09 June 2012


Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Five!

This Month's Challenge:
Foreign Shores!

Today's setting is from another book that has made the June Giveaway pool. My family has had a copy of it for years, so I don't know why I didn't feature it earlier. Expect the review early next week, but you can enter now with the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

I'm also pleased to announce that someone else has written a Locus Focus for this week (and claimed the giveaway points for it on the Rafflecopter). Visit Sanctus Christopher and read about The Swan Station from TV's LOST! =D

"Survival Food"
by Michaela Fenix

Before the tasting at the Ivatan Center and before we landed on the main island of Batan, Batanes to me consisted of pictures of quaint stone houses and of women in their grass hats that served as raincoats because the place is frequently visited by major typhoons. On ther map, Batanes simply looks like a series of islands that dot the northernmost Philippines.

On our first night we were driven to the town of Mahatao where everyone was gathered under a canopy near the sea. The table was sailed out with banana leaves ready to receive the food each barangay had cooked. After the welcome songs, the calderos (huge cooking pots) were brought in and scooped onto breadfruit leaves. We drank buko (young coconut) juice straight from the shell as well as wine made from sugar-cane juice calle dalek that was poured from a jar called taro.

There is a restaurant in France in which diners enjoy their food in total darkness. The rationale is that we can appreciate smells and tastes better when we're not distracted by the sense of sight. I was reminded of that when I reread some of the great essays featured in the anthology Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions and realised that this was one virtual tour of the Philippines that was less concerned with how places look than how places taste. Accordingly, each essay is "illustrated" not with a photograph . . . but with a recipe.

After reading about Michaela Fenix's food tour of Batanes, I boiled some sweet potato in water, peeled it, and ate it as it was--but it wasn't long before I returned to the kitchen to mash it with seasonings and cream, wishing that I had boiled some garlic cloves in the same pot, so that they could have been part of the mash, too. =P So much for authenticity! 

But then again, "exotic" dishes are only half the point of a good food tour. The other half is seeing the way other people prepare basic ingredients that you have used differently all your life. I remember telling a Canadian friend who wanted to know the "authentic" way to prepare adobo that my grandmother (who grew up in Tuguegarao) and my mother (who grew up in Manila) would give him different answers. And when he asked which of their methods I preferred, I answered: "Neither. My way is the best." LOL!

We do get a great sense of place from Fenix's essay "Survival Food"--likely because the place was as new to her as its cuisine. Unlike most of the contributors to Slow Food, she is not mining the memories of childhood and youth, but going over deliberate mental notes made as an adult. She understands that Slow Food, for its light touch, doubles as a serious work of anthropology.

And her thesis in this essay is that Batanes food is "survival food"--dishes cooked to keep for several stormy months, while the Ivatan people wait for the weather to get better and favour more perishable food. This means a diet rich in root crops, dried fish, and pork preserved in rendered lard . . . and a lot of gin! ("The Ivatans are among the biggest consumers of gin in the country . . ." LOL!) And where there is much drinking, there are many "drinking dishes"! =P In Batanes most of these are made with goat meat.

We who live with refrigerators, freezers, well-stocked grocery stores, and the ability to add recipes from international cuisines to the dinner rotation have forgotten what remains a fact of life for millions of people in less developed areas of the world. For them, where you live determines what you eat.

Why not join the fun and write your own Locus Focus post about the exotic culinary traditions in a far-away setting? =) This month, anyone who links up in the combox also gets giveaway points on the Rafflecopter!

You can read rest of Michaela Fenix's essay on Batanes food, her essay on Pampanga cuisine, and the other wonderful pieces in Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image Source: Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions

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