11.5 Months in a Year
06 January 2012
I’ve always wondered about my country’s cuisine. It hasn’t pierced other cultures the same way Chinese fare has. In my small adopted USA town alone where I currently live, there’s a Chinese restaurant every two or three blocks. My country’s dishes do not evoke the exotic imagery that Thai cooking does. It does not have the allure or mystery of those Indian sauces and parathas. Every other neighboring country’s cuisine seems to have broken out into the world. But mine hasn’t. Why is that, when it tastes sooooo good to me?
A country’s palate is built partly by its history. Mine has quite a mouthful. We had 300 years of Spanish rule, 45 of American, and several of Japanese. We are also the only people in Asia not generally known for eating with chopsticks. What we are experts on- I have to say, is how we eat with our bare hands. It’s not barbaric. It’s not messy. There’s actually a little bit of an art form to it. There’s a certain style you develop with how you use your thumb to push food into the four other fingers, how you make a ballish lump out of it, and how you navigate that entire thing into your mouth. For some reason, food seems to taste better when eaten this way. But we don’t always eat with our hands. Some types of food just calls for it. The closest comparison I can think of is how one can never really eat Kentucky Fried Chicken with a fork and knife. That drumstick is meant to be attacked hands-on!
I come from the Philippines- a country whose national pastime is to eat and then eat some more.
This is where cooking adobo probably has as many variations as there are islands (7000+). For me, the best way to enjoy adobo is to dip it in fish sauce with chopped tomatoes. Follow that bite closely with some steamed white rice, and you know heaven does exist. This is where pancit (noodles for the uninitiated) is such a staple that it’s a close second to rice in any meal. My ultimate pancit experience is when it’s served on a small banana leaf square where I then proceed to eat it directly from- with yes, no utensils.
The last time we stayed in Makati Shangri-La, I remember the virtual treasure trove of restaurants 30 walking-distance seconds away from the hotel. You start off with appetizers at this place, entrées at that place, and desert at yet another. And don't even get me started about San Miguel beer! So you see, 11.5 months in a year, I live in my little corner of the Western Hemisphere- waiting for the 2 weeks that I can go home to the Philippines, stuff my face, and burp like it’s nobody’s business.