Friday, May 23, 2008

A Heritage of Food Greatness: Tribute to Filipino Chefs Everywhere

There was once a Filipino writer who said that the Philippines is bestowed with a “heritage of smallness”. Small people. Small governments- the barangays. Small islands. Even small shampoo sachets from small sari- sari stores. I haven’t traveled much in the world but I wonder where else on earth do people sell garlic by cloves? In the Philippines, you can go to your friendly sari- sari store and buy two garlic cloves for fifty centavos. A heritage of smallness indeed, according to that writer- I forgot about the details of his essay- but I decide to disagree on one thing. He didn’t mention food. Small food in the Philippines? You’ve got to be kidding. Buy two cloves of garlic, alright, but then those two cloves will be part of one gigantic meal.

Unlike the Japanese we don’t serve rice expertly wrapped in seaweed but spaded from a huge kaldero. Unlike the French, we don’t serve pastries in bite size pieces, rather expect to see whole bilao of rice cakes or kakanin. We don’t drink by dainty sips, but by thirsty gulps. Observe beer sessions. Or the palamig stand. Americans may be the kings of supersize meals alright, but Philippine food can attest of high nutrient contents and much lower calories. Fresh vegetables, fruits, fish, coconut cream. We eat five times a day, but you could hardly see morose supersize people around here.

When I went to China a year ago, our Chinese guide was talking about how large China is, but on the dinner table he joked about how large Philippine plates are compared to the Chinese platitos, tea cups and chopsticks. Filipinos, he said, eat big. I couldn’t agree more.

We are not used to cooking for ourselves. It’s either you don’t cook or you cook for the whole tribe. Cook for one and the family will ask you – “Do you have a problem? Why are you cooking only one egg?”

Try going to a Philippine kitchen. Try observing holidays, birthdays, weddings, family reunions. A rural household will sell a carabao or borrow money just to have “celebration” – simple or large – but will celebrate anyway.

Or just observe family dinners. They are always a sacred daily rite. Try eating hotdog in front of TV while other family members are gathered at the round table, and before you could shift channels, expect your grandmother or your yaya to whack you with a rolled Panorama magazine “Igalang mo naman ang pagkain!” (Respect your food!) Or… am I talking from a childhood experience?

This heritage of large food is the reason why Filipino chefs aboard cruise liners can cook for 2500+ guests every day- breakfast, lunch and dinner- without complaining. They’re used to it. They’re used to feeding the many. It’s part of their essence as small people comprising a larger whole. A piece. A slice. A ladleful. Whatever the portioning is, it’s part of something greater than we are. That is why we see our food banquet extend from our immediate families, to barangays, to cities, to the world.

Kaya sa mga Pinoy chefs, cooks, panaderos, taga- balat ng patatas, taga- tadtad ng sibuyas- saan mang lupalop ng mundo, saludo ako sa inyo. Mabuhay kayong lahat!!

P.S. Para sa inyo ‘to – itong cake!


bertN said...

The "heritage of large food".... and may I add, the almost obligatory nature of Pinoys to share whatever they are eating with friends and even with total strangers. "Kain tayo or come join us eat" is something you often hear from them. I think this is a broad line that differentiate Pinoys from other races, particularly Westerners.

foodhuntress79 said...

Hello, Bertn, wow, you know Pinoys very well :)

Anonymous said...

I'm learning a lot here.

I still wonder how can these chefs cook for so many guests and keep a smile on their face? How do you do it? Is it a Filipino trade secret or just natural joy? It has to do with that generosity you talked about, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Travis Kraft is one of the greatest pinoy chefs of all time.

"ang sarap sarap" lol