A for­eign F&B con­sul­tant, a Manila res­i­dent for half a decade, weighs in on the lo­cal food cul­ture

F&B World - - NEWS - Text by PETER PYSK Il­lus­tra­tion by MICKEY PAPERA

Filipinos love their food. And I be­lieve, there are two rea­sons why: the food it­self and how they en­joy eat­ing it with other peo­ple. How food plays such an in­te­gral part in bring­ing the whole family to­gether is some­thing that I have been priv­i­leged to ex­pe­ri­ence, be­ing mar­ried to a Filip­ina and hav­ing resided in Manila for five years now and count­ing. How­ever, as I go deeper into study­ing peo­ple’s din­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, I also find that the beau­ti­ful strong tra­di­tions are start­ing to crack too.


Richard, a friend of mine who hails from France and has been in Manila for 12 years, sees how con­ver­sa­tions among Filipinos al­ways re­volve around food. He wit­nesses this when­ever he trav­els to the prov­ince. When he sits at a lo­cal store to have an ice cold beer, the lo­cals are not shy to ap­proach him and start a dis­cus­sion. The talk typ­i­cally ends with a ta­ble full of pu­lu­tan and buck­ets of beer. Food just brings peo­ple to­gether, no mat­ter what the dif­fer­ences— in our case, na­tion­al­i­ties and life­styles— might be.

Filipinos are con­sid­ered to be among the most hos­pitable peo­ple in the world. And this is very ev­i­dent in the way they wel­come peo­ple into their homes. Come fi­es­tas, strangers would be in­vited to feast in their din­ing rooms. And they usu­ally are out to im­press. They would ask the el­dest to get buko from climb­ing tall co­conut trees or lay out their best table­ware or of­fer their old tra­di­tional family dishes with the hope that peo­ple will ac­knowl­edge how spe­cial it is.

Hav­ing man­aged teams here in the Philip­pines, it is ev­i­dent how proud each Filipino is of their pro­vin­cial her­itage. Al­most all Filipinos boast about how great the food is from their re­gion. Ka­pam­pan­gans will proudly shout how they are the food cap­i­tal of Lu­zon, Ilo­canos will boast about their sig­na­ture dishes and those down south will proudly stand by the im­por­tance of their re­gion to the food land­scape. It is this his­tory, tra­di­tion, and pas­sion that need to be em­braced and shared.

The act of prayer be­fore eat­ing is a habit among Filipinos that I have come to ap­pre­ci­ate. In their in­vo­ca­tion, they don’t for­get to thank God for plac­ing food— no mat­ter how small or sim­ple— on their ta­ble, gath­er­ing the whole family to­gether, and even wish­ing guests a nice jour­ney home. It doesn’t sim­ply set the meal right, but also re­mind peo­ple the more im­por­tant things in life. This habit shows how re­li­gion, much like food, has a big in­flu­ence in their life­style.


Though ad­mirable and remarkable in parts, there is room for im­prove­ment in the Philip­pine food cul­ture if peo­ple fer­vently wish for it to thrive even more. For one, there is a lack of care on daily meals. We no­tice that dur­ing the weekly grind, the av­er­age Filipino doesn’t re­ally put much thought on what they eat. They just need some­thing to fill the tummy with. The unli rice phe­nom­e­non where peo­ple eat more be­cause it is free rather than ap­pre­ci­at­ing what they are eat­ing puts truth on my claim. The carinde­rias that fight to get their ulam down to a price of P40 start us­ing fat cubes rather than pork in their dishes. The healthy eat­ing move­ment may be chang­ing this, but there are still many peo­ple who pre­fer more for less rather than qual­ity. I guess this comes hand- in- hand with the fi­nan­cial hard­ships peo­ple face and/ or lack of time, but there has to be a bet­ter op­tion.

In schools, I no­tice that they don’t know or teach much about food his­tory. Filipinos just eat, obliv­i­ous to why their food is the way it is. It’s nice that chefs are cham­pi­oning lo­cal pro­duce and in­tro­duc­ing ev­ery­one to in­dige­nous crops, but there isn’t as much sup­port in ed­u­ca­tion. As early as ele­men­tary, chil­dren should be taught about their coun­try’s range of pro­duce and nu­tri­tion, with the hope of spark­ing more con­scious eat­ing and avoid­ing hunger, obe­sity and health- re­lated dis­eases. How great would it be that by learn­ing Filipino food his­tory, chil­dren could also learn about the for­eign in­flu­ences that en­tered the coun­try and re­gions. It would help to ap­pre­ci­ate each re­gional dif­fer­ence and high­light the beauty of Filipino food. It would also high­light that Filipino food is not only adobo, sini­gang, or sisig. Right now as it stands, it is this lack of knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the food her­itage that al­lows Philip­pine food to be mis­rep­re­sented to the world. How great would it be if a for­eigner asked you, ‘ how come most of the Filipino dishes use vine­gar, or lots of salt ( soy, patis) that, you could give a clear an­swer. Or, if some­one asked why a lot of Filipino food is ei­ther deep fried or stewed, you could ed­u­cate them on the rea­sons. You could help them un­der­stand why food has evolved the way it has and the bar­ri­ers that this coun­try has had to over­come when it comes to food.

There re­ally is only one way to find out how Filipinos have come to value food the way they do— by re­vis­it­ing his­tory. In do­ing so, we will all come to un­der­stand the cul­ture and see its wor­thy place in our lives. The way Filipinos eat, like in any other coun­try, is nei­ther ran­dom or hap­haz­ard. But from what I and many of my for­eign friends have seen, food has be­come an in­te­gral part of peo­ple’s lives, some­thing that has the power to bring peo­ple with many dif­fer­ences to­gether. And I am for­tu­nate to not just be a wit­ness but now be­come a part of that.

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