Option 15: Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio and Felice Prudente Sta. Maria
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My Lola [Grandmother] Encar, God bless her soul, never liked fast food. Its very name, she said, gave her indigestion. She was proudly of the old school. Food, she insisted, must be prepared, cooked and enjoyed with love. Otherwise, we would be no better than pigs at the trough. She firmly believed we are what we eat. So when she died at 100 this year, family members agreed that food served at her wake must not come from any fast food outlet.
There was just a little problem. Her wake was to be held in our ancestral home in Iloilo, where we now rarely visit. Faithful cooks and servants had long passed on, and those of us who survived our long-lived grandmother grew up and lived in the Big City. That meant we had no choice but to look for a local caterer--until we witnessed small miracles unfold up to the day we laid our grandmother to rest . . .
-- C. Horatius Mosquera in From Lola with Love
"Slow food" is a universal concept: no matter where you are in the world, it is what your great-grandparents would have prepared for their table, cooked using methods they would recognize. Some of the Filipino dishes are so "slow" indeed that they involve killing a live chicken (because its blood is a very tasty ingredient) or grating your own coconut to extract the freshest coconut milk (from the first squeezing) and coconut cream (from the second squeezing). Such food is so incompatible with the modern lifestyle that C. Horatius Mosquera's essay on his centenarian grandmother's wake could have easily doubled as an elegy for the food she loved. But he's probably the type who sees the native kaldero as half full.
Every essay in this anthology asks the same questions. How important are these "outdated" culinary traditions? How essential is it to preserve this particular link to our ancestors? How much of our cultural identity depends on them?
Slow Food is one of the books that makes me wish I were doing a local giveaway because it's precisely what Filipinos need to read.
"When Nita, my cook, goes hope to Gapan, Nueva Ecija, she always returns bearing a native free-range chicken which she has chosen live in the market, taken home in a net bag, and boiled lightly in salt at her sister's home. With it she brings the souring element: dahon ng sampaloc--the tiny leaves and flowerets picked from tamarind tree branches.
The resulting dish, sinampalukang manok spiked with ginger bits, is ambrosia. It is not sinigang na manok, which is soured with boiled and mashed tamarind fruit. This is chicken--and its liver, gizzard, heart and blood--tenderized and flavored with young tamarind sprouts, its sourness at a gentle edge, its tastiness uniquely pleasurable.
This is slow food, Philippine style, and I am ready to campaign door-to-door to make sure that food like this is not endangered, is not erased from collective memory, is preserved for Filipinos of the future, along with other dishes like it."
-- Doreen Gamboa Fernandez, quoted in the Pampagana or "Appetizer"
Seriously, who else will appreciate the subtle (but significant!) difference between sinampalukang manok (made with tamarind flowers) and sinigang na manok (made with tamarind fruit) except those who have a taste for sour chicken broth to begin with?
I'm sticking it in the international giveaway pool, anyway, because I really, really like it . . . and because it's no more and no less of an exotic or acquired taste than all the other titles I'm offering.
Reading Slow Food is like taking a food tour--albeit a food tour in which you cannot taste, smell or even see the food you are trying, except through words. It's the reversal of the normal state of things, food being a kind of literature you can only read with your tongue, but not as unsatisfying as it sounds. The more adventurous reader can try recreating the recipes that accompany most of the essays, although he will be more challenged than usual by some of the techniques. There is a duck estofado recipe that calls for a charcoal fire and a clay pot with a banana leaf for a lid. (Good luck with that, aye? LOL!) And there's another with the instruction, "Stuff each frog with the filling." (That must be my favourite quote from the whole book!) I can't recall the name of the dish that is meant to be cooked inside a bamboo tube, but I remember reading about it and wondering how "to fake" the same technique with tools from a modern kitchen.
Which brings me to the really cool point that the more things stay the same . . . the more they end up changing! =P Even one of the contributors admits that she hasn't been totally faithful to her father's Christmas ham recipe: he used pineapple juice in his marinade, but after his death, she learned to use lemon soda instead. And had I been able to stick to my original plan to make the natilla pudding and take a picture for this post, I would have caramelized the sugar topping not with siansi red hot from the coals, but with a blowtorch. (LOL!)
The featured dishes and the regional customs, religious beliefs and family (or tribal) histories in which they are framed may be "exotic"--but good food is universally loved, and everyone can find something to relate to in these personal stories.
Read about another essay from Slow Food in Locus Focus: Take Seventy-Five.
You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . you love the funny, quirky and totally original stories people tell of their childhoods or of their travels.
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Image Sources: a) Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions, b) Sinampalukang manok, c) Sinigang na manok