Sunday, December 17, 2006

Southern Food

Shanlag, the South’s alternative to rice

by: Nadjoua Bansil

SHANLAG is an exotic delicacy enjoyed year-round by most natives of Zamboanga. It’s a cassava-based all-occasion food popular among the Tausug, Samal, Badjaos, and Yakan tribes.Shanlag is also sold at local markets at around P5 pesos each. While to most Filipinos, bread is an alternative to rice, shanlag is a better substitute. Shanlag is a good source of dietary fiber and is not synthetically made or produced. Therefore, it is healthier and has a higher nutritional value than rice.

How it’s made

Shanlag is roasted and it is considered as a basic food . Shanlag may be the healthiest fried food on the face of the planet. It’s made of cassava, a root crop that is ground and mixed with coconut milk until well blended. The mixture is poured in a pan and cooked, with occasional stirring, in low heat until it turns yellowish brown and hardens. The “frying” part may be due to the way in which oil is rendered from the coconut milk as it cooks. But shanlag contains no additives, coloring or preservatives.

Coconut trees are abundant in Zamboanga and they are organically grown. Coconut milk is believed to have short-and medium-chain fatty acids that are easily and quickly assimilated by the body. They aren’t stored as fat in the body like the long chain triglycerides of animal byproducts. This alone makes shanlag rich in protein and healthy fats.While rice is bland, shanlag leaves a bitter, faintly acidic aftertaste. Bitterness often means that potent healthy nutrients are present to bolster the body’s immune system.

The wonders of shanlag

I remember visiting a Bajao community in Taluksangay, some 17 kilometers from the city proper of Zamboanga. I saw young and old Badjao women and men with skin so firm and toned, it was no exaggeration to say I had a difficult time telling apart an 80 year-old from a 40 year-old. I even met a man who said he was 110 years old and who looked healthy as a horse. I could not believe my eyes but it’s true! They eat shanlag with fish and agar-agar (seaweeds). Most Badjaos don’t eat meat; they would rather trade it for shanlag. Though many factors may have contributed to the longevity of the Badjao man I met, shanlag appears to play a big part. So forget smart technology and the seduction of artificial flavorings. The age-old methods of old folk still work.

Since shanlag is made purely from cassava and coconut milk, it is a high source of fiber that produces of their own fatty acids when eaten. Fiber flushes out toxins which could prevent cancer, cardiovascular diseases and even diabetes. It also keeps the body warm that keeps you feeling full longer.Shanlag slows down both digestion and the release glucose in the blood. This process maintains the blood glucose in a normal state. “Thus, the body keeps its normal weight. Meaning, you do not get fat; however, your body gets muscles because of the rich fiber,” explains Ms. Mary Rose Mohammad, a registered Dietary Nutritionist of Universidad de Zamboanga Medical Community.

So shanlag works not just a delicacy but also boosts one’s health. Just check out how the Tausug, Samal, Badjaos, and Yakan tribes remain healthy, lean and fit. If you’re headed to the Philippines and plan to visit South, discover shanlag for yourself.
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