Being Pinoy through food

For a while now, I’ve been wondering what’s the best way to describe the Filipinos. When you watch travel shows, most countries can be easily identified by their food, their costumes, their speech.

When you say Filipino… well, I can say that a Pinoy will have his or her own definition depending on where they came from. The old debate of what should be the national language is still up in the air and possibly no closer to being resolved than say, getting a cure for the common cold.

Be that as it may, it’s always interesting to see foreigners react to the Philippines: either through a travel show such as Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” or Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” (we’ll also be seeing Bobby Chin visit the country soon); or through various blogs and comments online. I once talked to a lady from one of the middle American states (Arkansas, I think) who asked me about the country and was apologizing because she thought we still lived very primitively.

I was amused yet somewhat insulted too, but readily answered “Ma’am, had we lived in trees, you wouldn’t be talking to me right now.” I proceeded to tell her about how we live in the city, how I’m updated about the series Lost, that I just had a Big Mac the other day and gave her some websites she could visit to learn more about us. She was also surprised to learn that I have never been out of the country and credited Sesame Street as a huge part of my English language education.

Granted there’s still a lot of not-so-good stuff about the Philippines (specifically politics, but then again, when is that a good thing anywhere?) but the good stuff is more than all worth it.


What is Filipino?

Anthony Bourdain asked this question to just about every person he met during the show, and more or less didn’t get a satisfactory answer until the end.

“Geography plays a prominent role in what you eat in the Philippines, maybe more so than in other places.”

I have to agree on this. Each region boasts of something that is way better than any other region’s even if you can find it there. For example, I’m a big fan of the Zambales mangoes, and am not ashamed to say that I don’t think Cebu mangoes outclass them. I’m not being rude, but basing it on my experience, especially since I grew up eating Zambales mangoes and not Cebu’s. I’m sure if it were the other way around, I’d be raving about Cebu’s mangoes right now.

Claude Tayag said, “You cannot be a Filipino first until you become Kapampangan first. Become yourself first.”

A lot of this is being taken out of context. Watching this particular part, I feel no offense when Claude Tayag said this. In fact, I can clearly understand what he meant. Many Pinoys belong to a specific region, with their parents and grandparents coming from the province. Myself is a product of the North with a bit of the South thrown in, so I’m more partial to places like Zambales, Pampanga, Baguio and… Bicol than anywhere else. Feed me something from other places and I’d say “Oh, that’s better in *insert place I love here*” This is were regionalism, a trait that is very much ingrained in every Pinoy. Wag na mag deny, dahil totoo naman ito di ba? We feel pride in where we come from, and we staunchly defend it.

What I feel that Claude is trying to say is the mere fact of embracing your roots — be you Kapampangan, Sambali, Cebuano, Bicolano, Davaeno — is the key to being Filipino. I don’t think it would be easy to define who we are if we don’t embrace who our ancestors are.

Face it, our country is one big melting pot, hugely influenced by Spanish and American culture. I always thought that if we weren’t heavily colonized by them, we’d be something like Malaysia or Thailand, given that we have similar roots, but since we were, well, this is who we are.

In fact, the way I see it, it’s a pretty much universal attitude. Anthony Bourdain said it, “I’m a New Yorker first, American second.” If you’ve watched so many travel and cooking shows like No Reservations, you’ll notice it. People, no matter where they live, are quick to say that their version of this food is better than any version you’ll find in their country… or anywhere else.

If anything, this episode of No Reservations would make you ask, “Who are the Pinoys, really?” I have long wondered why we didn’t have a culture where old traditions are very well preserved alongside the modern world. Look at the Japanese, the Chinese and the Koreans. Look at the Malaysians, the Thais and the Indonesians. Their past co-exists harmoniously with the present and when you ask their people who they are, they can tell you.

Perhaps I am not as lost as Augusto is, having grown up being aware of my roots, but there’s still the slight confusion of who my country is in the bigger scale of things.

Maybe, that’s what makes us who we are.

I say…
There’s so much I want to say about this episode of No Reservations. I mean, it’s about the Philippines! How can I not comment on just about every aspect of the program?

