The First LumpiaBy Philip Dominguez Mercurio
FAIRYTALES and folklore have been commonplace throughout the world and there have been quite a few in America that have been imported from the relics of the ancient world and the northern regions of Europe.
Even The Philippines has their own mythologies about the origins of the world, man, etc., but I’ve been particularly interested on where things, especially things unique to the Philippines, came from.
The year is 2020. We approached the toll plaza passing an old sign that has been mired from years of punishment by year after year of changes. The latest one simply read: Toll $20.
As we approached the incline, I looked over at the corroding “off ramp”, the result of bickering politicians who also were never able to agree on any single design whatsoever.
The supposedly “new” eastern span turned into something akin to the abandoned approaches along the Florida Keys, relics of a gone by era.
Snarling our way towards the island, my son, bored out of his mind, started staring at the abandon approach. At this time, I found the perfect opportunity to tell him a story.
“Son, I’d like to tell you a story about the first lumpia.”
My son looked back at me, a little stunned but somewhat intrigued.
“Yeah. You’d like it. It’s the best. Number one.
How the first lumpia came to be…
It all started long ago, in a far, far away archipelago.
Here, among the thousands and thousands of islands warped in the lush vegetation and filled with birds and monkeys of all kind, was kingdom of unimaginable proportion. It was a place where cultures collided, interacted and formed a labyrinth of intricate ideas and belief, which soon laid the foundation for their own enlightened and vibrant culture.
Here lived a princess of unimaginable beauty. Her name was Princess Jin that translated meant, “Golden Princess.” She was indeed the most beautiful of the entire kingdom and was blessed with an ilong most Filipinas could only dream of.
One day, the dear princess was craving for some egg rolls from a far away land. Her craving lead to a call that was made throughout the kingdom for the one who was willing enough to risk life and limb in search of this crispy roll. A week later thousands gathered in the grand auditorium to witness what figures would appear in front of the court for the princess’ request.
But no one showed. For hours, the people were gripped in silence that not a hint of courage remained in this archipelago kingdom.
Then, in the distance, trumpets blared. With dust gathering up on the road came a man wearing a bamboo hat and stateside clothing who rode on a carabao with a large and fragranced rosary wrapped around its bow. His name was Philip but many knew him by his nickname “Boy Carabao” for he always traveled atop his carabao wherever he may go.
Whence he reached the grounds of the auditorium, he got off his carabao and entered the court wearing his slippers and faced the bewildered princess.
Shouting for all to hear, he said to her, “I will take up the challenge to find this precious roll your majesty.
I will swim through the largest ocean, walk through the tangiest jungle, climb the highest hill… just for the chance to win your heart.”
With that said, an enthusiastic cry filled the grand auditorium, with people shouting their praise.
The next day thousands upon thousands lined the streets to wish the fair boy on the carabao farewell and good travels. They lined his path with coconut leaves, handed him fruits of all kind from furry rambutans to fist-sized guavas and gave him boxes of instant noodles so he may remain safe and prosperous. Then he entered the dark and ominous jungle, hopefully to return.
For three months, Boy Carabao swam through the largest ocean, walked through the tangiest jungle, and climbed the highest hill. He fought off fire-breathing komodo dragons and an army of hounding orangutans and battled with sneaky pirates and pick-pocketers of all kind but nothing would deter him.
He was indeed resolute; his goal fully set in his mind. At the end of the three month long journey, he reached the gates at dusk. Snowdrifts piled high along its red locks, the wind creating a chilling howl as it slithered along the imposing wall, which stretched for miles in each direction.
At the gate’s entrance, there was only silence, a desolate place with only a solitary gong hanging on the outside. His blistered hands reached for note attached to the hanging gong, which read: Please ring for assistance. Thank you.
With that, he took the baton that was chained to the gong (apparently, enough people have taken the baton either by accident or intentionally that it was necessary to chain it as well) and rung the golden gong.
The vibration was deep, creating low bass sound that could be felt under his skin.
Suddenly, he felt something pinching his throat. The Boy Carabao realized he was surrounded by five fighting monks. All were covered in black with even their faces concealed except only for a small shiver of skin that revealed their small eyes. They were deliciously dangerous, prepared and in no mood to talk.
“Who dares enter the kingdom of Peking,” said one of them.
“Ay, my goodness. I have come to seek out the secrets of the egg roll,” pleaded Boy Carabao, his voice trembling at the point of their swords. “Please don’t kill me.”
