The 2019 DGF Awards: Fascinating essays on fish

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2020 - 12:00am

It was over a delightful lunch hosted by Felice Sta. Maria early last month that we deliberated on the entries to the 2019 Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Awards, this time on the topic of “Fish.”

Joining in the privilege of indulging in a home-cooked buffet were Micky Fenix, our lifetime chairperson who had just completed sick leave, Marily Orosa who had temporarily served as DFG Awards chair, and chef Myrna Segismundo, who is also with Food Writers Association of the Philippines. The FWAP manages the contest, so its lady members aren’t involved in the selection of winners. Only in case of a tie would the chair weigh in.

But the voting members made short work of the deliberations — having preliminarily read the 18 entries and settled on six finalists by email — after spending an epic hour or so in appreciation of the inspired lunch treat.

The buffet consisted of sake-infused carrot soup, baguette and spreads, chicken with pickled lemons, “Charlie Rice” (named for its black-and-white composition after the host’s Jack Russell rescue dog) with pine nuts, apricots and goji berries, white beans in tomato sauce, and okra and spinach salad.

Brewed coffee, tea and tisane came with a variety of desserts: chocolate truffles, lokum (a Turkish delight) from a friend, and lemon tart, exotic banana cake and guava cake from The Bakeshop of Shangri-La at The Fort, BGC — which also provided take-home chocolate-covered almonds and “Pebbles” (white chocolate-covered apricots).

Mol Fernando, Datu Shariff Pendatun, new members Butch Dalisay and Nana Ozaeta (Food magazine EIC and writer-editor for ANCX Metro), Felice and this writer awarded first prize to the essay, “Migratory Species — The Filipina fish processors of the Faroe Islands” by Jennifer Fergesen, second prize to “Sirup and the Sea Breeze” by Marie Joy Rosal Sumagaysay, and third prize to “Dalagang Bukid: The Mountain Maiden of the Seas,” also by Ms. Fergesen.

It was the first time that two major DGF awards were won by the same entrant, who turned out to be a Filipino-American food journalist who graduated last year with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of California-Davis, which also gave her a grant to visit Faroe Islands, an archipelago in the possession of the Kingdom of Denmark.

Here’s an excerpt from the first-prize winner:

“… The processing plants in the Faroes are some of the most modern in the world, with large stretches of the process almost entirely automated. Whole fish topple down chutes and ride up conveyor belts like children in a fun park, so nimble and wide-eyed you’d think they were alive. Then they lose their heads and their guts with two smooth movements of an automated blade. Before they are skinned they gleam as with the same sheen as the steel machinery around them. Everywhere is the tang of their blood like seawater and rust.

“No process, however modern, can be entirely automated. Filipina workers are involved in every step, from slicing the heads on the noisy factory floor to testing for parasites in the morgue-quiet QC room. One could search for a connection between the Filipinas and the fish they process, largely migratory species like herring, salmon and cod that encounter the Faroes on their route across the Atlantic. They stop to feed, then become food.

“But that metaphor would be forced. All the Filipinas I met in the Faroes were self-assured, confident, and apparently happy in marriage. None seemed anything like a herring — not least Nely Haraldsen, who opened the Faroes’ first Asian grocery in 2010. She also works in pelagic fish quality control, runs a Filipino-fusion catering company and food truck, and will open a restaurant with an attached guesthouse this November. Instead of taking out loans for her businesses, she saves her factory salary for capital.”

Through GoFundMe, Jennifer Fergesen has also reported on Filipinos who have opened restaurants and cafes in Iceland, Greenland, Hungary and Georgia. Her award-winning stories may be found in globalcarinderia.com

Her other winning piece was based on research while in Capiz during rehabilitation efforts in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda. There, she met the indigenous Panay Bukidnon, who called themselves the Tumandok or Suludnon, and who “still wear their scarlet-red traditional clothing to mark the rituals that punctuate their lives.” She heard of how “the red-tinged dalagang bukid is named in reference to these mountain dwellers’ clothing.”

Second-prize winner Marie Joy Rosal Sumagaysay has an MA in Art History from UP Diliman and presently teaches at UP Visayas-Miagao. Her essay dwells on the carinderia called Sea Breeze in northern Iloilo, famous for the dish known as linabog —sirup or snake mackerel cooked in coconut milk with turmeric. The carinderia was recently revived by the founder’s grandson. Her essay also describes other ways of cooking different fish found in Panay.

The three honorable mention winners were Edelwisa Gonzaga’s “The Ichtus in Talibubu,” Samuel Evardone’s “Sarciadong Aquarium,” and Rosy Mina’s “What’s in a name? When Philippine fishes go by reduplications.”

Gonzaga resides in Washington State with her husband, who hails from Taytay and is now a pastor of the United Methodist Church. “Ichtus” refers to the fish-shaped Christian symbol. “Talibubu” is another name for ayungin (silver perch) in Taytay, where it’s cooked with “coconut milk, slivers of ginger, green chilies, a little soy sauce, and a drop of vinegar.” Tilapia has replaced the now-scarce ayungin. So we also get to read on how tilapia first came to the country in 1950, and has since flourished.

Evardone was a fellow at the Silliman writers’ workshop in Dumaguete last year. He works as a Communications Manager for Okada Manila, while pursuing an MFA degree in Creative Writing at DLSU. His essay is about his family’s carinderia in Tondo, where the leftover fried fish are repurposed as sarciado, with “a tomato-based sauce with beaten eggs.”

“Sam” dedicates his award to his Lola Meding who passed away last month, after playing “a major role in the carinderia, a mainstay star in its 47 years of existence.” 

Mina is a freelance writer who works with the PR and Communications arm of the Film Development Council of the Philippines. Her essay serves tongue-in-cheek observations on word repetitions (she calls it “reduplication”) for fish names, e.g. hasa-hasa, maya-maya, lapu-lapu, salay-salay, et al.

Owing to the Taal voIcano eruption, the 2019 DGF Awards rites that had been slated for February 8 were deferred to April 25, at 3 p.m. in Palm Grove at Rockwell Club in Makati.

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