For the sixth year that I’ve stayed here at Iloilo, my classmates would always ask for pop rice as pasalubong from Aklan. Pop rice is also called ampao in my place. My hometown is Kalibo, Aklan but there is another Aklan town almost 18 km away from Kalibo that is very famous for its ampao. In fact Lezo is now synonymous to ampao.
Lezo is a thirty minute ride from Kalibo by multi-cab. Sometimes travelling reaches an hour but it will never bore you since lots of good views around can be seen such as mountains and carabaos eating grass on wide farms. Lezo is still a pollution free area and population is not that big. There are 12 barangays in the place with only 12, 393 people living in it as of the 2000 census.
Even my relatives praise the ampao makers of Lezo, too. My relatives from Manila and even from other places would ask for ampao, aside from tuyo at daing, for a pasalubong. And they would even stress out that the ampao be bought at Lezo. That is how Lezo moves their appetite.
I went to Poblacion Lezo last Christmas vacation to look for someone who is responsible for the ampao industry. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate well with my plans. It rained not that hard, just a bit drizzling but it was still a bit disturbing. I kept on walking and walking just to find one best maker of ampao. And yes, amidst the rain and everything, the people whom I asked pointed to this blue, two-storey, concrete house.
I knocked at the door and a man, named Mang Pablito De Leon came out. Of course as anybody else who is known for such an icon, Mang Pablito also tried to hesitate from answering my first questions. Actually, he looked like as if he had just woken up. But, I acted like a real student who is very eager to know more about his ampao, and like any other kind Filipino, Mang Pablito treated me well.
He showed me his little rustic kitchen wherein there was this regular-sized clay pot where he usually makes his ampao. The clay pot is big enough for 8 cups of rice. Any way, in times that they feel like making more than they used to make, they just cook again. But the regular cooking is 8 cups of rice only. He also emphasized the use of firewood to control the cooking and the firewood’s smoke to allow the native quality of the food be retained. In practical means, firewood is cheaper than stove cooking. Any firewood would do, sometimes different types of firewood is used at the same time.
Ampao starts with cooked rice. The cooked rice is left outside to dry until a desired softness in the inside and the hardness in the outside is satisfied. Lasaw is also needed in this process. Lasaw is made by melting moscuvado to be exact in a frying pan until a sticky look comes out. Muscovado gives ampao the sweetest ever taste it could ever have. Lasaw is then mixed with dried cooked rice, then it is fried. The ingredients can be found almost anywhere that’s why the recipe is not that hard to make.
But that’s not all, Mang Pablito would pack his ampao first in dried banana leaves followed by brown paper and finally, plastic wrapping. Banana leaves keep ampao as fresh as it can be and as crunchy as the customers would ever wish. It preserves the food, and the aroma of the food is sealed in making the food taste even better. In fact, the food itself should also look nice, and since it’s a food, Mang Pablito would prefer the rectangle shape. It is easier to make and it looks good. Other ampao makers also make ampao in a circular shape.
Ampao is twenty pesos when bought direct at the producer’s house. When bought in the market, ampao runs to twenty-five pesos per piece. And still the increase in price does not just stop there, when buying at terminals it costs up to forty pesos per piece. Just imagine how businessmen increase the price, but still many would buy ampao no matter how high the price is.
The other ampao makers are Kaith Angelo Yabut Fernandez from S. Dela Rosa Street, Lezo, Aklan(09187618700), Manang Rosa from Sta.cruz, Lezo (09207288768).
Today, ampao is making its own name. Its no longer just synonymous to Lezo alone but to the entire Aklan province. It has become an icon of Aklan. Sometimes, even the makers of ampao from other places use the name of Lezo just to make their products in demand. Other provinces like Iloilo also have their own versions of Ampao only that Lezo’s ampao has a uniqueness all its own that it’s addictive to most ampao eaters. I have tasted some ampao from Iloilo and yes, they’re cute with those different colors on them but it can’t reach the level of Aklan’s ampao in terms of taste. Others ampao are not that crunchy, either. Others ampao are just packed in plastic, unlike Aklan’s which are covered with banana leaves, brown paper and lastly, the plastic. Well-packed!! This is not about being biased because I’m from Aklan, it’s just being true!