Dressing up the Filipino table

Published December 12, 2020, 6:42 PM

by Krizette Laureta-Chu

How to inject pride and patriotism in these times

TABLE THERAPY Jane’s setup

“Since the lockdown started and the kids can’t go out, I decided to make Sunday lunches extra special for my family. I started buying tablecloths and a variety of plates, cutlery, and glasses, so they will feel like we had lunch out like we always did pre-Covid-19,” says mom of three and Manila Bulletin Lifestyle sub editor Jane Kingsu-Cheng.  Jane’s social media feed is the stuff of aesthetic IG dreams, blooming flowers spilling over her table, with beautiful plates in elegant patterns that sometimes belie the fastfood on it. On one post, she writes, “There are days I’m just too busy or tired to whip up yummy dishes for the fam bam, and last night was one of those days.” Chinese takeout food is lovingly rearranged in her blue-and-white plates, with her table covered in delicate doilies lace.

PROVINCIAL FEEL Ornaments on Eliza’s dining table

“My helpers told me that our place looked prettiest this year,” says Joyce Herrera Wong, an artist. “I decided to put more lights everywhere, because there is just so much darkness everywhere.” To liven up her dinner table, she uses fresh flowers with Christmas balls, and most of her Christmas ornaments are Filipino made.

“My chargers are made of capiz shells, and the napkin rings are of sea glass or polished glass—again made in the Philippines,” she says. “The centerpiece is made by a Filipina who does beautiful Christmas ornaments.”

ELEGANT SEASONAL Ornaments on Joyce’s dining table

Joyce and her husband are empty nesters in a 3,550-square-feet unit—her children are studying abroad—but she makes it a point not to have TV dinners all the time.

For Christmas, she is taking out her red capiz chargers, but playing up the contrast with silver from Cambodia. “I love going to the Manila FAME show, because you can see a wide variety of locally made products for export, and on the last day, you can just buy them. I love the American Women’s Bazaar for unique products.

Eliza Romualdez Valtos is pouring pent-up creative energy in making her Christmas arrangements look especially Filipino this year—with a twist of Covid. “I’m doing a horror folklore theme with tikbalang, tiyanak, manananggal—but Christmas,” she laughs. “That’s keeping up with Covid.” She uses handwoven placemats and local Filipino flowers to dress up her table, and coconut shell bowls to help keep the food warm. There’s a Philippine deer antler from a chandelier that has since collapsed from her parents’ house in Bicol. 

“We honor Christ on Christmas Day for the sacrifice He made for us,” she says, “but also our ninunos (ancestors), who are Pinoy. Eliza has pangalay jars on her table—which sound like your run-of-the-mill Filipino earthen jar until you realize that these are associated with Philippine prehistoric burials.

FLORA BELLA Eliza’s table incorporates fresh flowers

“When doing tablescapes, we are driven by, unconsciously at times, certain cultural and social constructs,” the archaeologist says. “Even the belief in Christ is a social construct we can’t prove, so there should be always meaning in what we do, and when we’re decorating we fit it with the artifacts presented in that given space and time.”

Like Jane and Joyce, Eliza didn’t let the lockdown—and Covid—interfere with her love for tablescaping. “I would always do a standard tablescaping, at least,” she says.  “The other day I was having a conversation with a friend about how important it is to still maintain a semblance of beauty and normalcy at home when the world outside is getting out of control. We talked about our everyday ritual of having a pretty table, of thinking what meals to cook and serve our families, and just keeping our homes aesthetically pleasing.”

Like Jane, who goes all out for her Sunday dinners to make up for limited dining out activities, Eliza says she’s doing it for her boys. “Sure, I ask myself if I am just creating a false sense of security for them,” she says. “But I am certain we are not, because they are tuned in to social media and are exposed to unfiltered reports of death, sickness, fear, and panic around them. It is all about striking a balance and as a mom. That’s all I can do right now.”

Table escapes 

Tablescaping, for some, may just be aesthetics or a way to flex interior design skills. But during Covid when no one is there to appreciate and oohh and aahh over your work, and when it can even come as insensitive and out of touch, tablescaping has become therapeutic. It’s also an outlet for women who, finding that they can no longer dress themselves for places they can no longer go to, have decided to dress their tables. For Jane, it’s to give herself and her family something to look forward to. For Joyce, it’s to dispel the darkness, and for Eliza, it’s both, plus of course, a sociocultural commentary (she can’t help it).

