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Batenbols and other Pinoy aphrodisiacs


By Sol Vanzi

The cockpit is probably the most iconic bastion of Filipino machismo. Men of all ages gather to gamble, drink, catch up with friends, conduct business transactions, and eat.

Cockpits everywhere have a reputation for serving unique, expensive, and special dishes. We found out about one on a recent trip to Las Piñas, our hometown.

Hundreds flock to the Zapote cockpit during game days, but not all are there to watch cockfights or place bets. For many, the visit is for a more important purpose: A steaming bowl of batenbols, more popularly known in other places as Soup Number 5. The cockpit food vendor, Cristino Jose, explained that batenbols is Taglish for “bat and balls” which refers to the reproductive organs of a bull, believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac.

Cristino’s specialty, at P150 per bowl, is not always available because of scarcity of raw materials. Not all butchered cows are male, and each bull has only one set of equipment—one bat and a pair of balls.

Las Piñas menfolk are no strangers to virility-enhancing edibles. The town’s rice fields, salt beds, and fishponds once provided hospitable habitat for wildlife, such as monitor lizards (bayawak), and pythons (sawa), hunted down each time a neighborhood complained of missing chicken, duck, or small pets.

Once the culprit was captured, the barrio’s able-bodied men would gather under a mango tree to skin, butcher, and cook the reptile. With various recipes suggested, the choice always boiled down to a garlic-rich adobo, which was eaten by the men while they drank a cocktail of gin, canned pineapple juice, and Seven Up from a single mug passed around among members of the hunting party only. No children and women allowed.

Instead of the usual warning sign “Beware of dogs” our old neighborhood should have displayed “Beware of dog-eaters” to warn pet lovers. Wandering canines, which showed no signs of being rabid, were automatically sentenced to become azucena, the generic name for dog stew.

First, the dog was killed with a fatal neck slash, after which the blood was carefully allowed to drip into a clean bowl. Men afflicted with TB drank the warm blood, sometimes sucking directly from the dying animal. Dog meat is believed to “warm the flesh” (pampainit ng katawan) and induce passion.

(NOTE: The practice is now considered illegal.)

Monitor lizard eggs were prized for being stronger aphrodisiacs than ordinary chicken or duck eggs. They remain soft even after boiling for a long period. Women and children are not allowed to eat them.

While other countries treasure caviar (sturgeon roe) as the most extravagant aphrodisiac, Filipinos consume kilos of fish eggs from both the ocean and fresh water lakes and rivers. Davao and General Santos cities are famous for bihod (fish roe) from giant tuna, grilled to perfection over coconut charcoal and served with coconut vinegar and chili.

Not to be outdone, fish sperm or milt, known as bagaybay, is also a bestseller when cooked into adobo, sinigang, or grilled. In other provinces, fish roe are preserved in salt, fermented with rice, and cooked with onion and tomatoes.

Not familiar to Tagalogs is abuos, the ant eggs loved by Ilocanos.

Gathered from wild forest trees by torch-wielding hunters, abuos look like white, translucent grains of rice with tiny insects inside. They are roasted or sautéed with onions and tomatoes.

Around the country, insects are also popular as snacks or pulutan. Crickets and locusts are often caught and sold by the sackful when they invade rice crops. Less plentiful are beetles (salagubang), which appear very briefly in early May when the siniguelas trees are green with young leaves.

Identified internationally as a Filipino delicacy, balut is also made and consumed in other Asian countries. Balut is sold by ambulant vendors who shout “Baluuuut” all night while walking or biking through neighborhoods, all the while keeping the boiled fertilized duck eggs hot inside insulated baskets. There is hardly any balut vendor during the day.

“Men only need balut at night, when they are home with their wives; not during the day when they are at work,” said a balut vendor.

Oysters are plentiful everywhere in our country of 7,000 islands. Belief in their aphrodisiac powers is stronger among westerners than among Filipinos.

Many Filipinas I talked to confessed that aphrodisiacs have little or no effect on them, “Give me soft music, roses, candlelight, and romance anytime,” said a good friend with a wink.

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