Sweet tradition: A peek at Tausug treats

Rhea Claire Madarang

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Sweet tradition: A peek at Tausug treats
Delicious sweets from a rich heritage, with preparations ranging from simple to intricate

From a coconut shell pierced with holes, white batter trickles in tiny waterfalls down the wok, with skillful hands slowly swirling them into a web of delicate threads. This web is then carefully folded, rolled, pressed, and fried.

The result is a golden, three-dimensional filigree called jaa among Tausugs in Sulu, lokot-lokot among neighboring Zamboangueño Muslims, and also known by other names among Muslims in other parts of Mindanao.

Tausug delicacies, as well as other cuisine in Muslim Mindanao, come with rich traditions, and sometimes, as with the jaa, much attention and detail in the cooking.

Tausug food particularly has strong influences from neighboring Sabah, Malaysia. (READ: Tausug food for Ramadan)

TRADITIONAL PRACTICE. Traditionally, jaa’s batter passes through a coconut shell pierced with holes before cooking.

SHAKE. The batter slowly trickles from the coconut shell. Sometimes the shell is shaken to better control the flow of the batter. In fact, tiyatug, the Maranao version for jaa, means 'to shake.'

WEB. The trickles of batter swirled into the wok form a fine web.

ROLL. This web is then folded, pressed, and rolled to create the jaa.

Jaa, a crispy sweet made from rice flour, sugar, and water, is usually served not as a dessert but as an appetizer in celebrations like weddings, engagements, Eid al-Fitr, and also during solemn observances like the seventh day of prayer after a person’s passing.

During these occasions, it is served as part of bangbang, which are Tausug pastries or finger food usually eaten as merienda or as appetizer.

DAILY TREATS. The bangbang usually has fried bananas or sweet potatoes, as well as other sweets made from rice flour or wheat flour. Pictured are some of the common bangbang items.

Bangbang is eaten daily among Tausugs, usually for snacks, and sometimes for breakfast and appetizers during meals, including iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during Ramadan. (READ: 7 tips for travel during Ramadan )

The daily bangbang does not usually include jaa, but typically includes fried bananas and sweet potatoes, and rice-based and wheat flour-based sweets.

Traditionally, in Tausug coffee shops a bangbang set is placed on the customer’s table. The customer will just then pick what to eat, and later pay for it.

In some places, bangbang food items can be ordered individually. Such is the practice at Zamboanga City’s Dennis Coffee Garden, a coffee shop founded by Tausug entrepreneur Imelda Ahalul-Dagus, and which was started over 50 years ago in Sulu by her grandmother Ubbaisa Ahalul, and later named after her grandson Dennis. Here, they also sell the jaa not just for locals but also for tourists who need not wait for special occasions to try it.

The coffee shop keeps to the traditional way of preparing jaa with a coconut shell. The coffee shop’s human resources manager, Leela Masa Kawaguchi, says that using strainers make the jaa’s batter flow down too fast, unlike with the coconut shell, where flow is more gradual.

A LA CARTE. While bangbang is usually served as a set, Dennis Coffee Garden in Zamboanga City offers bangbang food for individual orders. Pictured is the jualan saging, or fried bananas, a bangbang staple. Photo courtesy of Dennis Coffee Garden

PUTLIHMANDI. Another bangbang item, putlihmandi is made from rice flour, with a filling of sweet coconut strips.

INGREDIENTS. The uncooked putlihmandi with the sweet coconut filling (bottom left) and the coconut flakes (bottom right), which is later rolled into the cooked balls.

DARAL. Also a bangbang item, the daral is a crepe with the same sweet coconut filling used for putlihmandi.

APAM. While the crepe is thin, apam is thick, as it is Sulu's native pancake. Photo courtesy of Dennis Coffee Garden

PANGGIH-PANGGIH. Similar to fried dough, panggih-panggih is a soft and chewy flour ring. Photo courtesy of Dennis Coffee Garden

WADJIT. Similar to biko or sticky rice, wadjit is purple glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk. Photo courtesy of Dennis Coffee Garden

The bangbang is usually paired with native coffee from Sulu (kahawa sug).

Dennis Coffee Garden’s beans come specifically from coffee farmers in Patikul, which is known for quality Robusta beans. Tausugs are coffee drinkers – with some drinking coffee in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Coffee is usually taken with no cream or sugar. Back in Sulu, even children sometimes drink coffee, Allan Ray Juljani, a Tausug culinary student and wholesaler of Tausug spices, recalls seeing in his hometown.

The most common time for taking coffee and eating bangbang is in the afternoon, around 3 pm. Breakfast time is also common, too. Tausugs usually go to coffee shops for their coffee, and also to talk, Juljani shares.

KAHAWA SUG. Native Sulu coffee at Dennis Coffee Garden in Zamboanga City. Photo courtesy of Dennis Coffee Garden

SULU COFFEE IN SULU. Coffee being prepared at Dennis Coffee Shop, one of the coffee shops in Jolo, Sulu. This coffee shop is owned and run by a relative of Imelda Ahalul-Dagus, Dennis Coffee Garden’s owner.  Photo by Brennan Mercado

GLASSES. A common practice in Sulu is to serve coffee in glasses. Photo by Brennan Mercado

In both Sulu and Zamboanga city, the tradition of Sulu coffee and bangbang is very much alive. (READ: Beyond peace and unrest: The beauty and challenges of traveling in Muslim Mindanao– Rappler.com


Dennis Coffee Garden’s main is San Jose Road, Baliwasan, Zamboanga City (less than 1 kilometer from Zamboanga City airport) with a mall branch at  Pan-Philippine Highway, Zamboanga City.

Dennis Coffee Shop is also found at Scott Road, Jolo, Sulu (less than 1 kilometer from Jolo airport). 


Claire Madarang is a writer, traveler, and seeker who believes in traveling light, particularly in the inner journey. She is also a researcher and documenter. Her work and wanderlust takes her to adventures like backpacking for 7 weeks and exploring remote islands and bustling cities alike. Follow her adventures, travel tips, and epiphanies at Traveling Light.

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Rhea Claire Madarang

Claire Madarang is a traveler, writer, biodiversity communications practitioner, and facilitator of nature play activities. Follow her adventures, travel tips, and reflections on her blog Traveling Light and on her Instagram