Filipino Suman: A sticky snack born from the country’s staple starch
It’s no secret that rice grows abundantly in the Philippines. As the Filipinos’ main source of energy, rice is presented in all shapes and forms in the country’s colourful cuisine. The staple starch is used in savoury dishes as well as sweet desserts and sticky snacks like rice cakes—suman, a popular treat seen all over the country’s 7,000-plus islands, falls under the latter.
It’s said that Filipinos have been making rice cakes for years before the Spanish conquistadors took over Philippine lands as an offering to their idols and a gift for foreign visitors. In his journals chronicling the Spanish expedition to the archipelago, Historian Antonio Pigafetta described suman as “rice cakes wrapped in leaves, with somewhat longish pieces.”
In its simplest form, suman is mainly made from glutinous rice and coconut milk that are traditionally steamed and wrapped in either buri palm leaves or plain banana leaves. Although it is common to include sugar in the mixture, adding sugar to the sticky rice mixture is entirely based on the cook’s preference as some people like to eat their suman alongside already-sweet condiments such as brown sugar, yellow mangoes, latik (toasted coconut milk curds), caramel, or even chocolate sauce.