Literary Fiesta

Published October 18, 2020, 7:00 PM

by Manila Bulletin

Filipino dining in Philippine literature

Pahiyas festival, illustration by Manuel Baldemor

It’s not Pinoy dining if it’s not a feast. And our Philippine literature has told many stories that illustrate our healthy appetite, traditional palayok (clay pot) cooking, siesta, fiesta, flavors, and fusions

Doña Victorina fans herself amid the smoke of a roasting pig. Her guests are coming, their noses up in the air sniffing the flavors. On the table, adorned with gilded copa de vino (wine glass) and plato, are sinigang na dalag with alibambang leaves, callos, adobo, tinola, and pochero. Everybody was in high spirits. Never mind if the doña is broke (to begin with). At least her guests are full. Jose Rizal drew a perfect picture of the Pinoy fiesta and salu-salo (gathering) culture.

Our national hero himself loves to eat. He prefers a hefty serving of champorado and tuyo for breakfast. For dessert, he likes minatamis na santol (sweetened santol) made from boiled santol slices soaked for three days in hugas bigas (water used to wash rice). Before starving in Europe, where he published El Filibusterismo, Rizal would feast in carneng asada (beefsteak with sauce), made from lean meat marinated in olive oil, lime juice, and parsley and served with fried potatoes. Gabriela Silang loved pinakbet. Emilio Aguinaldo listed sardines with tomatoes among his favorites. Marcelo H. del Pilar would die (pun intended) for his apparent favorite, pochero, the local version of the Spanish cocido. Andres Bonifacio got his strength and protein source in nilitsong manok sa zaha (grilled chicken wrapped in sampaloc and banana leaves).

The Filipino salu-salo

Never mind if some of our celebrated dishes are not “purely” Pinoy. “What is Filipino food and how does food become Filipino?” asks the late food critic Doreen Fernandez. She argued that food only became Pinoy by process of indigenization, like patis (fish sauce) put in a foreign dish. And this is how Pinoy fusion came to life. What we have on our modern plates are many fusions, crazy or ingenious, like paella with lechon, sinigang na steak, adobong tapa, pancit with kangkong. Yes, you get the picture. 

Could their favorite Filipino flavors be the reason behind the intelligence and nationalism of our heroes Rizal and Bonifacio? Too bad, many young Pinoys nowadays barely know what minatamis na santol is, or any Pinoy traditional merienda for that matter. What replaced maruya, nilagang kamote, turon, kutsinta, and ginataang mais are French fries, burger, pizza, and pasta. You know what they say: You are what you eat.  

In another table setting, Padre Damaso looks across the dining table. Everybody’s enjoying tinola, a stew of chicken and green papaya, but not him. Who wants chicken neck for lunch? He didn’t finish his plate. And this, people, was how the concepts of degustation and small plates were born. They’re not, after all, a French discovery or New York’s. We can blame our mañaña habit. We’re too slow to grab the credit. And oh, we are pioneers of the culture of not finishing plates, too. Blame these all to Padre Damaso (or Jose Rizal?). The tinola brouhaha scene in Noli Me Tangere started it all. 

Lechon haus mural by boonsai

While it’s rude in other cultures not to devour all the food served on the plate, in the Philippines, it’s not. Pinoy eating tradition tells you it’s okay to have leftovers. Telenovela , movies, and literature are great examples. When a family fights over the dining table, the father (or any member) walks away with an unfinished plate. In Ibong Adarna, over a scrumptious dinner, the brothers were all too busy planning how to catch the elusive bird that they forgot to finish their plate.      

Besides books, paintings also tell our delicious food experience. Fernando Amorsolo captured Pinoy eating habits in his painting Afternoon Meal of the Rice Workers. It shows Pinoy families cooking meals in a palayok and eating under the shade of a tree, seemingly ready to sleep after an afternoon feast. With all the food trends coming and going on our plates and literature pages flying off to oblivion, what remains steadfast in our eating habit is this: Siesta.

–NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN

 
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