No Chamorro home was ever without biskuchon pånglao.
It was so-called because of the crab (pånglao) that appeared on the wrapping or on the tin can that stored bulk quantities of the biscuit.
Different families ate it in different ways, but nearly every family had them in the cupboard.
Some families ate biskucho every day, while some ate it only rarely.
Some had it for breakfast, especially with coffee. Some would dip the biscuit into the coffee and others would break the biscuit into little pieces and soak them in the coffee. Still others could butter up the biscuit and eat with coffee like one does with toast.
Especially for kids, the biskucho would be broken up and soaked in milk and sugar.
Other families would have biskucho mainly for merienda, the late afternoon snack, sometimes with cheese.
And now I am just hearing about a kåddun biskucho. Will wonders never cease?
After a typhoon....
The durability of this kind of biscuit made it ideal food for sailors when ships lacked refrigeration. Thus they were called sea biscuits, ship biscuits, Navy biscuits, as well as many other names.
Those tin cans...
A common trait among our people was never to throw things out that can be used later. Such happened with the tin cans of biskucho . Many elders saved them because they were perfect for storage of many things, food or otherwise. I remember them making excellent containers for pån tosta (toasted bread rolls).
It only takes a few seconds' glance to see that the biskucho eat in the Marianas is Japanese, made by the Kaniya Company of Kofu, Japan.
Guam merchants (many of them Japanese themselves) were importing Japanese goods to Guam since the early part of the 1900s. Up in Saipan, the entire island was run by the Japanese, who transformed the island into an outpost of Japanese culture. The same can be said for Tinian and Luta.
So it is very possible that Japanese biskucho was being sold in our islands since the beginning of the 1900s. In Japan, however, biskucho (known as kanpan in Japanese), did not become well-known until 1937 when Japan's war with China forced the government to promote the sale of kanpan among the people, since the nation had to conserve food for the fighting soldiers. That's when the sale of kanpan hit the roof in Japan, and it became associated with the war effort and the people's participation in it.
Since then, kanpan has become Japan's disaster food. Whenever there is a bad typhoon or earthquake and normal food supplies are strained, relief efforts pass out huge quantities of kanpan to the people.
It was also distributed by the Americans to island people in need for food after the war. That's another way the biskucho became widespread among Pacific islanders.
The news from Japan, though, is that Kaniya's kanpan, or biskucho, may be a vanishing piece of food history. The tastes of younger Japanese are changing. People in Japan are switching to a new kind of biscuit which started in the 1980s called CalorieMate. Why? It is softer than kanpan. Kaniya is still baking biskucho and we're still buying them in the Marianas, but if sales of Kaniya's hard biscuits fall, the company may stop making them.
Even if every Chamorro in the world continued to buy Kaniya'a biskucho, and I doubt that would ever happen since even many younger Chamorros think that biskucho is man åmko' food (just for the elderly), would that be enough to save the biscuit from extinction?
The good news is that, even if the biscuit is no longer made, the ones already baked, as long as they stay dry, can last longer than you or I can!
How biskucho is made in Japan.