I have written about kabog or millet seed for years. It is just one of those iconic marketmanila.com ingredients. In April 2005, just months after I started this blog, I wrote about budbud kabog available at a local weekend market, here. Then in September 2006, I wrote about my attempts to develop a recipe for budbud kabog from scratch, without any reference material or anyone to show me how it was done. That seemingly innocuous post led to this somewhat amusing one, called “Gi Bogbog Ko Sa Kabog!” that is now vintage Marketman-rant-speak. I finally published a Budbud Kabog recipe a la Marketman in October 2006, and we have been making it ever since.
Then in November 2006, I published a recipe of a dear friend (now), Manang Lima, who we discovered selling budbud kabog on the street in Mandaue, Cebu and who so graciously agreed to come teach me how she made her version, which was only slightly different from mine. At the end of that post, I encouraged readers to buy their budbud from Manang Lima, and some of them did. But roughly a year later, I wrote about Manang Lima in the Mabuhay Magazine of PAL, introducing the phrase “JERK MAGNET”, and that article was read by tens of thousands of people resulting in hundreds of orders for Manang Lima, enough for her to make 5-10x what she used to earn selling budbud kabog the street! Manang Lima became a friend, we helped her through thick and thin, and when we decided to open Zubuchon restaurants 5 years ago, she volunteered to and STILL COOKS all of our budbud kabog and biko, even though she is well beyond normal retirement age. And she only does this for us. :) She visits our kitchens once or twice a week to cook these delicacies herself. But I still wanted to chase down millet or kabog to its source. After all, Antonio Pigafetta wrote in his chronicles that they were fed some millet when Magellan feasted in Cebu in 1521, before he was killed by an alleged distant relative of mine… So this post is about that quest to go to the source of kabog, and here in Cebu, that source is now located around the hillsides near Catmon, Northern Cebu.
One of our backyard-raised pig scouts mentioned that she was from the hillsides near Catmon. When asked if she knew any kabog or millet seed farmers several months ago, she answered in the affirmative, and she promised to let us know when it was nearer to harvest time. Last week she said the seeds were heavy on the plants, but it would be another couple of weeks before the harvest, hopefully after some searingly hot dry weather (it has been raining a lot in Cebu). I decided not to take any chances waiting too long and arranged to take a day trip up North. We started out of Cebu at the crack of dawn yesterday, and made it to the foothills of Catmon two hours later, and Manang Lydia met us on a motorcycle. We drove another 20-30 minutes on increasingly narrow and potholed roads, until we got to clearing beside the road and we parked the car. I looked around, seemingly surrounded by cornfields.
We walked through cornfields also heavy with fruit, and just when I was beginning to regret my choice of shorts that morning, we emerged from the corn fields to a fabulous patch of kabog or millet grasses with seeds. Often referred to as a grain, some googling suggests they are seeds, and ancient seeds at that. Think nearly 10 millennia of cultivation. I once wrote I thought these were a variety of foxtail millet, but perhaps they are proso millet instead.
It was amazing to see the plants up close, basically a kind of grass with these wonderful seeds, that don’t need much water or any care at all. No pesticides used, just plant seeds, hope for some rain over the course of the 3 months or so they grow, and hopefully they yield a hefty harvest. They are not irrigated, and they don’t really need a fuss. Kabog costs several hundred pesos per ganta (a measure of volume) that is roughly 2.2-2.4 kilos of millet seed (up to 2.5 kilos of rice) and is increasingly difficult to find, because so few people still cook with it, and therefore less and less farmers plant it. It is a personal quest to bring awareness to this ancient seed, and we serve budbud kabog in our restaurants to try and help the farmers who grow it. It’s trivia, but there is a whole other post that should be written on a gantang or ganta as a unit of measure that is shared with our Malay neighbors…
When it is scarce, kabog can rise to as much as PHP800-900 per ganta in Cebu, or roughly PHP300-400 a kilo from wholesalers! We really should package it up as an ingredient and sell it on our pasalubong tables to further encourage people to discover and use the ingredient!
We drove further into the hills and saw several more areas planted to kabog. This large area on one hillside was a 500 meter walk down a steep hill and another kilometer up so I decided to just take these telephoto shots instead… I was in dire need of a Coke Light at this point, and the nearest source was about 1.5 hours away!
In total, the excursion took some 6 hours or almost an entire day. But it was totally worth it. Now that I have seen where the seeds are grown, met some of the farmers, and appreciate the difficult conditions everyone undergoes to grow them, harvest them, process them, bring them down from the hillsides to the main road, I am going to double my efforts to make the grain available to our customers, and encourage them to buy and use it. Curious what else you can use millet for instead of just budbud or suman? There are lots of interesting western recipes, here.
Chasing kabog back to the source? Done. :)