I’ve been seeing this headline (or headlines similar to it) increasingly throughout the past year, let alone months. I take great pride in knowing that food from my country is growing in popularity here in the US (although I’m pretty sure it’s been very popular out in the west coast) and I thought it would be a good topic to (re)start this blog with.
I can’t say that I’m an authority in Filipino cuisine. Heck, I fought my parents whenever they tried to teach me how to speak and understand the language. In my defense, they tried teaching me three of the native dialects at the same time, so it’s really no wonder why I found the language frustrating and couldn’t be bothered with it. Every now and then I take a stab at learning one or two of the dialects only for it to end in a fight with my mom on the correct pronunciation. However, the language barrier never stopped me from understanding Filipino food but, there are times when I’m unsure of what makes Filipino food, Filipino food.
In a recent job interview, my interviewer asked:
What kind of food do you like to make?
I gave myself a moment to think about it and responded with:
Well, I don’t like to make a specific food. I’m grew up in a Filipino household.
Now, I know that sounds a little cocky and please trust me when I say that’s not how I meant it. I went on to tell the interviewer, that Filipino cuisine, especially growing up, was like a story with interweaving storylines from other ethnicities. It’s an ideology echoed in my About Me section and I’m sure will be brought up again somewhere in this blog. It’s an ideology that makes me question what separates our food from all the other ethnic flavors if the cuisine’s very history was influenced by the visitors and invaders alike that have come to the Philippines.
For me, Filipino food wasn’t necessarily defined by the country itself. Sure we have dishes that are somewhat ubiquitous to our culture, but you could trace it’s origins back to another country in Asia or the Pacific Islands. I come from a family of culinary storytellers and not in the gastronomical sense with the micro greens and sous vid machines. While Filipino food like our barbecue sticks and lumpia (egg rolls) have been long praised, these were special occasion foods.
The Filipino food I grew up and in essence defined what I dubbed as Filipino food, consisted of stews with a lot of asian vegetables and flavors, fish, every now and then meat, and of course the meal stretching steamed jasmine rice or rice noodles. These dishes told stories of where my family came from. My dad’s side of the family, the cooking reflected the mountain and farm regions that he grew up in with hearty stews and vegetables made up of whatever was growing in the backyard or what was cheap at the market that would stretch a meal for a large family. At the same time, his own cooking was reflective of his love for travel and the souvenirs he would take with him were his interpretations of dishes he tasted along the way.
Mom’s side of the family wasn’t as massive as my dad’s. To this day she still cooks in smaller portions stews that consisted of meat and vegetables that would stretch the penny. Where my mom also differed from dad was her love for cooking Filipino street food she used to indulge in as a kid in Quezon City, like fried fish balls soaked in vinegar and fried banana eggrolls coated in caramelized sugar.
Thinking back it all, in comparison to what America is considering as trendy Filipino food which, in actuality is mostly Filipino food you’d eat after a night of drinking, I’m kind of hopeful that I can make my mark in the food trend that’s making the nation buzz with my own interpretation of childhood flavors and the stories behind them. Which reminds me…maybe ube gnocchi will catch on.