Filipino Food Month

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

You may ask why we need to designate a month for the celebration of Filipino food, but let me share what we have noticed over the years – people have forgotten what Filipino food is.

In Sagada, our friend who is a coffee farmer told us how modern ways have brought about the lessened use of heirloom rice, sticky rice called diket, a fermented crab and rice dish called bina-og and root crops which are staples in the upland mountain town at 1770 meters above sea level. She laments the fact that the youth of today have not tasted these heirloom recipes and thus have not continued to cultivate these crops.

We are an assimilating people as we absorb, include and embrace any foreign food introduced to us – like Japanese sweet corn, Thailand huge mango, Bangkok santol and we love trending food like sushi bake, pizza of every kind, spaghetti Pinoy style. We have forgotten to include pancit cabagan, pancit habhab, patupat, dinengdeng in our buffets or fiestas. This is why we need to be reminded of our heritage and our pre-colonial past.

Thanks to crusaders like Chef Jam Melchor who, despite his youth, has already started by founding the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement (PCHM). Thanks to food historians like Felice Sta. Maria and Ige Ramos, we still can connect to food of yesteryears. Thanks to chefs like Claude Tayag and Margarita Fores, who use local ingredients so these can be continuously cultivated and sold by Slow Food advocates and culinary superstars.

When we think of Filipino food, what comes to mind? Adobo and sinigang. But there are more to discover from our 7,000-plus islands. I remember pianggang from the Tausugs, which I first tried in Sulu and which is now being served by Dennis Coffee Garden in Zamboanga City. There also is biaki, a corn snack that is popular in Sulu and other parts of Mindanao.

In other areas, there is the Lucban longganisa from Quezon and pinikpikan from the Benguet indigenous people.

This is the reason why Filipino Food Month has already been institutionalized and celebrated every April by Presidential Decree (PD). Imagine, a PD is needed to remind us to go back to our roots and learn what our ancestors ate and concocted, even with various influences like the Chinese, Spanish and American occupations in history.

What makes FFM interesting is the discovery of forgotten food and recipes as well as the tasting of different flavors brought about by our diverse geography of mountains and rivers, oceans and flat lands. We can have river shrimps and crabs, while we also have saltwater fish. We have mountain rice and lowland rice. The flavor profile is wide and interesting to experience.

Let us use our assimilating nature to include our heirloom food and recipes on our dining tables. The time to try this is this month, just to remind us of recipes we may have already forgotten. And earlier this month we had the KAINCON, a gastronomic conference involving mostly the youth and academe at Jose Rizal University. At the conference we shared with students and researchers about the ARK of TASTE, a catalog of foods that may soon be forgotten. It is part of the Slow Food movement endeavor to preserve local food and ingredients (www.fondazioneslowfood.org). Check it out so you can see what we have listed among the world’s endangered ingredients and produce.

Later this month, we celebrate World Disco Soup Day and again will have talks with the youth through the Slow Food Youth Network, also at Jose Rizal University.

How else can we relearn and rediscover our local food?

Travel around the country.

Most of us dream of going on a safari or a trek in Bhutan, but we never give time to discover other provinces and towns. I was just in Davao where we ate local fruits and I gave in to durian even if it is not a favorite. After Davao, we went to Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon and Misamis and tasted local favorites. Later we went to Zamboanga and Basilan.

Try different flavors. It was my first time to try the fruit of a cashew or kasuy in Indang, Cavite. It has a tart taste one can moderate gently with a pinch of salt. Our refreshing summer drink was freshly toasted green pinipig (young rice) with young coconut and coconut milk served cold. These are flavors our youngsters should be trying before tasting foreign drinks like milk tea or a coffee milkshake. Let your palate do the traveling.

Serve local fare at home. At least once a week or during family gatherings, serve an old recipe you have dug up from your childhood. You can cook something from memory or ask relatives for recipes of grandfolks that could be taught to our children and grandchildren. Everyone claims their adobo is the best – now is the time to find your mother’s secrets – was it ginger, or was it garlic or maybe a special pinakurat vinegar she used? How will we pass on to the young if we stop cooking these age-old recipes?

Patronize restaurants that serve Filipino food. I visited a familiar place, Siglo, in Tagaytay that serves local food from around the country. While you can enjoy Taal’s fried tawilis, you can have adobong pusit with gata (squid in its ink with coconut milk), kare-kareng dagat (seafood), crispy sisig (Pampanga) and bagnet from Ilocos. And this is not served just because it is popular. The owners and chefs make it their business to travel around the country to find recipes and specialties of each region. That is commitment and truly separates their restaurant from others that serve local fare mixed with Western dishes because they have to please every customer’s wish. These are committed restaurateurs who have a purpose to preserve our local flavors.

Even for just a few weeks, let us abstain from Western food and give our Filipino food the time and respect it deserves.

Happy Filipino Food Month!

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