Kitchen lessons, then and now

Published September 9, 2021, 12:22 PM

by Sol Vanzi

Mother and two children cooking and preparing a meal in the kitchen together.

My generation, born at the end of and after World War II, did not have to take any cooking lessons, formal or informal. As children, we were all expected to help in the kitchen and perform tasks assigned by grandma, mom, aunt and whoever else was in charge of preparing the meals.

We all grew up with the basic knowledge of how to prepare sinigang, adobo, paksiw, pinangat, sarciado, and other viands. We also became adept at dressing chicken, cleaning fish, and slicing fruits and vegetables. For special occasions, we even butchered chicken ourselves as live chicken was the only kind available in the market in those days.

LOVE AT FIRST BAKE — My first formal cooking lesson was in public elementary school. I was 11 and our Grade 5 Home Economics teacher was demonstrating how to make jelly roll, which we all knew as pianono. It was fascinating to watch her use a manual egg beater, which I was seeing for the first time. That afternoon was also my first time to use an oven and bake a cake. I was hooked.

Our baking class had only girls. Boys were herded into carpentry and other masculine activities. This gender-restrictive curriculum pattern went on until high school.

MAIDS AND MIXES — As years went by, generations that followed required boys and girls to spend less and less time helping in the kitchen. Families started hiring maids who took over kitchen chores, freeing the children to spend more time watching TV and playing games. Cell phones and social media made matters worse. Soon even the new housewives did not know how to cook and became helpless without the aid of instant food mixes.

We all grew up with the basic knowledge of how to prepare sinigang, adobo, paksiw, pinangat, sarciado, and other viands. We also became adept at dressing chicken, cleaning fish, and slicing fruits and vegetables.

LIBERATED BUT INNOCENT — Mass media and easy travel brought about changes. By the 1990s it became more than acceptable for young men to be adept at cooking and not lose their masculine appeal. Culinary arts became a fashionable career for both men and women. But modern-day youth grew up without basic kitchen skills unlike the generations before them. Thus, we find the spectacle of local seasoned chefs expertly making soufflés and sauces but seem clueless when requested to cook pinangat na tulingan or sinigang sa miso. In contrast, we watch international culinary icons traveling to distant villages to learn cooking secrets straight from the natives.

CHANGES IN THE AIR — Thanks to mass media, attitudes and perceptions are changing for the better. Veteran Filipino chefs like Sandy Daza now regularly present documentary-type food shows that explore nooks and crannies throughout the archipelago in search of authentic Filipino cuisine.

Who knows? One of these days Sandy might even show how to prepare Tyulah Itum, a meat stew flavored and blackened by charred coconut meat. I last had it years ago on the island of Siasi between Jolo and Simunul with the late Time Magazine journalist Nelly Sindayen. That’s exotic!

Closer to home, there is Kulawo of San Pablo, a fish dish flavored with burnt grated coconut. Perhaps culinary historian Felice Sta Maria could one day explain its relation to the Tyulah Itum of the Tausugs.

 
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