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.”

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