When is a dish considered to have a certain nationality? There are certainly dishes that are part of history, national heritage, then there are those who use a country specific technique and finally the ones which use ingredients that can only be found in that exact region. However in or modern age, where ingredients are now widely available, techniques and information are shared for 2 cents and where our heritage is growing and developing as we continuously create history (mull that over for a while if you have to, took me a while to type it out sensibly); the lines are being blurred as to the nationality of a dish. 100 years ago I would have told you that a pizza is italian, no doubt in mind, but because of open internationalization, today, I’d also be comfortable in saying that a pizza can also be american (depending on the dough, toppings…).
Just like how I have mixed blood, my kids might have 4 nationalities in the future and theirs will have 8, it’ll be crazy and we will all start looking alike (no not really), but do think about it, at the rate we share information and experience different cultures, how does one qualify what is pure Filipino, or of a french style, or an american creation?
Regarding food, it’s becoming increasingly hard to say that this dish comes from that or this region as chefs are becoming more global and endeavour to undergo rigorous diverse training. However, with a strong push on seasonal cooking, basically using what is in front of you, and playing with basic flavour profiles, where that one smell reminds you of your grandmas kitchen, even while using a wide array of cross border techniques, we can call these new *insert country here* cuisine.
Filipino food isn’t as popular as Thai or Vietnamese, because it is a misunderstood cuisine that hasn’t really benefited of a stellar reputation, mostly due to us selling our cuisine, as a limited offering of adobo (these is a technique by the way, not a dish), tocino, pancit and balut (etc.) which foreigners will either see as too oily or just plain weird. You see, to me filipino food, is all about ingredients, the usage of bangus, sagi bananas, kamote, sabuyo, mangoes, ginger, fish sauce, casava, coconut, coco sugar, kangkong, fern, soy sauce, papaya, pomelo, mongo, ubod, bamboo, etc. Ingredients that are pinoy (not exclusively of course) but that are used often here in our home/province kitchens. Not only limited to the fiesta food we all love and have at our family gatherings, those are usually heavy and what i like to call big dishes (served family size), but we love them, I love them, but we shouldn’t let them become our staples.
Let’s not forget the simple regional cuisine, which we find easily find in batanes, mindanao or baguio for example, but who hardly make it to menus in our restaurants in manila or around the world, because they are not so popular. Its a vicious circle you see, people don’t know about this food, because it is not popular and vice versa. We need to help make all types of Filipino cooking popular, to show the world our actual diverse and versatile culinary heritage. Remember our nationality is part Malay, cChinese, Indonesian, Spanish and American, so naturally, we should have more to show.
This observation came to me as my parents were talking about local art from the likes of Magsaysay, Amorsolo and Manansala, all national artists, who are of strong renown in the international scene. The way I see it, cooking is an art form and its time we make the world pinoy food crazy. The Koreans had their boom (kimichi, bon chon, david chang..), as did the Viets (huge expansion of viet food as tasty and healthy) and Thais (one of the first to gain popularity with the Chinese and Japanese), it’s about time we do too. Maharlika in New York is a promising start, it shows us that there is interest, all we have to do is deliver expectations, in a proper way, and not just armed with halo halo and betamax, we have more to offer than that.
Here I play around with some amazing blue shrimp from Pampanga and basic organically grown ingredients from local farms, to make a complete, tasty and comforting dish.
Spicy Pampanga Shrimp with Market Vegetables
For the Shrimp
Take 2 garlic cloves chop them and fry them in 1tsp of vegetable oil with 2 teaspoons of finely grated ginger, once a little coloured add in your 5 large prawns, with salt and pepper, and fry until done, only turning it once crispy on both sides. Quickly add 1 tbsp of fish sauce, 1/4 cup of coconut milk and a handful of dried whole chillies, until the sauce becomes a wholesome disorganised beautiful mess.
For the Veg
Fry off two garlic cloves with one whole big onion until tender, add 1/4 cup of cooked lentils and 2 massive handfuls of wild arugula, season with salt and pepper.
Assemble the dish and don’t forget to season to taste, add in some lime or lemon juice and some chopped coriander if you fancy it.
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