprising, really, because hundreds of thousands of Ilocanos migrated to and settled in Central Luzon, including the province of Pangasinan, from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s. Most historical accounts explain the diaspora to the growing population in the Ilocos region but I like F. Sionil Jose’s rationale for the migration of an Ilocano family to Rosales, Pangasinan in his novel “Po-on” — to escape the cruelty of the Spaniards. Fiction over history? What’s history anyway but the tales of the victors in a conflict?
But let me not politicize tupig. I’ve written about it back in 2007 but I must write about it again for two reasons. First, it’s interesting to note that the price of tupig has hardly changed. Second, its popularity among road travellers, especially with city folk driving home from northern destinations back home to Manila, has resulted in more roadside tupig stalls than I could imagine possible.
Last Friday evening, we drove up to Baguio for the wedding of a friend’s daughter. Our younger girl, Alex, had a play at 7.00 p.m. and we opted to start the five-hour-or-so drive right after the curtain call instead of going back home, sleeping for a few hours then driving off at dawn. The wedding was at 2.00 p.m. on Saturday and we wanted enough time to rest before dressing up for an afternoon and evening of partying.
Naturally, we thought that by driving in the dead of night, we’d cut the travel time tremendously with the absence of traffic. But we were wrong. Road repairs that sliced through Pangasinan caused terrible traffic. And the Pangasinan traffic jam was a popular topic among wedding guests who travelled from Manila by road.
We drove home three days after the wedding. This time, armed with a map provided by Kat, the bride’s mother, we took a detour. I knew it would mean by-passing Pangasinan altogether and the chance to buy tupig from the roadside vendors, but it seemed like a small sacrifice in favor of ditching horrible traffic under the scorching summer sun.
We exited MacArthur Highway in Rosario, drove through endless rice fields all the way to Rosales, on to Cuyapo in Nueva Ecija, then back to MacArthur Highway in Pura, Tarlac. It was a much longer route but we certainly encountered no traffic — just a lot of herons, ducks, goats, carabaos and golden palay spread to dry on long stretches of country road.
When we reached Pura and turned back on to the highway, I got the surprise of my life.
Countless tupig stalls, many within a few meters of each other. In Tarlac — where I had not encountered tupig vendors before.
The price was PHP50.00 (a little over USD1.00) for a bundle containing 10 pieces of tupig. I haggled (of course!) and brought the price down to PHP40.00 per bundle. We bought two. My impression was that the price had gone up but when I checked my notes from 2007, it seems that the price has gone down. Back then, seven bundles, each bundle with three pieces of tupig, cost a hundred pesos, and you can do the math. Of course, there was that second batch of tupig we bought that cost much, much less.
So, has the price of tupig gone up or down? I guess it depends on who you’re buying from and how well you can haggle. This is Asia, after all, where no one is expected to buy anything at the first price quoted. Haggle, haggle, haggle. It’s the Asian way.