Nilupakis the term used for native cakes made from boiled cassava or plantains. The starchy tubers or fruit are cooked until soft, drained, then mashed into a smooth puree with plenty of butter (or margarine) and some sugar whilst still hot. The sweetened mash is then pressed into molds – usually square cake tins – and sprinkled over with a mix of grated cheese and granulated sugar or shredded coconut. This is allowed to cool completely before being cut into squares for serving. At least, this is the nilupak I grew up with and the sort served by both my paternal relatives from Central Luzon and my maternal relatives from the Visayas in the south. It is a creamy, moreish, pale-yellow dessert that also has the virtue of filling you up nicely.
So, imagine my surprise when a family friend gave my parents a pair of banana leaf-wrapped packages that fit snugly in the palm of one’s hand and told them that these were the nilupak eaten in Iloilo province down in the Visayas. These did not look like any nilupak I’d ever eaten: dark brown and solid as opposed to golden and just stodgy; coconut bits studding the surface.
Unlike the nilupak of Luzon and the Eastern Visayas, the one from Iloilo is made with dark brown muscovado sugar rather than the wonted granulated white. Large, fresh shreds of young coconut meat were mixed in with the mashed sweet potato (or taro root) and no butter was used; this resulted in a rather chunky, nubbly texture in the finished cakes. These were a pleasant change from the usual nilupak, but struck me as somewhat austere after the creamy richness of the dessert I’m used to. Nevertheless, I was glad I tried this little treat from the center of the country.