(I love this rebuttal from Claude Tayag in defense of the Filipino Food. I'm publishing this with permission from the author so that more Filipinos could read this. Let me know what you think...)
(Photo from Filipino food: Off the menu, LA Times, Feb. 25, 2010, by Amy Scattergood.)
May 7, 2010
Los Angeles Times
202 West 1st Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012-4105, United States
In defense of Filipino food
This is in reference to the article, Filipino food: Off the menu (LA Times, Feb. 25, 2010, by Amy Scattergood.) featuring Filipino chefs working in Los Angeles who the author says grew up eating Filipino food although the cuisine “has yet to assimilate into mainstream culture, much less their restaurants.”
Ms. Scattergood, for instance, quoted Filipino-American chef Andre Guerrero who, by the way, I commend for being voted Los Angeles’ Top Chef by the Los Angeles Times magazine, as saying, “I love it. I grew up eating it. But how does it fit into what we do? It really doesn’t.” Yes, I agree, Filipino food doesn’t fit into what Chef Guerrero does, but how could it otherwise when he has little familiarity with it, having left the Philippines at a very young age? And subsequently, having been professionally schooled in Western/Continental cuisine, his expertise is limited only to such cooking and does not include Filipino cuisine, no matter if he says he grew up eating it and to what degree of authenticity, I wonder?
Another Filipino-American featured is LA-based food blogger Marvin Gapultos who describes Filipino food as “regional (and) we don’t have one unifying dish; there’s adobo, but there’s about 7,000 ways to make it.” Does one unifying dish like hamburger or hotdog make a national cuisine any better? I would like to stress that having such a diverse culinary heritage certainly puts the Filipino at an advantage. Filipino food offers so much variety and nuances in taste and flavor and the diversity is an asset rather than a liability. In Asia, for instance, Singapore owes its cuisine to the Malaysians, Indonesians, Chinese, Indians and Nonyas who have settled and intermarried in the little state, and yet Singaporeans have successfully marketed an indigenous cuisine, all their own, internationally.
Author Scattergood remarks that the “diversity of people, landscape and (Philippine) history … is reflected in the haphazard etiology of the food.” To that, may I say, rather than dwell on the differences amongst the people, geography and the different foreign cultures that have colonized and influenced the Philippines, why not focus on the similarities that bind the country together?
Another LA-based Filipino chef Rodelio Aglibot says we probably have “one of the least understood cuisines: are we Pacific Islanders? Are we Asians? There isn’t a defined identity.” The Philippines holds a unique position as the only country in Asia influenced by both sides of the Pacific – from its neighbors in the region and India, and Mexico and other parts of the Americas during two and a half centuries when the Galleon Trade flourished. Add to the pot, Spain and the United States, and you have a vibrant mix of all these cultures, which rather than confuse, give modern-day Filipinos a particular personality who is comfortable with himself and, at the same time, at home with the rest of the world.
Mary Jo Gore, a Filipino chef instructor at Pasadena’s Cordn Bleu who was also featured in Scattergood’s article, seems to have a problem with aesthetics when it comes to Filipino food. Such food, she was quoted as saying, “is comfort food (and) visually, it’s not very appealing. It’s stewed, and brown, and oily and fried.” I beg to disagree. It is only as unappealing, brown, oily, and fried as one makes it. I’ve eaten some really greasy American and Chinese food in Los Angeles and New York. Go deeper South within the US and you would find some of the greasiest grub on the planet. I invite Ms. Gore to come to Manila and I will personally treat her to some of the most gorgeously-prepared toothsome Filipino dishes here, far from the unappealing stewed, brown, oily and fried fare of her recollection.
Ms. Scattergood mentions the notion in her article that “if there are 7,000 adobo recipes, then only one of them is the one you grew up with.” To say that there are 7,000 such recipes is an understatement. Truth to tell, there are as many kinds of adobos as there are Filipino households. To treat adobo as a dish is incorrect. It IS a cooking technique, that is, it is the braising of any meat (chicken, pork, beef, quail, duck, venison, seafood, etc.), or vegetable in vinegar, garlic, black peppercorn and bay leaf, with regional variations or personal preferences in adding soy sauce, achuete (annatto or Mexican achiote), coconut cream, lemongrass or turmeric. It can be made like a saucy stew, or thickened with chicken liver, or the adobo-cooked meat may be pulled apart to be deep fried into crispy flakes.
This versatility makes it the most popular and well-loved Filipino comfort food, along with sinigang, a clear-broth soup dish made sour with certain kinds of local fruit which, again, is used depending on the region or season when such fruit is available.
The sense I get as I read Ms. Scattergood’s article is that the Filipino-American chefs she interviewed seemed to be apologetic and/or ashamed of their cultural heritage. I wonder, could their having adapted to and excelling in the Western way mask an inordinate desire to belong and be accepted in the Western mainstream, leaving them at risk in forgetting their provenance (Ang taong di marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay di ....)? They have been away from the Philippines far too long to even claim they eat “Filipino” food at home.
Aglibot asked rhetorically, “Why hasn’t Filipino food assimilated? Because it’s still assimilating.” On a final note: Filipino cuisine is “happy food.” It is meant for sharing, just like most other Asian cuisines which are served family style. All said, in spite of all the political turmoil and economic setbacks the country has been plagued with since time immemorial, Filipinos are found to be the happiest people in Asia, and the 6th happiest in the world (World Values Survey, 2004).
At this point, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite any or all of the Filipino-American chefs interviewed in the article to share a meal with me at Bale Dutung and reacquaint themselves with the food of their childhood and how it has evolved in these current, contemporary times. Ms. Scattergood, you’re very much welcome to come, as well. The tab is on me.
Bale Dutung, Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines
JUNE 11, 2010 UPDATE: The "Behind the Scenes" aspect of Amy Scattergood's article