“Ang ube ay ang kulay asul at kulay pula ng ating bandila. Kaya sa isang banda, ang ube ay masasabi nating “pambansang kulay ng Pilipinas.”
— Marie Yvette Banzon-Abalos, Consul General, Philippine Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany
A century from the earliest recorded use of ube in ice cream in 1922, this Filipino favorite, has finally been given the global recognition it truly deserves! Attended by hundreds to perhaps close to a thousand Filipinos and international guests altogether, the first “Ube Fiesta” which took place in Sankt Augustin, Germany last June 4, 2022 is still raved about, one month hence. And the ube fever continues as our favorite root crop takes ‘root’, so to speak, in Europe.
Also known as purple yam, ube originates from Southeast Asia, particularly in our beloved country, the Philippines. The humble ube has been part of our childhood and is seen in every Filipino table during Filipino fiestas and special family occasions. It has been used as a vital ingredient in a lot of our desserts like Ube Halaya and the famous Halo-Halo (loosely translated as mix-mix, or a dessert mix of a variety of colorful and tasty ingredients), among others. As every Filipino would know, what makes the special halo-halo ‘special’ is the addition of one to three crowning toppings over the milk and sugar flavored ice shavings that hides a plethora of colorful ingredients underneath, so bountiful that the act of ‘mixing’ is a joy in itself—and yes, one of these three ‘special ingredients’ is, as you would have guessed, ube taking the form of either ube halaya or ube ice cream, without which your halo-halo would simply be ‘regular’.
To lift the special status of ube even more, Consul General Marie Yvette Banzon-Abalos of the Philippine Consulate in Frankurt, Germany has declared at the event that the color of ube (purple)—the result of the combination of the color blue (symbolizing peace, truth, and justice) and the color red (symbolizing patriotism and valor) that predominate the Philippine flag—may very well be the Philippine national color. By bringing the “real ube” from the Philippines to the center stage in Europe, the Philippine Consulate in Frankfurt hopes to finally distinguish it from the purple potato that is mistakenly showcased in photos accompanying articles that were meant to celebrate the goodness of our true ube. And there is even the taro versus ube conundrum to address. With the Ube Fiesta, they hope to raise awareness about ube (which is not the same as purple potato, neither the taro) and encourage international partnerships to help develop the true ube industry in the Philippines.
Ube as a delicious and colorful medium of Filipino storytelling
Part of the challenge in performing the official function of the Philippine Consulates in the different host countries is “to find new ways to present the Philippines and Filipino culture in a way that resonates with the societies we live in,” says Abalos in an interview. With the holding of the 1st Ube Fiesta, they hope to tell the story of the Filipinos, the Philippines, and its rich heritage through ube.
A lot of you might ask, why ube? “Well, why not ube? Aside from its purple vibrant color (that easily attracts attention) and its health benefits, the story of sustainability and how it helps the indigenous communities and local farmers makes ube the perfect story to tell Germans,” answers Mrs. Ivy Abalos, who organized the 1st Ube fiesta with the help of her team and some Filipino church communities all over Germany.
The 1st Ube Fiesta was truly a blast! The outdoor event started with a Santacruzan, a religious pageant held in honor of the Virgin Mary. This was participated in by representatives from Filipino Mission of the Archdiocese of Cologne where chosen ladies and their respective escorts stood side by side, dressed in their beautiful traditional Filipiniana and Barong under arches colorfully decorated and designed with flowers paraded in the streets. The Santacruzan was followed by a Holy Mass. There was also an “Art of Ube Exhibition” where creations of award-winning painters in the Philippines were presented by Virgilio Cuizon, Art Critic and Curator and the managing director of KUNST. Ube was illustrated in every unique piece, each telling the story of Filipino life, culture, and heritage. Cooking, Baking and Ube Planting demonstrations were also part of the program. And since Filipinos are known to love music, what better way to close the event than with a surprise Flash Mob of more than 50 people dancing to Celeste Legaspi’s famous classic song, “Mamang Sorbetero” (The Ice Cream Man). Filipino traditional foods, delicacies and the famous Halo-Halo were served and enjoyed by all at the event. “It is really nice to see people gathering again, eating together, and sharing laughter after the pandemic” said one of the guests.
“Ube is nutritious and delicious,” says Ms. Josyline Javelosa, Ph.D., interim Non-resident Philippine Agriculture Attachè to the European Union and the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Aside from the obvious reasons why ube is loved by many, that is, its color and flavor, ube is also rich in antioxidants and help lower blood pressure. It is also a great source of healthy carbs, fiber, vitamins and potassium. In creating awareness of its health benefits, Mrs. Javelosa believes the event will provide opportunities to uplift the lives of our local Filipino farmers in the Philippines.
Philippines united in bringing Philippine products to the global market
It is amazing to see the power of “ube” unite Filipinos. Even as they were still in the planning and conceptualizing phase, a lot of Filipinos from different communities around Germany have gathered to show their support, excitement, and passion for the 1st Ube Fiesta. “We are so touched and overwhelmed by how people accepted and shared the event in Social Media,” says Paula Gutierrez Salangsang, project and Social Media head of the event. One of the post which trends in Social Media was the photo of a real fresh ube brought all the way from the Philippines and was taken a picture of in different cities in Germany. When asked about how the Germans reacted to the real ube, Miss Paula said that it made the locals and the passers-by more curious about the famous root crop.
“Ube has not only made each of our tummy happy but also has gathered and united Filipinos after a difficult time and is indeed the perfect Filipino story to tell not only the Germans but also the world”
Which European country would the Philippine ube conquer next, you wonder? As Filipinos are scattered everywhere in Europe, hopefully the embers of this 1st Ube Fiesta will land in other countries, fanned by the united Global Filipino spirit, and ablaze anew so the Philippine ube may rightfully keep its place in international gastronomy.
Perhaps in the coming years’ celebration of Philippine National Day by the different Philippine Embassies and Consulates in Europe, a synchronized Ube Fiesta may be staged and ube may once again hit Europe by storm. This is indeed a very well put together and impressive start for a long-term campaign to promote ube and the ube industry back home.
Please follow Philippine Consulate General in Frankfurt through their official Facebook and Instagram accounts to keep track of their upcoming events.
Contributing writer Jennifer Leu-Yong is the owner of Jennyralized, a digital-marketing and events planning company based in Switzerland focusing on Filipino cultural events. You can follow her on Facebook @jennyyongleu and on Instagram @jennyralized. Join her advocacy in supporting Global Filipino talents and share her stories.