Whenever I would meet some foreigners in a gathering, they would always grumble about how many times we, Filipinos, would eat in a day.
They would run down how we would have heavy breakfast (usually a silog meal if we have time and not in a hurry to catch the bus ride and avoid the traffic going to the office), then we move on to morning snacks (coffee and sandwiches or whatever we fancy).
Even before lunch has ended, we are already thinking of what to have for the afternoon break. Then, there’s dinner. And if it is already the weekend, an “inuman sesh” would follow, complete with pulutan and all the shebangs.
“Why do Filipinos love to eat?” they would ask.
Food is every Filipino’s language of love. Notice how we would say “Kumain ka na?” to greet someone, instead of the typical “Kamusta ka?” Or how we would utter “Kain tayo” to just anyone present at the place where we are having our meal.
In the past weeks, there was a trending topic on cyberspace about the unusual Swedish/Nordic dining custom where families don’t invite their children’s visiting friends to eat with them during mealtimes.
While this may seem usual in Sweden and neighboring countries as a sign of respect for the independence of family and privacy, this custom is unheard of in the Philippines.
Sharing is deeply ingrained in our culture, more so if it is about food. This could be rooted in the culture of communality, our sense of belonging to a group or a community.
We put value in togetherness rather than individually. Although I could not say it is still the norm, what’s with the culture of “othering” that is prevalent in our society today.
This can be seen in the way we built our traditional houses like bahay kubo. A typical bahay kubo doesn’t have partitions. In the olden days, family members eat, sleep, work, and do basically everything together in that communal space. Rooms or dividers were not common.
Bangko is a shared space for sitting. Chairs (a foreign concept) are for individuals, while bangko is communal.
The culture of communality manifests in the way we eat. We don’t have meal courses (appetizers, main dishes, desserts), which are usually served and plated individually. That’s a foreign concept we learned and adapted through the years.
Instead, we serve everything all at once on the table. We practice communal dining, where everyone – even strangers – sits at the table and shares the food. Conversations are always plentiful as the food, with our lolas insisting we need to eat more because we’re always “too skinny” for their liking. Dining is not just stuffing our hungry stomachs with food.
It is a social thing.
Communal eating strengthens the bond we have with whoever we are dining with, or helps us reconnect with the people. Food has a way to bridge relationships.
Filipino cuisine is an amalgamation of various cultural influences from Spanish, Mexican, Malay, Chinese, American, and what have you.
“The Philippines is a melting pot. We have so many influences, from Chinese, Spanish, Malay, among others. Our food is quite different from other Southeast Asian countries. They use aromatics such as lemongrass and ginger. While we also have that, especially in the Mindanao regions, our dishes are more varied,” shared Conrad Manila executive sous chef Patricia Mesina.
“Being an archipelago with so many islands, we have different interpretations of a dish, like adobo or sinigang. But I believe it is innate in us, Filipinos, that we enjoy food. So we also make sure to serve well-prepared and delicious food,” she carried on.
At the center of our cuisine, a huge part of it is still rooted in the culture of communality.
Look at how most of our dishes are cooked. Take, for instance, sinigang. Meat, vegetables, and other ingredients are all thrown in a pot and cooked together, not separately. Our stews – kaldereta, menudo, afritada, and what have you – are cooked the same way.
Compared to, let’s say, Korean bibimbap where the array of ingredients has to be prepared individually. Or a French main dish where each component is prepared separately and then assembled together.
“Linamnam, the richness of the flavors, is what sets Filipino dishes apart. Also, we cook from the heart. It can be seen in how we prepare our food, and how we want our guests to partake in the meal. That’s how we are as Filipinos. We convey our love through food,” said chef Mesina.
I’m no chef. I’m not even a sociologist. I might be wrong in my observations. But one thing is for sure, I’m a Filipino and food is my love language. Just ask my friends who always receive padigo from me.
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Because good food is always meant to be shared, I let you in on a not-so-secret tip: If you want to try and discover the rich Filipino cuisine, particularly from the Northern and Southern regions of the country, Conrad Manila’s Brasserie on 3 presents “Flavors of the Philippines” until June 30.
In celebration of the Philippine Independence Day, executive chef Warren Brown and executive sous chef Mesina curated regional favorites on their spread, featuring pyanggang manok or blackened coconut grilled chicken, balbacua or a stew made from collagen-rich beef parts, beef kansi or a soup originating from Western Visayas and made sour using batwan, among others. All dishes are prepared using sustainably-sourced, organic, and local ingredients.
“We are delighted to celebrate the diverse gourmet traditions and heritage of the Philippines, as we take our patrons on a journey of flavors with signature dishes from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao,” said Conrad Manila general manager Linda Pecoraro.
True, not everyone digs our food. Some find it too salty, has strong flavors, or is too sour. To each his own.
“For me, there’s nothing wrong with our cuisine. We just have to introduce it. Be proud of it. Maybe we can showcase it in a contemporary way. But we should remain true to its authenticity of flavors and preparations,” said Mesina.