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Filipino food for thought

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Food is a very important part of a Filipino’s life. No gathering would be complete without the lechon and so many other Filipino delicacies that we so enjoy. In my personal observation, it can be said that Filipinos seem to live simply for the pleasure of eating. You can’t visit a home without being offered a drink and food from the people there. It seems that food and the Filipino have been deeply rooted together. It may be that through food that brings the Filipino family close together.

Indeed, we have come a long way from simply catching our prey and eating it raw and bloody. We have turned cooking and baking into an art form. Of course, through the help of modern inventions, cooking has evolved so much that it doesn’t even take you the whole day to prepare a meal that tastes like a feast! Microwaves and electric stoves replace all those clay pots and stone oven used a long time ago. Everything we need comes in neat little packages that just need to be opened, reheated and, Voila! Dinner is served.

It wasn’t this easy during the time of our grandmothers although there were many improvements in the culinary arts. Women still had to slave over hot stoves, go to the market each morning to buy fresh ingredients and transform it to the sumptuous meals we all enjoy. Hard as it was to prepare food, this was the daily chores women did together that has bound them into one close-knit family. Yes, modern equipment have made lives so much easier, but some things in life that can’t be replaced by machines. In addition, some very important things are completely lost thanks to the modernization.

Just imagine this quaint little scene in the lives of our grandmothers in the provinces. Come the day of the feast of whoever their patron saint, all of the women would gather in houses to start the preparations for the feast. Congregating in a specific spot (most usually the house of the wealthiest neighbor), they would formulate their game plan. Who would cook this and that, who would be in-charge of doing every little thing imaginable. For almost a week every year, they would busily go about their cooking with the other women in their village. This secret ritual is somewhat like the essay of straightening hair as a secret society. These cooking pros are in fact secret societies of the village women where children and men aren’t allowed, secret recipes kept within themselves and only when a girl reaches the right age would she be assimilated into the group. One would never think of this at this particular angle.

With the dawn of technological advance, traditions are being replaced with the convenience of modern living. Nowadays, food preparation has become something too bothersome to worry over. Microwavables and ready-to-eat meals are the way to go especially in the busy lifestyle of the people, like some who hold two jobs to keep up with the expenses. Gone are the days when food preparation was a tradition. It has become a meaningless process most especially for the people in the cities.

It is true that modernization is God’s gift to mankind. Everything has become so simple and effortless. Food cooked in minutes rather than hours, people can communicate to each other all over the world with just a press of a button and so many more. The advantages of improvement are undeniable. Yet, when it comes down to the basics, we must think; is it really worth it? Does this so-called improvement really improve the people I am with as well as myself? Is what we are giving up or paying for the price of modernization worth it? Personally, I find that some things are meant to be forever. There may be changes and yet the basic essence can remain the same. People who dwell in the modern world, living a modern life have forgotten what really matters. Custom and traditions make a country what who they are. The personality of each and everyone is molded by the way they are brought up or according to what belief the parents have reflects on their children. Modernization takes away the tradition that has been passed on from parent to child.

Tradition is not the only thing that can describe what kind of people we are. What we eat also shows us the people we have become or have been. Take for example dinuguan, which is made of pork meat, blood and heart. It sounds kind of disgusting but it is simply divine! Tastes aside, it tells the people of what kind of people we were. It shows us that long before, we were not the stiff and super-civilized people we think we want to be now. Dinuguan seems like dish made by savages, according to the standard set by
foreigners, but who is to judge us? Many of our crème ala crème of society have flatly refuse to eat any more of this delicacy. Why? Honestly, I think they are afraid to let the real Filipino inside them shine through lest it would ruin their high-class standards they have set for themselves.

Another delicacy that tells so much of us Filipinos is the native bagoong. This is a pungent Filipino sauce made out of tiny shrimps and salt. The process of making bagoong is quite simple. All the ingredients are mixed together and stirred in a special way, by means of the feet. The makers of the bagoong would go up on a stone “bowl” where all the ingredients and secret spices are put together, then the fun begins. There is no special style on how to make this, but if you look at it seems so much like the grapes that are turned into the greatest wine. Who knows, maybe this is the best way to make bagoong? I think that this lowly sauce captures the true essence of the Filipino people. You see, we were conquered so many times, first were the Spaniards, then Americans and the Japanese.

The longest being the Spaniards, we have experienced so much pain and suffering from them, the Friars and the government officials, who neither cared for the country or the people. They just wanted to get a piece of the wealth and resources of this poor native country down there. Time and time again, we were stepped upon and crushed by these so-called leaders of the church and state, and yet we survived only to become stronger and more powerful than before. It did take a long time before we reached our goals, but we did get there. Just like bagoong, its stepped on, everything is mashed into tiny pieces, and it seemed that everything (shrimps and spices) were lost in this gooey mess. Ironically, the longer they stepped on the bagoong, the tastier it got, the better the sauce. Some even say the feet had something to do with it.

Yes, we Pinoys did get crushed, we were stepped on but then we have managed to make the most out of our situation. All those oppressors left a mark on us, which we accepted and turned to our advantage, very much like the effect of stomping does on the bagoong.

What we eat makes us what we are. It sounds kind of funny to think of eating this way. If France can eat steak that makes them feel their power, or drink wine, Filipinos must also have something that shows the world what they are. The bagoong, mashed shrimp that doesn’t really look appealing, tells the world of its history. The many culinary dishes made up of so many different things show that even if we are all have diverse cultures and have so many differences, we Filipinos can still make something great together as one country. We may have Muslims in the South and Christians in Manila and Aborigines up in the north, but one thing is for sure. We are all Filipinos and no matter what, we are united as one people. How we prepare our food reflects our culture and tradition, even if modern technology is taking the place of so many things, our basic core is still the same. We should be proud of what we have achieved.

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