The book launch of “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, was at the Philippine Embassy on 10th September 2007. There were many people and organisations at the launch. Philippine Generations were present and fortunate enough to reserve 2 copies of the book. Also there were representatives from New Manila, Phil UK, café spice, the Filipino Chefs Association and Josephine’s restaurant in Charlotte St.
The evening started with the Ambassador’s introduction speech, welcoming the two authors Besa and Dorotan. He stated how grateful he was that they came to promote the book and Philippine cuisine. He also congratulated them for achieving a prestigious award for “Memories of Philippine Kitchens”. It was given a Jane Grigson Award for distinguished Scholarship and Quality of its Research and Presentation.
Amy Besa thanked all the guests who came: Romy Dorotan her co-writer, their mentors Rachel Laudan and Elizabeth Andoh, photographer Neal Oshima, Peter Kaminsky who wrote the foreword and Raymond Sokolov who wrote the introduction. She also mentioned Doreen Fernandez, a food scholar who passed away and influenced major aspects of the book.
Amy started the short presentation by asking the question “What is Filipino food?” ‘Most of the time it is described in terms of the most popular dishes, such as adobo [a vinegar-tart-stew], pancit [a noodles dish] and lumpia [a fresh pancake wrapped around vegetable and or meat]. They are reliable and a few of the easiest recipes for Filipinos to re-create on foreign soil.’ Amy said Doreen Fernandez, who documented food and localised it in the Philippines, stated that indigenous people of the Philippines are prestigious borrowers of food. They took what they want and made it their own. Amy mentioned that “India influenced the Philippines with puto” and that bibingka is a cake that originated in Goa translated as “baked with fire on top”. Also, that Aztec and Spanish foods fused together very well.
Amy talked about the book she read by Ray Sokolov ‘Why we eat what we eat’, “Philippines is a good example of borrowing food which is indigenous”. She also brought up that when Magellan a Portuguese soldier came to Philippines and was offered tuba and rice cakes, or suman, both still readily available today hundreds of years later. She talked about the influences on Filipino food from China, Spain, Mexico and Japan. She also explained how Spanish food itself is a fusion of Mediterranean, Jewish and Islamic food.
When the Spanish regime came to the Philippines, recipes became mandate by law. In those days, food was also a weapon against the Spanish. If anyone was caught cooking the ingredients that the Spanish banned they were penalised. By law for instance, the Spanish authorities stated that pork lard must be used when cooking, ensuring that Jewish and Islamic communities were found out due to their religious beliefs banning the consumption of pork.
Amy asked, “Why is Filipino food not recognised?” She said that Filipinos are the 2nd largest community in the USA and that Filipino food is continually cooked in private, at home and amongst family and guests. Thus perpetuating the mysterious nature of Philippine cuisine. She ended the lecture by giving advice on how the guests can promote Philippine cuisine, to sum up what they have learnt and share them to friends and families, especially to non-Filipinos.
She explained that Philippine cuisine is not recognised because there are not a lot of experienced restaurant entrepreneurs, most of those that set up restaurants are usually Filipinos who have are not professionals, theydo not have experience in running a restaurant, so most restaurants are not up to standard and most of the time the restaurants lose money. Also, businesses are not always supported as Filipinos always complain.
“nobody can tell you what Filipino food is”
Many Filipinos visit a restaurant and complain because the food is not the same style that they grew up with. For instance, adobo generally comes in two forms: the sweet style and the savoury garlic and ginger style. I think it is safe to say the Indian or Chinese food found in their respective restaurants, are different to that eaten in their homes. There are those in the community who always want to bring others down, who are not happy if someone else has a good idea, this needs to change. If we help and support each other, there is no reason why Philippine cuisine could not overtake Thai or Malaysian cuisine. Philippine cuisine is so diverse, why can’t we have a street with several Filipino restaurants like the “curry-houses” found next door to each other up and down this country?
Many restaurants are focused on quantity and producing the food for their guests, concentrating on creating an ambience, with karaoke or music. The focus should be on presenting the food in such a way that the ambience takes care of itself.
“Memories of Philippine Kitchens” by Amy Besa & Romy Dorotan
Available at www.amazon.com