IT dawns on me now there’s more to nilupak than meets a naïve city slicker’s eye.
Let us recall a recipe. Prize firm semi-ripe saba bananas, most of ‘em dark green with hardly any hint of yellow sheen on their skin— stuffed full of starch with fruity sweetness about to begin. Pounded to a creamy smoothness, semi-ripe saba would have the consistency of corn meal or whole wheat flour.
Saba bananas of such sort are boiled, peeled, cut up in chunks, plunked into an aching maw-hole of a mortar hewn out of a tamarind tree trunk. Ah, tamarind tree boles often turn up into such farm household items as mortar or chopping board—the fine-grained tough wood often ages into a honeyed dull cream color. Tamarind wood doesn’t impart either tartness or sour-sweetness of its sap to any item of food worked upon its honey-smooth surface. Besides, tamarind—salumagi, sampalok, ampil -- throbs with, as wizened rustics have it, a nurturing love.
Palpate for such sort of love with a fond gaze on a firm hand wielding a pestle, pound-pound-pounding chunks of saba and grated young coconut meat into a silken mush. Need a helping hand? Find that at the end of your own arms.
Limbs flowing into arms into hands firmed up into a knot of wiry sinews can bear the tedium of that pound-pound-pounding. These are limbs-arms-hands wont to pumping water from a deep-well, taking home ‘em pair of jerry cans or 12-kilogram tin containers balanced on a shoulder pole, chopping firewood—or any other manly chore in a farm. These are limbs that can muster stamina to plough through the most back-breaking tasks.
That soft heave-pounding sound as smooth pestle head smacks like tongue lapping up a spreading mush-- that echoes a throbbing heart seeking a beat similar in rhyme, maybe a same reason as one’s own.
Time flies like a butterfly flapping its frail wings as batch upon batch of saba chunks-coconut meat-margarine churns slow into a satin paste of uncomplicated chemistry.
Yes, nilupak is done by couples as a field test of sorts on their capacity to withstand a tiresome task for two. Nilupak-making is a test of a couple’s endurance and inhered capacity to flow into a rhythm.
Can this lovesome pair keep it up? Will they turn up chewy nougat? Will they ruin whatever’s cooking between them? Whatever’s keeping them together, will it stand the test of time?
As old-timers have it, nilupak tastes much better when the couple pours a lot of heart into that aching mortar’s maw. It isn’t the fructose in the bananas, not the drizzle of sugar on that starchy amalgam that imparts just-right sweetness to nilupak.
It’s something poured out from a pair of hearts brimming with ah, that old-fashioned, crazy little thing called love.