The one who spoke soon consulted with another monk in whispers, while the other three held their ground. After a brief conversation, the spokesman replied, “You may enter the city as you wish… but no fishy business.”
Boy Carabao let out a sigh of relief as three of the monks left, flying in mid-air, hopping over the fortified walls and out of sight. The other two remained guarding Boy Carabao from what was about to happen.
As soon as they departed, the giant gates opened. Light shimmered out of the crevasse, forming an inviting ray, which contrasted with the outside gloom.
As Philip and his carabao entered through the opening gates, they were immediately transported into a whole new world. Lining the streets were store upon store with shopkeepers selling a variety of things from ladies shoes and fine china to fireworks and pirated VCDs.
Avenues were filled with people biking, strings filled with laundry crisscrossed the sky as people of all kinds hustled and bustled below carrying all kinds of things either with poles on their shoulders on in handheld wagons. It indeed was a whole new world.
The two monks escorted Boy Carabao through side streets passing temple after temple towards the palace. Entering through another set of heavy gates, they set foot upon a stone courtyard, which was surrounded by the rest of the palace grounds. The buildings before them shimmered in a red glow, which was emitted throughout the premises.
The monks that had escorted them all the way here soon vanished, perhaps themselves flying off to levitate in another part of the city.
As both of them awkwardly waited alone in the mist of the courtyard, a woman appeared at the top of the staircase of the largest of the palace’s towers. Wearing a silk gown, she glided out with an ambiance of a floating swan with two chopsticks stuck out through the bob in her hair. She stopped a mere few feet from the wary traveler.
“So it is you that seeks out the secrets of the magical roll,” said Agnes Lau, Queen of Peking.
“Yes, your majesty. It is I who has come to seek out the precious roll,” Boy Carabao humbly said, getting off his trusted carabao and kneeling in front of her.
“Then follow me.”
She lead him pass the stone courtyard, the lush gardens, the guard room where three officers were practicing their off-key karaoke and up some stone staircases towards one of the larger towers.
Only until they reached one of the larger galleries, that were dimly lighted by the silk lanterns that surrounded the walls, did they stop.
“Wait here,” said the queen.
Boy Carabao stopped awkwardly almost losing one of his slippers in the process. While he waited, Queen Lau pulled out a golden chest from a white cabinet. She stood over it first and then opened it, revealing a golden glow, which soon reflected off her face.
“Inside this magical chest is the all-important ingredients used to make the egg roll,” Queen Lau said.
Boy Carabao looked on with earnest. Inside the golden chest, lay all kinds of ingredients from water chestnuts, crisp celery to bean sprouts and jars of sesame oil and of course stacks of egg roll wrappers. She removed a few of them and handed them to Boy Carabao. He felt the cold, moist nature of each of these on his hands, as if these ingredients had been refrigerated. Soon afterwards, the queen taught him the art of making the cherished egg roll.
After a week at the palace, he left this gated city carrying fresh bags of wrapper and chestnuts in brightly, pink ”Thank You” plastic bags that were tied to his carabao. He said farewell to the people selling cheap Justin Timberlake CDs and fake Louis Vuitton bags and headed off into the distance.
On his way back though, he and his carabao were trotting along the shore, when they heard a strange sound. The fish started bobbing along the shoreline as the water from underneath them receded. Philip and his carabao stalled, startled by the ocean sudden reclusive nature. But seconds later, the ocean rose up higher than the coconut trees and began advancing upon the shoreline.
Immediately, Philip and his carabao retreated toward the jungle but it was too late. The carabao let out a low groan as its legs were kicked out from underneath it and Philip began being swept up by the water. Soon they were sucked up into the large wave, rising many feet before being thrown back to the jungle floor below. Boy Carabao lost his grip on his carabao and soon was all alone. When he came to, he realized he was drifting along with thousands of remains of the jungle he once passed. Gasping for air, he lunged for the nearest driftwood he could find and held on tight until finally the water receded around where he floated.
Soon he was standing among the mist of utter destruction. Devastated, he scrapped up the remaining egg roll wrappers that were attached to his belt and sat along the beach. His carabao, the magical bean sprouts were all gone… swept out into the big blue ocean.
As he sat on one of the fallen tree trunks thinking, he noticed a large ship in distance, its enormous sails gyrating to the push of the western winds. As the day wore on, it drew closer to Boy Carabao until the enormous Manila galleon finally ran aground along the beach, close by to where he sat. Boy Carabao read the sign along its bow its enormous letters reading “De Flores.”
