They say food brings people together, I’m not sure whether it’s the food or the people that make this saying work. In the Philippines, it is definitely true for both. Be it for a birthday, a debut, a despidida or even just because your friends house always has a spare plate! Filipinos love to get together over some good home-cooked food.
Philippine Generations was recently contacted by researcher, Helen Price, for a new television programme for UKTV food. The programme is entitled ‘New British Kitchen’ with presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli, runner-up of celebrity Masterchef 2006 and Masterchef judge himself John Torode who travel around the country looking at different cultures within Britain and how their food and communities have grown and been influenced in Britain. It seeks to find out all about Filipino food, from your Mum’s favourite recipe to what is a typical Filipino dish. Hardeep himself aims to meet different people of Filipino descent so he can immerse himself in the culture as he will be cooking a traditional Filipino dish with John and a member of the Filipino community at the end of the show.
Philippines is surrounded by oceans and lined with rivers and streams inland. The water brought different traders like the Arabs, Chinese and brought two colonial powers, Spain and United states. The history books tell something about the influences on the Philippine food, although this only says a small part of the story that shape Filipino culture.
What is Filipino food? A lot of the time Filipinos describe it according to what their favourite dish is, like Adobo (vinegar stewed) or Lumpia (fresh pancake wrapped around vegetable and or meat) it’s the favourites of most Filipinos especially in UK as it is the easiest to re create and the most accessible to the non-Filipinos. In truth, the book ‘Why We Eat What We Eat’ by Raymond Sokolov, explains that the Philippines, unlike many Spanish colonies, was able to maintain much of its indigenous food, most notably Tuba and Suman. Tuba is a coconut based (strong) alcoholic beverage, while Suman is a native steamed rice cake, both date back to pre-Hispanic times, and their method of preparation have remained virtually unchanged. It is not a bold statement to say that these were the most likely refreshments offered to Magellan and his men when they first arrived in Cebu!
Outside culinary influences primarily came from China, Spain, Mexico, and the United states. The cuisine is not well recognised in the West and in neighbouring countries, this is maybe because it takes more than superficial exposure to Filipino cuisine to fully appreciate its diversity. To understand the Filipino cuisine one must consider the importance of hospitality and generosity, two of the well-known characteristics of Filipinos culture.
After a meeting with Helen, she stressed to us that the person who should represent the Filipino cuisine and community should not be a professional chef, despite our calls for the involvement of the Filipino Chef’s Association or Josephine’s restaurant. It was decided that co-founder and general secretary of Philippine Generations, Mae, would be the ideal candidate. A keen cook, member of the second generation and a vital bridge to both Filipino and British culture made her perfect for the task. Mae’s role was to coordinate the places where Filipinos get their ingredients and food, places like the many Filipino
shops such as Manila Supermarket, Tawana, Ask Cora, Sampaguita Joy, Milagrosa and Nayong Filipino and food outlets like Josephine’s, Blessing Buffet and Lutong Pinoy. “The producer decided that its better to stay in one area where there are more Filipino shops/businesses close by, therefore they can save time by not travelling too much.” She explained, “They decided to stay in Earls court to film Lutong Pinoy for the restaurant and Manila Supermarket for the groceries.”
First stop was Manila Supermarket, there they interviewed manager Dotty Mendoza, asking about the shop, what ingredients and products they have and asking what is Filipino cuisine? Hardeep was straightforward with his
questions and clearly showed his interest in Philippine cuisine. “Then it was my bit!” Mae laughed. She stood in front of the shop with Hardeep throwing questions at her like ‘What is Filipino food?’ ‘What is the most popular dish?’ and ‘What is the generic recipe that all Filipinos use?’ “These are difficult questions to answer!” she exclaimed. However, “As a director of Philippine Generations, it is in my mind to educate anyone who does not know about the Philippines, either from my own personal experience or through my own research. It is because of this I tried to explain the reasons behind the answers and not just gave him answers!”
The team finished the session off in Lutong Pinoy for some tasting! Mario the owner, served them some chicken Adobo, Lechon kawali and Goat Afritada and of course, a bowl of Jasmine rice. “All very delicious and Hardeep certainly loved it!” said Mae.
On the same day, Mae prepared dinner for her brother-in-law Bobby and some of his friends to celebrate his 21st birthday. The film crew came to attend the gathering along with presenter Hardeep to film the Salo-salo (food gathering). They also wanted to get the views and opinions of the guests about Filipino food. Mae cooked lumpia with pork and vegetable, pancit (noodles), oxtail kare kare (stewed oxtail with a peanut sauce and vegetables) and leche flan (crème caramel). “He asked us all questions and got us all talking and we ended up talking about Filipino identity,” explains Mae, “they had really bright lights and cameras everywhere, Hardeep really grew attached to my daughter Bella and held her in a few scenes!”
A week later came Mae’s kitchen debut. Like a scene from the teleserye ‘Ysabella’, here was Mae in a studio with a famous television chef showing him how to cook Sinigang and Lumpia! “The funny thing was…” giggled Mae, “the driver taking me home thought I was a celebrity chef and told me he was a chef too! HAHA!”
Written by Adrian & Mae Williams
Pictures by Philippine Generations