But I must practice restraint. I don’t want to end up babbling all over the place (which I am wont to do in many cases). I love, love, love this episode, not just because it’s about the Philippines, but also because Bourdain touched a chord in me about our country and its people. One thing I learned about watching No Reservations is that if it’s good, Tony will say so. If it isn’t, he’ll say it too.

Granted, many people have commented that Augusto feels so restrained and isn’t as enthusiastic as he was in his video — and that they could’ve done better. Yeah, we all have that thinking, but hey, Augusto sent his entry, he got picked. You didn’t. We are all critics, but it has it’s time and place. Bottomline, the crew got what the needed, Augusto got to go home and the Philippines is once again brought to the world’s attention but this time in a very good light.

I think that says a lot.

Snippets
Tony Bourdain loves sisig. Heck, he just about loved everything he had, including the pinapaitan, which personally took me a long time to even partially like.

Yehey, no balut. Not all Filipinos eat balut *waves hand* but I do love the fried day old. Yay for chicken balls! Yay for dampa!

Calamansi FTW! Neil Gaiman mentioned it in his blog when he visited back in 2005.

He referred to Binondo as “the oldest Chinatown in the world”, which I’m sure got the nod of many Chinese-Filipinos. I’ve always wondered why it’s never been featured in any of the travel sites I’ve been to, especially since Ivan said it’s as old as the city, which makes it some hundreds of years old. I love Binondo. I often went there with my grandparents, where my grandfather is often mistaken for another Chinoy (even though he doesn’t speak a word of Chinese).

I had a great time watching the Cebu segment. I remember my first time going to Tabo-an. We went there hours before our flight back to Manila to buy some danggit. We didn’t know that the smell of the dried fish would stick to us. Needless to say, we sat in the plane hoping that we wouldn’t be kicked out by the pilot halfway over the ocean.

You can never go wrong with lechon. I think it’s safe to say that even vegetarians break a bit when they are faced with lechon (and if they don’t, I marvel at their self-control).

Photo from: No Reservations Facebook

Lastly…
Once again, I say, I want Anthony Bourdain’s job.

Interesting reads:
Anthony Bourdain’s Hierarchy of Pork
Colin on No Reservations Philippines He’s from Pennsylvania and reading his entry makes me want to find a way to send him some sisig.

4 comments

  1. Awesome article Kat! I have to go and see Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode about the Philippines, I already saw Bizarre Foods. Honestly, I immediately tune to any channel featuring anything about the Philippines and it makes me sad sometimes to see that some people still think that we are primitives!I also think that it’s true that we Pinoys are so regionalized and yes, we do love anything from our hometown. I mean, who wouldn’t? As Dorothy would day; “There’s no place like home.”Another thing I noticed about Pinoys is our love for food and that we equate food with socialization, right? In fact, we make excuses to celebrate! LOL

  2. Haha indeed! There’s always a reason to have a fiesta, and no reason to say “Busog na ako”. I remember your post on Dumagete, and all the great places to go to to eat. I’m hoping to visit my family there this summer and am looking forward to that experience.

  3. dude!! this post raaaks. been meaning to write about the bourdain visit to da pilipins. tis true that our country is a melting pot of east/west goodness. if we didn’t go thru so much foreign shit, we prolly would have a more distinct sense of who and what we are. sometimes i ask myself, “what the hell is our culture? spanish? malay? american? chinese?” and i don’t have an answer to it. when i gleefully exclaim to my malay friends that there are tagalog words that mean the same thing in their language, surprised sila. they have no idea who we are, except that we are all over the world. *shrug* i guess the east meets west thing is the confusing part. buuut.. we could write a ton of things on this topic and still not scratch the surface so ill keep my mouth shut. maybe ill post something later din. lol. anyhoo, i cannot wait for bobby chin to visit us hrhrhr. *cheers* p.s. sorry mahaba comment ko –toni ^.^v

  4. Pinoys will someday take over the world… and the world will never know what hit them haha.We need to change the world’s perception of the Pinoys. Heck, we need to change the Pinoy’s perception about ourselves! We’re everywhere, and nowhere, which is what makes it so confusing haha.Ok lang long comment. I like long comments, makes for a very interesting discussion. 😀

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