Soon, a man appeared at the top of a deceasing staircase. Wearing brand-named sunglasses and a Hawaiian T-shirt, this captain who seemed in tip-top shape for a sailor stepped off the boat along with his talking chihuahua, aptly named Quiero.
“Hola, amigo,” Commander Martin de las Flores said. “What’s happenen’.” The commander set off in front of the exhausted Boy Carabao, extending his heavy hand in a sign of respect.
“Nothing much, Martin,” Boy Carabao said, shrugging while looking across the vast ocean. “Just lost everything… my ride, my food, my mission… to a manic wave. But other than that… nothing much.”
“Are you hungry?” said Martin, his mind obviously on food. “Wanna burrito, fajita or of these stylin’ new tacos?” He held one in his hand. “Soft or hard shell. We got them in the back.”
Philip was in no mood.
Martin still looked puzzled. “Well, if you need a ride, we’re headed for a stop over in Tokyo before heading back to México.”
“No. That’s ok Martin. I still need to complete my mission. Maybe next time.”
“Mission?” Martin said surprised. “What mission?”
“Ah… I needed to find the secrets of the egg roll and bring one back to the princess of the kingdom of Yogyakarta. Unfortunately, the sudden surge of ocean washed away much of those treasured secrets, leaving only these few wrapper rolls.”
Martin looked over to the portion of ocean which Boy Carabao’s eyes seemed focus on, while his dog was wailing beside him, possibly anxious to go on and continue their journey. Martin then broke the awkward silence, saying, “Well, We must be on our way. They’re many weeks ahead of us to Acapulco.”
Martin patted Boy Carabao on the shoulders and retreated back to the galleon, following his yapping dog. As they were about to embark Boy Carabao thought of something.
“Wait… hold up,” he shouted at Martin and his crew.
“What. What is it?”
“You still have the ingredients for those tacos and burritos?”
Boy Carabao soon went over the inventory of supplies in Commander Martin de las Flores hull, picking out the various things he needed that would likely make an impressive roll.
The fresh onions and garlic, cabbage and ground beef reminded him of some of the stuff he picked out from the golden chest but he tried out new ingredients like green beans, which intrigued him.
Borrowing a small boat from Martin, he fished for shrimp in the surrounding tropical waters for days, cut them into pieces at night. Using the remaining magical wrappers he had, he cut out new rolls that were thinner than those used in the egg rolls in Peking. He soon called his roll a lumpia.
When he was ready, he lunged the two bags on his back and headed off, this time with the use of only his slippers back to the kingdom down under. Returning to whence he came, thousands again lined the streets to greet the boy of all carabaos. Though many were surprised by the lack of his own carabao below his waist, they reveled in the joy that he had returned with the magical egg roll in hand.
Soon Boy Carabao returned to the court where the princess and her family were waiting. They presented him with a large deep fryer they borrowed from the McDonald’s next door. Boy Carabao took one of the rolls and dipped it into the boiling hot oil.
A sharp sizzle was heard accompanied by a large gasp by the crowd. The oil soon transformed the roll from pale white to a darker, golden crisp. Boy Carabao removed one from the oil and offered it to the young princess.
She took a bite. Crispy on the outside but warm and soothing on the inside. As she chewed, the guards waited impatiently by her side, ready to kill Boy Carabao if he did not please the princess.
“It doesn’t taste like the egg roll I remembered,” she said.
Boy Carabao started to sweat, knowing full well the guards were ready to whist him away.
“But I like it. This is wonderful,” she said.
The crowd roared into a standing ovation as they picked Boy Carabao up and shuffled him high above their heads, celebrating him as their living hero. That day, Boy Carabao won the hearts of a whole kingdom that soon began chomping on the crunchy lumpias and the heart of a princess and both of them lived happily ever after. Up to this day, people throughout the archipelagos of
Indonesia and the Philippines enjoyed the scrumptious lumpia thanks to the adventures of Boy Carabao.
“So what do you think?” I asked my son, who continued to look out in the distance at the various break lights that illuminated our path.
“They had karaoke long ago?” he asked.
Huh? That wasn’t exactly the type of insightful question I expected but what can I say. I guess this just means another far-fetched adventurous tale about Boy Carabao in his search for the first karaoke machine.- PDM
See this article,"The First Lumpia I" and,"The First Lumpia II" in Philippine News. Click here