is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:
As I wrote years back, the Wall Street Journal came out with an article that sought to dispute the claim that “there’s no good food [in the Philippines]!” This reminded me of another moronic comment, that Filipino cuisine is just Chinese food with Spanish names. Thankfully, WSJ’s Robyn Eckhardt was way smarter than that, giving gracious reviews of our cuisine, taking a food trip from Milky Way to Salcedo Village’s Saturday market to Café Adriatico, seeking to at least “convince just one Philippine food naysayer (and there are way too many out there) to give the nation’s cuisine another look.”
The problem is that we allow people to look down on Filipino food. The sorry thing about it is that the “naysayers” are led by some of our countrymen. Whether it be out of insecurity, ignorance, or both, some Filipinos readily resort to dissing what is theirs. I remember one former co-worker of mine who, when asked by a visiting Thai which is better, Filipino or Thai fish sauce, without batting an eyelash, in full pseudo-American accent, answered: Thai. Which is weird considering she’s never been to Thailand before and has never been seen using Thai fish sauce.
The cause of advancing Philippine cuisine is certainly not helped when you have the alleged elite of our society pathetically serving Spanish, Italian, or French food in their dinner parties because of their belief that Filipino food “isn’t classy enough.” It is. It’s they who aren’t. And it definitely doesn’t do well when you have Philippine culinary personalities appear on international TV food shows appearing embarrassed about Filipino food, mutter that it’s the Filipino version of [insert name of foreign country here], or when some lame-o -- bizarrely -- refer to lechon (or litson) as “leytssonne.”
Then there’s the canard that Filipino food is allegedly too salty or too fatty or too whatever. This conveniently ignores the fact that China has one of the highest diabetes or heart disease rates, the French have cirrhosis, or the Americans have an obesity problem, and that Filipinos are still among the happiest people in the world.
I can’t even understand the giggly adoration some of our countrymen have on foreign cuisine. Soufflé? It’s just airy mamon. Pot au feu? It’s beef nilaga. A daube is kaldereta and thom yan is sinigang na hipon and Hainanese chicken is tinola. The list goes on: shnitzel is breaded pork chop, strudel is turon, German pork knuckles is crispy pata, creme caramel is leche flan, ceviche is kilawin, jerk chicken is inasal, blood pudding is dinuguan, haggis is merely bopis, and ratatouile is simply pinakbet.
But it also has to be emphasized that Filipino food generally doesn’t resort to heavy spices or sauces for the simple reason that, unlike other countries, our ingredients come fresh and don’t need any flavor disguises. After all, the initial value of spices and smoking and sauces was to hide the taste of food that had already gone a bit bad. We had no need for such trickery because we’ve always had relatively an abundant and readily available supply of food.
Filipino’s shouldn’t fall for the con that has been continually fostered on us. Take the case of coffee: supposedly, true good coffee can only come from beans grown under the romantic air and sun of Tuscany, due to the magical minerals in its soil, and with water coming from the Alps. But if one believes such ridiculously specific standards, then logically our coffee won’t match it. Try basing good coffee on whether it matches the body, aroma, and acidity of Batangas coffee and see if foreign coffees match that? No, our coffee is as good as any, thank you very much.
We should be be proud of Filipino food simply because it’s Filipino. It’s a part of who we are. I love it also because, quite frankly, it’s incredibly good cuisine. It is food at its en famille, al fresco best. Some people see in our food Spanish, American, Chinese, Indian influences. Fine. But which cuisine didn’t have outside influences? We’ve always been the perfect poster child for the benefits of globalization and our food is no different. Like any of globalization’s offspring, our food, though derived from many sources, still evolved into our own, our Filipino, food.
Parents should ensure that their children take pride in Philippine cuisine, the fact that (unlike pretentious lesser leaders that served pasta, Merlots, or sushi in Malacañang) Magsaysay proudly served basi and lambanog during State dinners, that Rizal missed tuyo while in Spain, Marcos lived on dinengdeng, or that Ramos loved bangus, of the joys of sapinsapin or palitaw, of great regional cuisines like Bicol’s, and that we’ve been enjoying cheese ice cream long before LA kitchens raved about them.
We Filipinos should be proud of our food. What you eat is who you are and what we are we should be proud of.