The word “lapuyan” is derived from the Subanen word “Gepuyan” (or :Pegupuyan”), which means an “act of cooking.”
The Subanen people are the native inhabitants of the Zamboanga Peninsula, mostly living along the riverbed. The word “suba” in their language means “river.” Over the course of history, as foreigners moved into the land, the Subanen moved upstream to more inland areas to avoid conflict.
Today, the Subanen of Lapuyan, Zamboanga Del Sur, have modernized and integrated themselves with society, while at the same time making strides in preserving their culture. They have collaborated with the local government to establish the Heritage House, where they can hone and showcase many aspects of their people, including their art, history, and cuisine.
Diverging from their pagan ancestors, today’s Subanen of Lapuyan are Christian in faith, which has influenced what they eat.
What is Lapuyan cuisine?
Elsiebeth Lingating Aclo of the Subanen explains that their cuisine is characterized by salty flavors. “You can see it in our ulam (viand). For others, when you catch a fish, you would want to eat it fresh. But for the Subanen, we like to pabaho (dry-salt) the fish to bring out the flavor,” she shares.
Aclo is a pure Subanen and a home economics teacher. She mostly handles the food preparations at the Heritage House. She also leads the conservation and heritage society of the Tourism, Culture, and the Arts Office of Lapuyan.
“Our usual ingredients include lemongrass and native onion called dlusay and genda,” she adds on their cuisine. Their native onion in the region is greener in hue compared to regular purple or yellow onions seen in the market.
Salt, Herbs, and Celebrations
Highlighting two dishes that showcase their salty and herby cuisine, Aclo first explains the Thimo, a suman made with sticky rice, coconut milk, rock salt, and brown sugar, which is wrapped in a medicinal leaf called dun geyk.
Aclo emphasizes their affinity for saltiness with the Thimo. “For the Bisaya and others, they like their kakanin sweet. For us, with our Thimo we like it with salt. Not just sugar, we want that saltiness too.”
On the leaf wrapping of the Thimo, “The dun geyk we use is not easy to collect. It’s usually found near the riverbanks, so it takes time to forage. It has some medicinal properties, such as fighting inflammation,” Aclo shares.
The Thimo has a distinct cone shape, which has symbolic meaning for the Subanen. Its pointed form is said by tribal leaders to bring prosperity, which is why the rice cake is made in many celebrations such as weddings and festivals.
This practice stems from the ancient Subanen belief that offering Thimo during the planting and harvesting seasons would bring blessings and an abundant harvest for the year.
The next dish Aclo prepared is the Ginataan Miki. The dish is also called Ginagu sera in Subanen, which is the name of the salted fish used in the recipe.
The creamy dish is made with coconut milk and miki noodles. Its creaminess is cut by chunks of salted fish, balancing each other’s flavors. The gata is laced with herby aromatics such as lemongrass, native onions, and garlic to layer the dish’s flavors.
As with the Thimo, Aclo also shares this dish’s celebratory meaning. “The Ginataan Miki also has meaning when we prepare it. It’s usually served right before a harvest to ensure bountiful yield,” she elaborates.
Other activities at the Heritage House
Aside from tasting their delicacies, the Subanen also offers other activities at the Heritage House. These include hilot (healing massages) sessions on a suspended bed and a tour of their mini-museum about Subanen history and heritage.
Guests are also welcomed with a traditional dance called thalek upon their visit. The Subanen are known for their distinct dance rituals. Specifically, the thalek is said to repel evil spirits. A performance is accompanied by music with their traditional instruments such as gongs, bamboos flutes, and guitars.
Guests can also avail lodging at the Heritage House, where air-conditioned family rooms are available.
How to visit the Subanen in Lapuyan
Getting to Pagadian from Manila can be done via regular flights through Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific. You can get from Pagadian to Lapuyan via private vehicle or public bus, which would take around an hour to reach the Heritage House.
There are no set rates for visiting the Subanen. Instead, they prefer sanggat, a donation amounting to guests’ preference. This stems from their belief called bukal sa loob, where payments are made as a sign of respect.
To plan a visit to the Heritage House, it is best to coordinate with the Tourism Office or the Lapuyan Tourism Officer, Francis S. Duhaylungsod, (0970-445-8400) before your trip.
Outsource the planning: MTR Travel Specialist
All tourist destinations in Lapuyan and Zamboanga del Sur have health and safety protocols in place to protect locals and visitors alike. Everyone is expected to comply by wearing face masks, regularly washing their hands, and practicing physical distancing.
To check out up-to-date information regarding local destinations that are open and the safety protocols and requirements needed for each location, you may visit philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app at app.philippines.travel, Apple Store, or Google Playstore.