Mangan. Kaon. Kain. Eat. For every Fiesta or grand celebration, we Filipinos find every good reason to set up our kitchens and prepare the best food we can showcase. The fiesta is an occasion in which we can display our unique cuisine, a penchant for the fresh catch, owing to our archipelagic territory; for the choicest meats which graze our lush plains and valleys; and for a mix of tastes to an extreme sour to mildly hot, and even to sweet. We can find an array of the stuffed stuff which combine our love for mixing meats like the rellenong bangus, milkfish filled with ground meat, the morcon ground meat stuffed in cow tripe or tuwalya, squid fed with diced veggies, and to the newer inventions like the lechon (suckling pig) roasted with a whole roasted chicken (or lechon manok) in its tummy.
Original Filipino cook used to be simple, with fresh ingredients from gardens and fresh catch from the seas. Boiling, steaming seemed to be the order of the day. With the advent of the Spanish who brought with them an assortment of spices, sautéing or stir fry slowly figured into our cuisine. And with the absence of refrigeration at the time, the Spanish taught Filipinos to marinade meats in garlic, vinegar, and soy sauce which eventually led to the “invention” of the adobo. How could we resist the mix of the sweet, salty, sour, with the garlicky goodness. Whether it’s prepared at home, in the neighbourhood carinderia, or gourmet in high-end restaurants, the adobo is a Filipino national icon. It doesn’t matter if it’s chicken, pork, animal innards, or vegetable, if it’s cooked adobo style, it’s meant to be a hit!
Slowly, Filipino food is inching its way into a more global market. Appreciation for this cuisine, influenced by the Spanish, Chinese, Malayan, and Indian (where do you think we got the kare-kare but from India’s influence of curry?), can be seen in media (culinary competitions), publications (read about Filipino cook books in this issue), Filipino restaurants thriving in migrant countries, and Filipino franchise of local restaurants sprouting all over the world.
For us migrants, food is a bridge to our own culture. When we serve chicken with piping hot rice, we recall our childhood back home. In every occasion, there’s an attempt to prepare something Filipino because a birthday, for instance, would seem lacking if there’s no pancit, no lumpia, inihaw na isda, or barbecue. And the condiments or the dipping sauces—soy sauce, fish sauce, vinegar, kalamansi, and the siling labuyo—just completes the whole experience. Many things connect us to our culture, but food links us closest to the Philippines and brings the most smiles, and yes, the calories!
For many of us, we can enjoy Filipino food as much as we can. We make or buy it, take photos of it and share in our social media sites, and enjoy it. But for our kababayans who go hungry daily because of poverty, or tragedies like the recent super typhoon Haiyan, food of any kind can be a luxury. The next time we have anything to partake, whether the richly sinful crispy pata or the simple lowly tuyo, let’s say a prayer that with every bite, a hungry soul out there is also nourished.