“Sumrek kayo. Kayat yu ti pinikpikan?”
Those were the most common words I hear whenever I visit some of my friends in Baguio City, as well as in La Trinidad, Benguet. It was five years ago when I heard the word “pinikpikan”, the first time.
“What is pinikpikan, anyway?” I asked my friend. “It is like tinola, only the chicken is lightly battered before cooking, and it is more savory than tinola,” answered my friend. I tasted it. He was right. It is savory. I became addicted to it. From that time, I love to eat pinikpikan during occasions, especially during the cold day in the highlands.
Pinikpikan as part of Igorot tradition
Pinikpikan is a delicacy in the Cordilleras. It came from the word pikpik, meaning to lightly beat before cooking. According to the Igorots, the beating brings blood to the surface of the chicken’s flesh, thus improving the flavor of the chicken after cooking.
Ethnolinguistic minorities in the Cordillera, such as the Bontoc people, perform many rituals in honor of Kabunyan (Supreme Being), and the anitos (spirits) of their dead ancestors. The rituals are generally called mangmang according to Bontoc Cuisine. Years ago, the pinikpikan is served only in sacred occasions.
One occasion is the mangmang. It is performed by a family as a thanksgiving after the plowing and planting season.
Another is the ap-apey. This is performed in all rice fields planted with palay. They pray to Kabunyan to drive away pests in order to produce an abundant harvest.
There is also the am-among. It is a means of strengthening family ties.
Another is the tengao. This is the time to rest. A chicken is offered at the papattay (a sacred area in the community).
Last is the lesles. After all minor rituals in the planting season, this is done as a means of thanksgiving by each family.
Evolution of the highland’s well-known delicacy
Today, pinikpikan can be served anywhere, anytime. It is served in carenderias, restaurants, and even at home at an ordinary day.
However, the elders believe that authentic pinikpikan can just be served on a sacred occasion.
Aida Camsol, who spent most of her life in Mountain Province but currently resides in La Trinidad, Benguet said, “It is just sad to see that the serving of pinikpikan has become very common nowadays. Modernization changed the way of preparing pinikpikan.” Also, she elaborated that some ingredients are added, removed, and substituted. Public markets in Benguet already sell battered and burnt chicken ready for cooking the delicacy.
“It must be noted that when the pinikpikan is served with vegetables, such as sayote, or flavored with ginger, then it becomes merely a version of the Philippine soup, Chicken Tinola or Tinolang Manok,” said Nico Cawed, a native of Bontoc, in a blog in Go Baguio.
If ready-to-cook chicken for pinikpikan can be easily bought to markets, the main purpose of serving pinikpikan will be lost. Cawed noted that preparing authentic pinikpikan takes hours of careful work.
Cawed mentioned that many Baguio visitors and even residents nowadays see pinikpikan as merely a flavorful chicken dish. He elaborated that in reality, the preparation of the pinikpikan is a ritual performed by Cordillera tribes to determine the appropriate courses of action and their fate.
I realized and witnessed how modernization affects culture. Some of the values of preparing the delicacy is lost. Most of the residents in the urban areas of the Cordillera are not aware of the symbolism of the butchering of the chicken.
I saw the rich culture of the Cordilleras. But what broke my heart was seeing the rich culture of the Cordilleras slowly dying.
Even though we now live in a modern world, the story of the pinikpikan shall not be left behind, and it shall be passed to generations. Let us preserve the culture that has been practiced by our ancestors, and indeed we will be able to appreciate the values that has been embedded in every practice.//Ma. Amica G. Mañalac