Filipino cuisine, re-imagined (a rant against purists)

My friends find my eating habits amusing. Lisa observes how I chew every mouthful of food fifty times which is such an exaggeration but that has never prevented her from saying so almost every time we have a meal together anyway.

And the last time we had lunch together, Laly reiterated, with a giggle, how I never put two dishes on my plate at the same time. You know, if I have porchetta on my plate, I will not have it mixing with the sauce of beef salpicao. So, I eat one dish first, and then, the other.

It’s really a matter of keeping the integrity of each dish, of keeping flavors and textures pure for maximum enjoyment. Eating, after all, is a sensory experience. How can one truly appreciate porchetta if it had been splashing on the sauce of salpicao? I even have a system when I eat buffet-style. Dishes without sauce can go together on the plate because there is no danger that they will contaminate one another. Dishes with sauces and broths go into separate plates or bowls.

Does that make me a purist? In terms of keeping the purity of each dish, yes, I suppose. But in the context of ethnic and cultural purity… ah, no. No, no, no, no… I just don’t believe in that. Ethnicity and culture are dynamic things, they change everyday ever so slowly, and we sometimes don’t notice the changes until a long time has passed. Inter-racial marriages have continued to dilute ethnicity and there is an observation that, in a few more centuries, ethnicity as we know it today will no longer exist.

Culture is even more dynamic. Every generation brings change and technology has hastened and multiplied those changes over the past century.

So, to define Filipino cuisine, for instance, in the context of what the Filipinos of 1891 cooked, and how, would be totally ridiculous (insert: read this exchange from 2010).

It is heartening to note that there is a movement, as informal and as interconnected the players may be, to make Filipino cuisine reflective of social and cultural changes. I am especially enamored with attempts to fuse local agricultural produce into dishes that were unknown to the average Filipino fifty years ago.

For instance?

The pizza with malunggay (moringa) and tinapa (smoked fish) in the photo above is from OMA Restaurant and Bar in Quezon City.

casaveneracion.com pasta-pinangat

Alex and her friends enjoyed this pasta pinangat at Small Talk Cafe in Legazpi City.

casaveneracion.com pasta-mangoes

In Laoag City, Saramsam’s Cafe serves this delectable pasta with ripe and unripe mangoes.

I’d like to think that I am part of that informal movement in my attempts to re-imagine lechon kawali and lumpia, among other things. I’m a forward-looking person. I always have been.

And while I’m all for the preservation of the historical significance of how the Filipino cuisine developed and evolved, nationally and regionally, I just feel that it is so counter-productive to resist change and to insist, in such characteristically small-minded way, that Filipino cuisine is, and should always be, defined by standards from a bygone era. Excuse me, but I’d rather cook with a crock-pot or a pressure cooker than with firewood.

Edited at 11.38 p.m.



Comments

  1. Ben says

    Miss Connie,
    you are on the money with this article. Culture is an ever changing entity, and forward looking artists like you are very much appreciated.
    Thank you!

  2. A says

    It’s nice to be able to comment again!

    I describe myself as an old-fashioned purist, but NOT to the point of looking down on others with different tastes. And it’s just that some food combinations just don’t appeal to my personal taste–corned beef sinigang, for example.

    I appreciate the counter-movement moving back to “heritage” recipes and “old foods,” like what Europeans do for their regional products–licensing and regulating food products so that the traditional, artisinal methods are preserved.

    It’s not because I hate innovation; it’s because I’ve always loved history. I look at bygone eras with fondness, and enjoy classic recipes because, well, they’re comforting and safe–and they wouldn’t last so long if they didn’t work.

    As for the firewood–how I wish I could find and chop my own! :p

  3. A says

    On a side note: to be fair, it’s extremely frustrating how a lot of homestyle restaurants and food stalls selling “specialized” products such as crispy pata, ube halaya, etc claim to be “D’original” or “d’best” (yes, “d-apostrophe,” which just kills me a little on the inside, everytime I see it), when in fact they all sell the same products made from the same factories, using the same method. Which is another reason why I like making my own–the whole process of recreating their traditional taste is very therapeutic to me.

    • says

      On the same note, it’s extremely annoying how so many blogs, and newspaper and magazine articles propagate the “The Top 10″ or “The Best 10″ or whatever with no underlying standards except who paid them the most hahahaha

      • A says

        Hi Ms Connie!

        Yes, corned beef sinigang–there used to be a “fancy Pinoy fusion” restaurant whose best seller was corned beef sinigang. The cheapest ingredients turned into a spectacularly expensive, and equally crappy, dish. (I don’t want to go to jail for online libel, but you’ll find it on Google :p)

        And top 10 lists? YES, You hit it right on the head! Most food reviews have no substance to them, really, because most of them don’t really know what they’re talking about.

        • says

          Well, I Googled and found “Best sinigang in the Philippines named”.

          I didn’t read all of it (such terrible writing — the opening paragraph turned me off) but just enough to get the name of the resto that serves (served?) corned beef sinigang.

          Sadly, there will always be people who will line up to eat at the current “hip” places especially when recommended in some “Top 10″ list written by someone with a camera but who can’t tell the difference between curly and flat-leaf parsley hahahaha

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