The Spanish in us
TURO-TURO - Claude Tayag (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2015 - 12:00am

The Spanish culture and language is so ingrained in our daily lives more than we realize: in the names we bear, the languages and dialects we speak, the religion we believe in, the fiestas we celebrate, and the food we eat. After all, we were a colony of Spain for a good 333 years, and even though our forefathers declared independence from madre España in 1898, and with the Americans ending our fledgling republic until 1945, the Spanish influence is pretty much evident to this very day.

It is said that 40 percent, or some 5,000 words of our Filipino language, are loanwords from Spanish. But, like most things that are adopted and adapted, some corruptions are inevitable, either in spelling, pronunciation or even in meaning.

A Spanish-speaking person would be amused to hear a Filipino say “isang beses” to mean “once” or “one time,” whereas the correct Spanish is “una vez” in the singular, and muchas veces in the plural. It is tantamount to saying “one times” in English. Likewise, seguro means the tentative “maybe” for a Filipino, but actually means “sure, certain” (cierto) in Spanish. While delicado means delicate, frail or refined in Spanish, a Filipino would understand it to mean dangerous, grave or critical (mapanganib). “Dangerous” or “hazardous” in Spanish is peligroso. One may dislike another person because he’s bit pesao (pesado/offensive, vexatious) or atrebido (atrevido/insolent), or simply because you don’t like his itsura (hechura/look, appearance).

These loanwords are most evident in our daily routine, especially in the domesticity of a home. The petsa (fecha/date) or days of the week and months of the year are said in Spanish, though they may vary in the spelling (i.e., Pebrero for Febrero or cropping Domingo for Linggo for Sunday. Domingo is also a common name for a male, or Dominga for a female). A man wears a kamiseta (camiseta/shirt) and pantalon (pantalon/pair of trousers or pants), while woman a kamisola (camisola/blouse) and saya (saya/dress skirt), and the former is called under de saya if he’s a henpecked husband who is often beaten with tsinelas (chinelas, house sandals).

Likewise, for the parts of the house like bintana (ventana/window), its furniture like aparador (wardrobe cabinet), komoda (cómoda /chest of drawers), silya (silla/chair) and lamesa (mesa/table). What’s placed on it are the plato (plate), platito (saucer), tasa (cup), baso (vaso/drinking glass), kutsara (cuchara/spoon), kutsarita (cucharita/teaspoon) and tinidor (tenedor/fork)

A kusinero (cocinero/cook) in the kusina (cocina/kitchen) uses a kutsilyo (cuchillo/knife) to chop the sibuyas (cebolla/onion), slice the karne (carne/meat), gisa (guisar/cook) the minced ahos (Visayan; ajo/garlic) in a sarten (sartén/fying pan), then sangkutsa (sancocha/parboil) the karne in a kaldero (caldero/cauldron), or perhaps in a kaserola (caserola/casserole) to make the arroz caldo (rice porridge composed of arroz/rice and caldo/broth); and finally dump the dirty dishes in a palanggana (palangana/ washbasin).

Where I live in Angeles City, Pampanga, one can still flag down a kutsero (cochero/coachman) to ride his kalesa (calesa/two-wheeled carriage), drawn by a kabayo (caballo/horse) to bring you to a tindahan (tienda/shop), and try to beat the rest of the shoppers for a buena mano. Though it literally translates to “good hand” in Spanish, in the local context the phrase refers to the first paying customer of the day and is believed to bring good luck to the business, hence a diskwento (discuento/discount) is expected to be given for the paninda (goods sold in a shop). And if you’ve had too much to buy, one can always hire a kargador (cargador/porter) to carry your shopping to the kalesa.

These Hispanicisms are more pronounced in the Chavacano-speaking cities of Cavite (just some 30 km south of Manila) and Zamboanga in northwestern Mindanao. It is no different with the culinary borrowings of the more popular Filipino dishes bearing Spanish names that are generally believed to have come from madre España, like adobo, estofado, escabeche, caldereta, embutido, cocido, tocino, and longganisa, just to name a few.

