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What ‘Kain tayo’ really means |

Food and Leisure

What ‘Kain tayo’ really means

Mary Ann Quioc Tayag - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The hundreds of school kids who got ill from eating durian candies in Surigao del Sur for sure shared the sweets among themselves. Filipino parents teach their kids to share food with playmates. Not sharing would be rude and outrageously selfish. While kids in America are told from preschool never to share and accept food as it might be badly prepared or harm someone with an allergy, sharing food is in our culture thus we eat family-style, even with friends and acquaintances. Eating together makes the neighbors and families closer. Some well-to-do families living in compounds all eat in the grandmother’s house, or what they call “the main house.” 

In some barrios, they have something similar — a communal living room-cum-dining room. Their individual houses are only for sleeping and cooking.  Every wife brings her food to the hut to share with the other families. If there are five families, there will be five viands. 

I ate in communal huts when I was a kid, tagging along with my yaya. We ate with our bare right hands and took our glasses with our left hands because our right hands were wet and sticky from the food. One person said eating with bare hands is cleaner because you wash your hands yourself. But every dish had a serving ladle.

My cousin Avita, who is also squeamish, and I ate Padang Padang in Jakarta. In such restaurants, ordering is not necessary. As you sit down, 10 to 20 different dishes are brought to your table on small plates. You only pay for what you touch and eat.  Whatever you do not touch will be served to the next customer.   Middle Easterners and Moroccans eat with their bare hands and share one big platter without serving spoons, more like our boodle fight, while Westerners prefer non-sharing meals. But recently Jeepney, a Filipino restaurant in New York City, was always packed after it introduced boodle fights and eating with bare hands.  Anthony Bourdain, too, said he is trying to learn how to eat with his bare hands.

Filipinos also say, “Kain tayo (Let’s eat)” to strangers and passersby, even if their baon (packed lunch) is hardly enough for them. It is, of course, not a real invitation to eat. I always wondered what they would do if I sat and joined them.  But “Kain tayo” from strangers during fiestas is a different story. Sharing food during fiestas in the barrios means sharing one’s blessings. Everyone is welcome and regarded as a guest of their patron saint. Declining their invitation would terribly offend them. And besides, it is the best opportunity to taste the town’s special food, which is called “pang-fiesta (food for fiesta),” as opposed to everyday food.   ??

The Pahiyas fiesta in honor of San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers, is held every May 15 in Lucban, Quezon. It was my hubby Claude’s and my first date and thus it is special to us. Claude and I go to the house of Dr. Soleng Navarro, whom we met when we chanced upon famous photographer Wig Tysmans outside her house. Dr. Navarro’s house is adjacent to the two roads of kiping (bright-colored rice wafers)-decorated houses. Soleng came out with a big grin and said, “Kain tayo,” and pulled us inside. That “Kain tayo” started our almost yearly eating affair with Soleng.

This year we brought along our friends, Fed and Peter Geldhart, Grace (who turned out to be a cousin of Soleng’s), Hayo Balzert and Jo and Ulf Seitz. We wanted their European hubbies to experience a fiesta and a different kind of cooking. At San Pablo’s best restaurant, Sulyap, we introduced them to kulawo, a popular dish of smoked eggplant cooked with coconut milk and sliced pork.

We stayed for the night at Casa San Pablo, where we enjoyed a breakfast of garlic fried rice and crisp biya and local coffee before we headed for Lucban.  I regret not buying biya to bring home as this freshwater fish from Laguna de Bay and Taal Lake is not available in Pampanga.??Every year, Soleng serves hardinera, Lucban’s special meatloaf with diced pork, sausage, liver spread, boiled chicken eggs and cheese; special, tender humba with trembling pork fat and cloying oil; Lucban longganisa and my favorite pilipit of cassava rings coated with sugar syrup. Oh, I am drooling right now. Of course, you never leave Lucban without tasting habhab, a dish using smoked noodles and spiked with vinegar. ??





Last year, Rene Guatlo, former Ilocos provincial tourism officer, brought us to Paniqui, Tarlac, upon the invitation of their amiable Mayor Miguel “Dors” Rivilla for a fiesta lunch.  We came in two packed vans and their “Kain tayo” meant over 15 potluck dishes prepared by the town’s best cooks. I still remember the delightful hito at alagaw sa gata cooked by Bong Fernandez. There was a crisp native lechon from Mang Ben Serrano and pure kalamay ube from another. It was then I tried for the very first time agurong, sweet tiny river snails cooked with coconut milk and green chili peppers and kinulob, a most tender native whole chicken with eggs, covered and slow-cooked with soup deliciously glistening with oil.  It may hurt the arteries but who cares if it is this good? Both dishes were by Dr. Concepcion “Conching” Llamas, who very recently invited us back to her home for a repeat of the agurong and delectable kinulob.  ??

Last month, hubby and I went to Apalit, Pampanga, with a drone to take overview photos of their Libad, water procession fiesta in honor of Apung Iru (St. Peter). We immediately found an ideal place near a communal hut to position and maneuver the drone. Al, whom we met only that day, shares the hut with other families. His wife, Lor, and his sister-in-law May cooked all the fiesta dishes laden on the hut’s table. ?Across was the immaculately clean house of the kind Galang sisters, Indang Daling and Indang Soping, who welcomed us like their family.  We did not have the heart to say no to their sincere “Kain tayo” and agreed to cancel our plan to lunch at the mayor’s house.

We had to eat both in Al’s communal hut and the Galangs’ house.  They served typical Kapampangan fiesta food like asado, bringhe (a rice dish made with chicken, raisins and boiled eggs), sipo eggs (quail eggs cooked with green peas in cream), embotido, menudo, pititian (all-pork-rind chicharon in bite sizes) and fried adobong isaw, which was most memorable to me.

But if you visit a Filipino home during mealtime, the “Kain tayo” can be a comedy of manners. Like when Claude’s mom insisted that an unexpected guest join us for lunch and the latter kept politely declining as she had eaten and had some errands to do. Their numerous exchanges finally stopped when Claude, who was eating, annoyingly said, “Ma, she has eaten and has to go.” To which my gracious mother-in-law readily packed her food to bring, making the visitor even more uncomfortable.  When she was gone, we realized we forgot to ask her the purpose of her visit.

That reminds me of my grandmother, who would go to the extent of warning the guest that he might meet an accident if he left while we were eating. And if one really had to go, he must wait till we all turned our plates counter-clockwise. Or better yet, rush out before people started eating. But if you visit an American home during mealtime, you will just be waiting in the living room. No fuss. Not being invited to eat is not rude or selfish; it is simply cultural.

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