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.
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.
THE LAST time Lina Macaurog visited her youngest child Fatima, the four-year-old was running a fever and had cried violently when her mother was preparing to go. “I had a hard time leaving,” recalls Lina. But she had to go home to Culiat in Quezon City, where she works and lives with her two older daughters.