By Issa G. Gayas*
Having a hot cup of tablea brings back old memories with my grandmothers in Guimbal, Iloilo during school breaks. One of my grandmothers would make these cocoa tablets from the cacao plant in their backyard. She would serve tablea for us during breakfast especially during the cold month of December when we would go there during Christmas break. She would also give us tablea to bring back home to Talisay City, Negros Occidental.
In the Philippines, tablea- drinking has long been a tradition. Chocolate drinks have been around since the Spanish times. It was brought by Spanish colonizers who probably influenced the growing of cacao trees and the processing of the beans into cacao tablets and the cooking of the chocolate beverage. During the Spanish era, the drink was usually served for breakfast especially on special occasions. Even our national hero, Jose Rizal, wrote about tsokolate in his novel, Noli me Tangere. He observed that the friars served two kinds of hot chocolate- tsokolate e (expresso) for special guests and the “watered down” version called tsokolate a for ordinary guests. It was also said that a suitor would know if he was liked by the family of the girl he is courting by the type of chocolate drink served to him by the matriarch.
Today, the chocolate drink may not be well-appreciated by the present generation because the grocery-bought instant choco drinks like Milo and Ovaltine. But still, nothing beats the warm frothy goodness from pure, organically grown chocolate.
Tablea or tsokolate as some locales call it, are blocks of pure ground cocoa made from cacao beans. It comes in the form of circular tablets but could also be formed into balls. The process of making tablea is quite easy. It involves removing the fresh cacao beans from their pods and peeling the skin. It is then dried under the heat of the sun, after which these are roasted (like coffee) and then ground. Brown sugar is usually mixed with the ground cocoa to temper the bitterness of pure cocoa. The mixture is finally formed into tablets, thus the name tablea.
During my search for tablea in the Miagao Public Market, I came across two tablea makers. Emma Nilmar, 65 years old and resident of Bgy. Palaka. She started making tablea in 1993 in order to make herself busy and recover from her daughter’s demise. Nang Emma, who also makes peanut candies, delivers her tablea to native food sellers in the Miagao public market.
Another tablea maker is Violeta Piedad, a resident of Bgy. Kirayan Takas. She has a stall at the public market where she sells different kinds of native goods including tablea. Her tablea is slightly bigger than a five-peso coin and about a centimeter thick. Five tablets go into one pack priced at P20.00. Having learned the art from an old couple, she started making tablea in the early 1980s. Nang Violeta usually makes around 3 kilos of tablea, several packs of which she also distributes to other tinderas at Miagao market. She also said that some buyers place their orders to bring as pasalubongs abroad.
I bought a pack of Nang Violeta’s tablea and was quite excited to try it not having tasted tablea for a long time. The cold weather was also good for drinking a cup of hot chocolate. No offense to Nang Violeta, but it was not like what my grandma used to make. Well, the tablea was sweet and it can actually be eaten directly like a candy. But as a chocolate drink, it was rather grainy and with a smoked taste. Perhaps that was how Miagao tablea really tasted. I’m not sure though. What is certain is that I miss my the tablea my lola in Guimbal used to make.
Making hot chocolate with tablea is easy. You just put some tablea and water in a pot and use a batidor (a wooden stick with carved rings on one end) to mix. The wooden stick is spinned between the palms to make the drink frothy. Keep mixing as the chocolate starts to thicken. Tsokolate is best served with puto, ibos and other native delicacies. Broas and churros (fried dough, pastry- based snack) are also good with the tablea drink. However we enjoy it, our love for the chocolate drink is another testament of the Filipinos’ passion for food.
*Issa G. Gayas is a second year BA Psychology student at UP- Visayas and currently stays at Balay Madya-as. She enjoys reading books and magazines, watching TV and having movie marathons.