Photo by Sheeber Joyce

KBL: The (Food-Related) Acronym That Every Ilonggo Knows

By sheeber joyce

KBL, according to the code of the International Air Transport Association, stands for ‘Kabul International Airport’, which is located in Afghanistan. If you ask any old-timers who were alive during the mid-‘70s, ‘KBL’ stands for ‘Kilusang Bagong Lipunan’ [New Society Movement], a political coalition started by the then-ruling Marcoses. On the other hand, if you ask any sports enthusiasts here about ‘KBL’, chances are they’ll utter ‘Korean Basketball League’.

You probably know where this is going, do you? Iloilo is a city obsessed with food, so of course ‘KBL’ can only stand for three distinct words that have something to do with this subject: Kadyos, Baboy, Langka. Any true-blooded Ilonggo can utter what those three magic letters mean in under five seconds; after all, KBL is one of the many sumptuous cuisines associated with Ilonggo culture as we know it today.

If the three acronyms may have not made it clear yet, KBL is made from three major ingredients that are available locally in Iloilo. Given the affordability of its ingredients and the uncomplicated way it is prepared, cooking KBL is an economical choice if you are expecting to serve a massive group of people.

And by “massive”, we really mean it: KBL is a gastronomic fixture at big gatherings like fiestas, weddings and even the occasional belasyon [“vigil” or “wake”]. Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: if you’re going to a barrio and you’re expecting to share elbow space with people who are there for the food, then better expect to see a gigantic kaldero containing volumes and volumes of KBL stewing under the heat of the Philippine weather.

If, by any chance, you have no idea about the specific ingredients you can use for creating your own (or from one you can ask to cook for you. Really, there’s no shame in that.) KBL, then here’s a short primer we have drawn up just for you!

Kadyos (Pigeon peas)

These are the round, tiny, purple beans that gives KBL its distinct, purplish-brown stock. Kadyos is available at all Iloilo public markets at a price of 25-30 pesos per cup. In addition, these beans offer a very good source of protein and copper.

Baboy (Pork)

This is, of course, the “meat” of the dish. While there are no strict rules to using any kind of pork cuts for KBL, many Ilonggos prefer using pork hocks or shanks since it lends an exquisite consistency to the soup, as well as giving the dish the “classic” KBL flavor that your lola will surely be proud of.

Langka (Jackfruit)

‘Langka’ is often thrown as an insult to a person you may find dull. Thankfully, we’re talking about the real fruit here.

If we’re to be specific, you have to look for a green and unripe langka, peeled and cut into cubes. This fruit obtains a meat-like texture when boiled to full tenderness. When cooked in this manner, it blends well with the integral elements of your obra-prima that is your KBL.

One more thing to note, though: it’s not KBL if you don’t have a souring agent to go along with it! Some Ilonggos want theirs soured with tamarind powder, tomatoes or lebas (scientific name: Averrhoa bilimbi) leaves. As for mine, I want it done the old-school way: with lots of batwan (scientific name: Garcinia morella)!

At home, KBL is officially my “welcome back” dish for my balikbayan friends. If you want a more concrete idea of how to cook one, then there are plenty of examples you can get from social media and the internet, at large. Despite the widespread popularity of it, KBL is still considered an original and homegrown Ilonggo dish. Hey, the name alone says it all, right?