Abuos: The Ilocanos’ version of caviar



By Edzelle Peña

BAYOMBONG, NUEVA VIZCAYA — It’s breeding season once again for abuos (fruit-tree ant, also called hantik in Tagalog) and for Ilokanos, it’s also the perfect time to catch up on a good meal that’s fittingly as exotic as caviar.

Itlog ti abuos (fruit-tree ant eggs) is a popular delicacy in the northern parts of Luzon. Often sauteed in garlic and onions, this native dish, which looks a lot like roasted legumes, is a tasty treat that’s also claimed to be an effective aphrodisiac.

Egg harvesting season is usually done this time of the year extending until June. Gatherers scout dense forests for ants’ nests found clumped in trees. Using long poles with burning materials attached at one end, they smoke out the ant colony so they can easily get the eggs without being stung. These ants have razor-sharp jaws, for sure, anyone wouldn’t want to get a taste of that.

There are several ways to cook abuos but the most common is sauteed. The process is quick and simple and the blog, Pinakbet, can teach you how. Other well-liked recipes are adobo and omelet. In a cooking event held in Ilocos Sur some years ago, local chefs introduced a rather unique and exciting recipe which is roasted ant’s eggs stuffed on red bell pepper with cheese. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it?

In Nueva Vizcaya, abuos-eating is a highlight in their Ammungan Festival, held every year in tune with the provinces’ celebration of their founding anniversary.

Abuos eggs are a common offering in public markets in the north during harvesting season. Blogger, Edwin Antonio said many of these are sold in Laoag market in Ilocos Norte on sundays of summer. And because it’s a rare cuisine, like the famous Western dish, caviar, they are sold a tad bit pricy at P200 to P350.

Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to sample this exotic delicacy during my recent trip to Ilocos. But for those who did get to try it, like this blogger, Blackdove’s Nest, said that it’s quite tasty but a bit sour. He likened it’s taste to the alige ng talangka (crab aligue). Readers in the forum, Pinoyexchange.com, spoke of the same.

Ants are also a popular delicacy in Asian countries like Thailand and India. Tribals of Jharkhand in India consume adult red ants in the form of chutney — ants are mashed up with salt, red chillies, mustard oil and eaten with stale rice. They believe ants have medicinal qualities which is also one of the reasons why it is highly in demand in village shops.

Aside from its high protein content, ants are also traditionally used as aphrodisiacs. The Chinese were among the first to discover this benefit from ants. in fact, they have regarded them as tonic for over 3000 years. They’ve shown this practice in a number of famous Chinese medicinal classics, including Li Shi Chen’s Ben Cao Gang Mu, where the great master praised ants as superior tonic with excellent creative powers.

So, if you happen to see what seems like white pebbles arranged on leaves in public markets during your trip to the north, reach into your pocket and try our own local version of caviar.

Photos from Blackdove’s Nest, ViaMoi, Neil Liddle, and Jobad Badiola.

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