by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown
The un-anointed are always surprised at how good Filipino food is, offering well-meaning but condescending compliments I’ve long learned to accept with a smile and a lighthearted “I told you so.” Probably has a lot to do with that old stereotype that we Filipinos love dogs. For dinner. I once had a friend (a white guy, if you wondering) over for dinner in 6th grade. As my pops handed him a plate, he paused and stared at the rice and chicken adobo and asked “what is this, dog?” before he excused himself from the table. We stopped being friends shortly after.
Somehow, suddenly, we’ve become the flavor of the month. Filipino chefs have been making noise on the last couple Top Chef seasons (Dale was fucking robbed!). Still can’t forget George W.’s backhanded compliment about his personal Filipino chefs during dictator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s last US visit. And now, with the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain finally taking his No Reservations food/travelogue show to the Philippines, our sweet, salty and sour secret is out.
Though I only catch it when it happens to be on, I’m a fan of Bourdain’s show. Yes — there’s a tourist, exoticizing element to it, but you can’t front on Bourdain’s presence and palate. And when he says that our lechon is the “best-cooked pig in the world,” it almost makes me want to eat pork again.
Of course, an hour isn’t enough but the representation is respectable: Tapsilog in the opening breakfast scene, followed by street vendor foods (Chicken balls, Tofu w/ Tapioca Syrup), Pancit Palabok (”Not the greatest thing ever, but good” – and I agree), before moving onto provincial dishes such as Sinigang. Kalamansi rightfully gets its own quick feature. And when sisig makes a cameo (and is pronounced correctly) it becomes official that this episode is a pretty big deal. A redemption of that borderline-racist episode of Bizarre Foods that featured Filipinos eating bugs like it’s our national dish.
Funny though, how our history of forced colonization and foreign domination gets reduced to “influences” as if we’re just willingly eclectic like that. American cultural influence and military presence is highlighted for a brief segment, but somehow leaves out the biggest part of the story: The Philippine-American War. It’s true that our national cuisine has incorporated many others, but I’d much rather this story be presented truthfully than liberally. That we, resilient and crafty people that we are, make masterpieces from scraps (on that Jeepney shit) – you can force your shit on us but trust that we’ll flip it (uh, no pun) and make it our own.
In defense of my squarish, bowl-cutted compatriot Augusto (who hosted Bourdain’s provincial excursion), although he wasn’t our most cultured representation, he’s also a reality for many of us. Hearing him fumble a response to Bourdain’s question “Who are the Filipinos?” was excruciating to watch. “I’m not fully Filipino, but not fully American” he says, lamenting his assimilation as a New Yorker trying to “find his roots.” Which is cool, but dude, you’ve never had lechon in your life? Really? Having your culture explained back to you by an outsider is not the business, but I guess if it’s gonna be anyone, it might as well be Anthony Bourdain.
Not that we need the validation, but it’s refreshing to know that we’re at least getting the respect we deserve. Perhaps folks will patronize our restaurants enough to keep em open for more than a year. Shit, perhaps some of you Americanized-palate ass Filipinos will recognize the real and learn to eat that ampalaya without that bitterface.
And maybe, just maybe, my kids wont be mockingly called dogeaters.