04 July 2015

+JMJ+

Option 35: A Taste of Home: Pinoy Expat and Food Memories, edited by Edgar B. Maranan and Len S. Maranan-Goldstein
(See the Giveaways page for more details or scroll down for the Rafflecopter)

And so we issued the call for submissions--to our friends in the overseas Filipino community . . .

"This book will be a collection of Filipino expats' reminiscences--especially during the writers' growing-up-into-adulthood years--primarily of home and hometown, but having Filipino cooking as the unifying thread: favourite dishes and native delicacies, family recipes and food rituals, favourite watering holes and memorable eating places . . . liberally sprinkled with anecdotes about and reflections on family histories, hometown tales and events, the social milieu during those times, etc., perhaps not directly related to food, but reflective of the 'mixed' Filipino culture.

"It will be about Filipinos abroad writing on what they miss most, how they cope with this absence . . . The contributed piece should also include: a) how that culinary past has survived in the expat's present life . . . b) the expat's first encounter with foreign cuisine, and what comparisons he/she could draw between that and native cuisine . . . c) reactions of foreign-born or -raised children to 'Pinoy food'; and d) as a side-dish, a culinary tip from the writer, such as a much-loved family recipe."

This book fits this year's Philippine Literature Giveaway theme so well that it should have been one of the first "shortlisted" books for the pool . . . but I was lucky to have found it just one week ago. Really lucky if you consider that I never visit the foodie section of bookstores: I don't enjoy normally enjoy reading about food, unless it is the warp to a more interesting woof--such as history, culture, politics, or humour. While the many essays in A Taste of Home achieve this sort of savoury mix of topics, I'm afraid I was a bit disappointed by the paucity of proper "fusion" offerings.

Or maybe I was just let down by the medium's not quite fitting the message. When many of the essays are basically glorified menus, it's awful not to be able to place an order! It also doesn't help that I've always been mostly indifferent to Philippine cuisine. My family's versions of adobo, sinigang, and tinola (dishes which I'd definitely put in a Top 5 list) are not the big stars of my childhood; and I can't really relate to the expats who missed them abroad. Heck, not only did not I not languish for lack of them during the two years I lived in a foreign country, but now that I'm back, I am also homesick for New Zealand kumara and fish and chips in a way I never was for Filipino food.

Young people get a little crazy trying to get their Filipino food fix. Once, as a graduate student, one of us conspired with other desperadoes to secretly cook crispy pata in a hotel room, because we could not do so (obviously) in any of our dormitories. Looking back, we are amazed not that the crispy pata turned out to be tasty, but that the contraption we used to fry it in did not explode and immolate us all. A conflagration like that with a picturesque Alpine view as a backdrop, would have made a nice postcard for the folks back home!

-- from Ruminations on Eating (and Being) Pinoy Overseas by Evan P. Garcia and Jocelyn Batoon-Garcia

The Garcias' hilarious essay is one of my favourites in A Taste of Home. Other notables are A Cubao Childhood in Food by F.H. Batacan (author of the Thriller Smaller and Smaller Circles, Option #1 in the giveaway), which chronicles the role food played in my favourite moment in recent Philippine history, the EDSA Revolution . . . How I Learned to Make Leche Flan (or How I Met My Husband) by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard, which turns a classic dessert into a metaphor for romantic and married love . . . Reflections on the Diaspora, Burung Babi, a Favourite Uncle, Malayan Fish Head Curry, and a Trip to the Mountains by Rene J. Navarro, which reads like a university lecture, complete with anecdotal digressions, by a professor who really knows his stuff . . . and A Pinoy Gourmet in Middle-earth by Clinton Palanca, which humorously recounts the international university experience I never had. I also think the essays which focus on a single dish and its more-or-less successful recreation abroad--like Jamon China by Roger P. Olivares, and Evolution of a Life of Rice by Agatha Derdadero--which I daresay are much stronger pieces of writing than the aforementioned glorified menus.

Something else I was looking for but did not always get was a sense of how food culture has changed for the expats, now that they call other places home. I still live in this archipelago of barrio fiestas; and I know all about it, even if I haven't tasted everything on the table. On the other hand, I'm totally clueless about life in Australia, Canada, Kenya, Switzerland, and Singapore, to name a few of the contributors' new countries: these are the ones I'd like to know more about. And no, I don't mean yet another story about non-Filipino neighbours freaking out at the smell of frying tuyo or daing, although yeah, every (other) Filipino who has been abroad seems to have experienced this. (This includes my mother and her siblings, who all tell the tale with dramatically different details!)

But what keeps A Taste of Home from being perfectly satisfying for me is likely what will get it to hit the spot for you. (Yes, you, my dear giveaway entrant!) Each essay has the clarity borne of years of having to explain Filipino culture to non-Filipino neighbours, and "insider" references are kept to the barest minimum. The whole comes, however, with no pictures and no food glossary. You will be using the Internet a lot to look things up--and if you don't have a Filipino restaurant in your city, you'll never taste some of the more exotic delights. Some contributors have also shared their recipes, though not always for the most tantalising dishes they have written about.

I've already been inspired to do some of my own cooking, based on the following "recipe":

My Max's chicken version: rub the chicken with patis, salt, and black pepper. Let it sit for an hour or so. Boil in a mixture of water and patis in equal proportion. Cool and pat dry. Keep in refrigerator overnight and next day, rub again with patis, then fry in high heat. Or turbo cook.

-- from Chicken Stew for Memories by Maria Yotoko Chorengel

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to look up this paragraph again before trying it out, and ended up making two mistakes: letting the thighs and legs sit in their coating of patis, salt, and black pepper overnight, and not patting them dry after the boiling. And if you've ever tasted patis, then you know why I had to drink five glasses of water after dinner that evening. =P I'll try it again and report back.

You should choose this book in the giveaway if . . . your favourite kind of party is a potluck.

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Image Source: A Taste of Home, edited by Edgar B. Maranan and Len S. Maranan-Goldstein

2 comments:

Sheila said...

Oh, I LOVE food books! I read 'em and drool. Michael Pollan's Cooked got me to learn to make sourdough and also tempted me to try Southern barbecue ..... which is now my favorite food; I can hardly drive by a smoking outdoor oven without my nose leading me to go buy some. And there was this one book whose title I can't remember about regional American foods which inspired me to try several different kinds of cornbread. Mmmmm.

Every time you post another giveaway book I want to switch my entry. ;)

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I must be choosing them well! ;-)

Food books do have some effect on me when I finally get around to reading them, but I'm just not drawn to them at the beginning. Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food really changed the way I thought about the food industry. The main reason I didn't go further down that food-reading rabbit hole is that I don't get to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. There's only so much I can experiment with at a time, and I don't want to keep reading until the backlog of practical applications has been taken care of!