Filipino cooking project

(cross-posted at

I told Thomas that this “eating in” project wasn’t going to be like school, and we wouldn’t have any homework.  But I love school, and I’m a nerd to the core, so here’s my self-imposed homework assignment:

We’re going to learn how to cook Filipino food.

Today, I found this awesome Filipino food blog called Burnt Lumpia – Finding Identity Through Food, authored by Marvin Gapultos.  I love that “finding identity through food” part.  Like most Filipino Americans, I don’t know my native tongue, yet connect with family and homeland memories mostly through food.

As a kid, I remember my mother teaching me how to smash garlic with the dull side of a knife to sautee for steak tapa (thin, salty steak).  I remember de-heading (and de-tailing) shrimp for sinigang (a sour and savory vegetable and seafood stew).  I remember when my father found a calamansi sapling at the nearest nursery, and planted it in our backyard.  The calamansi tree provided citrus garnish for many Filipino homemade dishes at my house.

I’d like to learn Tagalog and Bicolano someday.  But I think it’s far more appropriate now, especially with this eating-in project the BF and I are doing, to learn how to cook the food.

I know how to make chicken adobo.  Kind of.  I know the burden of rolling and frying lumpia.  And I’m also pretty good at making rice.  I think that’s about as far as my Filipino cooking repertoire goes.

I want the majority of my eating-in experience to be about learning how to cook Filipino food.  I’m interested in finding my own versions as well.  Barbara Jane Reyes writes about her experiences experimenting with Filipino food on her blog.  She’s also lent me some of her favorite twists on sinigang (using salmon!).

A few summers ago, one of my best friends, Melissa taught me how to make salmon cakes, a family recipe from Alabama.  She used vegetables she already had in the refrigerator as part of the filling, and spiced the cake batter with lots of cayenne.  I asked if that was how the rest of her family made salmon cakes.  Melissa said, no, I make it to my taste, the base ingredients are the same, but I improvise.

I used to be a stickler about being “authentic” in cooking Filipino food AKA making it the way my mom makes it.  But I think that food naturally evolves, especially when it’s placed in another context.  I wonder what the future of Filipino food will look like in the United States.  Will I know where to buy tamarind soup base?  Will I ever learn how to eat fried fish without choking on the infinitesmal bones?  Will we be feeding our children eggs with garlic fried rice for breakfast? (The answer to that last question is a heavenly YES.)

Today, the Los Angeles Times published an article called, “Filipino Food: Off the Menu,” which asks the question: Why hasn’t Filipino food assimilated (like Vietnamese and Thai food) into the U.S. mainstream?

From the article:

“It’s probably one of the least understood cuisines,” says Rodelio Aglibot, a Filipino chef who was the executive chef at Koi before opening the now-shuttered Yi Cuisine, perhaps the only upscale Filipino restaurant Los Angeles has had. “Are we Pacific Islanders? Are we Asians? There isn’t, like, a defined identity,” says Aglibot.

Why do so many gourmet Filipino cooks cook cuisines other than Filipino?

I kind of like that Filipino food hasn’t assimilated (yet).  I like the idea that Filipino families stay at home to cook and EAT IN.  It’s incentive to learn how mom makes adobo, rather than finding the best restaurant that replicates the recipe.


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