FEAST FOR THE EYES Jane’s setup

These women, of course, are experts in tablescaping—hostesses with the mostest, but the rise of platitas and dinnerware and tableware sellers on social media has become testament to the intense desire of women everywhere, wherever they are in their journey, to make their houses a home, and their tables, the centerpiece of that home.

Add too, the resurgence and popularity of “Filipino first” purchases in the past few years. Filipino items are no longer a novelty. Pinoy-made items are now a badge of pride and honor. Regionalism, too, is playing a factor, as crafts and artisan products are bannered by their provinces and more SMEs are getting the support of government like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which has various projects under its belt to revitalize the local industry due to Covid disruption.

FESTIVE LAYOUT Joyce’s setup

DTI has been championing MSMEs through programs like Shared Service Facilities Project, and the Kapatid Mentor Me Program. (For Christmas, DTI also has a microsite called Pasalove, where you can choose which gift item you want from which region—and these items are handmade crafts or local products chosen by DTI’s provincial offices.)

Social media has also given brands that had previously no access to marketing platforms the chance to directly reach consumers. Likhang Maragondon is a business from Maragondon, Cavite that offers Philippine weaves and looms.  Soumak has beautiful home items and accents. Acacia wooden utensils are a hit—cheap and readily available even in Dapitan. The majestic magkono boards, which can be used as chopping boards or steak boards, are beautiful, heavy duty boards from Mindanao, particularly in Surigao.

TRADITIONAL AESTHETIC Eliza’s setup

More and more Filipinos are showing patriotism and pride on their tables. Thanks to these options, Filipino elements can now be readily incorporated into your holiday tables.

Here are tips from the ladies on how you can add Filipino touches to your holiday setting.

Jane’s tips

I love gold accents, and these capiz placemats (with gold trimming) mimic our beautiful pearls. The set comes with matching coasters and embroidered napkins. This type of placemat is easy to take care of because it is waterproof, and it looks very elegant, too!

I grew up with inabel blankets. They bring back so many fond memories, and I love the idea that we can use them as table cloth. This one is by Lechoneria Belly and made by Abel Philippines. Why use a table cloth? It makes it easier to clean the table after. Just fold it, put it in the washing machine, and you’re done!

I play with the height of the dishes served on the table, and I do this by using different sizes of acacia wooden boards. I placed the lechon belly on top of this to highlight it as the main dish.

I love fresh flowers, but I also try to keep the beautiful dried ones. If I don’t have time to buy fresh ones, I use the colorful dried ones as the floral centerpiece. 

Eliza’s tips

Pick Filipiniana pieces already at home. Easiest to do—plants or leaves. I love Filipino themed decor (palayok, coconut bowls, placemats, santos, bulols, etc.) and souvenirs (shells bought when they were not illegal to do so and man in the barrel even!). If you don’t have one at home, then go to your nearest public market and buy. There are very inexpensive palayoks, Pinoy children’s toys. baskets, bayongs. These are very easy to spruce up by painting them with a color theme. There are so many colors to choose from.

 If you don’t have enough pieces to create a theme based on design like all santos, all bulols, all palayoks, you can pull items together by using pain or spray paint. I find a paint spray can very useful for instance for painting leaves gold—especially for the Christmas season. One time I used palayoks and spray painted them too.

Use fresh plants or fake plants/leaves (they are so well made now) along with your Filipiniana items. I find stuff in my garden all the time. Kalachuchi, banana leaves, anahaw, trips of coconut leaves that I weave into fresh placemats. One dinner I used palayoks and a number of Venus fly traps.

Joyce’s tips

We have beautiful Made in the Philippines capiz shell chargers, which are available in different colors—blue, green, red, white, and beige. They also come in different sizes—round, rectangular, or fan shaped.

We have a variety of embroidered table cloth, runners, placemats, and napkins, which are either made of cotton, polyester, or piña (pineapple fiber).

Ilocos is known for their Inabel products (handwoven textiles). Table runners, placements, and table napkins come in a variety of patterns or just plain colors.

We also have wooden bowls, which are great for a Filipino-themed party. The lechon tray, banana leaf-shaped placemats painted green, and different kinds of carabao horn servers for salad, rice, soup, and other dishes.

Buy napkin rings using materials like sea glass, coconut shell, silver from Baguio, capiz, and nautilus shells, and mother-of-pearl. There are also some beautiful mother-of-pearl serving trays.

 
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