Filipinix: heritage recipes from the diaspora

The last two decades have seen an increase in Asian American publications, including Filipino American publications. In particular, Diaspora children write about food. A recent one is Filipinix: heritage recipes from the diaspora by Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan. It follows a current pattern of coffee-table-sized books, bright, colorful photos of various dishes, and authors who are chefs or, as the back cover notes, “cultural tastemakers.”

These 21st century products are a far cry from the more modest cookbooks of the 20e century. I grew up in San Francisco where my parents, aunts, and uncles cooked Ilocano, Tagalog, and Visayan dishes from scratch with few precise measurements and certainly no recipes or cookbooks. They cooked from memory and daily practice. So I was thrilled when my Hawaiian cousins, Evelyn and Florence, gave me my first Filipino cookbook, Hawaii’s Favorite Filipino Recipes. It was published by the Filipino Women’s League of Pearl City, Hawaii in 1974.

The introduction states, “It is the intention of this cookbook to focus on the favorite recipes of Filipino families, be it the Ilocanos from the northwestern part of the island of Luzon, the Tagalogs from the surroundings of Manila or the Visayas of the Southern Provinces. Most of these recipes have been passed down from generation to generation, ending up in our “Family Secrets” cookbook. Some recipes have been adapted from other sources and added to our cookbook for your culinary convenience and enjoyment.

The cover of this spiral-bound cookbook is an ink drawing of a Filipino woman and a basket of vegetables. Brief recipes are black-and-white, noting the contributor, listing the ingredients, and ending with a few sentences, rarely a paragraph, of instructions.

My second cookbook was a gift from Sony Robles-Florendo who wrote Iconic dishes of the Philippines which was published in 1988. The paperback cover features a color photo of Halo Halo, literally “mixture” of sweet tropical fruit, crushed ice, condensed milk and ice cream.

The back cover features a photo of Sony and a statement: “What would you have done if you were in his shoes?” A restaurateur who went by the name Sony for her 51st birthday has been sued by a multi-billion dollar multinational. BIG SONY vs. small Sony made big news. Many have followed this woman’s fight to continue using her nickname in family restaurants in Baltimore Maryland, USA. She wrote this book to show the world what she knows best: Filipino foods, not electronics! She dedicated her book to her mother and stepfather.

Sony’s signature dishes are also featured in many, if not all, Filipino cookbooks – Sinigang n Hipon (prawns or prawns in sour soup), Lumpia Sariwa (rolled vegetables in a crepe egg wrapper), Chicken Adobo ( (braised chicken with spices and vinegar) Ginataang Hipon (shrimp in coconut sauce) Halo Halo and Saging na Turon (banana in a crispy wrap).

Today, young Filipino Americans growing up with Filipino comfort food are also knowledgeable, often well aware, of other ethnic and cultural cuisines. Thus, on the 21st The cookbook authors of the century, like Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan, have a global audience, an international market. They write about the personal and collective history of Filipinos and Filipino Americans while sharing their recipes. They remind me of the Seattle restaurant in my neighborhood of Columbia City, Archipelago, where owners and chefs Aaron Verzosa and Amber Manuguid recount the journey of Filipinos and their food and dishes from the pre-Magellan era to contemporary Seattle with various stories about several classes in almost three hours.

What sets me apart in Filipinix: heritage recipes from the diaspora are the photos of the authors’ families and a nuanced documentation of the resilience of the Filipino people and the adaptability of their cuisine. The opening line, “Come inside and eat” is a variation of Seattle’s late Uncle Fred Cordova’s greeting to everyone, “Hello, have you eaten yet?”

Along with being immersed in well-photographed, mouth-watering food and scrumptious drinks, the reader gets a brief but very accurate history of the Filipino people and their response to non-Filipino influences through the centuries, often by incorporation or adaptation. I thoroughly enjoyed the seasoning matrix of acid, salt, fat, and sweet on a continuum from chewy to crunchy. I loved the photo of traditional Halo and Halo next to the sepia one. And what a great idea to include an interview with Jessica Hagedorn, author of dog eaters and a reading list.

For me, there is a downside to this book – the term “Filipinx” is an organized elite term. It is problematic, not recognized, understood, accepted or used by the general Filipino or Filipino American population. Also, “x” has many meanings, including as a universal signature of someone who can’t write. In science, it represents the unknown as “solving for ‘x”.

Juanita Tamayo Lot is the author of Common Destiny: Filipino American Generations, 2006

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Rozella J. Cook