By Helen Grace Fernandez*
A chimney in Iloilo? I used to think that chimneys were only found in the States where houses had fireplaces to keep its residents warm. When I was seven years old, I was amazed to see a real chimney in Iloilo in the place called Mohon, a barangay at the border of Iloilo City and Oton. I saw a chimney made of bricks, puffing out white smoke. When I asked my mom about it, there I knew that it was a pugon, a traditional brick oven making bibingka (bingka in Hiligaynon).
The image of that brick bibingka oven in Mohon stuck in my mind. As I grew older, I saw another kind of bibingka appliance placed on bamboo tables. These firewood-fed portable tin ovens were usually set up in churchyards during Sundays. This made me wonder about that Bingkahan in Mohon with its remarkable chimney. Becoming even more curious, I decided to research about it.
I have found out that the Bingkahan sa Mohon is a business of Felicidad C. Animas. She started to make her now famous bibingkas in the 1950s. This business of hers has been able to support her family through the years.
Currently, Felicidad’s son, Noel manages the business. As his strategy for promoting their native rice cake, he occasionally sells at the plazas of Sta. Barbara and Molo. Several years ago, he rented a place in Casa Plaza, a building at Iloilo City’s business district to market his product, but due to high overhead costs, he gave up the place and returned to Mohon.
As I interviewed Noel, there I knew that he is a conservative type of businessman. It really did not matter to him whether they operated regularly or not. He is contented with his business’ performance, even though it does not generate much profit. Although Noel takes only minor risks, the responsibility of continuing the family legacy of making this special bibingka encouraged him to continue the business. The 50-year old bingkahan is already a Mohon icon. When people think of Mohon, they think of the Bingkahan.
Unlike other bibingkas in Iloilo, the Mohon bibingka is stickier and contains a lot of shredded coconut. This dainty bibingka has a distinctive sweet and milky taste. Pilit (glutinous rice), bugas (regular rice), margarine, white sugar and buko (shredded young coconut) are the only ingredients used. Surprisingly, it does not even contain gata (coconut milk), a basic ingredient of other bibingkas.
Sugar, margarine and buko are placed in an empty bowl, to which the ground bugas and pilit are added. All these ingredients are thoroughly mixed with a ladle. Three tablespoons of the mixture is then placed in individual banana-laid molders made of recycled milk cans. The bibingkas are now ready to be baked in that familiar brick oven.
After fifteen to twenty minutes, the hot bibingka is drawn out of the oven and placed in brown paper bags.
This is how the bibingka of Mohon is made. The secret to its exceptional taste lies in the manner of its preparation, the choice of its ingredients and the use of traditional technology. It possesses a delectable flavor that reflects the taste of the old days when people really made time for cooking and never compromised on quality.
Twelve years have passed since the first time I saw that chimney. Awed by the white smoke arising from that brick pugon, I was motivated to learn more about it. Researching about the Bingkahan sa Mohon made me realize its significance as a legacy of the Animas family not just for themselves but for the entire community. This Bingkahan is not just a business, it is Mohon’s pride.
* Helen Grace Fernandez of Mohon, Oton is a College of Management student at UPVisayas.