Food Identity

Being away from the homeland makes you think about a lotta things. In a foreign land is where a Filipino becomes more Filipino. You get to compare things about you, you realize that you are, well, Filipino pala talaga. You get to see yourself in a totally different light.

Identity as they say is what makes you unique from the others. A friend told me that you are ‘what you eat’, it was a funny way to describe the Filipino identity but I understand why he said that. Food would give you a good picture of what a nation is, you can glimpse its past through its plate.

Expats in foreign lands serves homegrown dishes with ‘yabang’, they’re proud of how we make food and how it taste. A tinola here, even if its missing some key recado taste better than a tinola that’s completos recados back home. For some strange reason, eating tinola with fellow Filipinos here makes me feel Filipino, so it must be true that ‘you are what you eat’.

Our food basics are steamed rice and all the viands that always starts with a cooking technique called guisa. The tastiest dishes are of Spanish origin but they have evolved to be Filipino, Filipinize, so to speak. So adobo, sarsiado, mechado, bopiz, tinola, jamon, relleno, embutido, tapa. menudo, pochero, callos, lechon, paella are Filipino, we cease to call this dishes Kastila, we present these us ours, Lutong Pinoy we call it.

We are often told that we are Malay, in fact whenever there is an application form, most Filipinos would still place Malay as their race on the blank space. Some still regard Rizal as the great Malay (is he?), if he is then my mom is French. The foodie question is, why is it that if Malay is our racial origin, why don’t we eat like them? we have the Malay tradition of bi-hoon, cang cung and mee-sua but nothing more, why is it that we never had a taste for mutton? why are we voracious pork eaters?

The Chinese on the other hand they say was already doing business in our shores long before the Kastilaloys came but why is it that our cookery is more Spanish than Chino? are we to think that the natives then only picked the alien Spanish dishes over the flavory familiar Chinese cuisines? are we to believe that we snub the Chinese way of cooking that we seem to enjoy this days?

Stir frying is a cool way to cook our fishies,meaties and veggies (we see this with Martin Yan all the time), a Chinese original but it never became a technique we can call ours. We still go back to the guisado. When it comes to the prehispanic Filipino dishes we could refer to the accounts of Pigaffeta’s gastronomic odyssey with the natives. There’s not much, they did got drunk though, but even that aboriginal drink is a thing of the past for us, we rather entertain our guess with the good ol’ cerveza or some fancy European wine at home.

The only logical answer for all this is that our dish became hispanized, we had little choice because we were flooded by all this strange objects and traditions brought by the Spainiards. It is not as if we elected to be influence, we never called them, they came to us. We all end up having this strange appetite for the Espanola cuisine. A strange taste for an Asiano to acquire. When Christmas is around our tradition calls for the quezo de bola or the jamon or the lechon, of course all of this with the cerveza or some delightful vino, or some chocolate to match our versions of mantecadas and pastillas. What seems to be evident is that this Kastila’s were the only once who showed us how to culture our food. The bland cookery all of a sudden became sophisticated. What was handed down to us was not only simple Iberian imported recipes but a tradition that we would be identifying with up to this day. Just the other day, we were looking for some cocoa power (the popular brand, cocoa ricoah) when this elderly Chinise looking woman, probably recognizing were Filipinos, looked at us and asked, ‘Champorado?’. we are identified with this unique culture, I told myself, ‘oh my, she can identify my nationality by what I was about to buy from her’.

That is why I always tell my friends that would ask me about identity or debate me on the topic, that if we want to get rid of that past and revert to the true state of Filipino (I don’t know what that is, Igorot? maybe) we start with ridding ourselves with everything that was created by that past, aside from losing our Hispanic sounding ala Antonio Banderas names, we’ll lose a lot including our cuisine (nooooh!!!). There is no alternative when we speak of identity, that is why countries like Australia or the US would not look back at their precolonial days as the one representing their true identity for if it was the case, they would be anulling the colonial contribution to their advancement both in education, culture and eventual self governance. When they say we that we had no choice, well, I say we deal with the cards that has been dealt to us by this thing called history.

It is this simple logic that should guide us towards embracing our true identity, its the ugly reality for those people who try hard to identify the Filipino identity with the prehispanic tribes of the islands, our soul is not there, we could trace our lineage there but certainly not our character. The thinking that the more aboriginal we make ourselves the more Filipino we become doesn’t sound right, actually it sounds stupid. This identity was a process that started when the state was founded, followed by a series of events that started from a Spaniard born in the islands claiming the Filipino as his identity, then to the coming of a generation of educated men that proved that they’re equal if not superior to the Spaniard. If we view this process as a retardation of our natural evolution, that all of this are foreign and therefore evil, then we say today that we are indeed retarded, that we are byproducts of a failed process that led to this beautiful identity and this should answer why we are continually moving back wards.

There is no starting over, its not like some subject in college that you flunked and that you can take it up next sem, history is evolution, never static, it waits for no one. Rather than denying it, Hispano culture deserves a second look, acknowledge it and embrace it, there is nothing we can gain from believing that we don’t deserve this foreign traditions when we are unconsciously following it, it is our tradition. There’s a real danger in teaching ourselves to hate something we don’t understand, we could end up hating ourselves.

Now back to this foodie identity, make no mistake about it, there is a Filipino cuisine and its alive. Its origins could be hispano but its Filipino no doubt. I remember what Fr. Galende, that nice Augustinian Padre who supervises the lone original Intramuros church, said about all the beautiful century old churches we have in our land, that it is a mistake to call them Spanish because they’re Filipino churches. To say that this are all Spanish culture is to say that there is no Filipino culture, like when we say that because we had great literature written in Spanish, that they are Spanish, not Filipino. All of these belongs to us, this is us, and to tell our children that they were all the creation of the Spaniards is the same as telling them that the Filipinos during those days stayed in the caves and learned nothing.

The same with our food but we should recognize the history behind it. Only when we begin to understand and appreciate we’ll be able to understand how we became Filipinos. This could be an oversimplification of the definition of our identity but if you think of it we really are what we eat.

Now, its morning here. Let me go find some Pan de Sal! ay, wala pala dito.


4 responses to “Food Identity

  • nold

    According to Magellan’s scribe, the Italian guy turned Filipino food & wine critic ala Ted of Queer eye, Pigafetta, “the King had a plate of pork and a large jar filled with wine (tuba)…the wine that was left in any cup was put into a jar but the Kings jar is kept covered”, now to the main course, “two large porcelain dishes were brought in, one full of rice and other pork with some gravy, we ate…after half an hour, a platter of roast fish cut in pieces was brought in, and ginger freshly gathered and wine”. This is the best serving at the time in islands, served in the house of the King as a host, it was very simple but there is nothing curious, no dressing, no “fiesta” food that we came to identify as “our” cuisine but of course all of that changed.

  • Tita

    Your entry made me hungry. I’m craving for adobo and mechado! So what was Filipino food like before the Spaniards discovered the Philippines?

  • stephane

    I just came across your blog about Identity and wanted to drop you a note telling you how impressed I was with the information you have posted here.Keep up the great work, you are providing a great resource on the Internet here!

  • Pinoy from Taipei

    Tama ka na makikilala mo nga ang pinoy sa pagkain nito pero huwag natin kalimutan na meron din naman tayong mga pagkain na labas sa tinatawag mo na kulturang ‘hispano’. Magaling ang blog mo, nabibigyan mo ng pansin ang kultura na sa marami sa atin hindi na kinikilala pero sa totoo naman ay nasa atin pa din. Mabuhay Withonespast.


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