Salabat is a traditional infusion of crushed fresh ginger-root and brown sugar (preferably the dark brown muscovado) in hot water. It is the preferred nostrum of professional singers, show-choir members (and believe me: Glee-style chorales have turned choral singing into a contact sport here in the Philippines), orators, priests, and pastors for soothing throats parched by too many in the way of vocal exertions. In the colder months, it is the classic partner to sweet dishes served in churchyard kiosks during the nine days of the Misa de Gallo that precede the celebration of Christmas. It also doubles as an effective digestif after a particularly large meal made up of rich viands and luxurious desserts.
As it’s both spot-on useful and quite tasty with its sweet-spicy flavors, people wish that they could have salabat more often. Unfortunately, the conventional way of preparing the drink tends to involve more steps than the average (read: lazy) urban warrior could find himself/herself faffing about with. You have to peel and crush about a thumb’s length of ginger, boil water, steep the ginger in it, and you have to measure out brown sugar to your taste. It’s definitely not cool for those people who have grown to depend on anything instant. (And, aye: I shudder at the thought.)
For these people, there are now a number of instant salabat powders available in the coffee-and-tea aisles of local supermarkets. Ludy’s, the peanut butter company, does a mightily spicy one. Another company, Ginga, sells their brew in tea bags, unsweetened and infused with cinnamon. But my favorite is Javier Instant Salabat – and with good reason.
The thing about Javier’s is that it is produced by a community initiative from the town of the same name in my maternal grandmother’s home province of Leyte. In doing so, it provides livelihood for the residents and utilizes ginger and sugar grown in that part of the country in a sustainable manner. Quite a commendable thing for them to do, really.
Plus, aside from tasting good with the right sweet-spicy balance that soothes the mind, throat, sinuses, and stomach, it can also be used to add pep to a number of beverages:
- Add a teaspoon of the salabat powder to prepared iced tea to give it spicy sharpness;
- A teaspoon added to freshly-made kalamansi juice or lemonade keeps colds at bay;
- As shown above, add a tablespoon to a mango yogurt smoothie (or lassi) for an amazing breakfast sipper that keeps you alert and awake sans the caffeine;
- You can also swap a couple tablespoons of the sugar in your gingerbread or lebkuchen recipes with some salabat powder; and
- Try rolling spiced shortbread biscuits in a bit of salabat powder to make them truly special.
Javier’s Instant Salabat is currently available at all Andok’s Lechon Manok stalls and, while I’m not sure, some supermarkets in the Makati and Alabang CBDs have begun to stock it on their shelves, as well.