There are some websites on and about the Ilokano (people) that feature the supposed traits and characteristics of a true, genuine Ilokano, ala-"You're a Filipino if....," and one goes that "maysaka a pudno nga Ilokano no nakasida wenno nakaramankan (wenno ammom ti maipapan) iti ballaiba." You're a truly G.I. (genuine Ilokano) if you know ballaiba, especially if you've eaten it.
But what the heck is this ballaiba (also balleba, ballayba)? First, I'll show you here a photo of a ballaiba salad, courtesy of a friend, Ms. Leilanie, to prove, even if it's only in a photograph, that it's indeed edible and being prepared best as a salad:
Let me then quote Dr. Abercio V. Rotor, a famous Ilokano professor and scientist and writer, on what's a ballaiba: "Balleba (Vallisneria) is an aquatic plant growing in clear streams, ponds and lakes, whose leaves appear like ribbon, hence it is also called ribbon grass. The leaves are gathered and served fresh with tomato, onion and salt."
Here are some photos of the ballaiba. It is commonly propagated and used as an aquarium plant. Its Wikipedia entry simply says it's an aquarium plant, period, and not mentioned (even in numerous websites that feature it) that it's also edible and prepared as food or viand. I want to believe that probably, only we Ilokanos are the ones eating it! Although I'm not that sure if it's also eaten by other Filipinos.
|(Photo from http://www.moje-akvarium.net/en-plants-vallisneria-gigantea.php.|
You can see a lot of ballaiba photos by googling it.)
I surely and sorely miss ballaiba. It's been decades that I didn't see or have eaten this Ilokano delicacy. I think it's becoming rare (one reported cause of its becoming extinct in ponds and rivers is that ballaiba was a favorite snack by the voracious golden kuhol). As a boy in a farming village or barrio in Nueva Vizcaya, I am used to eat ballaiba because there are ponds and lagoons (called "kulos") in our place then where ballaiba grows abundantly. In hot summer days, when we children go and swim in these ponds, we also gather snails, wild balangeg, young lotus stalks, and ballaiba so we could have some food to bring home to appease the anger of our parents who discourage us to frequent the ponds for fear that we might got drowned, the sirena (mermaid) living there might pull us into the deep because we are gathering her hair. Yes, ballaiba is also called "buok ti sirena" (mermaid's hair). And yes, it's also called "I shall return" by some because of the fact that it's a kind of WYSIWIG--what you see is what you get--what you ingest is what you "undigest" is what you get! Get it?
Preparing ballaiba salad is simple. It's a kinilaw, in fact, because you don't have to cook it. Clean the tender leaves throughly in tap water. Then cut it into about a half-inch pieces. Then lapayen iti asin or squeeze it with rock salt to get rid of some of its galis or slipperiness. Rinse well. Then flavor it with a squeeze of calamansi and salt (and some MSG, if you like). Garnish it with tomato and onion slices. You can use bugguong instead of salt, if you prefer. Just add a little because the ballaiba would then be salty as it was first squeezed with salt.