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Quarantine canât keep filipino food down
Online lectures also include demos where one can learn to cook dishes like Poqui Poqui.

Quarantine can’t keep filipino food down

THE BACONMAN COMETH - Sharwin Tee (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2020 - 12:00am

In April of last year, the Filipino food community celebrated a milestone by celebrating the first Buwan ng Kalutong Filipino (Filipino Food Month) in history. It was an amazing event spanning 30 days all over the country, from epic meals to cooking competitions to lectures.

The food lover in me was so gratified to see the cuisine I love the most finally get the recognition it deserves. At the closing-ceremonies dinner in the Manila Hotel, I got to talk with a lot of the event organizers and got the sense that everyone had so much passion for our food that it was a certainty that Filipino Food Month (FFM) would only get bigger the following year.     

In anticipation of a much bigger FFM, I even created my own event, Kuwentong Gutom, which was supposed to be series of talks about food and climate change, to add to the festivities. I planned on gathering young students, future farmers and chefs, to listen to short, 15-minute talks from millennial farmers and chefs in order to spark new ideas on fighting climate change.

Alas, you know what they say about the best-laid plans. With COVID-19 and the quarantine in multiple areas, various food-month events set to happen simultaneously have all been understandably cancelled.

This month’s lectures will also include farming, which is crucial during this crisis.

Fortunately, organizers headed by chef Jam Melchor of the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement, together with the Department of Agriculture and the National Commission for Culture and Arts, did not give up. Understanding that most people would be in isolation at home, they’ve created a way for us to still celebrate food month, recognize our cuisine and provide learning opportunities for others.

Calling it “Philippines on a Plate 2020,” they’ve arranged a truly comprehensive online curriculum that would be the envy of any culinary scholar. I am quite sure most students would not have this opportunity to take in these talks from such a stellar cast of lecturers, and the best part? This series is available for everyone. An impressive list of chefs, farmers, food experts, writers and historians have all signed up to give talks and cooking demos on various topics on Filipino food — all for free.

All of the talks and demos will be conducted via Zoom and will be available for viewing as Facebook live videos on the pages of Filipino Food Month, the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement and Slow Food Youth Network starting at 5 p.m. on their assigned dates.

Chef Jam felt, “The virus should not stop us from doing the things we should do, most especially to promote and preserve our food culture.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 outbreak has brought to light the fragility of our food system — how difficult it is for us to source food and for farmers to sell their food at a fair market price. With this in mind, chef Jam also made sure to organize talks that “will also discuss the current food issues we are facing. These movers and shakers will inspire the public to fight against food insecurity.”

The series got off to a great start with fellow television host Clang Garcia speaking about culinary tourism as a way to preserve Filipino culture and Felice Sta. Maria talking about how culinary innovations are actually rooted in past traditions.

Personally, I enjoyed my friend, chef Ed Bugia’s online cooking demo, where he showed off his version of the Ilocano Poqui Poqui, a perfect side dish to meat dishes.

Another amazing demo was courtesy of chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou, who, like me, is passionate about educating people on our culture through cuisine. His demo of humba had me both learning and getting hungry simultaneously.

It’s always a treat to see Carlo Sumaoang, farmer and owner of Manila Grow Kits, whose topic about growing our food by planting in the garden such a perfect topic in today’s climate.

On a personal note, I am honored they asked me to speak as well. Today, April 23 at 5 p.m., I’ll be talking about the heritage of Chinese-Filipino cuisine, something that has been my passion, especially in the last four years. I’ll be giving the lecture I gave in universities last year, and it’s awesome that I get to share it with the general public.

I plan on sharing the more interesting things I’ve learned researching these past few years, including theories on why some Chinese-Filipino (Tsinoy) dishes are more easily regarded as Filipino than others. Also, I want to propose my thesis that Filipino cuisine may have been more influenced by Chinese cuisine than Spanish cuisine, or, at least, equally influenced.

Talks and demos will keep coming as the month comes to a close. I am definitely looking forward to learning how global connections affect our culinary identity and Dr. Fernando Zialcita is the perfect lecturer for that, so April 27 is definitely marked on my calendar.

Those interested in Cebu food and culture are in for a treat with Louella Alix’s talk set for April 28. Chef Jam himself brings the month to a close with a talk on the slow food movement on April 30.

People say that to live a life fully is to continually improve oneself, to learn new things each day. Thanks to chef Jam and his team, Filipinos from around the country (and the world) will get an opportunity to do that with Filipino food despite the quarantine. As with great people, no virus — no outside force — can keep a great cuisine down.  

* * *

Sharwin’s book So, You Want To Be A Chef? is available in all National Book Stores and Powerbooks nationwide. Follow Sharwin’s food adventures on Instagram @chefsharwin and for questions, reactions, recipe and column suggestions, you can contact him at www.sharwintee.com.

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