In Pampanga alone, we have such sweets/desserts that are of Spanish origin, or at least bear Spanish names such as ensaimadas (after the Mallorcan pastry), leche flan made with carabao’s milk and dayap zest (after the crème catalan); tocino del cielo (a form of flan made with egg yolk, butter and sugar) and yemas, both made by the nuns of Avila; turrones de casuy (after turrónes de Alicante); panecillos de San Nicolas cookies; and our traditions of jalea (Spanish jam or jelly) made with ube (purple yam), carabao’s milk pastillas de leche (Bacolod’s dulce gatas), or ripe mango jam.

The Philippines is a microcosm of how far-reaching this erstwhile superpower was, influencing the world over the centuries, most notably Central and South America. As mentioned above, be it in the names we bear, the different languages we speak, our deep Catholicism, and most especially, in the food we eat today.

It is what the eminent food historian Doreen Fernandez wrote in her book Tikim as “transculturation” — the traveling, transmission and transformation of culture brought about by the Spaniards. Of the 333 years of Spanish rule, the viceroy of Mexico administered us for 250 years (1565-1815), the years that the Galleon Trade flourished crossing the perilous Pacific Ocean.

“Food was among these humble but important culture-bearing objects brought to the Philippines by Mexican officials and friars, by soldiers and sailors,” Fernandez wrote, as she traced the origins of fruits and vegetables that we Filipinos thought were indigenous but were actually “imports” from Nueva España (Mexico): avocado, kamote, pineapple, papaya, atis, guyabano, camachile, sineguelas, chico, kaimito, guava, cashew, aratiles, peanuts, cacao, and so many others. This transmigration of food extended to our mangoes and tuba making (coconut wine) being introduced to Mexico.

On the other great ocean, the Atlantic, it was also Spain that instigated this exchange of culture between the European and American continents.

In the forthcoming Madrid Fusión Manila conference next month, one of the guest speakers is Spanish local resident and restaurant owner JC de Terry. His talk will trace how Spain became the origin and center of Western culinary culture. 

Another guest speaker is three-star Michelin Spanish chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, one of the world’s most respected and renowned chefs. In his last 17 years running Mugaritz in San Sebastian, there have been many chefs that have apprenticed in his kitchen who have practiced and excelled in their craft all around the world, including Spanish chef Chele Gonzalez of Vask at Bonifacio Global City, who, by the way, will also be a speaker at the said conference.  According to Madrid Fusión president José Carlos Capel, Andoni is one of the Spanish chefs who has had the greatest influence on world cuisine.

Other Spanish chefs coming over are Michelin-starred chefs Elena Arzak (Restaurante Arzak), Quique Dacosta (Quique Dacosta), Paco Roncero  (Restaurante La Terraza Del Casino), Ramón Freixa (Restaurante Ramón Freixa), Francis Paniego (Restaurante Echaurren), Mario Sandoval (Restaurante Coque) and Paco Torreblanca (Bombonerías Torreblanca).     Flying in from Singapore is André Chiang (André Restaurant), joined by Alvin Leung Jr. (Bo Innovation, Hong Kong).

On the Philippine side, we have Margarita Forés (Cibo, Grace Park, Lusso), Myrna Segismundo (Restaurant 9501), Fernando Aracama (Aracama Restaurant), Bruce Ricketts  (Mecha Uma, Sensei Sushi), Rob and Sunshine Pengson (The Goose Station), J Gamboa (Milky Way, Cirkulo), José Luis Gonzalez (Vask, The Gallery, ArroZeria), Pepe López (Restaurante Rambla), and myself representing Bale Dutung Restaurant and Downtown 1956 Café.

Discover more about the roots of our Spanish heritage and what makes Spanish chefs the leading proponents of world cuisine at the forthcoming Madrid Fusión Manila to be held on April 24-26 at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

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Visit For updates, visit the Madrid Fusion Manila page on Facebook. Text and photos Claude Tayag



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