As I was doing my research on Philippine food, I stumbled upon an essay written by Doreen Fernandez. I had little knowledge of who she is but it turns out, Doreen is considered the foremost authority on food history in the Philippines. She was the very first person who wrote about food in the Philippines back in 1969. Most, if not all, Filipino chefs would have learned about Filipino food from her.
Her writing and passion for Philippine food led her to discover an intricate link between culture and history.
My interest in food came later in life, which explains why I had no idea who she was and her works. Upon reading one of her essays, “Culture Ingested: Notes on the Indigenization of Philippine Food,” I found it fascinating.
One interesting point she makes is that, we shouldn’t ask “What is Filipino food?”but rather “How does food become Filipino?” To her, food becomes “Filipino at its destination, whatever the source.”
Reading the first few paragraphs of her essay, I have to admit, I agree with the lady. Filipino food names are a compilation or combination of everything that the country and its people has gone through over the centuries.
If you have a Filipino cookbook or go to a restaurant in Manila, you’ll find dishes in the local language (like laing and pinakbet), dishes with Spanish names (like morcon and afritada), Chinese names (like bihon and pancit), and my favourite, Chinese food with Spanish names (like arroz caldo and camaron rebozado).
Doreen’s argument is that Philippine cuisine is continually evolving – adding new ingredients, taking into account other influences, and “indigenizing” the food to make it Filipino.
As I continued to read, I realised that what I used to consider Spanish-influenced food is more Mexican or Chinese. Now as I cook these everyday dishes at home, I begin to wonder about its history and journey to finally land on my table in the form that I recognise today.
Here is an excerpt from her essay which describes the process of “indiginezation”.
The process seems to start with a foreign dish in its original form, brought in by foreigners (Chinese traders, Spanish missionaries). It is then taught to a native cook, who naturally adapts it to the tastes he knows and the ingredients he can get, thus both borrowing and adapting. Eventually, he improvises on it, thus creating a new dish that in time becomes so entrenched in the native cuisine and lifestyle that its origins are practically forgotten. That is indigenization, and in the Philippines the process starts with a foreign element and ends with a dish that can truly be called part of Philippine cuisine.
Therefore, “indigenization” covers a wide spectrum from names, ingredients, cooking process, flavouring and social position.
Under the names section, we see the use of Chinese or Spanish names to dishes that are similar to the original.
In ingredients section, we see the adaptation of a dish using locally sourced ingredients to replicate a dish, then given a different name.
Fernandez gives some examples and here is a part of that section.
Bringhe would also be an example of a cultural change made through the use of ingredients from the Philippine landscape. Paella is generally made in Spain with chicken or rabbit, with rice and seasoning, especially saffron. Bringhe does use chicken, but the rice is malagkit (sticky rice) and the sauce is coconut milk, to which is added a bark called ange, which turns the rice green instead of saffron yellow. Paella was created from the Spanish country landscape bluehost怎么样 – the rabbit scapering by, the chicken bought from a farmer, the saffron which is the most expensive spice in the world and grows in Spain. Eating paella, therefore, is ingesting the Spanish landscape. Eating bringhe, however, is ingesting the Philippine landscape – the chicken running around on the farm, the coconut from a nearby tree, and the malagkit for fiesta cakes. This is a clear example of indigenization through a change of substance, spirit and name.
The section on cooking processdiscusses the Filipino spin in methodology. Sauteeing is a foreign cooking technique used by the Chinese for their stir fry dishes and the Spanish for their guisado dishes. This method of cooking has been adapted and refined into a perfectly set pattern every Filipino cook learns early in life, where each ingredient (garlic, onion, tomatoes, vegetables, etc) is lightly fried in oil one after the other. However, the timing of adding each ingredient is the signature stroke of the cook to help enhance and flavour the dish accordingly.
Under the flavouring section, Fernandez tackles the , which I’ve discussed here in another post. It’s indeed true, that any Filipino will make any dish (from any cuisine) its own by flavouring it with their favourite .
The section social positioning illustrates one more element in the indigenization process, according to Fernandez. Adapted Chinese dishes such as pancit or siopao, which are everyday breakfast dishes in China has taken its position in the Filipino’s merienda or snack list. I’ll discuss merienda in a different post later.
While Spanish-influenced dishes take a higher social position and are served during fiestas or special occasions such as Christmas. This higher social positioning is due to the limited availability of the ingredients and, when available, are expensive to the average person; hence, they’re reserved for special gatherings and are considered treats!
Note: Image of Doreen Fernandez by
I stumbled upon this article by Philstar writer Alfred Yuson, entitled “Honoring Doreen’s Legacy”. Today is Doreen Fernandez’s 10th year death anniversary.
“Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture” was one of the first book I ever bought when I started buying books. I don’t know who she was then. I was starting to build my Filipiniana collection and her publisher is known for the quality of its writers and published materials. I decided to grab a copy hoping that it was more than a cooking book.
Well, it was more than what I expected.
It became one of those books that influenced the way I think about Filipino culture. She write in very simple form and she understands how to explain culture like no other. She has traveled the country in search of stories behind our culture of food.
People like her made me realize how much history is in the things we taste and try to digest. She’s a writer that proves history is everywhere and can be easily found. Having parents that grew up in the same province where Doreen came from made me relate to much of what she wrote about. To this day, whenever I’m in Negros, and eating, I would be reminded of her wonderful stories.
In her writings one can sense her fear of losing Filipino culture. I share this fear – as do many Filipinos who had opened their eyes to our dying traditions. What I like about her is that she traveled and researched more than any other person that taught or write for a living. She was out there experiencing Filipino culture and history. When I read her today, I know that she wrote was what she experienced first hand and not what she just read and heard.
The Philstar writer included an excerpt from the introduction of Maya Roxas, Doreen’s niece, in the book “Appetite for Life”: “Her strength rests in this, the exploration and presentation of food not just as the stuff of lifestyle magazines and serial cookbooks, but as a significant and compelling index of who and what we are as a people.”
Doreen is one of our best historian. Although her topics were mostly about food culture and traditions there was no doubt that what she accomplished with her writings did more for Philippine history appreciation than any other history essayist of her time.
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