[OPINION] There's no template for Filipino street food
Social media toxicity isn’t limited to politics. Even our food can be poison, it seems, if a post by director Erik Matti criticizing the food choices on the Netflix show Street Food is anything to go by.
Matti posted: “The #Cebu episode of #StreetFood at @netflixph borders on poverty porn. The dishes except for lechon are food that are not really a staple of Filipinos. All the other Asian countries had their classic world-renowned street food while we had...bizarre. Bad research. There are hundreds of original Filipino street food and they chose to show an esoteric eel dish and a goddamn Chinese fried vegetable lumpia!”
And if that is, indeed, the street food available in Cebu, how is that not a “staple” there? Is there no room for the cultural diversity we trot out for the tourist brochures outside of those brochures?
In a succeeding post, Matti tweeted: “I am not saying eel bakasi is not good. I am not saying Cebu food is not good. I love Cebu food. The eel bakasi is just not IDENTIFIABLY regarded as a quintessential Filipino street food that can represent our food to the world.”
As my friend, Mindanao-based writer Karlo Antonio Galay David said: “Manilenyos cannot be bothered to know the rest of the country outside their squalid, smelly streets or their air-conditioned imitations of America and Europe in their malls.
“But we are all guilty of that. Because all of us have experienced so little of this country and the rich diversity of its many cultures. Outside the little bubbles we know - the local culture we take for granted and the Tagalog 'standard' we are brainwashed to emulate - we immediately assume there is nothing worth discovering,” David said.
“We insist on following the same old template because we're lazy and unimaginative, then we justify it by saying it 'unifies us and reflects our collective identity as a people. We need to stop insisting on boring, homogenizing 'quintessential,' and start embracing how varied, heterogenous, contradictory, and gloriously diverse our cultures are. Why simplify Filipino identity when it can be so wonderfully complex?”
We need to recognize that, when it comes to what makes something "Filipino," the most-seen posts are those coming out the National Capital Region.
In order to be accepted as culturally Filipino, there must be consent from the center. In our case, it is Imperial Manila. I don't often like to say "Imperial Manila," but there it is, unless Manila consents, it isn't accepted as Filipino. This harkens back to the colonial era, when Spain had most of the Philippine archipelago under its crown.
Here is where we get to see why the people outside of the NCR resent the capital’s denizens who think the world revolves around the capital region. Don’t dismiss us as “unFilipino” for being different where we stand. It isn’t nice. It is also untrue.
Take another perspective. See how we outside the NCR see things. Broaden your horizons a bit and see the whole archipelago that is the Philippines. It will do you so much good.
For us down south, Tausug food like tiyula itum is part of our identity and culture. Yet that dish has to be appropriated as "bulalo of the south" for it to be acceptable to the rest of the nation, it seems. Our piyanggang chicken gets called other names outside of the Bangsamoro area—names that approximate, but don’t do justice, to the dish.
I am so sure Ilonggos wouldn’t like their kansi to be called "sinigang." I could go on all year and not be anywhere near done. Our many cuisines are this varied, each of them beloved by people called “Filipino,” or so their passports and birth certificates say.
There are many street foods, which originate from the food prepared and eaten by the people who make the best possible use of ingredients they can afford. Why call it poverty porn?
Such statements as the ones Matti posted are ignorant and condescending — exactly why “Imperial Manila” gets called out for its unthinking imperiousness. Just because you aren’t familiar with the dishes we in the regions and towns not of the NCR hold dear.
Have you tried the camaru (crickets) and rellenong palaka (stuffed frogs) of Pampanga, or that dish of wood-worms called tamilok? No? Those aren’t staples throughout the archipelago, either, but they are eaten in the regions of their origin, which, last I checked, are still within the Philippine archipelago.
The common thread among us Filipinos is that we are a creative people. We are even more creative and innovative when feeding ourselves: We take what is available, live off the land (and sea) if you will, and create delicacies for ourselves from even the unlikeliest, most unfamiliar and least appetizing of ingredients.
We have to begin realizing that encountering the unfamiliar within our own national territory is part of understanding what contributes to the complex identity of the Filipino nation.
Don't fall into the erroneous thinking that there is only one template for the term "Filipino." There isn't. Filipinos are part of a diverse set of cultures, languages, histories and identities that enrich that word beyond the number of letters in it.
We have to teach each other about these diverse food cultures and norms outside the NCR and include each other in the discussion, not shut each other out or diminish what we are yet unfamiliar with. We cannot individually speak on behalf of all 104 million Filipinos just because we are in the center until we’ve at least learnt something about the outlying areas. We have to immerse ourselves in our many cultures, get to know the many groups within the Filipino nation before we can, with any intelligence, speak of what is Filipino.
It is so limiting, not to mention asinine, to think that there is any one staple food, Erik Matti, just as it stupid to think that being Filipino is one whit less complex than it actually is.
Posts like this do nothing for deepening our understanding of what it is to be Filipino – and you're not helping other Filipinos do that. Instead you narrow our view of who we are to that limited view you see.
We will not grow as a nation of many diverse peoples if we will view our compatriots and our country with so narrow a viewpoint. Open your eyes. Open your heart. Listen. Learn. – Rappler.com