Food is a definite gateway to memories. A taste of sinigang on foreign land will always take us back to a familiar kitchen in Manila. A bite of iced kendi harks back to afternoons when we used to make them as children, before setting off outside for a round of tumbang preso. And I don’t know about you but adobong mani will always remind me of first love.
For the past few Wednesdays, sometime actress Dindi Gallardo has been serving up memories sparked by food, or food sparked by memories via her vlogs on YouTube. But don’t expect her to teach you how to bake a strawberry milk cake.
And if all you’re in the lookout for is a step-by-step on preparing galbi jim, you will be disappointed.
Instead, in Table Talk with Dindi, the cake serves as a vessel for the former Binibining Pilipinas-Universe to reconnect with her younger self—back when she first discovered the taste of strawberries. It’s a remembrance that sparks other remembrances: the “giddy feeling you got when you played in the rain,” her voice over in one video says, “and when you found out your secret crush likes you, too.” As for that galbi jim, it’s the recollection of a grade school classmate’s halmoni (a Korean grandmother) that inspires her to prepare Korean beef stew from memory.
Each video is like a kitchen version of a bedtime story. Or the equivalent of watching a sister, or a friend, prepare an impromptu dinner while you listen to her talk about a curious encounter from her day. Or in the case of Dindi and one of the episodes in the now five-episode-old series, about her “other mother” whose oatmeal pancakes are so good she could never replicate it—so Dindi makes her own version in her Nana’s honor, in celebration of her 80th birthday. (This episode did not only give me a craving for pancakes, it left a lump in my throat.)
“The idea for this series started in July of 2013 after I had lost my job in NYC, but I wanted to feature other people and the format was slightly different,” she tells me on Facebook where I first encountered her videos. Presently, the vlogs are focused on just Dindi and vignettes from her day inside her high rise apartment. “Do your feet still wiggle when you taste something yummy?” she asks in Episode 4, after unboxing a Max’s delivery and while taking a quarter chicken apart.
Indeed, the pandemic had somehow influenced the vlog’s form and feel. Which leads to one more thing that makes Table Talk with Dindi different, especially from other food vlogs that sprouted in the COVID era—there’s an unmistakable melancholy to it, as if the crisis outside can’t help but seep through the host’s glass windows, anchoring each episode into the current moment, even if they’re so obviously engaged in the past.
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Forgetting the personal photos and home videos the actress insert into scenes of her cooking, I tell her the stories she shares sound like they come directly from her own life—although they could just as easily be fictions. “The stories are very real,” she counters. “I wouldn’t have the patience and time to do this if it weren’t.” Besides, Dindi says she’s not that good a writer to attempt making up her own stories—a statement that hardly rings true considering how effortlessly she seems to weave words together and make them work. “I just have interesting stories that stayed with me,” she adds, “and when I create from the heart space, the story ideas come easily, the words are simple and the message is universal. I am all about authenticity at this day and age.”
While Dindi may be more known for her on cam work (Dyesebel, Bala at Lipistik, and Nang Iniwan Mo Ako for which she won an Urian Best Supporting Actress nomination), she’s always been fascinated with the craft behind the scenes. Maybe that’s why Table Talk is both well- photographed and so lovingly put together that it’s easy to assume there’s a coterie of film people behind it. But it’s all Dindi, really, with a little help from a very old camera with a small LCD, a lens from 1972, and an in-house improvised editing station near a rack of her personal clothes.
“I learned to use the Super 8 when I was 10 and continued to film short stories while living in New York,” she says. She likes cinematography but zones out when talk becomes too technical. “I am still learning how to light properly but I don’t want to stress over it too much because it takes the fun out of it. Some of my shots are not in focus, but I leave it that way because that is how memory works — it’s fuzzy and never crystal clear.”
Good thing the lady can appreciate life’s imperfections. “My vision is also blurry these days,” she adds.
The making of a Table Talk episode usually begins with recalling a story. “Then I choose the music to set the mood,” says Dindi. “Sometimes it’s the music that will trigger a memory.” She doesn’t commit anything to paper until she’s shot 80 to 90 percent of the video, which is mostly of her cooking. “I then watch and do a voice recording of what comes to mind organically—stream of consciousness type recordings,” she explains. “I choose what I like and clean it up on paper before recording the final voice over. Since it is heartfelt and the memories are fresh, I don’t have to memorize. It is just a guide.”
For Dindi, each finished episode brings a feeling of gratitude. “I feel ecstatic and inspired to do the next story,” she says. “It feels like I’m 8 years old again.”