Text: Elisha Judy P. Tabaque
Images: Jacqueline Jala
WITH its distinctive organic leafy flavor and aroma, the puso or hanging rice makes the perfect combo with all-time Cebuano food favorites such as barbecue, lechon, dinuguan, ngohiong, siomai and ginabot, Cebu-style chicharon bulaklak. No wonder you can find it almost anywhere here — displayed at roadside stalls, eateries, food-carts or stored in an “alat or at,” a wide-mouthed basket made of wicker and split bamboo.
Ubiquitous as it is, the puso has its story to tell, even though there’s little info about its origins and how it spread to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia where its variants can be found. Still, one of the most fascinating aspects of the humble hanging rice is how it’s made.
Achieving good quality puso goes through a six-step, meticulous process handed down from generation to the next. Take note of these steps — and lots of practice with the guidance of a puso maker — and you’ll eventually make your puso right.
The hanging rice is made of woven packets of palm leaves or coconut fronds locally known as “lukay.” Making one should kick-start by removing the palm midribs and cutting off the edge of the palm leaves to barely keep the leaf blade. From there, the leaf blade is split to produce palm strips.
‘Pag-lah’ — Weaving
With the palm strips on hand, it is then woven together to create a tightly closed package with shape similar with that of the blossoms of a banana tree, a three-dimensional diamond.
‘Pagsulod’ — Filling
Now that you have accomplished the making of the triangular casing, a handful of rice grains is enough to fill in it. The weaved casing of the hanging rice may vary from sizes depending on the width of the palm strips.
‘Pagluto’ — Cooking
It’s time to finally cook the hanging rice! For 15 minutes, boil water in an aluminum drum using gas burners or wood to serve as fuel. Afterwards, place all the rice grain-filled hanging rice casings inside it for another 15 minutes.
‘Paghaon’ — Taking out
Since your hanging rice has been cooked by then, take all of it out of the drum and cool it for five to 10 minutes. It is necessary to cool it up to avoid excess moisture that may soften the rice and reduce its quality.
‘Pagbangan’ — Tying Up
The hanging rice is sold by bunches of 10. Therefore, 10 pieces of hanging rice are then tied up as one bundle, ready for distribution among partnered stalls or eateries. A number of these are also sold in the markets.
There you have it — an old-aged practice of making the picturesque bundles of hanging rice. Pair a piece or two with a savory dish, and you’ll have a perfect, filling Cebuano meal.
Terms of the trade
puso [pú.sû.]: banana heart (n.); rice wrapped in coconut leaves (n.)
lukay [lu.kay.]: coconut leaves (n.)
alat [á.lat.]: wide-mouthed basket (n.)
15 – Minutes it takes to cook hanging rice
10 – Pieces of puso in one bundle
3 – In pesos, cost of a small puso sold on the streets
More than leaves
The palm fronds used to make puso comes from the coconut tree, also known in the Philippines as the Tree of Life. In Malay, the coconut is called pokok seribu guna, which means “the tree of a thousand uses.”