Filipino food

[New School] Keeping up with the ‘suman’: Heritage food in a changing society

Phillippe Angelo Hiñosa

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[New School] Keeping up with the ‘suman’: Heritage food in a changing society

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

'As fast food dominates the center, suman is relegated to the periphery'

Food is a form of communication, and in my extended family, led by Lola Teling, suman is our means of saying, “a family that struggles together, sticks together.”

This popular kakanin is present on All Souls Day. It connects us to the people who first enjoyed my lola’s suman but are no longer with us at our table.

According to my nanay, who inherited her recipe, suman is made from pilit, or sticky rice, simmered in coconut milk and brown sugar. A calamansi leaf is added to it for scent, while a banana leaf seared over moderate heat wraps it.

As simple as the procedure may appear, no youngster in my family has learnt how to do it the way my lola and nanay have done. Even I, whose taste buds love its hearty tickle, have only just expressed an interest in it.

My timing couldn’t be better, because we are celebrating Philippine-made products in March. This led me to question why it took me so long to appreciate suman. The answer, as it turns out, lies in cultural lag.

Cultural lag happens when material culture takes too long to catch up to trends. In a fast-paced society, people neglect suman because they are forced, if unintentionally, by ever-changing consumer behavior, which is impacted by three factors: economics, geography, and socialization.

The suman did not fall like manna on my family. They crawled to the suman, guided by my lola, hoping to maximize its potential as food and, more importantly, a source of income.

My lola did not receive any formal education. For most of her life, she worked as a vendor, peddling suman in neighboring barangays to support herself, my lolo, and their 12 children. Her husband’s steady paycheck as an elementary school teacher was not enough to provide them with a better economic circumstance.

The suman bared the poverty they experienced and the limited consumer choice they had. At the same time, it projected hope that one day they might be able to pull themselves out of it.

Indeed, my nanay and a few of her older siblings were able to attend college thanks in part to the suman. It granted them a plane ticket to Hong Kong for work. When they came home, they used their newfound economic capital to fix their house, thereby improving the lives of my lolo and lola.

Then, the suman disappeared from our streets.

Two decades later, my family’s ascent on the economic ladder put our generation on far stronger footing. Our present economic status expanded our choices. My lola can now eat food that we only previously imagined.

Yet, this is a double-edged sword. The suman, which dominated the public sphere, is now trapped within our home. Our economic status may have lengthened our table, but it also shrank the space where the suman could confront consumerism.

Must Read

Kakanin FTW! Try Kapampangan suman, tamales from this Parañaque shop

Kakanin FTW! Try Kapampangan suman, tamales from this Parañaque shop

It didn’t help that my family lived in the urban town center. Unlike when my lola was selling suman to a few people, the town is now packed with locals and migrants.

Migration brought in a plethora of distinct cultures, striving to blend with the local color of the place. Nonetheless, there are cultures among them that adamantly oppose assimilation. Some even rebel against it in the hopes of constructing a new and, arguably, better one.

Contradictions emerge when competing demands cannot be reconciled. Some cultures reject local hegemony in a constant struggle for domination. They innovate to survive, causing rapid diversification of consumer choice.

This heterogeneity is represented by market expansion, as seen by the proliferation of commercial establishments in every nook and cranny of town. As fast food dominates the center, suman is relegated to the periphery. Many only remember it on Sundays, when kakanin vendors line up outside our church’s entrance adjacent to the imposing McDonald’s branch.

Frankly, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it weren’t for my lola.

This proves how critical socialization is in the continuity of the suman. It trains us to carry, preserve, and promote positive sentiments regarding our heritage foods. Unfortunately, my family, excluding my lola, did not socialize us to the suman as much as they could. As a result, I grew up ignoring it.

At school, an integral facilitator of socialization, where our table evolved into a vast cafeteria of choices, there was little discussion of the suman. Most of my peers on campus regarded suman to be a second-rate meal when compared to fries and burgers. Because the latter were in such high demand, the suman was marginalized.

As the suman’s proximity to consumerism decreased, so did our connection to it. We were separating from the suman because the market was alienating us from it. The gap between them grew into cultural lag. It turned the suman into a relic, a bygone culture we abandoned in favor of something new.

“Am I fighting a lost battle?” I asked myself.

No, I’m not. I learned that cultural lag can be overcome through socialization. But, it will require the cooperation of our social institutions.

The family is an excellent starting point. It is a key agent of socialization, and I believe no one else is more powerful in transmitting our culture to us, the suman, than they are. In my case, it will be my lola and nanay.

Suman can be reintroduced in school as well. The school is critical because it has facilities and resources to raise awareness about suman and devise strategies to bridge the gap between heritage and development.

Furthermore, the government must work to develop policies that will not only safeguard the suman but also boost it back into the mainstream, without simply packaging it in the “pasalubong” framework, or what I refer to as souvenir-ism.

Above all, our society should foster a nationalist culture to minimize, if not remove, cultural lag — where suman and other heritage foods can disrupt the market, make room for local products, and democratize them in public.

In this way, my lola would no longer have to serve suman only in November, and my family would no longer have to treat it as a delicacy shared only with our dead. 

The dwindling demand for suman is a cry for help. If we do not save it quickly, we risk losing a heritage that binds our families and communities.

Who knows how sweet a future we will enjoy if we stick with the suman and our heritage foods in the face of a rapidly evolving society. Every one of us is responsible for doing so, and the time to start cooking that future is now. –

Phillippe Angelo Hiñosa is a Sociology student at the University of the Philippines Visayas. He writes about family, education, politics, and society based on his personal life. You can reach him at

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!