Inabraw is Soul-Food
Aginabrawkay’ man Ma.
A request, no, a lambing to our mother to cook inabraw means that we are truly home. I and my three siblings are living the paths we have chosen for ourselves, which means leaving home. And whenever these paths become more than we could chew, either we go home to our mother’s house at the foot of a mountain somewhere in land-locked Tangaoan, Piddig, Ilocos Norte, or Mama visits whomever needs the nurturing, the love, and the boost of hope and energy that only a mother can provide.
Mama’s inabraw, made from whatever vegetables she has in the garden that circles our house, never fails to fill us with revitalizing digo. The inabraw’s soup with its electrolyte-rich bagoong isda, and the nutrients it has absorbed from whatever vegetables are in-season seems to help the body—based on my life-long experience—recover from fatigue. I will even swear to its ability to nurture the mind: my inabraw-powered brain is never idle from imagining new worlds and characters for my children’s stories.
The last time I tasted Mama’s inabraw was when our family met in the house of one of my siblings who is now stationed somewhere in Tarlac. Mama, in her favorite house dress, patiently and seemingly unfazed by her 12-hour bus ride from Ilocos Norte, cooked inabraw just an hour after she arrived. I ditched spoon and fork and ate rice swimming in inabraw like there is no tomorrow. Yes, it’s cliché, but that was how much I enjoyed Mama’s inabraw, made from talong, kabute, and sitaw, that night—my first in over five months.
That night, with every lip-smacking slurp, I felt my world reforming.
Of all the times that I asked my mother, “Aginabrawkay’ man Ma,” I have never told her how eating inabraw, cooked only the way she could, makes me feel like I can do everything I set my mind to—that I am the queen of the world. And I bet my mother’s next inabraw that my siblings—Leo, Imee, and Jay-r—feel the same way.
I love you, Mama. I hope and pray that you will always have the health and strength to cook inabraw whenever we ask. I hope and pray, too, that someday, my siblings and I can cook inabraw the way you do when you ask any of us, “Aginabrawka man, anak ko.”
*Inabraw – an Ilocano dish made from mixed vegetables stewed with bagoong or fermented fish sauce