SO WE may not be as avid seafood-eaters as the Okinawans. But we live in an archipelago bordered by the South China and Celebes seas and the Pacific Ocean, after all, so seafood is part and parcel of our daily lives. The Philippines is among the world’s biggest fish producers, netting over four million tons in 2006. It is also a major fish exporter, hauling in over $500 million annual export revenue. The fishery industry employs nearly two million people and is among the main drivers of the country’s steady agricultural growth.
“TELL ME what you eat,” French food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said almost two centuries ago, “and I shall tell you what you are.” In modern-day Philippines, those words still ring true, with the contents of a dining table revealing much about the diner, including the size of his wallet. Where one usually eats is a good indication of one’s status in life, especially in the cities like Metro Manila, where the dining divide is vast and prices and restaurant protocol discourage a commingling of paupers and princes. Of course, from time to time, the princes cross over and eat at Jollibee. Money, after all, gives one the privilege of having choices, which increase in proportion to the amount one can and is willing to spend. But it’s no guarantee of a discerning palate or good judgment, which is why restaurants with mediocre food and atrocious prices continue to exist and why well-heeled parents fill half their grocery carts with instant noodles for their kids
Food has always been a central part of Philippine life and culture. We eat to celebrate a birthday and to mourn a death. A fiesta is nothing without a long table groaning with food. We eat for religious reasons as well as profane ones. For us, eating is the ultimate social lubricant: we dine as easily with new acquaintances as with long-time friends, with those we hate as much as those we love.
NEXT TO rice, pancit is the perennial item on the Filipino dining table. Even to a Westerner, Filipino cuisine means: 1. adobo; 2. lumpiang shanghai; and 3. pancit luglog. Such is the impact of pancit in our culinary profile.
The convenience and simplicity of this starchy food is the key to its popularity in this country — more so now, with the younger set hooked on noodles in all shapes and forms.
TO MAKE lugaw or rice porridge for 200, Diding, the volunteer cook at the feeding center of the Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, in the noisy, throbbing heart of the old Manila, begins by heating water in two giant, iron pots, each about three feet deep. When the water is in a roiling boil, she pours in the juice made from one kilo of ginger (the ginger is first peeled, then grated, before being wrapped in cheesecloth and squeezed of its liquid). After that, a handful of salt is thrown in. Only then is the main ingredient added: three-and-a-half kilos each of plain milled rice and malagkit (sticky rice).
THAT WASN’T your imagination, that was really the sound of your seatmate’s stomach growling. Or maybe it was yours. It’s already a given that more and more Filipinos are going hungry. The question, however, is why.
SHE’S BEEN known to talk to plants, but maybe she’s only complimenting them on how delicious they are. A vegetarian for six years now, actress/model/
environmentalist Chin-Chin Gutierrez probably only vaguely remembers the taste of meat, but doesn’t look like she regrets eating only vegetables and fruits.
HOW DO we love corned beef? Let us count the ways Filipinos amplify the contents of a small can of corned beef to feed their ever-growing families. There are the pinches of corned beef tucked into pan de sal for quick sandwiches. Or baked in buns to make corned beef rolls a la siopao. Or sautèd in garlic and onions (tomatoes optional), then mixed with sliced chili peppers and diced potatoes before being added to beaten eggs frying in a pan and seasoned with salt and ground black pepper for omelets with a kick.
GEMMA CANDELARIA is a mother of 10 who relies solely on her husband’s earnings as a company driver for the family’s expenses. But just like other wives with shoestring budgets, Candelaria has become an expert on stretching every peso, especially on days when she has only P100 for food. And so since last year, food in the Candelaria household has come in mini-size: 100-gram cans, 20-gram boxes, or 9-ml sachets.
LIKE MANY others in her generation, 11-year-old Clara Buenconsejo was bigger than her mother was at that age. In fact, she could no longer wear the clothes sold at the children’s section in department stores and her mother Malou had to scour shops selling surplus goods from the United States to find something that would fit her. But Clara’s size left Malou worried, not proud. The girl weighed 143 pounds, and by the time Malou brought her to a pediatric endocrinologist, Clara sported dark circles under her eyes and similar dark pigmentation on her nape, which the doctor would later point out as markers that a child is overweight.