The past two decades have seen a rise in Asian-American publications, including Filipino-American. Especially children from the diaspora write about food† A recent one is Filipinix: Heritage recipes from the diaspora by Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan† It follows a current pattern of coffee table-sized books, glossy, colorful composite photographs of various dishes and authors who are chefs or, as it says on the back, “cultural tastemakers.”
These products of the 21st century are a far cry from the more modest recipe books of the 20e century. I grew up in San Francisco, where my parents, aunts, and uncles cooked Ilocano, Tagalog, and Visayan dishes from scratch with few precise measurements and certainly without recipes or cookbooks. They cooked from memory and daily practice. So I was thrilled when my cousins from Hawaii, Evelyn and Florence, gave me my first Philippine cookbook, Hawaii Filipina’s Favorite Recipes† It was published in 1974 by the Philippine Women’s League of Pearl City, Hawaii.
The introduction states: “The intent of this recipe book is to focus on the favorite recipes of the Filipino families, be it the Ilocanos who came from the northwestern part of the island of Luzon, the Tagalogs from near Manila or the Visayans from the southern provinces. Most of these recipes have been passed down from generation to generation and have made their way into our “family secrets” cookbook. Some recipes have been adapted from other sources and added to our cookbook for your culinary convenience and enjoyment.”
The cover of this spiral bound cookbook features an ink drawing of a Filipina and a basket of vegetables. Short recipes are in black and white, stating the contributor, listing the ingredients, and ending with a few sentences, rarely a paragraph, with instructions.
My second cookbook was a gift from Sony Robles-Florendo, the author of Signature dishes of the Philippines which was published in 1988. The front cover of the paperback features a color photograph of Halo Halo, literally a “mix mix” of sweetened tropical fruits, shaved ice, condensed milk, and ice cream.
On the back is a photo of Sony and a statement: “What would you have done if you were in her place? A restaurateur who has been called Sony for 51 years has been sued by a multi-billion dollar multinational corporation. BIG SONY vs. small Sony made big news. Many followed this woman’s struggle to continue using her nickname in the family restaurants in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. She wrote this book to show the world what she knows best: Filipino food, not electronics!” She dedicated her book to her mother and father-in-law.
Sony’s signature dishes also feature in many if not all Philippine cookbooks – Sinigang n Hipon (prawn or shrimp in sour soup), Lumpia Sariwa (vegetable rolled in crepe-egg wrapper), Chicken Adobo ((chicken braised in herbs and vinegar ) Ginataang Hipon (Shrimp in Coconut Sauce) Halo Halo, and Saging na Turon (Banana in Crispy Wrap).
Today, younger Filipino Americans growing up on Filipino comfort foods are also familiar, often well versed, with other ethnic and cultural cuisines. Hence the 21st Cookbook authors of the last century, such as Angela Dimayuga and Ligaya Mishan, have a global audience, an international market. They write about personal and collective Philippine and Filipino-American history while sharing their recipes. They remind me of the Seattle restaurant in my Columbia City neighborhood, Archipelago, where owners and chefs Aaron Verzosa and Amber Manuguid reenact the journey of Filipinos and their food and dishes from the pre-Magellan era to modern-day Seattle with different stories about different courses in almost three hours.
What stands out to me in Filipinix: Heritage recipes from the diaspora are the photographs of the authors’ families and nuanced documentation of the resilience of the Filipino people and the adaptability of their cuisine. The opening line, “Come Inside and Eat” is a variation of Seattle’s late beloved Uncle Fred Cordova’s greeting to everyone, “Hello, have you eaten yet?”
The reader is not only immersed in well-photographed mouthwatering dishes and delicious beverages, but also gets a brief but very accurate history of the Filipino people and their response to non-Filipino influences through the ages, often through incorporation or adaptation. I appreciated the spice matrix of sour, salty, fat and sweet on a continuum from chewy to crunchy. I loved the photo of traditional halo and halo next to the sepia toned one. And what a great idea to include an interview with Jessica Hagedorn, author of Dogeaters and a list of lectures.
For me, there is one drawback to this book: the term “Filipinx” is a compound, elite term. It is problematic, unrecognized, understood, accepted, or used by the general Filipino or Filipino-American population. Moreover, ‘x’ has many meanings, including as a universal signature of a person who cannot write. In science it represents the unknown as ‘in solving ‘x’.
Juanita Tamayo Lot is author of Common Destiny: Filipino American Generations, 2006