The Philippines has always been a meeting place of the East and the West. Our history and culture have stirred Malay, Spanish, American and Chinese influences for centuries. Our Filipino identities are founded on these cross-cultural encounters, making for fertile soil for Philippine creativity and innovation.
Despite all of the migrating and re-rooting in my life and my family’s, I am and always will be Filipino. It has not always been easy to say, as this appreciation needed time to develop. Like many first and second generation Canadians, immersed in a culture so far from our own, growing up here was more than challenging. How do we belong and address our difference at the same time? What parts of this foreign social landscape do we adopt? How much of our parents do we want to be in this new place?
In my own seeking, I discovered truths to questions like these at the table over ulam and kanin. Sinigang, pancit, adobo, sisig, dinuguan, lechon, balut … dishes like these have brought comfort and familiarity in times of wandering, satisfying cravings I never realized I had. History and tradition have been revealed in their preparation and family ties have been strengthened over them. I am realizing that with each spoonful, I am piecing together who I am, so I invite you, my friends, my kapatid, to join me in this feasting. Come and stay for A Slice of Home.
My favourite thing about sharing a meal is the long lingering afterwards–when everyone’s plates are all smeared, table splattered and covered in crumbs. If there are any leftovers, it’s gone cold but no one really cares. Everyone’s laughing too loudly or the secrets spilled keep everyone quiet. Time loosens its hold and people indulge themselves in each other’s company. Then someone remembers the tea or coffee and the pie they picked up, stretching whatever this exchange is called.
My dad had not been back to Manila since 1995. We moved to Riyadh after I was born and then to Toronto, along with my siblings. He had many reasons that had kept him from home and his family but last January he decided they were not good enough anymore. We bought two tickets for Manila, and were up in the air in two weeks. I guess when the heart knows, it just knows. I had not been back since I was eleven, so I too, was ready to meet my family again, ready to see the place where I came from and to be enveloped in this culture I craved.
It was an incredible four weeks. Every day I learned something new about my relatives, my country and in turn, myself. The language became sweet, the histories grew valuable and the holiday ripened into a wonderful experience. Most of the learning was done at the table over Filipino favourites and oh, so much rice – kare-kare, talaba, liempo, pancit, adobong puti, laing, tapsilog, palabok, lechon, mangga, pan de sal with matamis na bao. Cousins, titas and titos all became my “teachers’, and I, their student, wanted to consume everything. It is unbelievable how much food grounds us and connects us with other people and places. The language became sweet, the histories grew valuable and the holiday ripened into a wonderful experience.
A lot of my fondest memories from our visit were complemented by something I ate. Like when we scanned beautiful Boracay by parasail and traced its surrounding islands on a crazy speedboat. Though it left us a little empty and lightheaded, the sisig, sinigang and adobong pusit wrapped our insides like ribbons. My first mangosteen was magical- I peeled and ate it as I stood on top of these steps leading to an overcrowded tiangge mall in Divisoria. I was in a trance watching customers haggle, children play, motorists weave in and around pedestrians. It was all moving in this strange and dangerous rhythm, while I just swayed and ate. There was another night my uncle took us to a Seafood Paluto. We threaded through aisles of freshly caught goods, proudly displayed on mounds of ice. We were called at and tempted but only stopped by his favourite sukis and picked up all of these wonderful squids, shrimps, crabs and fish.
None of the gold has faded since we have been back. Oh, if you only knew how many cups of tea and slices of pie I had just to stretch these moments with them. We may have set the table as strangers, but we have left it as kin.