Suman Sa Lihiya

I make Philippine rice cakes basically once or twice a year. They need a lot of elbow grease to prepare, and in the Philippines it is usually the man’s job to make rice cakes. So while I love eating them, the work that goes into it basically limits me from making them.

Lihiya means lye in Tagalog. Lye water is a basic ingredient in many a sticky rice cake,  they should be found in any decent Asian store.

I have made these a total of three times in my life, and I multi-task when I do make them. Reserve at least half a day to make these, since it takes real committment to get them right.

You will need:

A packet of banana leaves. If you have them fresh, 2 to 3 large ones will do.

A ball of twine.


A can of coconut milk (240 ml) and a bag of panocha or four tablespoons (1/4 cup) of muscovado or dark brown sugar. Add more according to desired sweetness, if you so prefer. If you are lucky enough to live in the Philippines, this has to be kakang gata. (Sounds dirty, I know, but it just means first presssed coconut milk)


1 kg sticky rice (malagkit, or glutinous rice), 1 tablespoon lye water, 1-3 dashes of salt, and water.

Soak the rice in water for at least an hour. That means at least two inches of water over the rice level.

While soaking the rice, dump the entire can of coconut milk in a saucepan with the sugar over medium low heat. Just leave if like that and stir it from time to time. By the time this thickens, your rice cake is done.

Wipe the banana leaves with a damp cloth if you are using fresh ones. the ones in plastic bags should already be pre-cleaned (I hope). Scorch the underside of the banana leaves to make it more pliable over a hot plate. When the leaves turn darker green after a few seconds, move to a different spot, until the entire leaf is done. Cut them up to one bigger piece (about 8-10 inches long and 8 inches wide)  and one smaller piece (five to six inches long as it is wide). Set aside.

By this time an hour should be up. Drain the rice and mix in the lye. It should turn yellow. Add the salt. Place the smaller-cut leaf (glossy side up) on top of the bigger-cut leaf (glossy side down) so that the corner of the smaller leaf is pointing to the top.  A good demonstration of how it is done could be found here.

Place a few spoons of the rice mixture in the middle. Fold the Banana leaf lengthwise. Fold the bottom. Tap the bottom part in the table to get the rice to settle, and add a few more spoonfuls of rice if desired. Then close off by folding the top. The site I’m referencing has pictures of the procedure. It takes some practice until you get  tight rice bundles, so don’t be so discouraged if it seems so uneven in your first try!

Place a pair of suman back to back, with the seams of the banana leaf folds facing each other. Secure it with a string on the top and on the bottom of the rice packet, as seen in the picture. A kilo of rice makes for four bundles, or 8 rice packs.

In the largest stock pot you have, place the rice bundles and fill it with water until all the rice bundles are covered. Bring it to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer it for an hour and a half. By this time your sauce should reach a thick, pasty consistency.

Take the bundles out of the water, let it cool, and eat with a serving of the sauce on the side. The rice would have turned into a nice, green color, and the sauce into a light cream one.

I’d also like to acknowledge English Patis who got me started on the whole suman thing. It also got me to tweak the recipe according to how I remembered suman to be like and how I like my suman.



Calamansi, also known as Calamondin, is a citrus plant related to Mandarins or Kumquats. They are tiny, about an inch in diameter, and is a much-beloved souring agent in Philippine cuisine.

I really missed Calamansi when I moved to Germany. No offense to lemons and limes, I but they just don’t remind me of home.

To my surprise, I found them on sale at my local hardware store! So I snapped one plant immediately. It was steep, 7 euros for a teeny-tiny plant, but it was worth it. I bought a Calamansi plant from Aldi last year, it had no fruits, and died over the winter. I hope this one is a keeper! It is a proud member of my collection of edible exotic plants.

By the way, I found out that citrus plants are like apples, they are not faithful to the parent plant’s qualities, and therefore can only be sucessfully propagated through grafting.


Fair Trade Philippines

I came across these products at the local Weltladen (World, or shall I say, heheh, “alternative” shop). They also sell the Chocolate Bars under the GEPA brand, but the one in the picture came from Tegut.

I am a big fan of Muscavado sugar. It is like soft brown sugar, and you can look up the wikipedia entry to learn the difference (I sure don’t).I use it in cookies, rice cakes, and even breakfast Oatmeal. I was willing to swallow the 200% mark up since a) it is imported and b) fair trade. Oh I hope it really is fair trade.

Philippine dried mangoes are the best in the market, in my opinion. I also buy the non-fair trade ones, but for 50 cents more, why not buy the ones that help former streetkids in Angeles City? Fr. Shay O’Cullen’s work is known in the Philippines, and I really, sincerely hope that the extra money does go to the PREDA Foundation, as advertised at the back of the packet.

The weirdest “Please Buy Me! I Do Good Things With Your Money!” blurb comes from the Muscavado sugar chocolate bar


“I’ve been a member of Alter Trade for four years now. Since the land belonged to our landlord, we earn very little. We had little influence over our jobs. Now, it is better, but it would be nice if we could sell our Organic Sugar for even more. I wish that my children to finish school.”

There is nothing funny about the plight of the sugar farmers of Negros, nor is it funny that many children in the Philippines can’t even afford to go to (free) public school. However I  think that the person who wrote the blurb should have not taken the “woe is me” approach, but focus more on the good I am doing by spending 5 euros, and not 2 euros, on a kilo of muscavado sugar. Or a bar of chocolate.

All in all, I am glad to see Philippine products making its way to Germany, and I do sincerely hope that more of them come my way.

Serendipity, Thy Name is Munggo Guisado

Sometimes, I get the feeling that the universe is telling me to cook something specific. The chances that I actually get to do it without leaving the house is so rare, I tell you!

Last week I attended a wedding and I got to take home some Spanferkel (aka as Lechon or a whole roast pig). I promptly turned that into the goodness that is Lechon Kawali, one of the fattiest Flipino leftover dishes out there. Boiled, then air-dried lechon belly/skin, deep fried to a crisp.

But I still had crispy leftovers. What to do?

Nothing beats a stew in a cold and rainy day, so I made some comfort food: Munggo Guisado. That is Mung bean stew, which basically is our version of lentil soup.

Doesn’t look like much, but that’s Filipino comfort food right here.

I had a pack of mung beans, so I rinsed and then soaked a cup of that in water for an hour. After that, I boiled the beans for 30 minutes.  Sautée two cloves of crushed garlic and one chopped medium sized onion in three tablespoons of oil I saved from the deep fried lechon. I had some pork chops in the fridge, so I took one slab out and chopped it into 1 inch by 2 inch cubes, and put that in too.

Filipinos eat tomatoes slightly underripe because we like our tomatoes sour, and luckily I just saved some of my tomatoes from the cold autumn air on my balcony. I chopped one of them into quarters, stirred it two to three times, and added the drained mung beans into it.

I saved the stock I made from boiling the lechon and put half a cup of the lechon water into the pot and I let it simmer for 10 minutes on medium-low heat.

I still had a single tatsoi plant and a thai basil plant freezing to its death on my balcony. I harvested those, along with some Italian basil and cilantro leaves. Chopped them to shreds, and shredded the leftover pork from the lechon/Spanferkel. Throw them in at the end, add about a tablespoon of fish sauce, et Viola!

I always add salt and pepper all throughout the cooking process, and not just during one specific time, to get a good layering of flavor. Using leftover oil and lechon stock was amazing, as it echoed the pork that was in the stew.

I ate this with steamed rice. And ate it like a Filipino 🙂