The Flavors of Bani, Pangasinan

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

pakwan festival

How the municipality of Bani got its name is nothing short of mystical. The origins of this quaint town goes beyond its past as part of Northern Zambales.

According to local lore, during the town fiesta of what was once the town of San Simon, their patron saint – the Immaculate Concepcion – was found missing from its altar. The locals searched, locating the image three kilometers from the original site, nearby a "bani" tree. They returned the image to its altar only to have it disappeared that night. It was later again found near the same "bani" tree. This was when the townspeople decided to permanently relocate the image, building it a home – a church – in the heart of the present-day Poblacion, where bani trees are plentiful.

Like the rest of Pangasinan, Bani considers salt production as one of its main industries. "Pangasinan," incidentally, in Pangasinan (this is the correct term when referring to the place, the people, and the language) means "a place for salt or salt-making."

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salt making
In preparation of the start of salt season, salt farmers clean the salterns

In Abunsiang, a simple sitio in Brgy. San Miguel, lies Bani's community-ran salt farm. An hour's boat ride across Tambac Bay, passing by the Bangrin Marine Protected Area, the Abunsiang Salt Farm is capable of producing up to a million kilos of salt in one season.
salt farm
One warehouse in the Abunsiang Salt Farm can store up to 100,000 kilos of salt
bani pangasinan
A "special" footwear – a rubber slipper attached to thin plywood – is used by workers to scale "salt mountains"

The salt production usually begins in January, and spans the summer months up until early June, before the rainy season.

Salt farmers start by cleaning the salterns – the square "ponds" for evaporating salt water – and replacing the terracotta bricks that line its floor.
salt farm
Each saltern uses 5,000 pieces of terracotta bricks, purchased at Php1.30/piece

bani pangasinan
The bricks can last up to a decade before it thins down

Seawater is poured on the salterns early in the day and harvested daily at around four in the afternoon. The salt is kept in a warehouse a few feet from the farm until bulk orders are placed. Bani's salt is sold to as far as Mindoro.

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Aside from salt farming, Bani also thrives on aqua and agriculture. Its products include yellow corn, root crops, organic rice, tuna, and other seafoods. But there is one product that Bani is nationally known for.

Pakwan, or watermelon, is grown in Bani's limestone-rich soil, making it distinctively sweet and juicy. And Bani not just grow one, but several varieties, of watermelon.
pakwan festival
This elderly couple is one of the many pakwan sellers that line the roads of Bani
kinds of watermelon
The "Diana" – one of the most expensive varieties of watermelon, sold at Bani at Php50/kilo
A demo farm in Tipor has been set up for the upcoming Pakwan Festival – which will run from January 23 up to January 30. The watermelon demo farm will give visitors a glimpse to the cultivation of Bani's premier product and will also feature the different varieties of pakwan, plus a "pick-and-pay" set-up.
pakwan festival
The Demo Farm in Tipor
pakwan festival
Mr. Romeo Manalo, Chairman of the Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Council, demonstrates how to properly cut a melon – another one of Bani's produce
bani pangasinan
A freshly cut watermelon is proudly displayed by the Chairman of the Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council, Mr. Jolly Calisaan

Square watermelons will also be showcased in the demo farm. Bani produces the first pakwan of this shape here in the Philippines, adapting the fiber class mold technology developed in Japan.
pakwan festival
A square watermelon in the making

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But while Bani is making a headstart in agriculture, it's true that this second-class municipality is often overlooked as a tourist destination. When sandwiched by two tourism hotshots – Alaminos, and Bolinao, it's fairly difficult to make your own mark and not be considered as a mere gateway. But for people who find themselves in the folds of this place, experiencing its agritourism and its other ecotourist sites, Bani is definitely more than just a side-trip.


Want to taste Bani's Pakwan and its other products? Join the Pakwan Festival! Contact Romel Dulay from the Office of Bani's Mayor at +63 928 244 5119 for more details. And like Celineism's Facebook Page for updates regarding this exciting event!

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