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by Doreen G. Fernandez
Date: 12/22/2006

Who else but Mother Doreen, as Doreen Fernandez was fondly called, can write about our cultural history laced by our taste buds? Palayok, a coffee-table book published in 2000, “follows food and culture in the Philippines through time (history), on site (within society), and in the pot (where savors and textures meld, where flavor principles, dishes, and cuisines begin).”

For example, the Philippines is an archipelago bounded by seas, and being a people of the sea, we know how to savor the sweet and tender flesh of fish and seafood in the raw. Our forests and fields grow palms and rice of different varieties, which we ferment to make our vinegar that carries a mild sourness and not the acidity of the commercial vinegar bottles that line supermarket shelves. The layout of the land determines what we eat and how we prepare food, which is why we are fond of kilawin¾a preparation of raw fish or other seafoods dressed in vinegar made from fermented palms. Kilawin is garnished with onions, ginger, and peppers of different sizes in green and red.

The seas also encouraged trade with other regions as our ancestors bartered their wares with the Chinese and Malays, and they naturally assimilated other culinary tastes and invented dishes like the pancit canton and pancit molo, the pesang dalag or pesang manok, and the arroz caldo, which is Chinese-inspired but carries a Spanish name.

We assimilated and indigenized foods brought by the Spanish and American colonizers, and in no other time than Christmas do we taste these influences. The aroma of bibingka, puto bumbong and salabat warms churchgoers after the simbang gabi. The media noche or noche buena generally speaks of Spanish influence with the plethora of queso de bola and the rellenong bangus or rellenong manok gracing the occasion. The American influence is evident in the fruitcakes, pies and cookies that are usually given away as gifts and line the breakfast table.

Our native cuisine indicative of our Filipino character: it is in food that is shared liked the sawsawan, in food that heals like the lagundi and pansit-pansitan, and in the food that are ritual offerings to God, deities and the community during fiestas. Food in Palayok is more than just food prepared and cooked, but also of food as a harbinger of good tidings, of love, and of friendship.

Source: Palayok: Philippine Food through Time, on Site, in the Pot by Doreen Fernandez. Published by Bookmark. 2000.

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