A cultural perspective of our history through food
Detailed accounts of historical events, as told through food
A menu is the gateway between a man and his meal, revealing to him a narrative of provenance and skill.
The dejeuner and dinner menus of Sept. 29, 1898 were records of a banquet held in honor of the ratification of the proclamation of Philippine independence, and they function as unlikely resources for a historian as much as they are subjects for insight and appetite by those with culinary inclinations.
The Malolos menu was penned in French, but the sumptuary laws that sought to restrain extravagance during France’s wouldn’t have sanctioned the feast it detailed, as it was a lavish banquet of several courses, complete with complementary libation, and suffused with French flair in defiance of the warm tropics.
Appetizers for the dejeuner (lunch) menu were hors d’oeuvre like Huitres (oysters) and crevice roses (prawns), and the hardy talaba and sugpo, though hardly foreign fare, were served sans ice. The butter for the beurre radis (buttered radish), the sardines aux tomates (sardines in tomato sauce), the confitures (jams), and the gelee de fraises (strawberry jelly) had to have been preserved in jars or cans, while the aucisson
de Lyon (sausage) and jambon froid (cold ham), and dessert items such as fromage (cheese) and glaces (ices) must have been burdensome to store.
As for the entrées, they started off with coquilles de crabes (stuffed crab); the irony of serving crabs at a dinner that celebrated a president who had his political adversaries murdered is hard to miss. It was followed by vol-au-vent, a puff pastry dish that is said to be created by Marie-Antoine Careme, king of the chefs himself. The a la financiere variant that was served was conspicuously luxurious, with its filling of sweetbreads, quenelles, cockscombs, mushrooms, and truffle. In its layers of decadence, it was a fitting choice as a culinary stand-in for the declaration of the country’s independence. The same could be said for the dinner menu’s boeuf ladre (marbled beef ), fattened meat fit for gilded guts.
Dinde Truffee a la Manilloise could’ve just been a roasted turkey studded with truffle, but with a la Manilloise added to its name to mark the occasion (interesting to note that Manila at that time was under American control, hence Malolos as the site of the declaration). The dish is noteworthy since the turkey, unlike the chicken or the duck, is a Hispanic introduction to the country from their other New World colonies. The dish was thus a vestige of a colonial past included in the celebration of a former colony’s independence, but named in honor of its capital city that is already ruled by another incoming master.
Three Centuries Prior
The Malolos Banquet contrasts with one of the first recorded meals during the Hispanic conquest of the Philippines. It may not have been a feast in scale, but the meal served to Magellan’s companion, Antonio Pigafetta, by Limasawa’s Raja Kolambu was perceptibly festive. Pigafetta was said to have been served a plate of pork with a large jar of wine (probably palm toddy, known as tuba) and later, for supper, more pork was offered along with rice. After half an hour, a “roast fish cut in pieces was brought in, and ginger freshly gathered, and wine.” Even more fish and rice were served when Kolambu’s son came over. How Pigafetta remembered all of that after the gluttony remains a mystery.
There was also a contrast in mood: while both were pronouncements of munificence, Limasawa’s feast was a display of hospitality, whereas Malolos’, as Ambeth Ocampo has noted, “was a tasteless display of contrived culture.” In venue, motif, and dress, there too were disparities: the bamboo “palace” of Raja Kolambu versus the baroque Barasoain Church; the boom of brass gongs versus the peal of bells from the belfry; and the lack of constraint provided by the loincloth versus the sweat-soaked coats of Malolos’ dinner attendees.
Both festivities were held by free people, though for Kolambu and his clan, the freedom was felt and actual, whereas for Aguinaldo and his cohorts, it was imagined and nominal. The two occasions likewise foreshadowed the country’s forthcoming foreign subjugation: by the Spaniards in the 16th century for the former, and by the Americans three centuries after for the latter. Could there be another menu or account of an important meal that’ll portend yet another bondage? We can only remain hopeful that a menu of that sort is never written again.
“Both festivities were held by free people, though for Kolambu and his clan, the freedom was felt and actual, whereas for Aguinaldo and his cohorts, it was imagined and nominal.”