Note: In AtoZFoodnames, I am on a quest for the origins of food names, specifically Philippine food names. Knowing that our beautiful islands were settled by waves of migrations from Indonesia and Malaysia during pre-Spanish times, I have been comparing food terms from those two countries with words in Philippine cuisine. Sometimes I find surprising similarities, as in the English eggplant (terung in Indonesian, talong in Pilipino; frying pan (kwali–>kawali), and goat (kanding–>kambing).
In today’s blogpost, I digress a little bit from the above pattern of inquiry. I couldn’t resist the AHA! moment that came with linking the name of a Malaysian pancake with the name of a fishing town in Rizal province.
While surveying a list of Southeast Asian food, I came upon an interesting snack called roti jala. That’s Malaysian for “net bread.” These lacy pancakes are popular during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. After sunset, vendors set up temporary stalls from where they sell roti jala and various curry dishes: favorite food pairings to help the faithful break their fast.
The pictures below show how they’re made and how they’re served. The roti jala serves as “spoon” and accompaniment to the saucy curry.
Let’s move now to Philippine geography. South of Manila, in the province of Rizal, is a municipality named Jalajala. It sits at the end of a small peninsula that juts into Laguna de Bay. Driving around the area years ago, I remember seeing a directional sign on the highway; it showed an image of a fishing net with the inscription “Jalajala—>.”
Information on the municipality presents two theories on the origin of the name Jalajala One says that Jalajala was derived from the plentiful halaan (clams) on its shores. The second theory says that the name Jalajala was derived from the swine breed Berkjala, which was native to the area.
Jalajala’s coat-of-arms shows a pig on the lower portion of the flag.
Would you listen to my own third theory on the origin of the name Jalajala? First, you need to re-examine the map shown above. Notice the name of the northernmost town in the province of Rizal? Yes, that’s Cainta.
Cainta has a large population of Indian settlers. In 1762, soldiers called sepoys were brought to the area by the East India Company. The British were anticipating war with the Spaniards in the Philippines (because in Europe at the time, the Anglo-Spanish War was being waged). When the British decided to withdraw their troops, the sepoys mutinied and decided to stay. They married local women and started an Indian community in Cainta.
This is why the cuisine of Cainta is different from those of surrounding towns; the distinctive Indian influence is noticeable in their dishes. They make curry dishes and Indian breads (generic name roti). The roti jala in their language, as we learned at the beginning of this post, translates into “net bread.”
I am betting that the sepoys gave the word jala (“net”) to the name of the town down the road, the town surrounded on three sides by water, the town where fishing is the logical means of livelihood, the town where there are fishnets a-plenty, the town that was named Jalajala.