SHE GREW up eating adobong salagubang. And, to this day, Aileen Joson-Syyap still enjoys this exotic dish the way she enjoys eating butong pakwan (dried watermelon seeds), while watching TV or entertaining friends with a glass of wine in her house in Capitol Hills, Quezon City.
While growing up in Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, where salagubang (june beetle or june bug) thrives and is a household staple, Syyap never had an inkling that eating salagubang could be such a big deal for others. Yes, most people find the quirky winged-insect yucky and disgusting.
Yet, Syyap savors the experience of running her hands through a mound of crispy salagubang, picking out the stoutest member, breaking the beetle in half through its head and sipping the flesh out from its belly.
“It’s really delicious, meaty and perfect as an appetizer or pulutan,” says Syyap. “Whenever I serve this to friends, I always tell them to simply eat it without thinking that it’s salagubang they’re eating. For me, it’s all in the mind. ”
Syyap recalls how her mom, Laki, would buy about 10 kilos of live salagubang from a reliable suki in Gabaldon and cook them at home, adobo-style. Her mom would then store the delicacy in the freezer until the family craved for it.
“Sometimes we’d give them away to friends and relatives. They never spoil,” Syyap says.
Syyap would eat the salagubang with steamed rice soaked in gatas ng kalabaw (carabao’s milk) drizzled with salt.
“We never ran out of salagubang at home. Our meal was not complete without salagubang,” recalls Syyap, a graduate of food and nutrition at St. Paul’s College in Manila.
It’s usually at the onset of the rainy season (May) that the beetles come out. Syyap says it’s always after the very first rain that the best-tasting, chubbiest batch of them emerges from the sandy soil near rivers.
Because it’s rare and seasonal, the protein-rich salagubang fetches from P400-P600 per kilo in the market today.
Wet and dry
Syyap keeps a stack of salagubang at home because it’s also the favorite of her hubby Efren, who also hails from Cabanatuan. Sadly, her three children, Denise, Samantha and Andrei, don’t eat the gourmet delicacy.
She cooks adobong salagubang in two ways: one, dry; another, wet. Dry, because she deep-fries the meat after stewing; wet, because she sautées the meat in little water with tomatoes, garlic and onions.
“The older people in Nueva Ecija prefer the wet version because they like to mix the sauce in their rice,” Syyap says. “We prefer the dry one. It’s easy to eat.”
She buys live salagubang in bulk. Before cooking, she soaks them in water with salt for a few hours and removes the wings and legs. She uses pure sugarcane vinegar and lots of garlic in her adobo.
“It’s important you use sugarcane vinegar to create a nice acidity into the dish,” she says.
The flesh of the adobong salagubang tastes like real chicken meat with the right balance of sourness and sweetness. Surprisingly, it has no aftertaste and is quite juicy.
She serves adobong salagubang with sinigang sa bayabas and sweetish pork liempo that she buys from Cabanatuan market.
Apart from adobong salagubang, Syyap also whips up adobong talaba, which she cooks with oyster sauce and olive oil.
1 kg salagubang
1 c sugarcane vinegar
3 heads garlic, crushed
1 tsp whole peppercorns, crushed
Salt, to taste
Soak salagubang in water with salt for hours. Drain. Remove head and legs. Rinse well. In a pan, put together salagubang, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Then simmer for an hour in low heat. After simmering, add ½ c water so as not to dry the mixture. Simmer for a few minutes. Remove from pan. Cool for an hour, then deep-fry. Garnish with toasted garlic before serving.