The way to the future is through the past

Food historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria has launched a website and turned her Instagram account to help students of food history mine the riches of our culinary and gastronomic past

By Don Baldosano

KAIN NA Partial image of Chino Pansitero painted by Filipino artist Jose Lozano for the Gervasio Gironella Album

Being taught history in the Philippines is almost always just focused on the significant events and the politics of being colonized by different countries. We haven’t until lately paid enough attention to the history of our cuisine and food culture.

For decades someone has been training the spotlight on what we ate in the context of what was happening to us or what was being done to us by or what we were doing in response to the larger forces of our history—Felice Prudente Sta. Maria.

From Pigafetta’s Philippine Picnic where, drawing from the firsthand accounts of Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, she wrote about the food of pre-colonial Philippines to The Governor-General’s Kitchen, where she brought to life the typical meals on the Filipino table through the many phases of the Spanish period, and how they evolved into dishes we now call our own.

FOOD HISTORIAN Felice Sta. Maria (Noel B. Pabalate)

A cultural advocate and pioneer in Philippine food history, specializing in the Spanish and American colonial eras, Felice has always played a vital role in the preservation of Filipino food culture and in keeping it relevant today, from reintroducing our origins with pre-colonial food to how Filipinos lived during colonial times to how our history affects what, why, and how we eat.

‘Knowing how ingredients, tools, technology, procedures, eating schedules, and the like blended into Filipino life is an amazing tribute to our ancestors.’

Now, having launched the website, replete with spaces for online exhibitions and a growing collection of research on Philippine cuisine starting from the 13th century, Felice is back at it, going this time to where this new generation is mining information, entertainment, inspiration, and knowledge. The collection goes in-depth into what we put in our mouths for sustenance and as a way of life. According to the website, “They are a testament to the value of heritage side by side with an appreciation for the contemporary.” The website, as well as the Instagram account @felicepstamaria that accompanies it, is a peek through a different lens on how our ancestors lived and how their way of life continues to influence modern culture, including the food we consume daily. Not only does it contain a chronological order of stories and tidbits about our cuisine from 1515, it is also a documentation of food and food sources indigenous to our country, such as the katurai flower and malunggay.

PASS THE RICE Culinary entry in the Gervasio Gironella x`Album of 1847 by Jose Lozano (partial image)

“Knowing how ingredients, tools, technology, procedures, eating schedules, and the like blended into Filipino life is an amazing tribute to our ancestors,” writes Felice. This statement from the esteemed historian just gives us an insight into how she wants Filipinos to gain deeper knowledge of the origins of our gastronomic and culinary culture. What she has online and others like it is rooting for is the continuance of these traditions and the advancement of our cuisine as a product of the knowledge that has been passed down from our ancestors and from generation to generation. Learning about the rich food culture of our country is crucial to every Filipino as it is up to us to keep our traditions alive, to keep them going, and to make sure we process them well enough in our pursuit of identity as well as in improving our present and shaping our future. What Felice has just launched is essential in the preservation and the continuing evolution of Philippine cuisine and, more important, of who we are as a people.

Editor’s note: The website, like our rediscovery of our history, particularly the long history of our civilization before the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and the Spanish conquistadores, is a continuing work in progress. Felice Sta. Maria’s advice, because the website sometimes goes offline for updates, is to use it in tandem with her Instagram account @felicepstamaria, which has been incorporated into a Philippine Food History 101 class.