Rice is very much part of our life, especially to those who grew up in rice growing areas or what used to be rural areas. Where I live in Marikina used to be surrounded by rice fields bordered by a small creek teeming with fishes, frogs, birds and reptiles. In those days the children in our neighbourhood played games according to the cycles of rice planting and harvesting. In the rainy season we would gather slim bamboo poles to make fishing poles and fish in the clear waters of the creek running through our village or in the canals between the paddy fields. The water was so clear we would see the mud fishes and catfishes swimming along and put our hooks baited with earthworms in their path. There were also times we would gather snails (the native black ones not the golden apple snails introduced later and became rice pests) and have our parents cook them in coconut milk while the children of the farmers would catch frogs (palakang petot) for dinner.

During the harvest season, usually in the summer, we would play in the cleared out fields where fresh rice straws are being gathered after removing the grains. We would use the rice straw as bases for baseball or cushions for the rough and tumble involved in rugby. There were even times that we would help in harvesting rice just for the experience.

The snacks my mom used to serve were also largely affected by the cycle of rice. Depending on the harvest and the abundance of different kinds of rice, my mom used to prepare rice delicacies for me and my childhood friends. Galapong, which is made of ground rice could be made into different delicacies which include carioca (dipped in brown sugar then deep fried), dila-dila (boiled then garnished with coconut, sugar and anise), maja blanca (mixed with coconut milk then cooked and served like flan) and ginataan (cooked in coconut milk with banana, sago, taro and sweet potato). Malagkit or glutinous/sticky rice was cooked as biko (cooked with a dash of coconut milk and brown sugar), champorado (boiled and mixed with cocoa and served with milk and sugar) or suman (wrapped in banana or coconut leaves).

As the years passed, all of these changed when Marcos Hi-way was constructed. I remember passing through Marcos hi-way and seeing trees, rice fields, carabaos and farmers on the sides of the road. However, houses and commercial establishments were built and the rice fields were slowly overtaken by shopping malls and subdivisions.

Gone are the days when our farmer neighbours knocked on our gate to offer freshly harvested Malagkit, pinipig or fresh carabao’s milk. As the rice fields slowly disappeared, we also started to miss the signs from nature that indicate the changing of the seasons. We started to miss the swarm of dragonflies that signalled the coming of the summer and the flock of birds that signal the start of the planting season. After a few more years, not even a small plot of rice field was left and now Marcos Hi-way is nothing but a bustling commercial district.

These days as I pass by what used to be rice fields, I see children playing on paved roads and concrete sidewalks. So much different from what I grew up with when I was younger and had a direct relationship to my most important food: rice.

Danny Ocampo